False analogies of Naka Sai Naka

VIEW FROM THE GALLERY by MAHMUD JEGA

I thought I finished my duty when I posted a brief article on social media last week titled “Fraudulent analogy of Naka Sai Naka.” But when I ran into Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni last week, he took me aside and said, “That article you wrote, elaborate on it. Northerners need to hear more.” It is not in my character to disobey governors, so I must return to the topic today, this time by addressing less volatile newspaper audiences.

The subject matter was this. An anonymous article was circulated on WhatsApp in which the author firmly predicted that the 2023 presidential election will be a political recapitulation of the 1979 presidential election. It briefly reminded me of a subject matter in Embryology, back in my days as a small university teacher. The German biologist Ernst Haeckel had stated in 1890, “Ontology recapitulates phylogeny.” When students asked for clarification, we said, “The ontological development of an individual [inside its mother’s womb] is a recapitulation of the phylogenetic [that is, evolutionary] history of its species.” Don’t worry if that statement confuses you. It has been disproved in Biology.

The article in question was by Kaduna State Chapter of the whispering campaign in the North called Naka Sai Naka, roughly translated as “Your own is your own.” Situated in the current political terrain, it means vote for your own. In politics, which one is “your own”? Is it a person from your region of the country, your ethnic group, your religion, your political party, your residential estate, your professional line, your skin colour, your business sector, your ideological leaning, your career line, your economic status, your social class, your type of temperament, or a person with whom you share a certain passion? In democratic choice, there is nothing wrong with many of these choices. I may decide to vote for a fellow businessman if I think that could bring advantages to business as a whole.

The anonymous author’s next lines however gave the game away. He or she wrote, “Peter Obi/Labour Party is analogous to Azikiwe/NPP [of the Second Republic]. Tinubu/APC is analogous to Awolowo/UPN. Atiku/PDP is analogous to Shagari/NPN. Kwankwaso/NNPP is analogous to Aminu Kano/PRP.” To an extent there is some truth here because the two major Southern ethnic groups had/have a big candidate each in 1979 and 2003. In 1979 the far North had three presidential candidates. This time around it has two but if you add the prominent APC presidential running mate, you are almost back to 1979.

The writer went on, “Aminu Kano was from Kano and won only in Kano State. (Kwankwaso will do the same). Obafemi Awolowo was from the South West and won the region. (Tinubu will do the same). Azikiwe won his zone, South East (Peter Obi will do the same). Shagari won the presidential election because he had North in his bag and also gathered meaningful votes from all other regions of Nigeria. Shagari also had spread all across the regions at that time. Atiku will do the same… North will massively vote for Atiku Abubakar. Naka Sai Naka!”

Put biologically, the anonymous author seemed to be saying that “the 2023 presidential election will be a recapitulation of the 1979 election.” Well, not so fast. Having lived through the Second Republic as a student and through this Fourth Republic as a political reporter, I have some observations to make. One is that   

Kwankwaso/NNPP is not Aminu Kano/PRP. NNPP lacks PRP’s leftist ideology, it lacks PRP’s long NEPU history dating back to 1949, lacks PRP’s spread into old NEPU strongholds beyond Kano, such as Zaria, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gusau and Kaura Namoda. NNPP also lacks PRP’s large crop of dedicated and very eloquent cadres, such as Sabo Bakin Zuwo, Lawal Dambazau and Musa Musawa. And, while Kwankwaso is charismatic, dynamic and has a cult-like Kwankwasiyya following, he does not measure up to Aminu Kano in towering political personality.

Secondly, Peter Obi/LP is not Azikiwe/NPP. Obi is the biggest political discovery of this election cycle, has made big impact on the social media and might sweep South East states. However, LP does not have the support of the South East political elite that NPP had. Not one of the South East governors openly supports LP. Obi also has nothing like Zik’s national and Africa-wide stature, Zik’s decades-long political staying power, or his unrivalled education, intellect and dazzling eloquence. Besides, NPP went beyond South East and won old Plateau State. Doesn’t look like LP can do the same.

Atiku/PDP of 2023 is not Shagari/NPN of 1979. Sure, at one point PDP had more spread across the country than NPN ever had, but it is now reduced to control of 14 states, 5 of them in rebellion, one more governor wavering, something NPN never experienced. NPN’s strongholds were North and southern minority states, while PDP’s strongholds since 2015 were South East and Niger Delta states, both of them now shaky due to the Obi factor and the Wike-led rebellion respectively. In truth, Atiku is more dynamic, more resolute and a more vigorous campaigner than Shagari, and his running mate Governor Okowa packs more political punch than Alex Ekwueme did in 1979. Shagari’s electoral success was not because of his personal charisma, but because he was an instantly sellable compromise candidate who had almost no personal enemies in Nigerian politics. When he led the first ballot at NPN’s “Nominating Convention” in Lagos in December 1978, the two runners-up declined to go for a run-off ballot, conceded to him and rallied behind him all through. Compare that to the fallout from PDP’s convention, still festering after eight months.

Tinubu/APC is also a world different from Awo/UPN. The only historical connection is that Tinubu was probably an Awoist in 1979. SDP, on whose platform he went to the Senate in 1992, inherited UPN’s structures in the West. Then also, AD/AC/ACN which Tinubu helped to find and subsequently became the leader, was a political offshoot of AG/UPN. But there are important differences as well. Although he is the single biggest political factor in the South West today, Tinubu nowhere attained Awo’s political iron-grip of the region. Awo won over 90% of the vote in most South West states in 1979.

In a perverse way, Tinubu’s less firm grip of the West is a political plus because Nigerians tend to be suspicious of you when your people love you too much, as was the case with Awo and Buhari too before 2015. Sure, Nigerians expect a major politician to win his home state. If Tinubu does not win Lagos, Atiku does not win Adamawa, Obi does not win Anambra or Kwankwaso does not win Kano, other Nigerians will not respect them. But your region should not show you too much love as a candidate. Americans distinguish between a “favourite son” of a certain state and “a politician of national stature.” The former is not regarded as presidential material.

Yet, Tinubu achieved what Awo/UPN never did, i.e. integrated the West, once synonymous with opposition politics, into a truly national party that captured power at the federal level while retaining hold on the region. In 1979, Awo could not even find a Northerner as running mate. He instead settled for Chief Phillip Umeadi. Tinubu however has a very big Northern running mate, former governor of a key state and until 2019, chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum. Unlike Awo, who was completely shunned by the Northern Political Establishment, Tinubu is warmly embraced by it, including most of the region’s governors. During his helicopter-bound whistle-stop campaigns, Awo never visited the palaces of Northern emirs. He said it was a matter of principle, when in reality he probably expected a cool reception. Today, Tinubu receives warm reception in emirs’ palaces. The emirs probably have no choice since most of the Northern governors are APC members.

So, most of the political analogies made in the author’s claims are false in many material particulars. The conclusion drawn from the analogies was Naka Sai Naka, i.e., everyone should vote for his own. This campaign is historically fraudulent because it was PDP that brought Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 and convinced Northerners that he was the region’s tried and tested friend. Two can play the same game. It is now APC’s turn to bring Tinubu and say he is a tried and tested friend of the region. He almost magically changed the Western man on the street’s perception of Buhari as a Muslim irredentist in 2015 and voted for him.

Naka Sai Naka is also a dangerous campaign that could imperil the country, if all regions decide to do the same. In 1979, we watched live on NTA as Frederick Louis Oki Menkiti, Returning Officer Presidential Election, tabulated results as they came in from the states. When results from old Rivers State came in, Shagari got 600,000 votes, shot to the top of the table and stayed there. Why didn’t Ogonis, Andonis and Ijaws say Naka Sai Naka?

Days after I posted a condensed version of this article on social media, I was appointed as Special Adviser, Public Affairs to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Some people quickly wrote that I was appointed because of that article, while others said I wrote that article because of the appointment. Well, guys, you have a chicken and egg problem right there. Was it the article that caused the appointment or was it the appointment that caused the article? Remember the title of James Hadley Chase’s 1950 novel, Figure It Out For Yourself.

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