2 March 2013

Nigeria: With One Eye Open


Whatever made General Ibrahim Babangida to deprive Nigeria of the fruits of that golden venture into democracy, dealt a severe blow on the future of this nation.

The actualization of the two-party system which he promulgated and nurtured for this country would have proved to be the panacea for the political headaches and upheavals that now erupt with every passing day.

The emergence of the Peoples Democratic Party with its wide sweep of dominance over the Northern part of the country is a throwback to the instability caused by the divisive issues which were to the fore in the days of the Northern Peoples Party, and the Action Group, and the NCNC, and the NNDP and the Northern Elements Progressive Union, and the Middle Belt Congress or whatever --coalitions and mergers which sprouted in a messy conglomeration of political parties before the military struck.

At the time when the military had to remove itself from the scene, through the interplay of several factors, a return to the old ways was the natural consideration of the old as well as the new politicians who were poised to re-establish the former routine of corruption and official crimes that almost had almost seen us into the pit. It was clear that they had learnt nothing from the travails of the military era, which they had in fact infected with their congenital lack of honest purpose. Then came IBB with that memorable formula for progress -- a two-party system springing from the not-so-disparate basic positions of both the recognized "progressives", and the so-called "conservatives" that make up the polity.

The elections that followed were an eye-opener. Winners emerged across political party divisions, sectional preferences and even religious affiliations. The common elements of our national profile emerged to be more patriotic than we had actually imagined. But history played us a huge joke, or was it the future that was betrayed? The operation was successful, but the patient died. And when the military eventually withdrew, the equation had substantially changed, flinging us back to "square one".

The political terrain at this time is almost just like it was before the military entered into our political life initially. The only points of difference can merely be referred to as "variations" on a theme--the theme of sectionalism, of divisive policies, and stark self-interest.

But for a moment back there, the forces of history almost caught up with us, with the coming of age of the State Governors Forum. It was first a regional power structure, with the 19 Northern governors forming a group. Then it gradually distended to include all the State Governors. The leader, at that time, now Senator Bukola Saraki, knew the power of the weapon he held, but had to be circumspect in the way he wielded it. He had an imminent political hurdle in front of him, and the fewer people who were disaffected in the realization of that ambition, the greater his chances of success. But he had set the tone. He had unveiled the potentials of the group in the control of political power. His successor, obviously cast in the same mould, was all set to firmly establish and institutionalize that control when, if one may follow the trend of Bamanga Tukur, the PDP Chairman's indications, the sleep of President Goodluck Jonathan became markedly disturbed.

Although the direction of governance is entrenched in the exercise of the powers of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, political power resides in the office of the Presidency and the position of the Parliament. The legislators, the President can contend with. But a powerful structure comprising the Chief Executive of States and acting by its own rules, as long as they are within the ambit of the law, is not so easily handled. The issue grows horns when it is perceived, rightly or in error, that the leader of this powerful group of Governors may be nursing some political ambitions abutting on the President's own passionate aspirations. Then every move he makes, especially with the support of his group is construed as a ploy to undermine the position and desire of the President, no matter how profitable it may be to the nation. That was the position in which Governor Rotimi Amaechi and the Governors' Forum found themselves barely ten days ago.

The President fought back valiantly, sleeplessly, according to Tukur, and so did Bamanga Tukur himself who also could not have been having restful nights. Jonathan looked for ways of shortening the reach of the Governors, but that was not apparent. Several of the supporters of Amaechi were of the President's own party. The party's Chairman, Tukur himself, at one time had his hands full in the effort to hold on to his office in the face of the governors' antagonism, Eventually, the idea of a PDP Governors' Forum surfaced and seem to have congealed.

To borrow an ill-used phrase, it is unfortunate. With its birth, it is reckoned that the nocturnal peace of the president will return, for it is obviously conceived to break the backbone of the national group, and it will...in the short run. But it may also engender a deep disaffection that can erupt into open rebellion in the future, for it has brought with it the mores of the pre-military era of bitter internecine strife.

It has also given a glimpse of what may still be. The profile of the governors' stand for and against the President earlier on, was not far from the structure that emerged with the formation of the two-party system. In these days of new parties and proposed mergers, only one single national event of prodigious consequences may be able to return the country to the mold of two main political parties-- one radiating "a little to the right", and the other "a little to the left"... .

The North has always claimed to be more than the South in population, an assertion that has often been put in doubt seasonally by the results and processes of succeeding exercises of our population census. That is a legacy bequeathed to us by our British colonial masters who definitely had an interest in establishing a more populous Northern portion of Nigeria where they would retain a foothold of control even after the country had gained independence. The undeniably larger land mass above the Niger River, which forms the natural demarcation between the North and the South, fortuitously lent credence to that assumption on. Yet the doubt lingers and is coiled up to a wavering question mark, especially in the South, each time we have held a head-count in the country.

But, of course, such a misgiving does not occur in the North which has been able to spill over across the Niger by a mishap of history, bolstered by the visionary leadership of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and First Premier of the Northern Region. The Yoruba area of Ilorin had been over-run by the powers of the Sultanate, who then had turned their faces towards the sea before they were stopped in Ilorin. An Emirate was established there, all the same, and it was comfortable for the colonial powers to install an official arm of the North by the introduction of governmental patterns and systems of the North.

But it was the Sardauna who absorbed the area into the family of the Northern peoples by granting the indigenes all opportunities available, and more. He made them feel a part of the region in a full-fledged status, and that put the young elements, who had already absorbed a lot from the contact with the advanced educational structure of the South, at a great advantage. So it was more sensible for the people to stay within the less progressive North at that time, where they had less competition. With the advent of party politics, it was thus not too difficult to resist, and even reject, the blandishments with which the Southern politicians attempted to reclaim what they felt belonged to them -- at least culturally, since the Ilorin language is a Yoruba dialect.

The North has always preserved this enlarged structure of the region, like any other heritage granted by the Sardauna era. It unabashedly claimed every right and privilege (or its size in population and area and made sure that it proportionately improved in the number of States as the South increased its areas of administrative divisions. It had never been in doubt that it was in competition with the South, and was determined not to be bested. With the stabilization(?) of States at 36, it made sure that it had no less than 19. The 19 Governors of those States have gradually constituted themselves into arguably the most powerful force on our political terrain today. And they know it.

And so the Northern governors have everything, or almost everything, going for them.

They pay some attention, all the same, to the fact that they are on the same street with the vibrant Arewa Youth Council, which seeks unity within itself, and Nigeria for us all. They are also in the majority in the new Governors' Forum. They are more powerful than ever, and several of them appear not to be in support of Jonathan's bid for a second term, no matter how many groupings are contrived to turn them around. Thus the President may still need to watch out -- with one eye open when he sleeps -- no matter what Alhaji Bamanga Tukur says.

Time out

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