By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Before the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, announced former governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi, as his running mate in the scheduled February 16, 2019 election, I had offered an opinion that he should not leave both northwest and southwest zones open to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
I had posited that it would be politically dangerous and electorally unwise to allow the APC to maximally explore and exploit both zones by deploying the majesties of its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, and vice presidential candidate, Yemi Osinbajo, who are from the northwest and southwest respectively, to lock in the bulk of the votes in the zones.
My view was informed by the magnitude of the figures of registered voters in both zones as validated by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. While over 18 million voters are registered in the northwest, the southwest boasts of over 14 million registered voters. South-south zone has over 11 million voters. Northeast has over 10 million voters, leaving north-central and southeast zones with over 10 million and over 8 million voters correspondingly.
Whereas, I had expected Atiku to audaciously look to the southwest for his running mate; he chose not to disrupt the settled assumption that the APC had made since 2015 with the choice of a vice president from there. Although, I was not privy to the facts and discussions that eventually informed his decision to shy away from fishing for his running mate from the same river with Buhari, I assume that the decision must have been well-considered.
The southwest leaders, as well as other forces in the zone working in concert with Atiku on the basis of the settled restructuring project, might have given him the go-ahead that he could consider the southeast for the slot of vice presidential candidate and rest assured of Yoruba votes. Afenifere had, closely on the heels of Atiku’s choice of Obi, said it was in pari materia with him on the decision.
Afenifere’s spokesperson, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, had said the most significant thing to the group and, by extension, the Yoruba race, was Atiku’s commitment to restructure Nigeria once he got in the saddle of president. What that means, in essence, is that it is not the spoils system that would define the shape, content and context of, as well as critical support for the emerging power structure in 2019, but some clearly-defined higher ideas and ideals, one of which is restructuring.
And located within the vortex of restructuring are power devolution, resource control and allied issues that characterise a truly federal arrangement. These elemental ideas and ideals are the issues that would dominate the 2019 electioneering. They are the choices that the elite will make on behalf of their political partisans, who would climb on the bandwagon once the direction to go is decided.
The elite would simplify and disseminate the messages to every nook and cranny of the nation as the bases for curing the mischief of marginalization, ethnic divisiveness, religious bigotry, killings and hunger in the land. Addressing the issue of marginalization in concrete terms will excite the southeast zone while the south-south zone will be enamoured of resource control.
In the north central, the issue of ethnic cleansing, aggravated by the perennial Fulani herdsmen clashes with farmers in their homelands in quest of grazing land for their cattle, is believed to have determined, already, the zone’s direction in 2019. The killings in the north central zone, which had already discounted the Christian population, have become an albatross to the Buhari government. Redolent with religious undertone and ethnic coloration, the killings had spread to Taraba in the northeast and Kaduna in the northwest.
Whereas, in the northeast, the issue of access to the presidency in order to address the imbalance between the zone and the northwest that has occupied the position of president for about seven years now since 1999 will be appealing, the message that will resonate perfectly with the masses in the northwest is how to address the hunger and poverty that have become their lots.
Indeed, Atiku’s choice of Obi is a matter to rationalise but the validation will become manifest with the outcome of the presidential election. Again, prelude to the choice, Atiku must have been assured by the Afenifere leadership that he could take the support of the Southwest to the bank.
His decision, together with his choice, was therefore an easy navigation through the mines of the southeast, although there have been some pockets of misgivings expressed by some leaders in the zone that they were not consulted. But to be sure, they are not opposed to the choice of Obi; their gravamen was, arguably, the alleged lack of wide consultations by Atiku on the sensitive issue.
Remarkably, the southeast has always presented a complicated front in matters of political power calculations at the presidential level. The zone had, under the Obasanjo presidency, when the senate presidency was ceded to it, demonstrated a lack of unity that saw five Ibo senators become senate president within a period of eight years. The senate presidency was, sadly, reduced to a game of the musical chairs.
With Atiku’s choice of Obi, the southeast zone has notched up a win in the nation’s presidential power politics and it is expected the zone’s attitude will be more salutary to the actualisation of the political objective. If the deal is consummated by a victory in the general election in 2019, then it would signpost a fundamental healing and accommodative process for Ndigbo in a restructured federation.
In essence, much as the economics of voter figures appears to have been trumped by the politics of hard choice that requires the single-minded nationwide consensus around Atiku’s presidency because of its capacity to restore in the southeast zone a sense of accommodation and entitlement to the presidency, the choice of Obi has, indeed, given Atiku the opportunity to clearly demonstrate his commitment to his restructuring singsong with the most marginalized zone.
Atiku has pragmatically shown courage that he can walk his talk if given the opportunity to administer the complexities of the Nigerian state. In addressing the sensibilities of Ndigbo, what is required is total commitment to formalise the voyage for political accommodation with the Atku presidency in 2019. The APC’s promise of Ibo president in 2023, alluring as it is, is dilatory.
It is clearly a choice between a realistic definitive step of integrating the southeast in the vortex of presidential power through Obi’s vice presidency, prestissimo, in 2019 or a promise by Buhari that is subject to the dynamics and vagaries of time and change in 2023. The southeast people know where the shoe pinches them and they sure appreciate the urgency of the NOW.
I would like to, against the backdrop of Atiku’s sure-footed accommodation of the southeast in the presidency, defer to his political decision to leave the southwest open for the strategic battle for votes. The same disposition applies to Buhari’s northwest, where the PDP plans to deploy a combination of Sule Lamido, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Tanimu Turaki, Aminu Tambuwal, Attahiru Bafarawa, Ahmed Makarfi and Datti Ahmed to discount Buhari’s votes.
With Atiku from the northeast and Obi from the southeast, both zones are left open to the PDP by the APC, which will also make its moves to discount Atiku’s votes in the zones for votes. Interestingly the south-south is traditionally PDP’s while the killings in some states in the north central have heavily eroded the support that Buhari enjoyed in the zone in 2015. Overall, the race for the soul of Nigeria by Buhari and Atiku in 2019, regardless of real existential issues that would determine it, will be neck and neck; and, down to the wire.
Ojeifo writes from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org