•Seek postponement of 2022 national census
John Shiklam in Kaduna
Ahead of the 2023 general election, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has said the region will support only a presidential candidate who has the capacity to address the nation’s socio-economic and security problems irrespective of where the person comes from.
The elders say they will no longer vote for a candidate based on sentiments as they did for President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, describing the incumbent as a disappointment to not only the North but the entire country.
NEF’s Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said this yesterday in an interview with journalists during a meeting of Northern Leaders of Thought held in Kaduna.
The northern elders also advised the federal government to postpone the planned 2022 National Census because of the large numbers of displaced Nigerians and the nearness of the census to the 2023 elections.
Baba-Ahmed said Nigerians, especially northerners would vote for the best candidate, whether he or she is from the northern or southern part of the country.
Baba-Ahmed dismissed calls by some groups that the presidency should be left for the South, describing such agitation as “command democracy.”
He said Nigerians, especially northerners did not bargain for the current economic and security challenges under Buhari’s administration, saying that the North’s support for Buhari in 2015 and 2019 was a mistake, which should not be repeated in 2023.
“Northerners were told that if Buhari becomes president, the country would be secured; he will fight corruption; the economy will improve, but now we are worst. This is not fiction.
“This is not propaganda, it is not fiction, it is a fact on the ground,” he added.
He pointed out that there are millions of Internally Displaced Peoples Camps (IDPs) in the North-west, where Buhari comes from as a result of deadly activities of bandits and lamented that the government has refused to admit it.
“They are refusing to accommodate this view and consider the fact that we have internally displaced people.
“This is not the Nigeria that we voted for President Buhari; so, he is a disappointment and that is why we are calling on Nigerians, particularly, northerners to be very careful; don’t repeat the same mistake.
“Choose a northerner if you want, but please make sure he is the best among those that are available including candidates from the South,” the NEF spokesman added.
He argued that presidential candidates should have a team to work with to be able to articulate their vision.
“Don’t just come to us as Buhari did in 2015 and 2019. We want to vote for a team. We want a President who will have a team ready to transit with them to form a government.
“We don’t want a President that will take six months thinking about who will run his government. We want to do things differently otherwise the North is doomed and this country is doomed,” Baba-Ahmed said.
He said those who urged the political parties not to field northern candidates are not democrats.
“This is what they will call command democracy. It is a very primitive politics and retrogressive,” he said and urged those he described as “real politicians” from the Southern part of the country to enlighten those making such demands.
Speaking further, he said it would be wrong to tell a part of the country not to contest.
“You threatened that any political party that fields a northern candidate should not be voted for.
“There is nothing like that in the constitution. Sadly, some people will be speaking in this manner.
“What we said to them is that the democratic processes will not be restricted to satisfy them,” he added.
According to him, Nigerians should decide who they want.
“A northerner and a southerner have equal rights to contest.
“Northerners should be very careful in choosing who they vote for.
“That is how we ended up with President Buhari. We don’t want to repeat the same mistake.
“It is not enough to be a northerner; you have to be better than other candidates; you have to be the best for the North and the best for the rest of Nigeria. We are looking for a Nigerian President,” Baba-Ahmed, said.
Also in his opening address at the event, the convener of NEF and former Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said the North has always been the kingmaker in Nigeria’s politics.
“I heard somebody boasting some few days ago that he was a kingmaker and now he wants to be king; well the North has always been the kingmaker politically in Nigeria and nobody else; it is not a matter of arrogance; that is the reality and it has not changed,” Abdullahi said, apparently referring to the National leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed who recently declared his presidential ambition.
Abdullahi lamented that Nigeria is going through many challenges, saying that the NEF meeting will proffer practical solutions.
“They promised things will be different and that they will take over the challenges confronting us, not just in the country, but our region. Things don’t seem to be getting better, rather things seem to be getting worst,” he said.
A communique issued at the end of the meeting decried the security situation in the North and urged President Buhari, governors and legislators to revisit and re-prioritise spending on security as well as address the scourge of poverty.
The communique signed by former Vice-Chancellor of Plateau State University, Prof. Doknan Shenni, maintained that the fundamental rights of all political parties to field candidates of their choices, and the right of voters to freely exercise choices over who leads them should not be compromised.
The communique maintained that “northerners have equal rights to aspire to all offices but they must raise competence, evidence of personal integrity and commitments to the rule of law above all other considerations.
The communique lamented that the desperate poor economic condition of most northerners poses additional threats to security and the democratic process and urged leaders to avoid pushing the population into deeper poverty and desperation amid challenging economic policies and a lack of empathy.
It advised the federal government to postpone the planned 2022 National Census because of the large numbers of displaced Nigerians and the closeness of the census to the 2023 elections.
It further called on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act, as this will improve the quality of elections, starting from 2023.
The communique called on key Northern groups to engage their southern counterparts to improve understanding, lower tensions and contribute to the creation of an atmosphere that allows all Nigerian to live in peace with each other.