Opinion: Our Father’s Estate Of Wrath – By Dare Babarinsa
The 2023 game is on. By the throng of people doling out N100 million each, we now know that this country may have been wounded by those hired to mend her. Thanks to the 2023 game, we now know some of those who are keeping our money on our behalf. Next time Nigeria is broke, we know those to call for the rescue. No need to reach out to the ancestor called Sani Abacha again except at the most critical moment. The living ancestors are with us!
There is a critical question that is attending this roaring game of 2023. This is whether the big two big parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), should observe the tenets of zoning.
Zoning is a Nigerian phenomenon that has attended our political establishment since 1960. After the 1959 Federal elections, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), won the majority of seats in the Federal Parliament in Lagos. Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a primary school teacher, became the first Nigerian Prime Minister and Head of Government. The NPC had to pair up with the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun (NCNC), a party based in Southern Nigeria, to form the Federal Government. That was how Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Editor-in-Chief of the West African Pilot and the leader of the NCNC, became the first Nigerian Governor-General and later President.
Even the military tried to maintain this balance. Under Tafawa-Balewa’s successor, Major-General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi, Nigeria maintained a semblance of it. Ironsi’s deputy was Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe, but the Chief of Staff, Army, Lt. Colonel Yakubu Jack Gowon, was from the North. When Gowon came to power, he made a southerner, Admiral Akinwale-Wey, a naval officer, his deputy. His successor was General Murtala Muhammed, who made General Olusegun Obasanjo his deputy. When Obasanjo came in, he made a relatively junior Lieutenant Colonel Shehu Musa Yar’Adua from the North his deputy.
The disruption among military regime came under Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, who seized power in a dawn coup on December 31, 1983. Buhari, a Northern Muslim, was Head of State. His deputy, Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon, was a Yoruba Muslim also from the North. Now with the self-same Buhari now entering the last lapse of his tenure as an elected President, there are attempts by ambitious phalangists from the North, to disrupt the old order.
In both the APC and the PDP, there are those politicians from the North who have collected the multi-million naira nomination forms for President. They are arguing that it is time that Nigeria moves away from the old conservative system that has deprived it of the services of the best candidates. They wanted the best for Nigeria and who is that candidate from the South who is better and more experienced than Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Vice-President for eight tumultuous years under President Olusegun Obasanjo? How can he be compared to Peter Obi, who had only been governor or Anyim Pius Anyim, who had only been President of the Senate and later Secretary to the Government of the Federation? That is in the PDP, the once mighty party that prided itself as the largest political party in Africa.
If the truth must be told, APC has fared better. It has become so democratic that even Chris Ngige, former Governor of Anambra, deposed political son of the controversial ‘Uba Brothers’, Minister of Labour in the government of Muhammadu Buhari, has paid that N100 million to become our President if only we give him the chance. Godwin Emefiele, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the regular carrier of bad news to Nigerians on the economy, also wants to be President. Most of these candidates believe it is the turn of the South to produce the next President. I believe them.
After President Shehu Shagari won his controversial second term election in 1983, there were speculations that his Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, a famous architect armed with multiple academic degrees, should be allowed to succeed him. Shagari, though an experienced politician and former minister, was an ordinary primary school teacher. Ekwueme did not become the President. It was said that the coup of 1983 was carried out to prevent such possibility. Since then, no elected Vice-President has become the President under a civilian dispensation except Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
By historical convergence, both the APC and the PDP have their strongholds in the South. The PDP is strong in the South-South and the South-East geo-political zones. These two zones have largely resisted the change promised by the ruling APC and have remained largely loyal to the PDP and its leaking umbrella. In the last election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the retired Customs officer, was the flag bearer of the party. He is from the North-East. He would not agree that zoning should be respected and it is the turn of the South this time around. He has enough naira power to prove the point.
The APC case is even more straightforward. During the merger talk that eventually produced the APC behemoth, the presidency was conceded to the North and Buhari emerged the candidate for the 2015 presidential election. The South, represented by a coalition of parties led by the Action Congress of Ahmed Bola Tinubu, agreed to produce the Vice President, a job that Tinubu wanted for himself. However, a Muslim-Muslim ticket would be hard to sell to the electorate and therefore, Tinubu stepped down and Professor Yemi Osinbajo, his nominee, became the Vice President.
Now there is an army of billionaires struggling to succeed Buhari. Even those who have wasted their years in office as governors are on the queue to become our President. They have no shame that as governors, they were and are unable to pay the salaries of staff as and when due and they littered their states with broken promises and broken lives. Yet they want to be our President. Even Ministers, who have nothing to show for the years they have been embedded in the Buhari Presidency, are angling to succeed their boss. It shows when it comes to political arena, anything goes in Nigeria. I am happy that President Buhari, at last, has summoned the courage to ask those ministers and other public sector employees, who are interested in contesting elections to resign their appointment.
While the PDP may toss like a ship in bad weather, no one should expect the APC to behave the same way. The balance between the North and the South has to be maintained. The greed for power by the Northern political elite, both military and civilian, has to be curbed for the peace and progress of our country. The religious balance and sensitivities that has been the hallmark of our federalism must not be toyed with on the altar of ambition.
In 1983, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), appointed Chief Phillip Umeadi, as his running mate. Both Awolowo and Umeadi were Christians. In 1993, Chief Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), ran for President with Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe as his Vice Presidential candidate. Both of them were Muslims. Things have changed so much since then. Nigeria can no longer tolerate such arrangement again today or in the nearest future. It would also not augur well for a Northerner to succeed another Northerner. We need to ensure justice if the Federation would be in good health, even if remains in unstable temperament.
– Babarinsa is a respected columnist with The Guardian