THE REVIVAL OF REGIONALISM: REVERSING THE CLOCK
It is unfortunate that the response of some members of the political elite of the Northern states of Nigeria to recent occurrences in the PDP has largely been to withdraw into a cocoon of regional disenchantment.
The utterances of that constituency, since Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his supporters used the characteristic 'PDP magic' to announce an inordinately huge margin for him over the Northern champion, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, have been fraught with barely hidden sentiments of regional xenophobia. It has been reported that consultations have been mounted by this particular group aimed once again at creating a so-called consensus candidate for the general elections.
This coming after the attempt to do so for the PDP primaries crashed ignominiously raises the question once again of whether our compatriots from this particular area are being asked to base their political choices on reflexes provoked by regional chauvinism. The suggestion that Dr. Jonathan's emergence was not based on the popular will might be reasonably true insofar as some of the delegates were clearly handpicked by party officials to endorse a selected favourite. In spite of this it should also be acknowledged that the system deployed by the managers of the ruling party is neither new nor unexpected.
We have asserted before that in previous exercises of choice when Alhaji Atiku was one of the party's main managers he was particularly adept at manipulating the same system to favour himself and his erstwhile boss. Now that the tables are turned it has become obvious that rather than contest the issues that Dr. Jonathan has articulated Alhaji Atiku's backers are prepared to fight back by provoking regional sentiments of vengefulness. The suggestion that those Northern Governors who used their power of incumbency to support the incumbent president were somehow traitors to a territorial cause cannot by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as patriotic. In the final analysis the Goodluck Jonathan/Namadi Sambo ticket as a collective team should not be stigmatised as being a betrayal of Nigeria's national objective
There is hardly any sense in accusing the tiny ethnic group from which Dr. Jonathan comes of seeking to impose tyrannical authoritarian control over the polity, Surprisingly that is what a former Ambassador to the USA who hails from Atiku's Adamawa State appeared to be suggesting when he spoke of his opposition to the emergence of Dr Jonathan as the PDP flag-bearer. Ironically that disgruntled individual is not a noticeably strong supporter of his kinsman. As a result while remaining an important figure in the PDP his disenchantment with Dr. Jonathan's victory seems to be the product of regional jealousy rather than any clear differences of political thinking.
Most of the Northern elite who are grumbling over Dr. Jonathan's apparently strong grip on the machinery of his party appear to be doing so because they believe that he has been imposed on the polity not by his own will but rather through the conspiratorial gerrymandering of ex-President Obasanjo. Because of this they consider his emergence as the symptom of a revival of regional competitiveness in Nigeria. They therefore regard the forthcoming election as a contest in which they must use the weapons of superior numbers and ethnic solidarity to triumph over a candidate who has exhibited impeccable impulses of national consolidation.
This is a sad development especially coming at a time when Dr. Jonathan has made it plain that he can overcome the flaws that existed in the fashioning of the ticket that brought him to power as Vice President. Some of the members of the Northern elite who have been most vocal in resisting his emergence are not reticent in accusing him of almost betraying the ticket simply because they believe that he should have ignored his constitutional right to satisfy the very impulses of selectivity that they decry. This exposes the tragic misalliance that the selection of an opponent to Dr. Jonathan on regional rather than partisan or ideological grounds will engender in the polity.
Most of the arguments that have been put forward by those members of the Northern elite who have been most vocal in proposing the creation of a regional front to challenge Dr. Jonathan's emergence as the ruling party's candidate are based on territorial chauvinism. However it must also be acknowledged that the candidates available to them for the purpose of confronting the Jonathan/Sambo ticket are not as credible in their national credentials as the PDP ticket. Neither General Buhari, nor former EFCC Chairman Ribadu can escape the appearance of being candidates who have revived sentiments of regional loyalty in order to strengthen their challenge.
Whereas Dr. Jonathan can claim to have sought to rise above the use of ethnic solidarity to shore up his credibility the sentiments being generated by the arguments of the Northern elite seem designed to force him to find a regional base of his own. However his speech at the primary contest was totally opposed to any such division and while Alhaji Atiku challenged his adherence to regional balance he promoted national unity. This discourse needs to become the central focus of the dialogue among political contestants as the Nigerian democratic system grows.
Unfortunately the emergence of sentiments of regional disenchantment as an integral factor in the Presidential discourse emerging from the PDP's systemic flaws has encouraged the reversal of this momentum. As a consequence the growth of multiparty competitiveness which should be regarded as a positive sign of the health of the system has been corrupted by the introduction of regional divisiveness as the major impulse of choice in the forthcoming race.
In other words the major opposition parties have also allowed themselves to be tainted by the intrinsic territorial chauvinism that the PDP's contest provoked internally. Now all the main opponents of Dr. Jonathan who are emerging are seeking a regional rather than a national mandate to justify their emergence regardless of what party they belong to.
This situation presents a danger signal in the build up towards the forthcoming elections. With major flaws being revealed in the voter registration exercise and the irredeemable record of fraudulent electoral practices and violence being perpetrated in the intra-party elections so far the introduction of deep-seated regional divisiveness into the political mix at this time does not bode well for the health of the system. It is imperative that any reversal into the maelstrom of regional disunity in the name of political competition should be expunged from Nigeria's political arena today. The search for a champion of the Northern regional cause to be presented as the saviour of the national patrimony is nothing short of blackmail.
The most unfortunate element of the existing circumstance though stems from the fact that those who are encouraging the growth of this syndrome are often highly respected elder statesmen who one would have thought would be counseling caution rather than encouraging confrontation.
The assumption that former President Obasanjo somehow manipulated a deliberate usurpation of the right of the Northern political zone to serve out two terms in the Presidency when he crafted the Yar'Adua/Jonathan ticket has apparently angered them beyond reason. The test of a nation's maturity is sometimes to be found in the way and manner in which it can overcome provocation. While Obasanjo's alleged provocation might be annoying it should not be the basis for reversing the clock and dragging the nation or any of its citizens regardless of where they come from back into the mire of regional confrontation.