By Jérôme-Mario Chijioke Utomi
One of the major pitfalls placed in Nigeria’s political road to a hypermodern nation that will require innovative/creative masterful strategies to waltz through is the fact that whenever election season approaches in the country, the question of where the presidential candidate and his or her where the vice presidential candidate comes from takes center stage instead of the candidates ability to perform. Most often, it’s usually between North and South.
Take, for example, on Tuesday July 16, 2013, Ango Abdullahi, Professor and Secretary of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), spoke at a press conference where he, among other things, said 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 highlights the interest North”.
Before the dust kicked up by such comments about 9 years ago could settle, another that more qualifies as something new and different has recently surfaced. This time it was generated by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) via a statement co-signed by SMBLF/PANDEF leader Edwin Kiagbodo Clark; Ayo Adebanjo, Chief of Afenifere; Pogu Bitrus, General President of the Middle Belt Forum; and Professor George Obiozor, General Chairman of Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide.
In the statement, the group reprimanded Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for accepting his nomination as the running mate of Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. General of 2023.
The statement read, among other things, “It is indescribable and quite disappointing that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, who is currently the Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum and hails from Owa-Alero in Ika Northeast Local Government Area ( one of the Igbo-speaking areas) of Delta State would exhibit such shameless unreliability. It should be recalled that the 17 Governors of the Southern States of Nigeria, both from the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC), under the chairmanship of Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, met in Asaba, the capital of Delta State on May 11, 2021 and made far-reaching decisions including that based on the principles of equity, fairness and justice, the presidency should rotate south to the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s statutory eight years in office. And this same Governor Okowa was the host of this historic meeting.
Taken on the periphery, no sane Nigerian will listen to this concern voiced by these beautiful groups/elders, without throwing their weight behind them in particular, as their analysis in the present circumstances appears as an objective concern.
However, there is also, in this piece’s view, reason 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. On the one hand, if this ideology that openly calls itself a war against our nation-building quest is not stopped, I predict it will last for the rest of our lives.
To substantiate the above claim, this article will highlight the errors and lay out the details that undermine the reason, SMBLF’s latest statement.
First of all, as the group rightly observed, the meeting and the decisions taken in Asaba by the governors of the South were applauded by all, given its significant representativeness and the seriousness of the result. Despite this, one point that the association failed to remember is that we live in a country where the supremacy of political parties is fully exercised.
Seen through this prism, an important distinction to make is that the decisions of political parties on issues such as this (zoning/change of power) are superior to those 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 the pursuit of political goals and the decentralized creation and dissemination of ideas. In the same way that the government is a decentralized body for the promotion and protection of the life chances of the people, even so, political parties are a platform for the formulation of policies that each member / politician must not vilify but associate with – the PDP is no exception.
From the above follows another vital point that Nigerians, of course, SMBLF, must understand and appreciate. It was the (PDP) party and not Governor Okowa or any other governor who dropped the power rotation scheme.
Following the party’s decision, a presidential primary was held some time ago in Abuja, where Atiku Abubakar became the party’s presidential flag bearer and, within the political demands of the nation and in the spirit of justice , equity and fairness, must choose a candidate of southern origin as running mate.
Going by the above, he can no longer retain the argument that Okowa betrayed the trust placed in him by his colleagues; governors of the south, all the good people of southern Nigeria and all well-meaning Nigerians, and has made himself persona non grata, not only with the SMBLF, but with all the citizens who cherish our unity and our hopes for a Nigeria more united and peaceful.
This article also views as draconian the group’s statement that it warned political actors in the South, including governors, ministers, senators, etc. candidate, if the presidency is not zoned to the south and we will work against this person or these people.
If the above directive were allowed to fly, it would further raise the following questions; what becomes of the fate of the freedom of expression of citizens and of expression enshrined in the national constitution of 1999 as amended? How come it took these elders so long to come to this asymmetrical position even though it was obvious that the party standard bearer had indicated his intention to choose a southerner over 100 years ago? one week ? Why didn’t they object at a time when the names of three southern governors were penciled in for the post? Could they have ignored such developments? Why does such a vanguard/threat come at a time when Governor Okowa has finally been chosen as the preferred candidate?
Why is the group making such a sentimental argument and coming at a time when the country has never been as divided as we are today or witnessed such distrust in towards ourselves and our nation? Why must we promote such a position at a time when no nation better represents a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among its diverse socio-political groups than Nigeria, when myriad socio-political contradictions have directly and indirectly conspired to give the unenviable label of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, fairness, equality and peace? Why do we need to continue to reflect on these distorted political, ethnic and religious divides in relation to considerations such as merit and leadership skills?
Should we continue to live in a disunited Nigeria and let the future generation down leaving them a more diminished nation compared to what we inherited from our ancestors? As Okowa rightly argued, could we have expected Atiku to be the Northern nominee and also have a Northern running mate? Will this not have led to new divisions?
While answers to the above are expected, that is what this piece offers; ethnicity, religion and all the other overriding sentiments that our elders have stirred up in the past to influence people’s choices at election time must be quickly discarded as we prepare for the 2023 general election so that credible and able to govern the nation and advance our democracy.
Utomi is the Program Coordinator (Media and Policy) for Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be contacted via [email protected]/08032725374