Friday, July 1, 2022

Azu Ishiekwene: Southern hypocrisy will help Atiku succeed Buhari

I’m opposed to a system that despises its constituent parts as despicably as Nigeria has despised the South East.

• June 2, 2022
President Muhammadu Buhari/Atiku Abubakar
President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar

After last weekend’s primary by the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which produced former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the party’s candidate for next year’s presidential election, political leaders in the South have been hurling abuses at the North for betrayal.

According to pro-zoning interest groups in the South, it’s not supposed to be this way. After over two decades of an internal zoning arrangement in the PDP that has produced presidents from two other zones and sprung Atiku as candidate in the last general election, the groups are upset that the system is once again rigged to produce a Northern candidate who could potentially succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.

“The scale was skewed,” the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said, reacting to how delegates for the primary were chosen. “They had one delegate from each of the 774 local government areas of the country. And, of course, we know that there are more local governments in the North than in the South.”

In a similar tone, the Middle Belt Forum, which also had one aspirant in the race, said, “We have made it clear that we will not support any party that fields a Northerner as its presidential candidate during the 2023 election. The PDP has lost our support by fielding former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its flag bearer.”

It’s hard to figure out what the support of any of these groups is really worth or if their tantrum amounts to anything beyond taking up acres of newspaper space. How can PANDEF, hardly taken seriously outside the South-South – not to mention its declining influence even in matters affecting the region – hope to get anyone to pay attention to it? Or how can the Middle Belt Forum ever so confused and polarised about its own identity pretend to have suddenly found its voice now?

Let’s be clear about something: I’m opposed to a system that despises its constituent parts as despicably as Nigeria has despised the South East. 

I have said, without mincing my words, that the sudden awakening among anti-zoning elements that there is no better time than now for merit to prevail – as if any section of the country has a monopoly of it – is nothing but sheer hypocrisy. 

For the sake of fairness and equity, the arrangement within the political parties that produced Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Buhari ought to have applied not just to the South, but particularly to the South East, the epicentre of Nigeria’s political crime scene.

However, instead of directing their anger at Governor Aminu Tambuwal or the North, PANDEF, the Middle Belt Forum and other political groups that are aggrieved by the outcome of last weekend’s PDP presidential primary should face the traitors in their own midst – the governors and party leaders in the South, who rather than put their money where their mouth is, decided to settle, yet again, for the crumbs from the North’s table.

We saw that in 2007. After the Southern Forum, led by Governors Peter Odili, Chimaraoke Nnamani and Victor Attah, swore publicly, tongues sticking out, that it was time for Southern governors to close ranks for a Southern candidate to succeed Obasanjo, Odili wrote in his book, “Conscience and history”, that it was indeed Southern governors that worked the hardest to frustrate that aspiration, paving the way for Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidency.

It happened back then as comedy, but now it’s playing out again as farce. At least twice in the last one year, governors under the auspices of the Southern Governors’ Forum, which comprises the two major political parties and APGA, held meetings from Asaba in Delta to Enugu in Enugu State, at which they pledged to ensure that the Presidency returns to the South. 

In what amounted to the military equivalent of a mutiny, the Chairman of the Forum, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, said after a meeting in Enugu in September, that, “The next president of Nigeria must come from the Southern part of Nigeria in line with the politics of equity, justice and fairness.”

He added, for good measure and in spite of significant opposition from Northern governors at the time, that the Forum would not back down on its demand and praised his colleagues who were already implementing regional security outfits and anti-grazing laws, all tokens of a Southern resurgence.

On Saturday, the South – specifically the South South – which has the largest number and concentration of PDP governors, had the opportunity to show that it could, at least, stand up for what it believes in. Sadly, it was, yet again, the South’s meltdown moment. Even if the party’s decision to select one delegate per local government area meant that the South had 357 delegates to the North’s 419, the treacherous attitude of Southern governors and political leaders guaranteed a Northern victory.

I don’t understand why Southern groups are crying a river, attacking Tambuwal and making empty threats to block Atiku. If their own governors could not shelve their personal ambitions and come together to back the region’s strongest candidate, why did they expect that Tambuwal, a serial political philanderer, will do it for them?

Governor Nyesom Wike has complained that Tambuwal broke the party’s guidelines by speaking twice and campaigning after the campaign had closed. But that was not where the treachery started.

It began with the hypocrisy of Southern governors and political leaders who talk an elephant knowing full well they won’t deliver a cricket. While Atiku was busy mobilising traditional rulers and religious leaders, calling in favours and laying mines to trip even candidates from the region who might stand in his way, with the full backing of Northern elders, political groups in the South were waging their campaign for the presidency through press statements on social media. The chickens have come home to roost.

It’s true that Nigeria’s abhorrent political maths leaves the South East with the fewest states and fewest local governments as well. But see how the region which has justifiably felt cheated out of the country’s top job treated its own aspirants, sharing a miserable 15 votes out of 91, between two of them, and leaving the third aspirant with zero votes. The remaining votes were obviously invested in currency trafficking.

I laugh at the suggestion that what is left of the South’s misery would be saved by the presidential primary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) next week. There is an anecdote that helps to explain why that will not happen.

In the wee hours of Monday after the PDP primary, I got an unusual message. It was from a confidante who though not a politician, has exceptional instincts from his training as a mathematician and over six decades of observation and experience of Nigeria’s politics. “2023”, he wrote: “The jigsaw puzzle is falling in place.”

He was referring to an earlier conversation we had after the two major parties scrapped zoning – a convenient political arrangement that served and seduced them – and declared they had finally discovered political orgasm in merit. 

Once the pretence collapsed and President Muhammadu Buhari said tongue-in-cheek that the party chairman’s zone need not deter any presidential aspirants, my confidante said it was very likely that the two major parties would field Northern candidates.

Atiku Abubakar is the first piece of that puzzle. It’s not outside the realm of probability that as the APC conducts its primary next week that Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, could be the second, final piece that completes the shame of Southern hypocrisy. And it would be justified, by Southerners no less, that the North East and the North Central are just as marginalised as the South East!

Like Deng Xiaoping said in his famous parable of white cat and black cat, APC insiders have said the party’s main preoccupation now, is how to stop Atiku; that that is the reason why they attempted to drag former President Goodluck Jonathan into the race, to secure the South South/South East, and pair him with Justice Minister and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to corner the country’s largest vote bank in the North West. The additional unspoken attraction, of course, was Jonathan’s single four-year term.

Let’s wait and see. If I were a betting man, I would wager that as things stand today, whoever emerges as APC’s candidate would hardly be a match for Atiku Abubakar in next year’s presidential election. And Buhari, who would then be obliged to pretend that he is handing over with a heavy heart, would have nothing to lose. Like it was in 2015, it would be yet another gift from the South.

Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP 

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