2023: Atiku Abubakar and the north
The recent statement by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, that the north should not vote for southern candidates is anti north and anti unity in Nigeria. It is a statement that seeks to perpetuate poverty, illiteracy, backwardness and gross underdevelopment in the north. The north has held the north to ransom for too long and need change. If there is any section of the country that needs drastic turnaround; a section that needs new brain to bring real time development and change, it is the north. There is no doubt about this fact. The north needs a turnaround more than any other region.
Any leader who sees nothing wrong with the awful and pathetic state of affairs in the north is not being honest. The underdevelopment in the north was foisted by northern leaders. In other words, the north undeveloped the north. Over the decades, the north has been held down by leaders of northern extraction who presided over Nigeria and saw nothing wrong with the poverty and misery culture. It is time for the north to have a re-think and seek a way out of the underdevelopment and poverty quagmire. It is not by clinging or sticking onto the old attitudes that have failed the people.
The 2023 general elections provide a historic opportunity for the north to seek to change the unenviable narrative. Is it not time for the north to have a paradigm shift? Is it not time to inject a new life into the leadership of the north in a technologically changing world? Is the north going to be left behind again?
Atiku Abubakar reportedly made the unimpressive statement during an interactive session with the northern political leaders under the aegis of Arewa Joint Committee at Arewa House, Kaduna. The group is holding the session with the major presidential candidates, of which Atiku took the first turn.
When asked by the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, why Northerners should vote for him, the PDP presidential candidate said, “What the average Northerner needs is somebody who’s from the north and also understands that part of the country and has been able to build bridges across the country. “This is what the Northerner needs, it doesn’t need a Yoruba or Igbo candidate, I stand before you as a pan-Nigerian of northern origin,” stated Atiku.
Expectedly, the remark has since gone viral on social media and attracted opprobrium. A former minister of aviation and member of the APC, Femi Fani-Kayode reportedly denounced Atiku and stated: “This is the height of desperation and daredevilry on the part of Atiku! This is so horrendous, so horrible and so thoughtless for Atiku Abubakar to use ethnicity to campaign, saying the north does not need a Yoruba or Ibo candidate. My God! Atiku needs to quit the race.”
Atiku, it would be recalled, enjoyed strong support in 2019 in the South-East and South-South but the emergence of Peter Obi appears to be threatening his party’s stranglehold in the two zones. His chances now clearly depend on improving his support in the north.
And, indeed, it was to play for the northern votes in the light of President Muhammadu Buhari not running again that the main opposition party has jettisoned its zoning policy that would have handed its ticket to a southern aspirant.
Furthermore, Atiku, who was a protagonist of the policy review forced through earlier this year, eventually picked the ticket following last-minute manoeuvres at the national convention by northern power brokers in the party.
With the three northern zones said to have the majority of registered voters, Atiku, who is from Adamawa State in the North-east zone, is gunning to have advantage over his two southern rivals if voters are swayed by primordial sectional sentiments. Primordial ethnic sentiments did not give Muhammadu Buhari the presidency thrice until he was backed by the South-West zone whose candidate, Bola Tinubu of the ruling APC, Atiku is now urging the north not to vote for.
Truth, however, is that Atiku cannot afford to burn his bridge to the South since he as a candidate still needs to garner substantial support from at least four of the country’s six geo-political zones to be elected. But since he has foreclosed the North voting for southern candidates, by principle of reciprocity, he will not expect to have any vote from the south, which forecloses his chance of winning.
So even if Atiku takes all the 19 states in the North, he will still need at least a quarter of the votes in five southern states to meet the requirement for vote spread. That is the reason that his blunder in Kaduna may also hurt him.
Having said that, a glimpse into the anomie in the north shows that the region is the most backward in Nigeria judging from any developmental index. Basing on the three Human Development Indexes (HDI), namely life expectancy, education, and per capita income, it is obvious that virtually all the states in North fall within the low human development index of 0.539 as of 2019.
For instance, while Nigeria’s average HDI is 0.539, virtually all the northern states fall below that average. The states include Borno 0.517, Kaduna 0.516, Taraba 0.506, Adamawa 0.488, Niger 0.488, Kano 0.487, Katsina 0.456 and Bauchi 0.429. Others are Zamfara 0.420, Jigawa 0.415, Gombe 0.412, Yobe 0.368, Sokoto 0.340 and Kebbi 0.339. For the southern states, Lagos has the highest with 0.686, Anambra 0.668, Imo 0.653, Oyo 0.637 and Ebonyi, which is the lowest with 0.575 and that is above Borno with the highest in the north.
On the education front as measured by literacy rate in percentage, Kwara has 49.3, Kano 48.9, Plateau 46.6, Benue 45.1, Nasarawa 41.9, Adamawa 40.5, Gombe 39.3, Niger 37.5, Bauchi 34.1, Zamfara 33.9, Kogi 33.5, Sokoto 30.1, and Kaduna 29.3. Others are Yobe 26.6, Kebbi 25.3, Jigawa State 24.2, Taraba 23.3, Katsina 21.7 and Borno 14.5. For the southern states, Lagos has 92, Osun 80, Anambra 75, Abia 72.5, Rivers 70.5, Enugu 66.5, Imo 53.2, and Ebonyi 53.0, which is the lowest.
The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) confirmed that there were no public school students from Sokoto and Zamfara states. The two states presented no candidates in this year’s examinations. How would the region develop with a mass of illiterate citizenry? How do we turn this ugly scenario around other than by having good, progressive and forward-looking and committed leaders at both the federal and state levels?
But that is hardly what Atiku Abubakar is out to achieve, which is like eternally condemning the north to remain backward. If Atiku loves the north, he should strive to bequeath a progressive mindset that fits into the new world order in place of primordial mentality.