NORTHERN ELDERS AND THE QUEST FOR POWER BY UGOCHUKWU RAYMOND
It is a well known fact that when a certain misleading opinion is advertised for so long, it potentially acquires the character of truth and, thus, contaminates the consciousness of its adherents who might be handicapped by their amateurishness to recognize the difference between cheese and butter. When the propagation of such erroneous opinions are spearheaded by people whom we should ordinarily look up to as elders, then, the resultant contamination becomes even more fatal.
One major topic that has dominated political discourse in recent times is the vexed issue of power shift. Indeed, the struggle for power shift is being waged with a rose-coloured spectacle which only allows the contenders to see issues strictly from their various ethnic standpoints. At such, the language of the debate has become particularly extreme, ominous and highly diversionary.
The Northern Elders' Forum (NEF) - which comprises mainly of aristocratic elements drawn from the Northern part of the country - has never hidden its antipathy for the incumbent political regime at the centre. It has not only made a religion of demonizing everything that the government represents, but has continually projected the idea that Nigeria's destiny is inseparably tied to Northern control of political power.
The spokesman of the NEF - Prof. Ango Abdullahi - who has become a metaphor of a loose cannon in recent times, has consistently dramatized this absurdity. Only on Friday, 7th June, The Guardian newspaper quoted the Professor as saying that "the Forum had told the Northern governors, who are not ready to key into the 2015 'Northern Presidency' project to prepare for the worst because there is no alternative to it." According to him, "power must return to the North in 2015 and the region is ready to align with any political party that will offer the North the presidential ticket."
One major tragedy regarding the way the NEF is going about its agitation is the fact that it conceals, in a very disingenuous way, the deep contradictions existing between the Northern political elite and its mass of misgoverned, impoverished populace who have had the misfortune of being ruled by past presidents of Northern extraction (both military and civilian) and countless regimes of state governors and local government chairmen whose only legacy is nothing but anguish, bondage and hell-on-earth for ordinary Northerners and the Nigerian citizenry at large.
By insisting that power must revert back to the North, the proponents of this clamour readily create the impression that the problem of Nigeria is that of North versus South. It suggests that the mere alternation of power between the North and the South is, in itself, a guaranteed panacea for the resolution of the country's mammoth problems. It tempts us to believe that the categories labelled "North" and "South" are necessarily homogenous entities, and that the interests of other ethnicities subsumed under such categories are inconsequential and utterly negligible. Above all, it induces a false sense of sympathy for a "marginalized" North and encourages public support for its eventual rehabilitation through the therapy of donating political power to it come 2015.
For purposes of clarity and to avoid being misunderstood, I hasten to state that there is never a shortage of this kind of thinking even amongst the elites of Southern extraction. More often than not, they are inclined to whip up ethnic and parochial sentiments just to drive home their neurotic quest for political power. It does not really matter whether an Orji Uzor Kalu is screaming from the rooftop of the British parliament in London about Ibo marginalization, unmindful of the catastrophic legacies of his superintendence as governor of Abia state; or an Edwin Clarke reiterating the divinity and inviolability of a Jonathan double-term presidency. Always, ethnicity had served as a potent smokescreen in the hands of this agitators to camouflage and disguise even their own nefarious roles which have contributed to the present quandary in which Nigeria has found itself.
When the Northern Elders Forum pontificates about the inevitability of power shift in favour of the North, what exactly do they mean and what interests are these agitations meant to serve? Why must these elders from the North exhibit a certain desperation that defies the facts and realities of our political history? How come that the obsessions of these Northern elite have been reduced to one singular preoccupation, namely: to wrestle power from President Jonathan and to secure its domiciliation in the North?
To all intents and purposes, it would seem that these elites (particularly, those that are out of power) are more interested in pursuing their self-serving interests by presenting themselves as champions of the people and as defenders of the interests of specific sections of the country. If these agitations are truly propelled by the overriding necessity to defend the interest of the Northern populace, how come that these restive elites had remained completely silent regarding the correlation between the pitiful, Northern socioeconomic situation and the treachery of Northern political leaders who had the sterling opportunity of presiding over the affairs of this country (and of their various states) and could not utilize such historic moments to empower its citizens and to create meaningful conditions of guaranteed economic sustenance for its people.
Furthermore, when one considers that over 13 years of democratic governance in most of the various states and local governments in the North have had quite an insignificant impact on the overall wellbeing of an average citizen in the North, it becomes tempting to conclude that entrusting more power in the hands of a bankrupt regime in the North will be akin to flirting with a time-bomb. Issues of basic education and primary health-care are concerns that are constitutionally within the purview of states and local governments in the country, yet, these basic amenities of life are chronically deficient in most parts of the North, so much so that in certain rural communities, humans compete with donkeys for access to drinking water in unhygienic streams.
Seeking power for the sake of it can be counter-productive and, in certain cases, expose the seeker to the possibility of self-destruction. Indeed, if one takes an inventory of the magnitude of fatalities, violence and material damages that have been unleashed in the North part of the country in recent times, it becomes clearer and indisputable that the naked pursuit of power symbolizes a poisonous recipe for self-inflicted annihilation.
The Northern Elders' Forum should, as a matter of sensitivity to the plight of its people, demand greater openness and accountability of the political leaderships in the various states in the North. It should promote and champion the course of good governance by ensuring that resources funnelled to the various states and local governments in the North are judiciously utilized for the empowerment it's the poverty-stricken masses. It should advocate the upliftment of the citizens in the North through a concerted programme of qualitative education that will provide the much-needed pedestal for its people to exercise choice, enjoy freedoms and effectively participate in the process of democratic governance. It is only in the context of this self-cleansing initiatives that the agitations of the Northern Elders' Forum for power shift will reflect the attributes of true elders.