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2019: Obstacles to consensus Northern candidate

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President Muhammadu Buhari


The search is still on. It was a search predicated on the perceived failure of the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari. It is reminder of 2011 and 2015 episodes in the life of Nigeria’s leadership selection processes. The only dissimilarity in the current headhunt for a good Presidential material is that the same northern region has a sitting President.

But, encumbered by extenuating political circumstances, military orientation and perceived paranoia, the incumbent had returned a poor democratic leadership balance sheet after three years in office. That unexpected outcome compelled the Northern Political Stakeholders Assembly to meet in Abuja on February 10, 2018, for the purposes of interrogating Nigeria’s political prognosis and strategise for the 2019 Presidential election.

That meeting was convened by a former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Bello Mohammed; a former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, and Senator Paul Zannan. And ever since it held, other series of meetings had been convened both at subcommittees’ levels, as well as, consultative contacts with different shades of opinion leaders.

A remarkable feature of the inaugural meeting was the presence of academics, politicians and public intellectuals, including a former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Ango Abdullahi; a former governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa; a prominent lawyer, Prof. Awwal Yadudu, and Alhaji Bala Mohammed.

Visible political actors like former governor of Niger State, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, Senator Bala Mande and Senator Solomon Ewuga also attended.Notable member of Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Alhaji Tank Yakassai, who chaired the meeting, said it was convened “to discuss ways of presenting a consensus candidate to represent the interest and ambitions of the region in the 2019 Presidential election.”

Yakassai also pointed out that although the group espouses political agenda, it was neither partisan nor intended to transmute into a political party, stressing that the singular purpose was to “bring about unity of purpose in the north.”

Consensus Versus Incumbency
IN the period spanning February 10 through May 12, 2018; the efforts of the northern stakeholders to achieve the aims and objectives of their convocation, namely, uniting the north and selecting a consensus Presidential candidate, have been herculean.

Part of the many challenges dogging the group’s efforts is the fact that the incumbent, despite monumental lack of distinguished performance and health challenges, has declared his intention to seek another four year-term as President.And as expected the declaration provided opportunity for jobbers and partisan opinion leaders to downplay the noble intendments of the northern stakeholders, thereby diffusing the cohesion of the northern stakeholders.

For instance, no sooner had the idea of a consensus Presidential candidate from the north been mooted than a governorship aspirant from outside the north, Mr. Chamberlain Adiaso a busybody, declared that Buhari’s second term was not dependent on the wishes of northern elders. Adiaso, who announced his intention to contest the governorship of Abia State in 2019, argued that the opinion of northern stakeholders that Buhari has failed the nation did not represent the entire north.

Also, spokesperson of NEF, Prof. Abdullahi, who has been a persistent critic of the Presidential system, said it was too early in the day to talk of consensus Presidential candidate, stressing that the northern political stakeholders should not be confused with other groups like Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) or NEF.

The former ABU Vice Chancellor, told journalists that parties are yet to hold presidential primary elections, stressing that the issue of consensus candidate will not even arise.Apparently blaming the media for the stress on consensus Presidential candidate, Prof. Abdullahi said: “We will argue for a good person, who perhaps is contesting in whatever party; there is no place we will call for a consensus candidate.

“All I know is that we are going to look for a good leader. We should be worried that the country should have good leaders at all the levels of governance. What we are worried about is good governance come 2019.”And taking a swipe at the preoccupation with fight against corruption, the elder statesman contended that change could only come “if we go back to the parliamentary system of government, not this very corrupt, inefficient and no accountability type of government.”

Shifting Scenarios
BUT, apart from the diverse notions about the imperatives and timing of consensus, it is obvious that shifting scenarios and political arithmetic also bogs the search by the north for a credible good head for the Presidency in 2019. For instance, at a recent meeting in Abuja, those in attendance mused on the changing dynamics in what could be described as feasible political platforms. The delegates discussed the possible implications of the recent petition by members of the nPDP to the leadership of All Progressives Congress (APC) among other recent developments in the polity.

It was gathered that while some of the stakeholders at the meeting took it for granted that the case of APC has been foreclosed, others expressed reservations that with a democratic party primary, APC might throw up a surprise Presidential flag bearer.

However, a source at the meeting confided in The Guardian that the north is worried by the possibility that the region could be further polarized politically by the 2019 poll.The source, a former Senator said: “We have apprehensions that with as many as four or more Presidential flag bearers, it would not be easy for us to dictate or influence the direction of votes. How can we talk about consensus in a situation, where Governor Dankwambo, Alhaji Atiku and Kwankwaso are presidential candidates?

“Some of our leaders from the middle belt are keeping a lot to themselves and we do not seem to know what they are planning to do. So everybody is just waiting for the end of July when the coast would begin to clear a bit.”He expressed the fear that the danger of multiplicity of Presidential flag bearers might give room for the incumbent to tamper with the electoral process, stressing that the stakeholders are bidding their time pending the emergence flag bearers to know whether a fresh face or an experienced hand would be the better alternative to the incumbent.

It could be, perhaps, on account of the general reservations about the timeliness of a consensus Presidential candidate from the north that some of the early birds seem to be slowing down their campaigns, while sleeping aspirants continue to hold subdued strategic consultations.

It is not known whether PDP or the Social Democratic Party (SDP) would be the ultimate beneficiary of the uneven developments caused by the ongoing APC congresses. Indications are rife that losers from the contentious congresses might be forced to carry their political destiny to alternative platforms.

Consequently, until mid August when the Presidential flag bearers begin to emerge, the issue of consensus would remain an academic pastime that helps to improve discussions about the crucial 2019 general election. However, should the northern stakeholders succeed in narrowing down the list of presidential aspirants that merit popular support, it would go a long way to enable public enlightenment and interrogation of the salient considerations that favoured the shortlisted candidates.


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