One of the major booby traps placed on the Nigeria’s political route to hyper modern nation, that will require masterly innovative/creative strategies to waltz through, is the fact that each time electioneering season approaches in the country, the issue of where the presidential candidate and his running mate come from takes the centre stage instead of the capacity of the candidates to perform. More often than not, it is usually between the North and the South.
Take as instance, on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, Ango Abdullahi, a professor and secretary of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, addressed a press conference where he, among other things, stated that it was time for the North to take back the presidency. He said: “I want to make it absolutely clear to you that the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and all these other groups that have emerged in the recent past, are committed to the interest that underlines Northern interest.
Before the dust raised by such comments about 9years ago could settle, another that qualifies more as something new and different recently came up. This time around, it was generated by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), via a statement jointly signed by Chief (Dr.) Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, OFR, CON, Leader SMBLF/PANDEF, Chief Ayo Adebanjo Leader, Afenifere, Pogu Bitrus, President-General, Middle Belt Forum, and Ambassador (Prof.) George Obiozor President-General, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide.
The Group in that statement berated the Governor of Delta State, Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa for accepting his nomination as Vice Presidential Candidate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Presidential Candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
The statement says in part; It is unspeakable and quite disappointing that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who is currently Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum, and a native of Owa-Alero in Ika North-East Local Government Area (one of the Igbo-speaking areas) of Delta State, would exhibit such barefaced unreliability. It bears recalling that the 17 Governors of the Southern States of Nigeria, both of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), under the Chairmanship of the Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, met in Asaba, the capital of Delta State on May 11, 2021, and took far-reaching decisions, including that, based on the principles of fairness, equity and justice, the presidency should rotate to the south, at the end of the statutory eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure. And this very Governor Okowa was the host of that historic meeting. it concluded.
Taken peripherally, no sane Nigerian will listen to this concern expressed by these fine Group/elders, without throwing his/her weight behind them particularly, as their analysis in the present circumstance appears as an objective concern.
However, there are also, in the opinion of this piece, reasons for concern this time around that what we are experiencing may no longer be the first half of a recurring circle but rather, the beginning of something new and dangerous. For one thing, if this ideology which openly qualifies as a war against our nation building quest is not arrested, I predict that it will last for the rest of our lives.
To support the above assertion, this piece will highlight the errors as well as spread out the particulars that render as an assault on reason, the latest declaration by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF).
First, as rightly observed by the group, the meeting and decisions reached in Asaba by the Southern governors were applauded by all, given its significant representation and the gravity of the outcome. That fact notwithstanding, one point the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), failed to remember is that we live in a country where supremacy of political parties is in full operation.
Viewed from this prism, an important distinction to make is that decisions by political parties on issues such as this (zoning/power shift) stands superior to that of the umbrella association called the Southern Governors Forum.
Political parties as we know are not just another platform that can be controlled at will. Rather, it is a platform for pursuing policy objectives, and decentralized creation and distribution of ideas. Just the same way government is a decentralized body for the promotion and protection of the people’s life chances, even so is political parties a platform, for the formulation of policies that every member/politicians must not vilify but partner with- PDP not an exception.
From the above flows another vital points that Nigerians of course SMBLF need to understand and appreciate. It was the party (PDP) and not Governor Okowa or any other Governor that jettisoned the power rotation arrangement.
Following the party’s decision, a Presidential Primary was a while ago conducted in Abuja, the Federal capital Territory where Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, emerged as the Party’s Presidential standard bearer and as part of the nation’s political requirements and in the spirit of justice, equity and fairness, nee to pick as his running mate, a candidate of southern extraction.
Going by the above, it can no longer hold water, the argument that Okowa betrayed the trust reposed on him by his colleagues; the southern governors, the entire good people of southern Nigeria and all well-meaning Nigerians, and has made himself persona non grata, not only, with SMBLF but all citizens who treasure our oneness and hopes of a more united and peaceful Nigeria.
This piece also view as draconian the Group’s declaration that they cautioned political stakeholders from the South, including serving and former governors, ministers, senators, etcetera, not to, on any account, allow themselves to be appointed or nominated as running mate to any presidential candidate, if the presidency is not zoned to the south and that we will work against such person or persons.
If the above directive was allowed to fly, it will further elicit the following questions; what becomes the fate of citizens’ freedom of expression and expression enshrined in the nation’s 1999 constitution as amended? How come it took this elders/Association this long a time to come up with this asymmetrical position even when it was obvious that the Party’s standard bearer indicated his intention to pick a southern over a week ago? Why didn’t they raise objection at a time when the names of three southern governors were penciled down for the position? Could they have been ignorant of such developments? Why is it that such a vanguard/threat is coming at a time when Governor Okowa was finally picked as the preferred candidate?
Why is the Group coming up with such an argument laced in sentiment and coming at a time when the country has never been as divided as we are today or witnessed such magnitude of mistrust of ourselves and of our nation? Why must we promote such a position in a season when no nation best typifies a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among her various sociopolitical groups than Nigeria as myriads of sociopolitical contradictions have conspired directly and indirectly to give the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace? Why must we continue to think along these deformed political, ethnic and religious divides as against considerations such as merit and leadership competencies?
Must we continue to live in a disunited Nigeria as well as fail the future generation by leaving them a nation more diminished when compared with what we inherited from our forbearers? As Okowa rightly argued, could we have expected that Atiku would be the candidate from the North and also have a vice presidential candidate from the North? Will that not have led to further division?
While answers to the above are being expected, this is what this piece proposes; ethnicity, religion and all the other primordial sentiments which our elders have whipped up in the past to sway the choices of the people during election times, must be hurriedly discarded as we prepare for the 2023 general election so that credible and competent leaders may rule the nation and advance our democracy.
Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Politics), Advocacy for Social and Economic Justice (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; jeromeutomi@yahoo,com/ 08032725374