Lagos-based journalist, Adewale Adeoye, warns against the dangers of allowing a few Nigerians called ‘the cabal’ to determine the leadership of the country in 2023
Discourse about the 2023 Presidential election is in a continuous state of motion, ever unstable, never with a definite shape. Recently, one of Nigeria’s most powerful figures, Alhaji Mamman Daura, a confidant of President Mohammadu Buhari and evidently the most outstanding pillar of the administration spoke his mind. It appears to be the summary of the thinking within the caucus of the Buhari kitchen cabinet. He said the next President of Nigeria can come from anywhere in the country. On the surface, he spoke eloquently, presenting a classic radical and even Marxist position that places premium on merit as against parochial judgments. Daura seldom speaks. When he does, he chooses his medium and his strategic audience. He spoke through the BBC Hausa Service. A psycho-analytical overview of Daura’s statement has various implications. First, his audience. Mamman Daura addressed his traditional constituency, the Northern masses who pay magic attention to BBC Hausa service with record 17.7million weekly listeners in the North. Majority of the listeners are Northern Muslims . The timing; he spoke at a phase of grave concern about fears that certain powerful interests in the core-North are bent on retaining power in the zone; he spoke at a time the agitation for rotation of power from the North, again to the South is gaining momentum. Let us not forget: He did not raise this issue in 2011 and 2015, why now when his own “people” are expected to quit the stage in 2023?
The statement appears deliberate; it has become the thermometer to gauge the mood of Abuja principality and powers; also a carrot, to measure the feelings of politicians in the South who feel a deep sense of the right to clinch the Presidency in 2023. For one thing, Duara’s statement means many things; that Nigeria needs a truly nationalist leader with emphasis on quality. Many progressives share this position with Duara but with different motives. Daura has no known radical tradition. It is then safe to assume that there is hidden thick clothing behind what appears like harmless linen. It is now certain that the core North, including Mamman and his caucus will present a candidate in 2023. Most likely, the group will present a person from the North. Stretched further, the group will present a candidate from anywhere in the country who must defend the interest of the Daura group. It is also a clearer confirmation that President Buhari is not on his own, he reports to a stealth leadership within. That is the short and bold message which Daura appears to have presented in the most diplomatic manner possible.
Given the power and influence of the caucus in today’s politics, it will be a grave error to undermine its formidable strength, but it is also a grievous error for the Daura group to overestimate its strength and undervalue the flood of resistance that may flow from his adversaries.
There is no doubt that today, Nigeria faces serious problems of corruption, underdevelopment, sectionalism in the allocation of positions, sharing of state resources and opportunities, poverty and hunger. These have continued to fuel violence, extremism and brigandage in some parts of the country. The consequences are pronounced in deeper ethnic division, tribalism and the increasing tempo of secessionist agitation. This is the time for a unifying political figure that understands the history and dialectics of the challenges facing the country and who is prepared to guarantee justice, equity and fair play. However, the need for a fair-minded President in 2023, does not in any way contradict the need for the rotation of power which is an unwritten convention not only in the political parties, but also in the sub-consciousness of many Nigerians. Why a President with a national outlook is needed, this does not eliminate the quest for such a candidate from the South neither does it assert the predominance of such a candidate only in the core North. The reality is that even if a section continuously produces the best President for any country, meeting the needs of Nigerians, it will not stop the agitation for other sections to assert the right to lead the country. When a section thinks it must continuously produce the leadership of the country, it oils a feeling of entitlement, shows contempt for the ability of other zones to govern the country, promotes the politics of exclusion, the very essential ingredient of equity and it diminishes the hope of having a territory that offers equal opportunities to her citizens regarding the right to aspire to rule. Rotation is also supported by historical factors given the plural nature of Nigeria.
Let us face it, the core North has some advantages. The number of voters in the North-West in 2019 was 18,505,984 voters, South-West zone was 14,626,800, South-East had the lowest with 8,293,093. Lagos has 6,048,156 registered voters, while Kano comes second with 5,149,070 voters. South-South,11,101, 093 and North East, 9, 929,015. The North West and North East alone have 28,434,999 voters. With the North Central, the number of voters in the entire North comes to 39,021,964 while the South West, South East and South-South together comes to 35,656,908. The North has a clear difference of 3,365,056 voters ahead of the South. In 2015, registered voters were 68,833,476 but increased to 73,944,312 as at January 2018 and peaked almost at 80million as at December 2018. Youths between 18 to 35 made up 51,11 percent while people between 36 and 50 years formed 29.97 percent. It is an old maxim that the North has always been accustomed to electoral advantage, which seems to have been reinforced by careful plotting from the past years. The creation of States, local governments, wards and constituencies orchestrated largely by the military governments of Gens Ibrahim Babangida and Sanni Abacha, has strengthened the potential of the core-North to determine the electoral fortunes of the country, to some extent. The last three decades have also seen other factors leading to a demographic and electoral shift in favour of the core-North. While the North continues to record large turn out on election day, the potentials continue to diminish in the South. Education and economic independence have lifted the South, but have also become the albatross of the South when it comes to electoral consciousness. Every available fact indicates that on election day, more people vote in the core-North than anywhere else. For a political system that places less value on ideas, the high level of illiteracy in the core North has become a source of electoral gain, providing the impetus for high turnout of voters. There is also the recent mass movement of people from the Magreb region, displaced by the armed conflict, many of who see Nigeria as their save haven. Many of them have registered as voters in Nigeria. Increasingly, this group is becoming a strong electoral force and given the bond of faith and tradition, their preferences during elections are predictable. The reality is that given the balance of registered voters, the North today has the best advantage to produce the highest number of votes, but this is not automatic. Variables like ethnicity, religion, party structure, campaign strategy, networking of the individual candidates are bound to affect a North-South fixation in the electoral synergy. Yet the North has witnessed unprecedented polarization in recent years, breaking a once unified whole.
However, the most important aspect of the debate is that Daura and his caucus, which some describe as the cabal, are determined to produce Buhari’s successor. In the context of power relations, it is naïve to expect them not to do so.
It then brings into sharp focus, the possibility of the caucus throwing the contest open to give a semblance of democratic match, knowing the inevitability of the emergence of its preferred candidate, given the enormous wealth and state machinery at its disposal. However, it should be etched in the mind that what would be topmost on the mind of the caucus is to produce a candidate that it can manipulate, a candidate that would preserve the status quo, its form, its content and its spirit. So a candidate may come from the South, without necessarily being a representative of the South, a candidate may come from the North, without representing the interest of the people of the North, but standing for the perks and privileges of a tiny self-serving group.
This has been the trend since time immemorial. Gen Olusegun Obasanjo was touted as the Yoruba candidate, but in reality, he didn’t win his ward in 1999, a clear message from the Yoruba that he was not qualified to be a local councillor in Yoruba territory. It is unlikely the people of the Niger-Delta, out of their own free volition, would have picked former President Goodluck Jonathan, yet he was touted as the candidate of the South-South. It is not only wrong, but immoral and a spectacle of blackmail for few people to pick candidates from their bedrooms in Abuja and parade them as representing a people they did not consult. So it appears what we have had over the years are candidates representing a few individuals. The position of Daura is a clear indication to continue the sleazy culture. And truly, Nigeria has never experienced the services of a President that was part of their pains and pangs especially during the bloody campaign against military rule in which many lives were lost. But the power brokers continue to substitute substance for realities.
Though Gen Obasanjo went to prison, his was accidental, never on the altar of a life of sacrifices dedicated to ending military rule and building a new country with a radical or paradigm shift from the perfidious past. Though the ruling class has its network spread across the pole, there is a senior partner which Daura represents. While the core North has had a timeless advantage, the license of power has been used to a lesser advantage of the Northern masses. Extreme poverty, hunger and resignation to stupor remain the lot of the multitude. The region also faces fresh threats of internal schism, never before seen; armed banditry and a chain of violent cells. For the first time, Emirs are being attacked, waylaid and confronted by armed groups, sacred authorities are being questioned by radical and extremist groups; Hausa-Fulani clashes are being recorded presented as mere acts of banditry. Instead of seeing this as a major threat that may extinct the Northern ruling elite, it appears the violent forces are seen by a section as having come to be handy as a negotiating scare dog for them to retain power on the excuse that they are better placed to quench the rage. The options before aspirants from the South are tasking. First is to seek a candidate with progressive background, the second is presentation of popular manifesto to the people top of which must be the restructuring of the country, at the same time through engagement with the North to allay fears and aspirations, the third is regional unity of the stakeholders through the presentation of only one rallying figure. Alliances must also be written on paper. In 2007, the South-west reached an alliance with President Obasanjo, but he pulled the ladder as soon as he got to the apex; in 2011, a covert understanding was reached with former President Jonathan, he upturned the table and attempted to strip naked his lead supporters, in 2015, Buhari’s men launched a post-election cold war against his main benefactors. Defeating the forces of yesteryears will not be easy. It will be tough. The Daura group should also know that the wisdom of yesteryears has failed and infact, at present, endangers not only the people but also its practitioners. It is time to realise that manipulating elections to serve the interest of a few is a whirlwind that may lead to grave consequences. Nigerians must be allowed to make their own choice, out of free, prior and informed consent, if not, Nigeria may face the worst version of June 12.