Jonathan vs North: Who blinks first? by Tony Akowe

image Jonathan and Gusau

IT is no longer news that a section of the north is opposed to the emergence of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as a candidate for the forthcoming general elections on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

It is also no longer news that the once united region, comprising 19 states today, is no longer one and, for the first time in several years, has decided to toe different lines in the nation’s quest for quality political leadership for the country. While some groups have come out strongly to oppose Jonathan’s presidential ambition, many others have sworn to fight against it with the last drop of their blood.

There is however one question on the lip of many Nigerians who have decided to sit back and play the “siddon look” type of politics. This question is how these groups (both pro and anti-Jonathan) intend to go about their activities especially considering the fact that most of them are not even registered members of the PDP. Those who are not comfortable with just fighting Jonathan have decided to throw up other candidates to contest the elections.

Interestingly, the Arewa Consultative Forum, a body that claimed to be the mouth piece of the north is also divided on the issue. While some of its members like its CWC Chairman, Gen. IBM Haruna is opposed to their meddling in what he considered the internal affair of the PDP, others, led by the Chairman of its BOT are in support of meddling into the affairs of the parties.

The Forum believe that declaring for the presidency by Jonathan is a betrayal of the zoning arrangement of the party. The National Publicity Secretary of the Forum, Anthony Sani believe that the presence of all, but one of the PDP governors at Jonathan’s declaration was because the president arm twisted them into supporting him, while using state resources for personal gains. Sani argued that Jonathan’s ambition was capable of causing a sharp division in the country, adding that the president should have excused himself from contesting the elections in view of the existing zoning and rotational arrangement within his party, the PDP.

To him, it was morally wrong for President Jonathan to have decided to partake in the 2011 contest in the manner in which he had been going about it, inspite of the odds against him. But he however believe that the Nigerian electorate should be left to decide the fate of President Jonathan regarding his decision to participate in the PDP primaries and subsequent elections slated for next January.

While supporting the views expressed by former Kaduna state governor, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, Sani said “we agree with former governor Balarabe Musa that President Jonathan’s decision to run for president in 2011 has disappointed many of us who stood by him during the ailment of President Yar’Adua to become acting president, including hankering for him to become president way back before his principal passed on.

Nobody expected Jonathan to contest in view of the constitutional provisions of his own party on rotation and zoning as well as the gentleman agreement by a party that sired him, especially when regard is paid to the fact that these breaches border on national values of honour, trust, social justice, equity, fairness, common decency and sense of commitment.

In the circumstance, can the nation trust any covenant President Jonathan enters into with Nigerians? Worse still, the whole declaration was a government affair, not by an aspirant for party primaries. It was morally wrong to bulldoze state and local governments to use government resources to mobilize people for the declaration and force all state governors to speak at the occasion. This is simply not fair. It may well be that Mr. President does not know that great men are defined by great challenges because they often pursue causes higher than themselves as worthy impulse.

That may explain why he does not want to be a great leader, considering that fact that he relishes in presiding over a divided people instead of over a united nation devoid of rancour and acrimony. Hence, his insistence to contest in the face of overwhelming odds. And this is simply because he believes in limitless fungibility of power. He forgets that leaders with such notion are those who are unable to make the distinction between power and claims often made on its behalf. Despite all this, Nigerians are the ones with the final judgment.”

However, the Arewa Defence League, a body comprising some youth groups in the north, insisted that the president must be stopped at all cost from the contest, saying that they are prepared to stop President Goodluck Jonathan from contesting the PDP primaries with the last drop of their blood.

They are also asking all well meaning northerners to be prepared to make every sacrifice necessary to correct the mistakes of its past leaders, saying they were aware of stockpiling of arms in the Niger Delta with the “intention of invading the north”. Spokesman of the group, Murtala Abubakar told The Nation that it is the desire of the people of the north to ensure peaceful and stable existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and that should not be misconstrued for weakness in whatever form, adding that “if anyone makes the mistake of doing so, they do so at their own expense”.

According to him, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) must abide by the zoning and power rotation provision of its constitution as a law abiding organisation. He argued that “President Goodluck Jonathan must not be allowed to contest in the PDP primaries for President in the 2011 general elections”, adding that “the people of the north have been making supreme sacrifices for the unity of this nation.

The most recent sacrifice was the denial of northern aspirants the support to become candidates for the presidential elections of 1999 and 2003 by northern leaders because of the zoning arrangement. Those political leaders of the north like IBB and Atiku who subscribed to power shift and rotation have inadvertently relegated the north to political slavery in a design perpetuated by the likes of former President Obasanjo and his co-travelers including the serving president, President Jonathan”.

Abubakar noted that they were “convinced that the death of President Umar Yar’adua was not premeditated, but we leave all matters of live and death in the hands of the almighty. We are calling on all true and well meaning northerners to be prepared to make sacrifice necessary to correct the mistakes of our past leaders unless we want t mortgage the future of our children and their children yet unborn.

Even as we do not stockpile deadly weapons for criminal intentions, northern youths are aware that such weapons have been stocked up in the Niger Delta over the years with the sinister intention of invading the north. The youths of the north are duty bound to protect the north and protect her political and economic interest even at the point of death.

We are not unmindful of the fact that northerners produced cash crops through physical labour in order to sustain the economy of the nation even before the discovery of oil. We shall not be intimidated any more by the threats of violence by the youths of other regions. We will want to categorically declare that no person or group of persons have the monopoly to the use of violence in the struggle for a just course”.

However, while the ACF and Arewa Defence League have not made their position known as to their preferred candidate from the north to contest the election, another set of groups are rooting for the candidacy of the Kwara state governor, Bukola Saraki as the consensus candidate from the north to contest the election against President Jonathan. Two of such groups, the Saraki Network for Democracy and Youth Support for Northern Presidency believe that only the Kwara State governor has the capacity to withstand Jonathan in terms of generational change. While the Saraki Network for Democracy is holding on to generational change to ask for support for Saraki and for both Atiku and Babangida to step down for him, the Youth Support for Northern Presidency believes that the two former leaders do not have the moral basis to represent the north and confront President Jonathan at the polls.

Chairman of the Saraki Network, Nafiu Lawal believes that apart from Saraki, other aspirants from the north right now on the platform of the PDP are “old brigades who have outlived their usefulness to the nation, but still want to call the shots”. According to him, the quality of politicians from the north who are contesting the 2011 presidential elections such as “Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar suffer credibility problem both nationally and internationally”, adding that “even if the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) still respects the zoning formula, these personalities jostling for the coveted office are unfit morally to represent the north. In short, they are spent force. Indeed, it is a sad irony and disheartening that while the wind of generational change is blowing across the world, old brigades who have since outlived their usefulness to the nation still want to call the shots…

Against this backdrop, a coalition of youth organisations in the north have decided to search for a credible and youthful politician from the region to join the 2011 presidential race. Interestingly, our choice is the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum and governor of Kwara state, Dr. Bukola Saraki. He is an incorruptible achiever and an accomplished politician.

He is a man of honour who is detribalised and a nationalist. We urge him to contest the 2011 presidential election, serve for four years and hand over power to a patriotic Nigeria, preferably from the south-south geopolitical zone. There is the need for Babangida and Atiku to drop their presidential ambition if their interest is the north in particular and the nation in general. Should Saraki fail to contest, and either Babangida and Atiku gets the ticket, then the PDP stands a chance of not winning at the polls at all because of protest votes, especially by the youths in the north.”

In the same vein, Chairman of the Youth Support for Northern Presidency, Alhaji Abdullahi Dantsoho, believes that the unity of the north is of paramount importance and therefore presenting a consensus candidate from the north on the basis of generational change with proven record of performance is also of utmost importance.

Dantsoho said that the call on President Jonathan not to contest the Presidential election is not an indication that the north is afraid of the President, adding that politics is a game of numbers, adding that “we are convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the candidacy of Governor Bukola Saraki, a serving governor who has served meritoriously for two terms, is a symbol of generational change and a dream of a prosperous Nigeria.

It is therefore our appeal that the north, under the present circumstance, rather than throw up different candidates and especially those who are seen to have held power at various times in the past and not meeting the broad consensus of generational change principle be advised to step down their presidential ambition in the interest of the north.”

In a sharp contrast, there seems to be a ray of light from the middle belt region for the President. Governors of the area have declared their total support for Jonathan and so have their youth and other political stakeholders.

The Middle Belt Dialogue (MBD), a group of newbreed politicians, professionals, students and other youth groups from the Middle Belt are throwing their weight behind the president just like their leaders. Rising from their meeting at the weekend, they resolved to vigorously mobilise support for President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 presidential race, declaring that Jonathan presents the best prospect for a more democratic and just Nigeria. They want all groups, including the traditional institution in the region to immediately commence vigorous mobilisation of the people of the region to come out en mass to register for the general elections.

In their communiqué made available to The Nation, they declared that by 2015 it would be the turn of the Middle Belt to produce the President since the South-West, the North and now the South-South would have taken their slot of the presidency.

Similarly, another group known as the Democratic Action Alliance, contends that the public declaration of President Jonathan to contest the PDP primaries is the best in the circumstances. Its National Coordinator, Barrister Zubairu Namama told The Nation that president has a brighter chance of winning the 2011 elections than any other aspirant. He noted that the president had done so much for the country in the last four months since he took over the mantle of leadership, adding that he is a tested and trusted person, whose leadership has recorded a lot of achievements.

While appealing to members of the PDP to work as a team to ensure the success of President Jonathan at primaries in October, the legal practitioner said that the president deserves the support of all Nigerians to emerge victorious during the main elections scheduled for January 2011. Namama stressed that the president had been rated as the most popular Nigerian politician on the internet with a fan base of over 200,000 friends in the country, adding that President Jonathan was able to achieve such success based on his simplicity, hardwork and dedication towards promoting good governance in the country.

As a leader, he said, President Jonathan has always put the interest of the country and its citizens above his own personal interest so as to achieve lasting peace and progress and commended him for appointing Professor Attahiru Jega as the Chairman of INEC and the prompt release of N87 billion to the commission.

There is no doubt that the days ahead of the PDP primaries are going to be very crucial and will go a long way in determining what has in wait for the north and the nation. Who will carry the day? Jonathan or the north? Will the north be able to produce a consensus candidate among them as envisage? Who will that candidate be in view of the hard talk by all parties in the region claiming to be the best for the office? There are so many questions that the north must answer in the few days ahead.