Road to 2011 Elections: Has the north learnt any lessons?

By Muhammad Ajah

If the struggle to Aso Rock Villa is alleged to be between the whole north and former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, it may not be out of gumption for critics to claim that Obasanjo has won wholly or at least, rounds one and two.

It is not hidden to any mindful Nigerian that Obasanjo did not only run the country against accepted democratic norms during his eight years of leadership in Nigeria, but he seems to have perfected plans to hang onto power till death part him and Nigerian leadership tussle.

Obasanjo was a President that was primarily accepted and made by the northern political bloc basically because of his presumed love for Nigeria. Why he turned against the north remains a worry to many Nigerians. Also, his former vice, Atiku Abubakar who had every chance to oust him out of office in 2003 allowed him to “carry go”, amidst severe opposition from some northern political bigwigs.

These are the two happenings that made Obasanjo what he confidently enjoys today. The north yielded to these for the sake of equity and justice in power sharing, since it was clamoured that the north had ruled the country longer than the south since independence. Obasanjo was surely not the best candidate. But the northern bloc ensured that other parties frizzled before the PDP. Former Abia State governor, Dr. Ogbonnia Onu, now national chairman of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) or Chief Olu Falae of Alliance for Democracy (AD) would have made a better president.

These two gentlemen were lobbied and defeated. Obasanjo took the first four years to tour the world and learn how to hang onto power or to say the least how to deal with the north. When his third term bid failed, he laughed at the citizens and prepared to take the back door for more terms. He chose the late president who was definitely very sick and who contended with his life throughout the three years he lived in the Aso Rock Villa as the President of Nigeria. Umar Musa Yar'Adua was chosen from among strong contenders like former Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili. But Obasanjo used Malam Nuhu Ribadu to scare away the best contenders, knowing that they will not be easy to bend by him in the course of discharging their constitutional duties as president. There can be little doubt that the late president lived longer than Obasanjo had expected. However, he (Obasanjo) has indirectly had the third term and the fourth may come by.

Nigerians thought that Obasanjo was wasting time and resources visiting countries of the world and holding official and unofficial meetings with different human and inhuman categories of groups. That he had started laughing at the north from the day he was made president, he immediately empowered the minority of the north as a basic strategy. And till today, the north has been unable to come together. It used to be said that only Igbo men were easily induced and be bought over to fight their people. It was commonly believed that only Igbo men valued money even from questionable sources. It is definitely not true of today.

One can claim that majority of the northern leaders have been bought over. Although there are yet sketchy proofs of bribery and corruption linked with the primaries conducted by the political parties, especially the PDP across the country, many people believe that the results did not represent the position of the north. Protests are still rife in some of the northern states over the primaries. Voting state by state, inducements, lobbying and frustrations characterized the events.

The southern political elite have come of age. In 1998, the whole north was bent to support Obasanjo – a southerner. The same happened in 2003. In 2007, the whole south was bent to support Yar'Adua – a northerner. Now in 2011, while the whole south has backed a southerner, the north has three candidates. Although three is greater than one in mathematics, one is greater than three in political game in this aspect. After all the presidential primaries by political parties, it is clear that the incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan of the ruling party PDP is to face Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).

Reports are being circulated that not all the three northern candidates are truly interested in the job. There is really deceit if any of them could be working for the interest of Obasanjo. Therefore, it is contestable that the trio would come together. But whatever happens, it is obvious that the south is becoming politically vibrant while the north is weakening. And this is part of Obasanjo's study tours and subsequent measures to consolidate on the dividends of democracy for himself and win a long-drawn agenda for his people. It is good to learn and reflect. He has learnt, reflected and he is now implementing. Has the north learnt anything from all these?

Moreover, has the north learnt from choosing Adamu Ciroma to lead the screening committee of the Northern Political Elders Forum (NPLF) that refused to allow all the four aspirants to contest the PDP primaries? How was the committee formed and who constituted it? Did the committee conduct a free and fair hearing from the public? Ah! What difference would it have made!

Has the north learnt from choosing Atiku to contest against his former strong boss (Obasanjo as the Chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP) whose grip on the party has been great, to the extent that all efforts to deny him of that powerful position have always hit the rock? Remember that he laughed loud when the Northern Political Elders Forum (NPLF) anointed Atiku. And he laughed louder after the presidential primaries. And he awaits to laugh the loudest after the April 9th Presidential election.

Senate Majority Whip and former deputy campaign director of IBB's Campaign Organization, Senator Kanti Bello spoke from reason when he asserted that Atiku's emergence as northern representative of the PDP to face Jonathan was faulty and thus his loss was pre-informed and expected.

Points for Atiku's failure as postulated by the blunt senator included Atiku's abandonment of PDP prior to 2007 transition. Atiku worked against PDP by forming his own party. He came back to PDP on a sketchy condition and was chosen as the consensus candidate.

But how could Atiku have won Obasanjo? According to former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Chief Dubem Onyia incumbency was the major factor that determined the past PDP primaries. “The exercise was planned and executed at Aso Villa. Delegates were not given the freedom to vote according to their conscience and they were coerced to vote in a particular pattern. Why were the ballot boxes specified according to states? This is the first time delegates were made to vote in that manner”, he claimed.

However, the consequences of the mistakes and reflections by the north could manifest in the April polls. Many people feel that the politicians who have been imposed on their people through staged party primaries would find it difficult to win the people's votes in the general elections. Northern political juggernaut, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai believes that riggers should be packing from their seats after the April polls. Even former Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development in Bayelsa State, Chief Ayakeme Whysky foresees the failure of all governors who were returned automatically by the PDP.

One thing that calls for reflection is Obasanjo's continual caricature of political events especially as the north has been thrown into the sea of confusion. Is his laughing a sign of confidence that he has caged the north? Has he got, chewed and thrown away the north. He is now the demigod or comforter who all political heavy weights especially those seeking for power must seek. Who else for now?

Regardless of any external influence, there is indication of serious division among northern political elite. Politics in Nigeria cannot, at least till today, be divested of religious underpinnings. There are strong voices from the northern religious minority. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the north – at state, zonal and regional levels as well as many economically, socially and politically empowered northern Christians are doing the job they deem fit for the overall interest of the country, according to their belief. The Arewa Consultative Forum (AFC) is made up of prominent Christians whose influence in the Nigerian politics of today can never be undermined. Is there any Muslim from the Southeast or Southsouth who has been empowered to add flavour to politics of the area?

Has the north learnt anything from all these? There has been complete negligence of minorities in the south. This could just be the beginning. Now the south speaks with one voice; they have presented a single formidable party and one single person. I do not foresee any strong dissenting voice in any state of the southeast and southsouth. This has already been planned, concluded and it is being executed by Obasanjo. Will it work?

Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]