Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Article: 2011 And The Igbo Dilemma

 By Anthony Fernandez

Now that the shenanigans are over, it is time for the race to begin. It is still not too late for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to recover from the hole that it dug for itself. So Buhari finally dumped the beautiful bride. What a  pity. Really, did any sane person think this marriage was going to work. I am not a marriage counselor, but from the outset, I knew it was only a matter of time.

The big news in town is the choice of Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) fame as the running mate of Gen. Buhari. To say Buhari and Bakare are strange bedfellows is the greatest understatement of the current electoral process. The general perception is that it is an unreasoned choice and one that doesn’t help the political stock of the former military head of state. Even the manner his name was announced is a pointer to just how unimportant Bakare is in the Buhari conundrum.

Of course, it is too early in the race to determine how this election will be won and lost, but clearly the candidate and party that are able to think critically and strategically will have edge at the end of the day. As it stands today, there are three major contenders in the race for Aso Rock come April 2011: President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP); Mallam Nuhu Ribadu (ACN); Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (CPC).
Clearly, the emergence of the trio of Jonathan, Ribadu, and Buhari, has changed the nature of politics in Nigeria.  For one, it has partially destroyed the myth of a monolithic north. Not even the effort of the all powerful “Northern wise-men” who chose Atiku as a consensus candidate could do anything to change his fate. Granted that the PDP primaries were stage managed with the connivance of the governors, but the outcome is more of a reflection of how the so-called power of the northern political class has whittled. They couldn’t even persuade their governors to support one of their own.

Another interesting phenomenon is that none of the three candidates in question is an establishment person in the strict sense of the word in the context of Nigerian politics. Less than a year ago president Jonathan was busy begging to be made acting president; Ribadu was in exile and Buhari was all but finished as a presidential material having been marginalized in the party he founded. That shows how far we have come as a nation. The current scenario opens up the political space and creates a level playing field as we head into the presidential election. If there is one party that can benefit from this, it is the ACN. Whether it will act swiftly and courageously is another matter.

Looking at the geo-politics of Nigeria two months to the election, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for any candidate to get the highest number of votes cast and 25 per cent of votes in two-third of 36 states (24 states) and Abuja to emerge an outright winner as the constitution stipulates. Jonathan may win in the south-south (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River). If the ACN works hard, there is no reason it will not secure 25 per cent of the votes in all the states above, except Bayelsa where the Labour Party candidate and President Jonathan’s former special adviser on Niger Delta, Timi Alaibe, is also a strong contender.
For the umpteenth time, let me state that the whole of the south-west will go to the ACN (add Edo and maybe 50 percent of the votes in Delta). I don’t think the choice of Bakare will make any difference. Tinubu and company know that it is in their best interest to go with their party rather than their kinsman. Beyond the accusation of opportunism, Bakare is on the fringe of the Pentecostal Movement, and therefore can’t guarantee that he will muster the Christian vote for Buhari.

It is therefore right to say that the battlefield for this election will be in northern Nigeria (north east and north west to be specific). The north central will swing depending on personages within the zone, utterances of candidates and events like the mindless slaughter of residents of Plateau State by religious zealots, including state officials.

It is also fair to say that the whole noise about Buhari in the north is a myth, a mere perception game. Fortunately, his handlers have made a success of this perception game. But that is where it ends. Bakare is not likely to change anything. Buhari and Bakare, BB as some people call them, or the Pastor and the Imam as others refer to them remind me of Senator John McCain, an old and washed-out war hero who wanted to inject some vigour into his campaign for the presidency of the United States of America by picking popular but narrow-minded former governor of Alaska, Sarah Pallin. We all know how that race ended.

I have left out the south-east in this political equation because if the battle field is the so-called core north, the south-east will hold the trump card. That is where the ACN comes in. The CPC has a north-west presidential candidate, a southwest VP candidate and the chairman of the party is from the south-south (Edo State); the PDP has a south-south presidential candidate, a north-west VP candidate. The party recently removed its south-east chairman and replaced him with north-west candidate. Where does that leave Ndigbos?
In my last article I had made a case for a VP candidate for the ACN from the south-east, in person of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of the World Bank. Since nothing has been heard on that front, for reasons that are best known to the party, I am proposing Senator Ken Nnamani. Remember, as I noted earlier, the difference between winning or losing the April election will depend more on strategic thinking and alliances than anything else. The political situation in the country has changed, even if temporarily, and any party interested in wining power must reflect that change.

Nnamani is perhaps the best choice to join the Ribadu ticket. He is bold, has political clout and large followership in the south-east. He has integrity and during his stint as senate president, we did not, quite uncharacteristically of the senate, hear of any allegation of financial  impropriety. Nnamani is a towering political figure and is in pole position for a possible Ibo president in 2015 or at the very worst 2019. I can’t think of any other politician from the south-east who has the kind of respect and influence that Nnamani has.
That brings me to the mischievous pranksters called governors of the south-east who in one breath are whipping up support for Jonathan and in another breath calling for an Ibo president in 2015. My question is: are they thinking strategically or just myopic because of their selfish interest? How can Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, Ibo by the special grace of the janus-faced Dora Akunyili, hand over to another Ibo man in 2019? Forget the fact that Jonathan has come out to say publicly he will not run in 2015.

The same question can also be asked of the so-called south-east leaders who are of the view that the south-east “must produce Nigeria’s president in 2015”. At their recent meeting in Abuja these leaders also restated their support for President Goodluck Jonathan's bid to contest the April presidential election. Could there be a better example of the term talk is cheap. What have these so-called leaders done to actualize their ambition? Are they expecting that by 2015 all other zones will come together and say, “Ndigbo, you have suffered enough. Of the three major groups in Nigeria, you are the only group that has not produced a president. Now it is your turn, take it and after eight, you can pass it on to any group that you please”. It hasn’t happened anywhere and it will not happen here.  All I can say to Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife and his clan of Ibo leaders is that If the Ibos want the presidency, they have to work and think strategically.

Last word: I hope all the governors who are promising President Jonathan bloc vote will allow free and fair election in their domain. Nigeria has gone beyond governors writing results and assigning figures to whomever they please. Say all you like about the docility of Nigeria, but thanks to Al-Jareeza we now know what ordinary citizens can do if pushed to the wall.

Last, last word: The LLW goes to Dora Akunyili, ex this, ex that, former PDP member (or so it appears) and now APGA senatorial candidate. What is Dora the explorer doing in APGA if she is so concerned about where the PDP zones the Senate presidency?

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