By Femi Odere
While much has been said and written (and more will still to come) about the seemingly endless shouting match between supporters and party apparatchiks of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) presidential flag bearer, and the one-man battalion of His Excellency Nyesom Wike, the governor of Rivers, coupled with occasional stoking of the fire by some of his PDP governor colleagues, with its concomitant ridicules and abuses, not much diagnosis has been made in respect of the pathogenesis of a disease which may have turned gangrenous and threatening to decimate the party’s appendages if care is not taken.
While it shouldn’t be, quite frankly, one’s business to bother about PDP’s ailments as he’s not, and never has been, its member, let alone a supporter, it is important to interrogate this unusual development in an attempt to find a nexus between the party’s unforced errors, if not its maladies, and the quagmire that the nation constantly finds herself, which has practically stunted her growth.
It would be recalled that, as critical stakeholders, and in their attempt to find the right formula for a more perfect union on the basis of fairness, justice and equity, 17 Southern Governors met in Asaba, Delta State, precisely on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 to discuss issues of national importance that they saw as not only necessary for the survival and cohesion of the country, but also issues they deemed existential enough and common to all of them.
At the end of this meeting, a 12-point communique was issued that included an admonition to their colleagues and other political leaders on the other side of the Niger river that the presidential candidates of the two main political parties (APC and PDP) must, of necessity, come from the Southern part of the country in the spirit of the aforementioned societal virtues.
This meeting became something of utmost importance, if not of high priority, perhaps after the governors sensed that something ominous may well be in the offing in the next round of presidential contest in 2023 with that glib talk on the Voice of America (Hausa) radio of Alhaji Mamman Daura, the president’s nephew and an important voice in the northern political establishment with his dismissal, precisely on July 29, 2020 of power shift and zoning.
What is more, he said competence must now be seen as sine qua non, a catalyst and the new magic bullet for our developmental aspirations as a people.
No sooner that this nation-enabling, development-enhancing communique was released than all hell broke loose on the other side of River Niger with such virulent condemnations of the Asaba gathering of the Southern governors.
They questioned not only the proprietary of the meeting, but also shredded the communique itself into pieces that you would be excused if you thought that, perhaps, the governors were surreptitiously being prepared for the gallow to serve as a warning to other southern renegades who are yet to identify, let alone appreciate their place in the national political arrangement—-and stay there with enthusiasm. Anybody who was somebody drew their knives.
Important northern political personalities like Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Professor Usman Yusuf, and Senator Ali Ndume, to mention but a few, excoriated the governors. Some of them pointedly asked who gave them permission for the meeting as if the northern governors had always asked their southern compatriots permissions whenever their own meetings were held.
Even the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, by virtue of his position as the Number 3 man in the hierarchy of the country’s political leadership, joined the fray and faulted the position of the Southern Governors.
The leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), a hitherto unknown, essentially nomadic, bush-dwelling neanderthal that’s well behind civilization whose members never pretended to know what the National Questions are, let alone have the presence of mind to understand the answers, had the temerity, and with crass condescension, to describe the meeting of the Southern Governors as “a call for secession” as well as calling them “confused and mischievous.”
The people of the southern half of the country found their mouths agape as they couldn’t believe what they were hearing from their brethrens up north. As if this humiliation was not enough, the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) Dr. Hakim Baba-Ahmed rubbed salt into what was essentially a deliberately inflicted wound further inside at the maiden Maitama Sule Leadership Lecture Series, organised by the students wing of Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), at the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria, sometimes in October 2021.
In a veiled reference to the Asaba meeting of the Southern governors Baba-Ahmed said, “anyone who does not want a northerner as president should leave the country if one emerges.” The NEF spokesperson, whose father was an Arab cattle-trader from Mauritania, and a senior brother of Dr. Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, Peter Obi’s running mate, in rallying his electoral troops in preparation for the 2023 presidential election contest further said that “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before, whether we are president or vice president, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the votes and the(sic) democracy says vote whom you want.”
“Why does anybody need to threaten us and intimidate us? We will get that power,” Hakim Baba-Ahmed deadpanned. It doesn’t get any more arrogant than that.
One must necessarily go through this litany of events because of this raging war between Alhaji Atiku Abubakar on one hand and Wike on another, a war, it seems to me, that has its root on these cascading events after Atiku’s untidy emergence as the party’s standard bearer. It is also necessary to go through this memory lane in order to have a good understanding of when exactly the rain started to drench members of the party despite their expansive, sturdy umbrella.
Although the party hee-haw’d in the aftermath of the Asaba declaration, telling whoever cared to listen that it was not under any obligation to respect zoning as expected of the ruling party. With all the kicking and screaming, telling Nigerians that they should be left alone to decide whence their presidential flag bearer cometh, no one ever thought that the party would be so insensitive to an arrangement that has provided relative political stability that they would make good on their argument to jettison zoning.
The argument then was, and still is, that it would not only be grossly unfair, but would also reek of injustice and inequity for another Nigerian of northern extraction to take over from President Muhamadu Buhari in the next political dispensation. Having discountenanced all rational reasonings and good politics, the PDP rolled Atiku in with its presidential ticket, no thanks to Malam Aminu Tanbuwal, the young, upwardly mobile ingrate that rule the roost in Sokoto state whose primordial instinct of “The North First” should be a serious subject of interest for the South.
It was bad enough that the Turaki Adamawa was gifted the presidential ticket by the party, the 17 Southern Governors and their 12-point communique be damned. The party’s insouciance, it can be argued, was also a strong message to Governor Nyesom Wike that he himself can go to hell and find succour there despite the fact that he was single-handedly responsible for snatching the party from the jaws of imminent death since as far back as 2019 when he took it upon himself to become the party’s one-man fire brigade, dousing fires across the country that otherwise would have consumed the party and its members while Atiku was busy in UAE preparing yet another “Dubai Strategy” for the 2023 election. It doesn’t get any more hilarious than that.
As if the party and Atiku didn’t think that Wike’s humiliation, as a result of his denial of the party’s ticket was enough to write the people of Rivers state about, Atiku again picked the Delta State Governor Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa as his running mate despite the recommendation of a committee Atiku himself set up that favoured Wike as the running mate of the presidential candidate.
The pugnaciousness, loquaciousness, and the theatrics of Wike’s daily utterances since the party’s primaries notwithstanding, what’s unfolding before our eyes, it seems to me, is a carefully orchestrated political agenda of some people with the most virulent strain of ethnic irredentism and unapologetic exceptionalism that Atiku, a northerner, and a Fulani to boot, would be carefully teleguided to win the 2023 presidential contest, even if heaven should fall. This is the crux of the matter which Wike is trying not to allow to happen. Whether Wike himself understands the broad implication of his fight or he’s only in the slugfest until his own parochial interest is settled is another kettle of fish.
It would also be recalled that the ruling APC almost pulled off a similar stunt in the run up to its own primaries when the party’s chairman almost succeeded in railroading Senate President Ahmad Lawan into the presidential candidate’s seat at the eleventh hour and through the back door until the APC northern governors (with their southern counterparts) saved the day and restored sanity. We must continue to thank God for little mercies.
What should be seriously noted, however, in all of this, is that never in the history of this country has the Nigerian people witnessed this kind of in-your-face audacity, nauseating arrogance, crass condescension, and senseless insensitivity by a people from a section of the country.
Atiku, and by extension, the PDP’s insensitivity and unwillingness to accept Wike’s demands, at the minimum, exemplifies the injustice, unfairness and inequity that characterized, and continues to bedevil all aspects of our national life. These are acts that continues to widen our ethno-religious fault lines which has made peace to be elusive and sustainable development a rarity in the polity.
As long a section of the country believe it is their right to “lead Nigeria” as they have always “led Nigeria before” whether they “are president or vice president,” it may not even be necessary to factor the south into the country’s political equation anymore. Atiku might as well have picked his running mate from, say, the North Central. After all, heaven will not fall if that happens.
One wonders the volume of distress to which a country must be subjected before she can be nudged into a path of sanity and normalcy. This is at bottom what Gov Wike seems to be articulating in a roundabout way.
Femi Odere is a former Senior Special Assistant (Diaspora Affairs) to Ekiti State Governor. He can be reached at [email protected].
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