In December 2019, I attended a FICAN (Finance Correspondents Association of Nigeria) workshop sponsored by the NIDC (Nigeria Insurance Deposit Corporation) held at the American University of Nigeria, Yola, Adamawa State. The university is said to belong to ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar, recently crowned the presidential flag bearer of the PDP in next year’s presidential election. After the opening ceremony, I decided to take a stroll to a bank nearby and make a withdrawal. As if the spirit of God was leading me, I began to ruminate on the affairs of Nigeria. As far back as that time, the vexed question of whether the presidency should shift southwards or remain in the North had been joined. After eight years of a Northern president, should another Northerner mount the saddle? After eight years of a Muslim as president, should another Muslim ascend to the throne? After eight years of an Islamic fundamentalist in power, should another of the same religious bent take over from him? If Buhari has a Fulanization agenda, which he has assiduously pursued to the chagrin of the entire country, should he be replaced in office by another Fulani?
The other sets of questions that I asked myself as I walked to and fro the bank back to the workshop venue were: What exactly are the priorities of the South? If it is a Southern president, then, they may have to forgo him or her being a Christian. If it is a Christian president, then, they may have to forgo him or her being a Southerner Their perfect take, however, is a Southern Christian who is not Fulani and who is not a fundamentalist Islamic jingoist. They want everything that Muhammadu Buhari is not. But can they get that in one fell swoop? Those thoughts raged in my brains close to three years ago.
I never knew who the candidates of the two leading parties would be. Nothing also suggested that a third force in the person of Peter Obi and his Labour Party was to make the kind of showing they are making now. PDP was the first to name its presidential flag bearer. Now, the PDP flag bearer is everything that Buhari stands for – Northerner, Muslim, Islamic fundamentalist, and Fulani. If there is any difference between Atiku and Buhari, it is not of substance but of appearance. Atiku’s volte-face on Deborah Samuel confirmed that beyond reasonable doubt.
Tinubu, the APC flag bearer, is a Southerner but Muslim. That is the snag. Tinubu is not an Islamic fundamentalist but a moderate, like most Yoruba Muslims and Christians are. He is not Fulani either but has the albatross of where he will choose his running mate from. Some are putting pressure on him to choose a Northern Muslim like MKO Abiola did in 1993. But this is not 1993! While I agree that Christians may have nothing to fear from Tinubu, a Muslim, we must necessarily ask the question why Northern Muslims do not regard Northern Christians as northerners.
Northern Muslims only exploit their Northern Christian counterparts and that has got to stop! In fact, it must be fought to a standstill and reversed. Northern Christians can no longer be used and dispensed with as hewers of wood and fetchers of water by their Nothern Muslim counterparts. Just like MKO scoffed at those who stood against Muslim-Muslim ticket in 1993 and went on to win handsomely, Tinubu should also scoff at the idea of those against a Christian running mate and go ahead and win handsomely. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Revolutionaries are those who tread uncharted courses.
Peter Obi appears the best candidate that approximates what the South wants. He is southerner, he is Christian, not Fulani and not fundamentalist. Of the three, he appears the least corrupt but is not a saint if recent disclosures about his public and private life are anything to go by. The public also tends to believe he would manage the public till better, though there are disputations that he has a penchant for saving money that should have been committed to development purposes. Has Obi and his Labour Party the structure and financial muscle to compete on equal footing with Tinubu/APC and Atiku/PDP? Last week’s governorship election in Ekiti once again confirmed the primacy of money in our politics. You must also have structures/foot soldiers who will bring out the votes and police them.
The Youths milling around Obi, how many of them will the system allow to be registered to vote in next year’s election? The youth’s support must translate into votes for it to be relevant to Obi’s aspiration. This must be good for thought to those youths chorusing Barack Obama's "Audacity of Hope". The American system allowed it but our own system here is sure to truncate it. The youth who are trooping out to register to vote will by all means be frustrated. The window of registration will soon be shut against them. And even those who manage to pass through that biblical eye of the needle may still not get their PVC before the election date.
The CAN and PFN say the next president should be a Christian: Will they throw their weight behind Obi? What if Obi fails to measure up for the reasons stated above plus the fact that the conservative North may not be willing to vote Igbo for now? But the question also is why should the North continue to kneel on the throat of the Igbo and not allow them to breathe? Either the Igbo are treated as equal partners in the Nigeria project or they are allowed to exit! Who benefits from the way the Igbo are condescendingly treated: Tinubu or Atiku? And between Atiku and Tinubu, who is to be preferred by CAN, PFN?
If you do not plot your graph very well, you may end up having Atiku - the very replica of Buhari. Is that what you want? The situation is dicey! What is required is strategic calculation and not mere sentiments. Let us do elimination by substitution. What is our worst case scenario? How do we avoid it? I think that is what we should first do in the circumstance. What is the worst case scenario that we do not want? It is Atiku in this instance. The PDP wanted to get back into power at all costs, without considering the morality and fairness of their action. They fell for Atku’s boast that he has 11 million votes in his kitty. PDP leaders should have noted that even 12 million votes could not deliver the presidency to Buhuri on three occasions. So, how will 11 million votes do magic that 12 million votes could not do?
Just like Buhari needed more than 12 million votes to win the presidency, so also does Atiku need more than 11 million votes to win! Where will he get the additional votes from? Will the Christians, who he let down badly on Deborah Samuel, vote for him? Will Wike and the others that felt betrayed in the South queue behind him? Will the Southwest abandon Tinubu, and support Atiku? The next weeks and months will be interesting, indeed!
- Bolawole is a former editor & chairman of the editorial board of The PUNCH newspapers. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio, television, traditional and digital media.
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