Governors’ pursuit of collective interest
It may now be safely concluded that the emergence, by a wide margin it must be noted, of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party is substantially the handiwork of the Northern Governors’ Forum. The shenanigan that characterised the search for an acceptable candidate had assumed such irritating dimension that even members of the (not the most admirable) party had cause to wonder if, beginning from the highest level, its leadership believed at all in first the party’s own constitution and second the higher interest of the country it governs.
Much ado was made of a search for a so-called consensus and ‘formidable’ candidate in accordance with the desire of President Muhammadu Buhari. He reportedly said at a meeting with the many presidential aspirants early June: ‘‘I urge all of you to hold consultations among yourselves and with the party, with a view to building a consensus in a manner that would help the party reduce the number of aspirants, bring up a formidable candidate and scale down the anxiety of party members.’’ Mr. Buhari’s consensus recommendation merely served to agitate, some would even say irritate the aspirants and the many rule-conscious in APC.
The ‘consensus candidate’ agendum was touted up to even the day before the party primaries. APC National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu reportedly informed the National Working Committee (NWC) that he had decided to field latecomer into the race, Senate President Ahmad Lawan in that role after consultation with the President. It is important to note that the President did not deny this. Governors from the Northern part of the country moved swiftly against such unilateral and obviously unpopular decision. After a meeting with Buhari, they said, determinedly, ‘‘we wish to state our firm conviction that after eight years in the office of President Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the APC for the 2023 elections should be one of our teeming members from the southern states of Nigeria. It is a question of honour for the APC…’’
The National Working Committee also supported the northern governors, saying through its National Organising Secretary Suleiman Argungu that ‘‘we, as members of the NWC are with the governors on what they have said…with regards to the power shift to the South.’’ It needs be noted that the NWC is fourth highest party organ with more than 20 key national officers of the APC as members. Following these unequivocal stands, Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu came out to say that his principal had no ‘‘preferred candidate, that he had not ‘anointed’ one and that ‘there shall be no imposition of any candidate on the party.’’
The role of the northern governors is noteworthy and commendable. Some have argued though that it was the sensible thing to do in ‘self-interest’; to preserve a Nigeria that continues to pretend federalism but operate as a unitary entity. Others view the move as altruistic, to rescue the country from a crisis too dangerous to allow. On the first view, it may be said that all politics is first self-serving and the ‘politician’ acts in ways that furthers his personal and group interest. It is difficult to fault this. However, where the pursuit of self-interest negates the collective interest, this is absolutely unjustifiable, even condemnable. A tree should not be bigger than the forest.
The governors from the North appear to have, rightly, acted both for self-preservation and for altruistic reasons. A truly federal, united, well governed and prosperous Nigeria will be better for every satisfied constituent part of it. A country of thoroughly dissatisfied and even separatist-minded parts is doomed to fail – to the inconvenience of every part of it, at least in the immediate term. It is no exaggeration that Nigeria is at this precipice. The Northern governors acted on the side of ‘honor’ to insist to Mr. Buhari that the South should ‘have it’ next. Leadership is, among other qualities, about a sense of honour. In this specific matter, the governors have reason to be proud of themselves.
Adamu’s stand has been disowned by the Presidency and just about every party stakeholder that matters. So where did he get his lone idea from? Article 14(ii) of the APC Constitution enjoins the chairman to ‘‘provide efficient and effective leadership to the Party’; (iii) that he should ‘Uphold the Constitution and defend the name, policies and programmes of the party.’’ Furthermore, Article 21 empowers the party to ‘‘discipline members of the party’’ for, among other offences, ‘… any conduct, which is likely to embarrass or have adverse effect on the Party or bring the Party into hatred, contempt, ridicule or disrepute’, and ‘giving wrong information to any Organ of the Party…’ Mr. Adamu appears to have given ‘wrong information’ to the NWC. As a result of the fallout in the public space of his behaviour brought his party into ‘hatred, contempt, ridicule (and) disrepute’. The Buhari Support Group (BSG) issued a statement through its spokesman, Ahmed Bashir that ‘‘the purported adoption of a consensus candidate by the party Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, using the name of the President Buhari has not only caused Mr. President a national disgrace but also international embarrassment.’’ ‘‘(It has also) caused serious disagreement in the party’s National Working Committee.’’ The BSG demanded therefore that Adamu ‘‘should step down forthwith.’’
What the governors have said and the step they have taken are the concrete that can unite, stabilise and forge a country into a nation. They align with the intendment of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in the extant constitution, and even with both the constitution and manifesto of the APC.
Section 15(1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that ‘‘the motto of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress’; (2) enjoins that ‘national integration shall be actively encouraged’…; Section 15(4) stipulates that ‘‘the State shall foster a feeling of belonging and of involvement among the various peoples of the Federation, to the end that loyalty to the nation shall override sectional loyalties;’’ Section 23 says that ‘‘the national ethics shall be Discipline, Integrity, Dignity of Labour, Social Justice, Religious Tolerance, Self-reliance and Patriotism.’’
The APC Constitution in article 3(i) states the motto of the party as ‘‘Justice, Peace and Unity’; Article 7 declares, among the ‘aims and objectives’’ to ‘‘promote and foster the unity, political stability and national consciousness of the people of Nigeria.’’ The first promise to the electorate in the extant manifesto of the party is to ‘‘initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to developing powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit.’’
By courageously overriding the ignoble idea of a consensus candidate of northern extraction, the governors and whoever lent support, have shown that leaders can, if they so choose, act for a cause higher than self, for a greater good than their immediate, narrow interest, for collective need instead of private greed. This precedence is ‘fresh air’ amidst the stench of the nauseating self-seeking political culture that pervades the land. It can only be hoped that it is the beginning of free thought and courageous challenge to the arrogance of power and mindless nepotism on display in Nigeria’s political arena.
Beyond the present victory of commonsense, equity and justice, the governors of the 36 states of Nigeria have a lot of work to do in furtherance of an even greater goal: the constitutional change for a real and proper federal structure. It is outrageous that federating units should periodically report with begging bowls in Abuja for their respective states’ shares of a so-called ‘federal allocation’ derived from the resources on their own land. Taraba State Governor Darius Ishaku said recently on television something to the effect that were he to have full powers to harness the resources of his state, including the tourism potentials, Taraba can thrive as well as any country. Truth be told, this can apply to every state in Nigeria.
It is unconscionable that, in blatant disregard for federalism as implemented in civilised polities, states and local governments are denied the authority and power to police their respective jurisdictions. But it is axiomatic that all effective policing is local. The sitting APC government needs be reminded that, besides its promise quoted above, it committed itself in writing, in 2015, to ‘begin widespread consultations to amend the Constitution to enable states and local governments to employ state and community police to address the peculiar needs of each community…’ Seven years after the idea is only as alive as the paper on which it was written.
The northern governors hinged their ‘act of rescue’ on ‘the question of honour.’ Very well. Their gubernatorial colleagues in the Southern part of Nigeria must join hands with them to, as a matter of honour; employ their good offices to accelerate the implementation of true federalism. That will serve the letters and the spirit of not only the APC Constitution and Manifesto, but the overarching concept, meaning and purpose of a Federal Republic of Nigeria. And that, in turn, will set this country on a course of stability, development and progress.