NOW THAT THE NPLF HAS COMPLETED ITS BRIEF
In recent times not since the appointment of Professor Attahiru Jega as INEC chairman, and just before that, that of Architect Namadi Sambo as vice-president, has the nation waited for a political announcement with such bated breath so thick you could almost cut it with a knife. Yet when it came on Monday it was more in a whisper rather than with a bang.
I am, of course, talking about the announcement by the Northern Political Leadership Forum (NPLF) led by Malam Adamu Ciroma, Madakin Fika, of its choice of former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, as the Northern consensus candidate in a field of four - the others were former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, former National Security Adviser, General Aliyu Mohammed and the governor of Kwara State and Chairman of the Nigerian Governors' Forum, Dr. Bukola Sarki - to challenge President Goodluck Jonathan for the presidential ticket of the ruling People's Democratic Party in next year's general elections.
Neither Malam Adamu nor any of the other eight members of his committee - Alhaji Bello Kirfi, General David Jemibewon, Mr. Audu Ogbe, Malam Magaji Dambatta, Dr Buba Yaro Mapindi, Alhaji M.D. Yusuf, Senator Jibril Salihu and Ambassador Mahmud Z. Anka - were on hand to make the announcement. Instead of organizing an elaborate press conference, the committee merely issued a brief press statement which was read on its behalf by the secretary, Bello Abdullahi, accompanied by two other officials.
Still, in spite of its being low key the announcement made it into the front page of virtually every newspaper in the country as lead story the following day. It also made it into the headlines of the Hausa and African services of such global media like the BBC and the VOA; such was its significance.
From day one the committee faced a hostile Southern dominated media which regarded the committee's brief of reducing the crowd of Northern contenders for the PDP presidential ticket to one, the better to challenge the president's unilateral repudiation of his party's power rotation agreement for the retention of the presidency in the North till 2015, as a sinister move against the president who is from the south.
The chairman, Malam Adamu, in particular, became a subject of personal attack, mostly ill-informed and malicious. Reading the many scurrilous attacks against him, you would never know that under his charge the New Nigerian was the most reliable, most literate and most authoritative newspaper in Nigeria in the late sixties and seventies. You would also never know he served as, among others, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and as minister in various governments since the Second Republic with rare honesty and integrity.
Still these attacks did not deter Malam Adamu and his colleagues. Instead they pursued their brief with a zeal and energy that belied their advanced ages, travelling to all corners of the vast North and meeting with as many people and groups as they could for inputs into their assignment.
Predictably the result they announced quietly on Monday has received mixed reactions even in the North. For many their choice of Atitu Abubakar, especially over and above General Babangida, was a bit of a shocker for at least three reasons.
First, Babangida has been the focus of much of the negative media campaign, which has been suspiciously presidential in its imprimatur, against the very idea of a consensus Northern candidate. Second, there is the related fact that of all the four contenders Babangida probably has the most formidable network of friends and loyalists in the country.
Third, few Northerners, leaders and followers alike, have, I suspect, forgotten how the former vice-president disparaged his own region between 1999 and 2003 in service of his then boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, the region's nemesis, when he thought the man would hand over power to him in 2007, which, of course, he didn't.
Abubakar would, of course, not be the first to have been used and dumped by the Great Manipulator. In this the former vice-president shared the excellent company of otherwise sagacious politicians and leaders like Generals T. Y. Danjuma, Babangida and Aliyu Mohammed and Afenifere chieftains like the late Senator Abraham Adesanya and Chief Bola Ige. However, the difference was that only Atiku Abubakar, rather gratuitously, disparaged his own people in the course of allowing himself to be used.
This distinction must have made many a Northerner, leaders and followers alike, wonder if the man could still be trusted not to put his personal ambition a distant first before everything else.
I could, of course, be wrong. But, all this notwithstanding, I still think his choice by the NPLF was the right choice.
I have three reasons for saying so. First, was his survival of the famous epic battle with Obasanjo at the end of which his boss failed to stop him from contesting the 2007 elections and during which he inflicted tremendous damage on the president's personal integrity. This was proof enough that he had a greater capacity and will, and possibly resources, to succeed in the shark infested waters of Nigerian politics than the two generals in the contest, never mind the untested young Kwara State governor.
In any case the art of coup making at which the two generals have been highly successful is a totally different kettle of fish from the even more mysterious ways of civilian politics, especially Nigeria's with all its size and complexity.
Second, politics everywhere, not least of all in Nigeria with its rather gullible population, has become more image than substance. The control, if not the ownership, of the media as image makers has therefore become a, if not the, decisive factor in political battles. Atiku Abubakar has since proved himself more astute in the use of the Nigerian media to fight his political battles than any Nigerian politician I can think of, including those who actually have their own media.
This much is obvious not only from the success of his media strategy in his battle with Obasanjo. It is also obvious from the way his media team robustly responds to and even anticipates any negative stories about him even now that he has been out of power for quite a while.
Third, whereas the man is, I think, thick-skinned enough – and certainly the Kwara State governor is young enough – to shake off the humiliation of defeat at the hands of the younger President Jonathan, I, for one, have always believed it is rather too late in the day for Babangida, at nearly 70, if not for the younger General Mohammed, to risk defeat at the polls from a political neophyte like the president, something which is possible, even highly probable, because of the almost insurmountable power of incumbency that characterises Third World politics.
Now that Atiku Abubakar has been chosen as the North's consensus candidate, a pertinent question to ask is, can he defeat the president? Of course he can, to the extent that nothing is impossible. Much, however, depends on the other contenders honouring their pledge to collapse their campaign organisations into those of the successful candidate.
Already all three losers have congratulated Atiku Abubakar. Still it is too early in the day to know how genuine those congratulations are. However, even in the likely event that the congratulations prove to be genuine, there is the other issue of well-founded speculations about the nineteen Northern governors preferring one of their own to challenge the president, allegedly edged on by Obasanjo whose stock in trade in to divide and rule. There may be nothing to this speculations but it is not insignificant that the three Northern governors who were asked to join the NPLF's 'nine wise men' in selecting the region's consensus candidate declined.
For me, however, the more important issue here is not whether Atiku Abubakar, and by extension the North, wins or loses the presidency next year. What is more important is that there are still honourable men like Malam Adamu Ciroma and his colleagues who were prepared to suffer personal attacks just to prove the point that it is dishonourable even among thieves for anyone to repudiate a pledge solemnly entered into just because one thinks he can.