When politicians of northern extraction gather to discuss matters of political representation, they do not beat about the bush. They hit the nail on the head. That was what they did on Saturday, February 10, when they met in Abuja and the subject matter was unabashedly 2019.
The gathering was instructive, because it was clearly non-partisan going by the character of individuals that attended. Clearly, those who attended are members of different political parties. Some do not belong to political parties; but they rise to the occasion each time the interest of the North is at stake. The roll call included; elder statesman Tanko Yakassai, Ango Abdullahi, former Deputy Senate president, Ibrahim Mantu, Senator Solomon Ewuga and former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Dr. Bello Mohammed. There were former governors too. At the end of the meeting, they announced in a communiqué the setting up of a committee to search and present a consensus presidential candidate for 2019, among other things. From the tone of the meeting as reeled out by Bello, stakeholders were very concerned with retaining the Presidency in the north, but it wasn’t going to take chances. They expressed the fact that even though the Presidency already resides in the North and stakeholders of other geo-political zones in the country are willing that it remains so, they, northerners want to take ownership of the process.
“What we want is that this time around, let us have the opportunity to come together so that whatever is decided for the North, it is the northern leaders who decide it and then we get the support from other regions. If we are able to do that, then we should be able to produce a leadership for this country that would be just, equitable and lead us to nation’s development, which is eluding us. That is the reason we are here.” The meeting then adjourned till March 15, when a Northern Political Summit will hold to commemorate the attainment self-government of the Northern Region in 1959.
One would ordinarily ask why northern elders should bother themselves over who occupies Aso Rock in 2019, when President Muhammadu Buhari, one of them is already in the saddle, and has not shown signs of abdication. Why not allow him enjoy the privilege of announcing his own retirement?
Well, maybe the elders do not want to be taken unawares. It is a fact that nomination and election of aspirants as candidates is strictly the business of parties. But by the seemingly unconscionable manner the governors and some members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are carrying on, they could wake up one morning and foist Buhari on the North and the country for another grinding four years.
With due respect to our President and the Northern elders, that meeting in Abuja could as well have been a warning shot, something in the neighbourhood of a no confident vote, which the party and their stakeholders should take seriously. Maybe the message is yet to sink, given the manner it was delivered at multi-stakeholders’ gathering. It is difficult to ascribe personal motives for now, which provides some immunity for attendees. Maybe when their activities become a serious threat after their next meeting, Governor Nasir el Rufai will give them some caustic spanking, for daring to poke their noses in the internal affairs of APC.
But seriously, the elders are very clear about what they want. They do not want an imposition without their input come 2019. In the 2015 elections, they did not have the opportunity to decide directly which of the presidential aspirants from the North they preferred. Buhari had been his own man since 2003 when he ventured into presidential contests. Each time, he flunked so miserably because he was his own man. But 2015 was different as he was adopted by politicians of other geo-political zones and marketed far beyond his capacities and worldview. In that arrangement, the Northern elders had very little to add or subtract, but key into the Buhari phenomenon.
Today, Buhari’s performance of three years have left many wondering how they were misled and conned into believing all the campaign promises to transform the economy and make the country safe. The feeling of alienation from governance is so palpable that those who should have ordinarily clapped in clannish adulation are themselves thoroughly embarrassed by what has become unprecedented, crass insularity.
So what to do? Quickly roll out and be part of the decision to pick a presidential candidate that would enthrone a just and equitable government after 2019. This is what I think the Northern elders gathered to engineer.
This is not the first intervention from Northern elders. Towards 2011, there was also a gathering of Northern elders who mediated among presidential aspirants from the region. At that time, Gen. Babangida, Gen. Aliyu Gusau, former vice president Atiku Abubakar and now President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki all vied for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). There was incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan as loner in that race. Perhaps, to sanitise the northern flank, there emerged the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF), which was predominantly PDP. At first it seemed an impossible task to reconcile different aspirations of the different politicians, who were ‘big men’ in their individual capacities. But with great tact and wisdom, the Mallam Adamu Ciroma-led NPLF was able to harmonise the differences and narrowed down to one northern aspirant in the person of Atiku.
Atiku was however, trounced in the primary by President Jonathan. Jonathan did not achieve that feat without support of most of the PDP governors, predominantly from the North. That was not all. Jonathan also trounced Buhari mercilessly in the presidential election, meaning that the polity understands fairness when there is need for it. All of that was not for free, as the governors who were either returning for second term or going to the Senate were assured of party tickets.
Here we are again, with a similar scenario. In 2011, the NLPF lent a voice and was listened to by the aspirants. The governors of the PDP however, did what pleased them in the primary, as well as in the main election. Towards 2019, the governors of APC are looking so defiant. They are doing everything to drag Buhari into the race. Last Friday, they acted a show of strength display in Daura. Even those who had been reluctant to join what had been more of travesty have now fully enrolled in the maniacal dance. Only time will tell where they are headed.
In 2011, the NPLF headed against the tide. The governors had their way and put Jonathan in the Presidency. They are the ones who control the purse of states. They can deploy a lot of it to swing political decisions. They may do so again this time and force Buhari on their party. It is a game of survival, as they are not doing so because they love Buhari. They only want to ensure that they ride on the Buhari Bandwagon to get their own tickets.
Whatever the case, the elders have spoken and it is very loud. If they are convinced that another four years of Buhari will not do them and the country any good, let them join forces with like minds across the country. After all, democracy is a game of numbers!
Alabi Williams is a public affairs commentator. Connect with him on Guardian, where this article was first published.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.