For me, the most enduring surprise of the last two weeks remains the utterances by Hakeem Baba-Ahmed at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. While delivering a keynote address at a lecture series organised by the students’ wing of the Coalition of Northern Groups penultimate weekend, Baba-Ahmed was quoted, among others, as boasting that the North will retain the country’s presidency in 2023, despite agitations from the Southern part of the country. It was in my opinion, not in the character of this otherwise civil gentleman whose opinion, even when protective of Northern interests, was largely moderate.
Of course, I know that Nigeria has lost the sense of reasoning and already swam into the murky waters of trouble where birds no long chirp like birds and rats squeak like rats. This country under God is in a season of anomie where elders tug at the rags of ethnic jingoism with their great-grandchildren. Yet, this man had hitherto remained decent and nationalistic in most of the arguments I had heard from him. The turn of events that Saturday therefore sounded dissonant and unoriginal even if condemnable.
The retired Permanent Secretary’s position, which has received varied reactions, is however indicative of the very precarious situation Nigeria is currently in. Over and above all the challenges that the country faces, it has the curse of selfish men and women who occupy leadership positions without an understanding of their remit. While it is true that the 1999 Constitution guarantees every citizen’s right to freedom of expression, those elected to be leaders should be circumspect in their utterances, especially at this rather troubling juncture. But the truth is that a lot of Nigeria’s so-called leaders, mostly driven by personal ambitions and clannish jaundices, aren’t thinking straight, or interested in the good of Nigeria.
Let us start with the Southern governors who have insisted for the umpteenth time that Nigeria’s president must come from the South in 2023. While it is within their rights to seek the realisation of a President from the South come 2023, these governors know that their pronouncement will never by itself, bring their desire to pass. Even if the South had the numerical strength to win the presidency by itself, the country’s constitution prescribes safeguards against such eventualities. It therefore requires a lot of political diplomacy, with politicians from the northern part of the country to achieve this desire for the presidency.
More than the foregoing is that these governors belong to different political parties which will ultimately decide how these things go! Is it then not hypocritical that governors, (who even though have significant influence on their parties) would insist that opinions, which they cannot enforce, must come to pass? Consider for instance that one of these governors, in fact, the same one who hosted the meeting where the last “next president must come from the South” resolution was passed, chaired the group, which reportedly decided that the chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party be zoned to the South. So, the question is, can the PDP have the presidential and national chairman slots in the South? Aren’t Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and others in the PDP from the South just playing to the gallery and heating up the polity unnecessarily?
And then, the governors from the 19 Northern states who joined the fray on Monday. In rejecting the proposition of their counterparts from the South, the 19 governors said that the Nigerian constitution does not provide for rotational presidency. This is a sound, but self-serving argument, which raises one very pertinent question: Did the constitution have this provision when the North campaigned against the candidacy of Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 elections?
More important is the fact that countries are not run by constitutional provisions alone! There are places for conventions and reasonable initiatives that promote peaceful co-existence and even development. Does the Nigerian constitution provide for the Northern Governors’ Forum, for instance? Didn’t these governors come together to form the association when they found it expedient?
And then, what about natural justice? If a man from one of the three zones in the North has ruled a country for eight years, is it not just a matter of course that the next eight years should be taken by the other part of the country? Should there even be any debate about that in a country where people live with a sense of fairness?
But there is something even more appalling about the position of these governors; most of whom have lost their authority to petty criminals turned terrorists. Of all the 19 states in the North, there are only a handful not currently under the siege of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, or killer herdsmen who have made killings and abductions a daily occurrence. In the past two months, at least the governors of Katsina and Zamfara states have thrown up their hands in frustration and called on their unharmed citizens to defend themselves! In Kaduna and Niger states, secondary school students spend months in the custody of terrorists while parents sell all their belongings and solicit for funds to pay ransoms placed on their children. Yet, these same governors whose states have become fertile grounds for the planting, harvest and distribution of mass death, poverty and misery have the nerve to join issues about the choices before Nigerians in 2023.
The adamance of these governors is more disgraceful because a leader of northern extraction presides over what is the most traumatic period in the history of Nigeria possibly in the last four decades, at least. From the decay in education and healthcare to the increasingly frightening level of insecurity and the unprecedented mistrust amongst Nigeria’s ethnic groups, (which has been repeatedly acknowledged by the Northern Elders’ Forum), to advocate retention of the presidency by the North for nothing but the platter of demography brawn is simply obscene.
Thinking about it again, someone from the North has ruled Nigeria for about 49 of her current 61 years. So, what does the North have to show for it but grinding poverty, lack, disease and an unsparing epidemic of crime and criminality. The North is where you have a majority of Nigeria’s out-of-school children and the prevalence of some of the most debilitating diseases the world has known and forgotten.
The futility of the origin of the provenance of former Nigerian presidents is not peculiar to the North. The community where former President Goodluck Jonathan comes from is said to lack potable water at the time he left office after five years. In the same vein, the road leading to Obasanjo’s Ota home in , Ogun State remained dilapidated all his eight years as President. The current agitation for a candidate from the South is, to my mind, a product of perceived injustice, which makes some sections of the country feel like outcasts. Even then, assuaging this feeling is more about electing a fair-minded, compassionate, and knowledgeable leader, whose mind is broad and humble enough to see himself as a servant of the people rather than satisfaction of any ethnic urge. Those who campaign otherwise are in it for selfish gains and Nigerians must be truly wary of them.
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