- Category: DANIEL ELOMBAH
- Monday, 15 November 2010
- By Daniel Elombah
As Nigerians await the decision of the Mallam Adamu Ciroma-led Consensus Committee to choose a presidential aspirant for the north that would contest against President Goodluck Jonathan for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), discerning Nigerians wonder whether the masquerades on parade are northern ex-military conquistadores in a clash of military ego still marauding to usurp the nation's wealth.
Four northern presidential aspirants are seeking the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ticket for the 2011 elections and have agreed to be part of the consensus arrangement. They are: Ibrahim Babangida, Aliyu Gusau, Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Atiku Abubakar. Of these, Babangida and Gusau, are retired military generals.
As the scramble to next occupant of Nigeria’s seat of power — Aso Rock in Abuja gathers pace, by far the most interesting are a trio of ex-generals who will be taking on the putative frontrunner, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
Of the ex-generals, some believe Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, 69 - the country’s military ruler from 1985 to 1993 - from Minna in Niger state, is the one who is most likely to threaten Jonathan’s continued tenancy.
Then there is Gen Muhammadu Buhari, 68, from Katsina state, and a former military overlord himself. It was Buhari who overthrew the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari in 1983 before he in turn was kicked out by Babangida in 1985.
The third ex-general keen to move into Aso Rock is Aliyu Gusau, 67, from Zamfara state. He may be less visible than the other two, but he has been a long-serving kingpin of successive Nigerian regimes, both civilian and military, as intelligence chief.
What easily stands out about these ex-generals, what they have in common is that they are Muslims who come from what Nigerians generically call the North. But more importantly, they have been intimately tied in the past with Nigeria’s multiple coups, at least from the time the plotting against Shehu Shagari started.
In the South, the roster of three powerful ex-generals who symbolise the North’s history of military hegemony over Nigeria has raised the spectre of a creeping coup d’etat clothed in civilian-cum-democratic garb.
The candidate of the northern political establishment for next year’s presidential election is expected to emerge after the Northern Political Leaders Forum’s meeting scheduled for November 21 in Kaduna.
News reports indicate that the four presidential aspirants from the north have concluded plans on how the offices of the vice president and other offices would be shared among them. It was gathered that the second in line as the consensus candidate will nominate who becomes the Vice President and the others will get the slot of the Senate President and the Speaker and other juicy offices.
Leader of the Forum, Mallam Adamu Ciroma told Thisday Newspaper that the name of the candidate will be announced “not too long after the November 21 meeting” which will be the last to be held to deliberate on the issue.
The Adamu Ciroma Committee was set up to harmonise the North’s position and come up with a consensus aspirant to stave off the possibility of President Goodluck Jonathan clinching the party’s ticket. Jonathan is the only PDP candidate from the South.
Gen Buhari‘s case is different, as he is running on the ticket of a different party, the Congress for Progressive Change, and could not strictly be said to be a favourite of this Northern establishment. While being extremely popular with the Northern masses, the ruling elites view Buhari with suspicion.
It is true that one of the compelling arguments circulating in the North is that Jonathan is a wrongful claimant to the throne since, according to an unwritten memorandum of understanding within the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), a Northern candidate was supposed to have completed the full tenure of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua which was cut off prematurely by the illness that led to his death in may this year.
That is the argument being strongly pushed by supporters of Gen Babangida and Gen Gusau, as well as by a slew of Northern civilians like Atiku Abubakar, a former vice-president, all of whom are fighting for the PDP’s coveted nomination.
While the South is wary of the spectre of three powerful ex-generals who symbolise the North’s history of military hegemony over Nigeria coming back to power, it equally says a lot about how political power in the North has evolved over the years, given that by far the most formidable candidates the region is throwing up against the civilian Jonathan are ex-military men.
This can’t be by accident. The North’s long-standing leverage on power has largely been determined by its coup-making soldiers, who dominate the Nigerian military.
Ever since Sir Tafawa Balewa and Sir Ahmadu Bello were assassinated in the January 1966 coup — the first in Nigeria — the North has not produced a civilian politician capable of commanding its support.
There have been, to be sure, outstanding Northern civilian politicians like Aminu Kano and even Shagari, but none has carried the towering stature in his region the way, for instance, Obafemi Awolowo did in the Yoruba states or Nnamdi Azikiwe among the Igbo.
This has created a situation where the front men for Northern political interests in the post-1999 civilian dispensation have invariably been extremely wealthy ex-military men.
Even when the North agreed to “cede” power to the South when that dispensation began, the “civilian” most acceptable to them was the ex-general and former military ruler, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Supporting Obasanjo was also a smart way of creating a precedent that an ex-military ruler was not necessarily disqualified from seeking office as a civilian president.
This time round, the notion of a monolithic North united to lock out Southern candidates has been undermined by the following factors:
- The emergence of young, smart, patriotic and intelligent politicians who command huge respect from the South. Men like Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, former Chairman of international respected Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; and Mallam Nasir El Rufai, the achieving former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory.
- The politics of Middle Belt and the rising profile of the middle belt politicians as political power brokers. Men like Senate President, David Mark; former governor of Plateau state, Chief Solomon Lar; and former Minister of Industries, Dr Iyorchia Ayu. The spectacle of middle belt aligning with the two or even or all three regions of the south will undermine the northern votes and comfortably secure Jonathan a fresh tenancy at Aso Rock.
- Moreover, the notion of a united North is as misleading as the assumption that Gen Babangida, Gen Buhari and Gen Gusau share any coherent “Northern agenda.” A large swathe of enlightened Northern opinion are not comfortable with these ex-Generals who among them have governed the country by hook or crook for the past 35 years out of the 50 years independence, with nothing to show as progress. They believe that all they do is to usurp our country's wealth for their personal use and wonder "for how long shall these few northern ex-military political rogues continue to squander the nation's wealth in the name of the north...They have no substance and, no political agenda to move the country forward.”
Former National Secretary of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Senator Uba Ahmed, described the search for a northern consensus candidate as an exercise in futility. Consensus, he said, goes against “the grains of all known political principles, democracy and theories of politics, and it are undemocratic and unconstitutional”.
He said consensus would fail in its target in getting a candidate agreeable to all in the North.
The former NPN scribe said, consensus is unconstitutional and undemocratic, citing Section 223 (1a) of the Nigerian Constitution that emphasizes periodic primary elections by registered political parties. Section 233 (1a) under the Constitution and Rules of a Political Party “provide for periodical election on a democracy basis of the principal officers and members of the executive committee or other governing body of the political party.”
Nevertheless, sponsors of the consensus candidacy soldier on. According to Garba Shehu, Of the Atiku Abubakar Campaign Organisation, “the campaign structures of all the northern presidential aspirants are expected to fuse into one super structure after the announcement of the consensus candidate from the north”.
Under the arrangement, whoever among the quartet is selected by the group will enjoy the support of the three others who will then automatically terminate their campaign efforts and join forces to ensure the success of the consensus candidate at the PDP primaries and general elections in 2011.
But, Uba Ahmed, the former NPN scribe said the Ciroma-led group would hit the rocks, because it is not in the character of human beings to surrender their vantage positions and all the candidates have enormous goodwill and advantages.
Ahmed told the Daily Sun that what the Ciroma group wanted to achieve contradicted human behaviours and was not predicated on people’s ambition and what they represented. The former Mnister of Labour and Productivity also said that it would be a big task for any of the presidential aspirants to give up his ambition.
Senator Ahmed cited the 1978 and 1992 presidential primaries of the NPN and National Republican Party (NRC), respectively, in which Ciroma contested. In the former, Ciroma lost while in the latter the election was stopped midway by the General Ibrahim Babangida government. “Why didn’t Ciroma surrender? Why did he contest? Why does he now want to do what in 1978 he did not accept?” He queried.
Indeed, the longstanding personal rivalries and animosities between the ex-generals could still outweigh everything else.
It is an open secret in Nigeria that Buhari has never forgiven Babangida for leading the 1985 coup against him. At the time, Babaginda held the sensitive position of Army Chief of Staff. Likewise, Gusau participated in that coup and cannot possibly be in the good books of Buhari.
And though Gusau worked productively with Babangida for many years, the relationship turned into one of bitter rivalry reportedly on account of Babangida breaking a secret promise to transfer military power to Gusau when coup-making was the norm in Nigeria.
Some Nigerian pundits even believe Gusau is in the race for no other reason than to spoil his archrival’s chances of getting the PDP nomination. While some suspect Atiku was brought back to the PDP fold to foil the chances of the ex-military men foisting another civilian coup-d’etat.
If as envisaged, the nomination will be preceded by US-style primaries, it is during this time that the pent-up animosities between the Northern front men are most likely to emerge.
Before then, Nigerians are not keeping silent at the machinations of the ex-military men.
Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chibudom Nwuche, urged Nigerians to reclaim their rights from the entrenched political and military establishment group which have abrogated these rights and made elections a mere formality by imposing their choice on the citizenry.
A group of Nigerians have also launched a campaign targeted at stopping Babangida from contesting for the presidency. According to this group, "whilst it is the right of any normal Nigerian to aspire to lead our dear country, General Ibrahim Babangida cannot be considered as a normal Nigerian in the type of new Nigeria, which we stand for; for the reasons of his antecedents".
Nwuche told Thisday that the zoning issue is the latest ruse being employed by the cabal to try and exclude Nigerians from participating in governance as well as deny them of the services of people who can to transform Nigeria.
‘‘Through zoning, this group intends to exclude the best from the contest and impose their anointed god -sons and daughters on Nigerians. Products of such arrangements only owe their allegiance to the cabal and not to their country or fellow citizens. They also often lack respect for the Constitution, which is the grund norm that has entrenched inherent rights in all, and allows all individuals the right to contest for the post of the Presidency or any other post for that matter. That no group has the right to delimit the choice of Nigerians and zone out reliable and competent people from this contest’’, he declared.
Nwuche said this cabal will fail, as majority of Nigerians who cut across all ethnic, political, religious and tribal groups have become wiser and are rising to reclaim their rights and country from the stranglehold of the group.
The former lawmaker said the attempt by the Ciroma-led panel to throw up a consensus candidate will fail as it clearly portrays the inherent weakness of the participants, who do not have the strength to individually stand up in their own right.
He urged aspirants to public offices to be armed with a clear agenda for the public in order not to resort to the primordial sentiments of tribe, ethnicity and religion. He said majority of Nigerians do not care about ethnicity, tribe, religion etc but want the best candidate to lead them and confront in a sincere manner their common problems.
‘‘Nigerians need a clear agenda to solve the myriad of problems confronting them such as lack of power, water, bad roads, unemployment, insecurity, etc that has been the legacy of the past 50 years of misrule by this same cabal,’’ he said.
The common narrative in the South and especially amongst Jonathan’s core supporters is that the North is determined to marshal all its forces (and not necessarily in the benign sense of using its vote) to deny the incumbent, or any other Southern candidate for that matter, continued tenancy at Aso Rock.
Still others wonder whether the whole issue is all about clash of military egos. To this school of thought; if the zoning controversy is only about Northern candidacy, what prevents the Northern power brokers coming together to jointly support a young but intelligent Northerner, capable of leading Nigeria in this 21st century world; Muslim Northerners in the mould of Mallam Nasir el Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu.