Once again, Northern Nigeria, particularly the Northwest geo-political zone seat of the Caliphate and powerbase of its political establishment, is in a dilemma. For the second time in seven years, there are fears that political power may slip out of its grip.
In 2007, following the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who spent two out of his four-year first term tenure in office, the Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan became the President before going ahead to win the 2011 elections, reportedly after securing an arrangement with the North to pave way for a northerner in 2015.
It was therefore a united North that fought Jonathan to a standstill to retrieve political power through incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari when the alleged agreement was breached when he (Jonathan) presented himself again as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2015 presidential elections.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) platform, under which Buhari contested and won the election, became a rallying point for almost the entire North, which defied political party affiliations to vote for Buhari, former Military leader and veteran presidential candidate who was picked because of the massive followings he had among the proletariat North.
And for the first time since the beginning of regional cooperation in Nigeria’s political history, the North sought and got the support of the mainstream politics of the Southwest through the leadership of the APC, the dominant political party in the area, to garner the winning votes against its old allies, the Southeast and South-South zones, in an unprecedented election that saw an incumbent President kissing the canvass.
During the countdown to the election and in the euphoria of the new alliance with the Southwest and the glaring possibility of a victory, the northern establishment did not fathom into its plan, a likely repeat of the Yar’Adua scenario, when the illness of a president cost the region the highly prized political trophy and the entire country almost dragged to the precipice in the aftermath.
A lone counsel of Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, who made a reference to the Yar’Adua case in his warning against Buhari’s candidacy, although in obvious partisanship veiled in nationalistic pretence, fell on deaf ears at the heat of the APC campaigns that were anchored by massive publicity machinery that drowned the governor’s voice.
But history has a knack of repeating itself and as it was when Yar’adua took ill and had to be flown abroad for medical treatment, Buhari too came down and the chapter of managing a presidential illness in a country where a high premium is placed on the presidential seat and the political zone the occupant comes from, had to be reopened.
Although unlike the Yar’Adua case when the President did not hand over properly to his Vice in accordance with the Constitution and the National Assembly had to come up with the “doctrine of necessity,” to allow Jonathan have access to power, Buhari had done the needful by properly transmitting power to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.
Despite this however, the Aso Rock seat of power, since the departure of Buhari and the streams of rumours flowing from many sources in conflict with discordant tunes from media handlers of the presidency, has been turned into an arena of gladiators fighting for the control of the nation.
With it came the cut-throat politics of succession and survival, of relevance and reliance, in a way that power acquisition, retention and management have become the order of the day amid threats to the fragile fabric of unity that bind the country together.
In the words of Kaduna Senator and APC chieftain, Shehu Sanni, the whole country has been turned into a jungle where, in the absence of the Lion, the jackals and the hyenas are at each other’s throats while the weaker animals pray for the return of the King to put the predators in check.
And in a reference to the Senator’s tweets, First Lady, Aisha Buhari, who has not hidden her disdain for “the powerful cabal” in the corridor of power holding the President to ransom, expressed optimism on the return of the Lion not only to liberate the weaker animals from the threats of the wolves in the jungle but also put an end to the struggle among the predators by reining them in.
As the shenanigans in the corridor of power continue, a new dimension that sought to address the very nature and composition of Nigeria as a political entity was introduced to the polity in the renewed call for restructuring and institutionalization of true federalism and regional autonomy.
Instigated by the quit notice given by some Arewa youth groups to Nigerians of Igbo extraction resident in the north to leave the region before the October 1 Independence Day, which was in response to the demand of separatists groups in the Southeast to revive the defunct Republic of Biafra, the debate for restructuring has taken almost a referendum dimension because of the number of eminent Nigerians that has spoken in favour of a new structure.
It is instructive to note that all the views expressed by leaders and personalities from the three southern zones of the country have uniformly been in support of a restructured federation even as opinions from the old Middle Belt also tilt towards the same direction.
Many groups comprising very eminent personalities from the South have been meeting and presenting joint positions on the issue signaling a rare unity of purpose among opinion leaders in the zones.
Although the voices from the South were mainly those of non-political leaders who may not have the wherewithal for massive mobilization of the population for the cause, two voices from the North, that of former President Ibrahim Babangida and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, have added impetus to the request.
While Atiku’s position could be a gimmick to curry the favour of the South where opposition to the new movement is an exception, to strengthen his declared intention to have another shot at the presidency in the coming election, that of Babangida, who had seen it all and is not nursing any political ambition, has really pushed the message down to the consciousness of Nigerians.
The call for restructuring, which also included in some instances, the retrieval and implementations of the reports of the 2014 National Conference or outright adoption of the pre-1966 Nigerian Constitution, has become so strident that voices that were not too critical of the system are now coming out to be counted.
One of the most respected monarchs in the Southwest, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, lend his voice to the demand when he called on the Federal Government to commence the process of restructuring immediately.
The monarch who spoke in Ibadan, the political capital of the region last Monday noted that the founding fathers of Nigeria operated successfully in the First Republic with true federalism and blamed the January 1966 coup for the introduction of the unitary system.
Encapsulating what the whole demand for restructuring is all about, which is addressing the lopsidedness in the polity, the monarch said the present arrangement does not allow the federating units to develop at their own pace.
According to him, “Lagos is about 20 million people going by the first census conducted and Kano was next. Within the next 10 years, Kano was split into about 44 council areas but Lagos remains with 20 council areas.
“Jigawa was created from Kano and given 19 council areas. This means that the bulk of what Nigeria realises from oil goes to the North. If we are in a region, the government of that region can create council areas but because we depend on a monolithic manner of financing the states, we are in problem. Have they been able to publish the people who own the oil blocs in Nigeria?”
He said that the bulk of the owners of oil blocs came from certain area of the country and expressed his displeasure that government had displayed insensitivity and unrealistic approach to the yearnings of the oil-producing areas.
“They cannot fish or practice agriculture so they have to agitate. The Oyo State government cannot pay teachers and civil servants because what is coming to its coffers from the Federation poll is minimal. Our revenue has been taken over by the Federal Government. What the Federal Government collects in Value Added Tax (VAT) in an area in Oyo State in one month is more than what it collects in Adamawa State in three months. Yet, the Federal Government takes all away,” the monarch said.
But while the North, which, by virtue of the opposition of many of its political leaders to the restructuring call, is believed to be comfortable with the current state of affairs, the region is said to be at a quandary on what to do to avoid another power loss.
Several speculations dominating political discuss in the public domain, point to the fact that the northern political establishment is left with a few options should the country found itself in a situation akin to Yar’Adua’s.
There are speculations that an idea of a powerful Vice-President that would tower above the profile of Osinbajo in terms of political connections and ability, is being muted to create a president-in-waiting for the remaining part of the tenure or in the absence of that and without the patience to wait till another opportunity like 2015 presented itself, sponsor the Military to stage a coup.
The facts pointing to the above scenarios are already being noticed in the reported jostling for positions by prominent politicians from the North and in a recent revelation by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. General Tukur Buratai, that some politicians were clandestinely seeking the help of soldiers to achieve some political objectives.
The Buratai alert, even though lacking the expected response of security forces to the very serious offence of treason against the state, has further exposed the desperation of the political class to use any means to acquire and retain power and the seeming helplessness of an Army whose only action at reprimand was a mere public warning.
But the coup option, which was said to have been taken in 1983 by the same establishment to truncate the Second Republic when Buhari emerged as the Head of State, may no longer be a plausible option because of apprehension that middle-level officers may not be comfortable with any political arrangement with any regional power block.
Besides the experience of April 22, 1990 when Major Gideon Orkar announced in a failed coup attempt, the excising of the core North from the federation, had established a fact that some officers in the Nigerian Army, unlike before, may not believe in the continued existence of the country as it is.
The Orkar coupists were mainly made up of middle-level officers from the Middle Belt, which political leaders have started to oppose political domination of the core North in the new call for true federalism.
In the present circumstances however, the only option that seem to agree with the aspirations of majority of Nigerians and serve the interests of the regions including the North, seem to be the acceptance of the call for restructuring because it would not only calm frayed nerves, but also chart a new course of socio-economic and political development for a “born-again” Nigeria.
It would be recalled that before the central government became so destructively attractive because of centralization of too much power and resources, the regions were the pivot around which political and economic activities revolved, such that during the Independent years, powerful Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and the all-time political leader of the North, was more comfortable with being the Premier in Kaduna than being the Prime Minister in Lagos.
It was during this golden period in the history of Nigeria, which the current agitation for restructuring aims at reenacting, that giant strides of development were taken by the regions and the country actually wore the toga of a developing nation not that of an under-developed one.
This even without being in the frontline of the agitation for restructuring, the best option for the North, all things considered, remains a restructured Nigeria, where the regions can create new alliance to return to its place in a federal Nigeria.The alternative, which is to retain the status quo amid the agitation, should not even be contemplated because it will also mean an end to Nigeria and a loss by all stakeholders.