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Southern Governors’ Gratuitous Blackmail On 2023 Presidency — By Iliyasu Gadu

If proof was ever needed that our political elite have learnt nothing from our political travails as a country, the outcome of the meeting of the 17 Southern governors in Lagos on Monday, July 5, 2021, was a stone cold affirmation of it.

Rising from a five-hour conclave, the governors were in their usual petulant, grumpy, tantrum best; reeling out a laundry list of ultimatums on burning issues in the country ranging from insecurity, open grazing, the just passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the grandfather of them all, power rotation.

On power rotation, they thundered that the 2023 presidential election must be exclusively reserved for candidates from the South; meaning that the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) must both field candidates from the Southern part of the country. Candidates from any of the three Northern geopolitical zones: North West, North East and North Central, should not have a look in, but leave the field for candidates from the South.

I was hoping, like many Nigerians, that the morning after this namby-pamby statement was made by the 17 governors and after they must have looked at themselves in the mirror and sobered up, they would issue a counter statement saying that they were misquoted or that the statement was taken out of context or stuff to that effect.

However, 78 hours after, having not done so with all the opprobrium that has been deservedly piled on them for coming out with such inane statement, we are left with no choice than to give it to them double barrelled.

First the statement makes a mockery of the very democratic process that led to their election as governors.

Did Jide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos contest with others at the last governorship election or not? Why did Ezenwo Wike contest the Rivers governorship election in 2015 when the seat had been occupied uninterruptedly since 1999 by first, Peter Odili, then Celestine Omeihia and then Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi; all of them from the Northern part of Rivers State? Why did Wike, an ethnic Ikwerre like his predecessor, Amaechi, not hearken to the clamour in Rivers State to leave the field exclusively to candidates from the riverine areas of the state who have never ‘’tasted’’ the seat of government since the coming of the civilian democratic dispensation? And we hear that another Ikwerre man, Austin Opara, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, is being readied to replace Wike in 2023. Where then is the justice and equity for the Kalabari, Wakirike, Ibani, Ogoni and Andoni in Rivers State that Wike and his cohorts are demanding of the 2023 presidential race?

Did all of the 17 Southern governors for that matter emerge from the process they are recommending for the presidential race in 2023?

The demand that the 2023 presidential election be reserved only for Southern candidates is anti-democratic and anachronistic.

On June 12, 1993, we crossed the Rubicon of ethnic politics in Nigeria when Chief MKO Abiola from the Southern part of the country, without any of these gratuitous political blackmailing tactics, roundly and soundly defeated his Northern opponent, Bashir Tofa, in the presidential election. Abiola not only defeated Tofa in the North where the latter hailed from, he routed him in the polling booth right in front of his house. In achieving this unprecedented feat, Abiola did not need anybody to arm twist voters in the North or anywhere in the country to vote for him. Long before he made up his mind to contest the presidency, Abiola had built a network of goodwill and bridges of political influence across the country which served him as veritably when he came to contest the post eventually.

Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari went through the crucible of Nigeria’s political firmament losing the presidential race, tenaciously rising each time to contest and eventually making it the fourth time in 2015. Again, like Abiola, President Buhari did not need anybody to harangue voters into voting him through any form of political skulduggery.

It is glaring that the bulk of our present political elite have not been able to pass the test of democratic practice. At the beginning of the present civilian democratic dispensation, the military who handed over power at the time out of the need to make a fresh start away from our chequered political past and in order to especially lay the ghost of their tragic mistakes in annulling the June 12, 1993, election which Abiola clearly won, contrived to compel the two major political parties at the time to produce their presidential candidates from the South West whence Abiola hailed from. It was, I believe, intended as a one-off and not as the template for producing presidential candidates going forward. The political class was expected to imbibe the spirit and lessons of June 12, and strive to sustain, if not better it.

But alas here we are with our political elite working to take us back to 1999 in 2023; signifying that they have learnt nothing.

It is even sadder that rather than imbibe the language of dialogue and the political imperative of constructive engagement, lobbying and the like which are the hallmarks of democracy, they are always to be found using threats and blackmail, whether on issues like restructuring of the nation, revenue generation and allocation, form of government, security, co-existence and the like; hardly what one expects in a democracy.

Going by the toxic political prescription of the southern governors not only will prospective candidates from a section of the country stand disqualified in contesting the 2023 presidential elections, voters from the same section of the country will also not be allowed their constitutional right to freedom of choice in voting who they want. Is this the democracy we all fought for?

The prescription of the governors can only come from political pygmies addled by a culture of dubious political entitlement. It presupposes that politics and elections are decided not by the will of the people in open free and fair contest, as happened in June 12, 1993, but in closed, smoke filled rooms with pompous political bosses allocating and imposing their will on the people.

If the southern governors are somehow angling for one of them to become the president of Nigeria in 2023 through this very despicable, pathetic and undemocratic attempt at political blackmail they need be told in clear and unequivocal terms that it is as dead as a doornail. If, however, they are like masquerades dancing for a drummer hidden somewhere out of sight in the bush beating the drums, then we wait to see when and how that drummer will come join the dance. For he will not stay forever hidden in the bush; he must at some point come to be part of the dance.

The 2023 presidential elections in view of the existential issues raging in the country perhaps more than any requires a pan-Nigerian candidate to emerge and rally the country on the path to nationhood. For that he must earn it by endearing himself into our consciousness and rally us behind him. Nobody should expect to get it by gratuitous political blackmail.

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