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Southeast’s dilemma versus North’s 2019 cabal politics

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
26 November 2018   |   3:36 am
The recent visit by members of Southeast Governors’ Forum (SEGF) to Aso Rock did much to accentuate the undulating conversation in the zone regarding next year’s presidential election. The political narrative in the zone has also been going on against the backcloth of the North’s hesitant position about 2019. It should be noted that disparate…

[FILE PHOTO] A man walks past a van decorated with pictures of Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, in the southern city of Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta, Nigeria October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Tife Owolabi

The recent visit by members of Southeast Governors’ Forum (SEGF) to Aso Rock did much to accentuate the undulating conversation in the zone regarding next year’s presidential election.

The political narrative in the zone has also been going on against the backcloth of the North’s hesitant position about 2019.

It should be noted that disparate concerns and interests as well as socio-economic considerations have also affected what used to be the monolithic political North.

Thus, what remains as North in the current dispensation are but Buharist elements, otherwise known as the cabal, in the three geopolitical zones that make up the region.

On the road to next year’s election, therefore, it could be said that what used to be the traditional alliance between the Southeast and the North is undergoing a quiet re-examination, particularly in the light of the Northeast/Southeast vertical alliance described by the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former chairman of SEGF, Mr. Peter Obi, for a joint 2019 presidential ticket.

Northern electoral environment

Within the election environment in the North, there is quiet contention between the cabal and the rest over what should constitute basic considerations and issues to determine the direction of voter preference in the region.

While the cabal insists that President Muhammadu Buhari should be supported for another four years in the Presidency, others think otherwise, saying that the president has performed below average to warrant popular regional mobilisation.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, recently observed that it was inimical to democracy for a government to pick and choose which court judgments to obey.

Similarly, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Ahmad Sanusi II, enjoined Nigerians to stop electing uneducated leaders so as to ensure the progress of the country.

Also, it was perhaps based on the lack of unanimity over the president’s track record that the leading northern groups, including Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) and Northern Political Stakeholders Assembly (NPSA) refrained from public endorsement of President Buhari for another term.

But over and above the disagreement over Buhari’s achievements, northern leaders are said to be peeved by three other crucial considerations, which hold them back from putting words across to Nigerians in support of Buhar’s second term aspiration.

The predominant perception in the North is that the Buhari Presidency is not entirely the making or inspiration of northern leaders, but the product of the political calculations of an ambitious Southwest politician endowed with huge financial resources.

The impasse within the Presidency cabal is said tobe caused by the attempts to put the
Southwest politician, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, at bay.

Flowing from the above view is the fear of a possible repeat of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua experience, which the northern leaders feel could cause a disadvantage in the region both politically and economically.

There are also findings by the NPSA that the Buhari Presidency has caused much damage to northern unity and national harmony, a development they concluded could lead to disastrous consequences if the president is supported to enjoy another four years in office.

The bottom line of northern leaders’ position is that the North has not benefitted from the Buhari Presidency both in quality and quantity of development projects and governance initiatives. They believe that the Presidency is being run by a few self-seeking individuals who are not only ignorant of what constitutes the northern interest, but are also steeped in primitive accumulation of personal wealth.

The dichotomy in political calculations over the likely import of Buhari’s second term as well as its impact on national progress seems to explain the disparate position of the cabals and other progressive forces in the North, which hold radically opposed views, but are shy in coming all out to voice disapproval.

Southeast electoral environment

THOSE who blame the Southeast for the direction of its majority votes in 2015 do not seem to understand the political awkwardness in the zone.

At a meeting of Southeast leadership caucus at Uburu, Ebonyi State country home of the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, on December 31, 2017, the former governor of Enugu State, Mr. Sullivan Chime, made a poignant revelation.

While suggesting ways of marketing All Progressives Congress (APC) in the zone, Chime, who defected to the ruling party during the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) leadership crisis, said elections were not won through the ballot, but that results were written in the zone.

As could be deduced from the number of registered voters in the zone by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the bulk of enlightened Southeast voters are outside the geopolitical zone.

The number that goes to vote during elections comprises majorly the weak and pliable citizens, whose choice could be swayed by sentiments and patronage.

The improvements in the electoral process and change of government at the federal level have made it impossible for the outcome of elections to be predictable in the zone.

However, the rising incidence of vote-buying, which reared its head during the last Anambra State governorship election, has introduced a new dimension to the country’s electoral system. And Southeast is not immune to the vagaries of such malfeasance.

The fact that offshore voters from Southeast could not affect the direction of elections in the geopolitical zone makes it easy for leadership selection decisions to be based on sentiments. And one of the sensitive issues in the election of representatives concerns zoning.

Consequently, a cursory look at the Southeast electoral environment shows that of the three incumbent PDP governors in the zone, it is not likely that more than one of them would return for a second term after next year’s election.

Ordinarily, the selection of former governor Obi as the PDP presidential running mate, would have made things easy for the governors. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be so owing to a number of factors.

First of all, the governors seem to be taken in by the old narrative that elections are not won but doctored in the zone. As such citing the examples of recent elections in Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun States, the PDP governors do not see reason to trust the judgment of the voters alone.

Moreover Obi’s near Spartan political style fails to endear him for political camaraderie with the state governors, who see him as a lone-ranger.

It so happens that while the masses in the zone approve of the former governor of Anambra State as good choice for PDP vice presidential hopeful, the governors, some of whom have their minds fixed on the possibility of running for president in 2023, do not believe so.

The political elite in the zone are suspicious of Peter Obi and feel that having been selected as running mate, Atiku seems to have given him some mileage in the race for Igbo Presidency in 2023 ahead of them.

Trip to the Villa

THAT the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, was on the entourage when all the Southeast governors but one, visited the Presidential Villa last week, was instructive. It was Kabiru Marafa, who some time ago teased Ekweremadu, when he said he should join APC so as to clinch the party’s presidential ticket in 2023.

The choice of Obi as presidential running mate came as a rude shock to politicians in the Southeast whose aim includes moving a notch closer to the Presidency.

Ekweremadu is one of those. After four terms in the Senate, three as Deputy President, Ekweremadu knows that there is nothing else to achieve in the Senate except retirement or promotion to the Presidency, with the governorship of his home state being out of it.

At the Port Harcourt convention, Ekweremadu presented three faces of hope for the presidential running mate.

In one breath, he was warming towards Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal’s likely emergence; in another, he was taking for granted his close working relationship with the President of Senate, Bukola Saraki, whose reentry into PDP displaced him (Ekweremadu) as the highest ranking political office holder in the party.

From his privileged position on the podium where the collation of ballots was being done, Ekweremadu noticed the extraordinary bulge in Atiku’s bucket and placed himself in a position that would recommend him for the number two position.

When that wish evaporated, what was left for the Enugu West Senator was to experiment with the Senator Godswill Akpabio option.

Reports of his possible defection to APC did not sound promising enough, especially given the fact that within Enugu APC, he was to find himself in the midst of strange allies, who detest his perceived opportunistic political style with a passion.

For Ebonyi State governor and chairman of SEGF, David Umahi, Obi’s emergence came as a rude shock. While Umahi could stomach an Ekweremadu as Vice President, an Obi was unthinkable.

Not only because of Obi’s type of politics, but also that the former Anambra governor has combined wealth, politics and intellectual savvy in a curious mix that makes him stand out.

What political elite in Southeast had against the selection of the former Anambra governor as Atiku’s running mate includes his tightfistedness and tendency towards I-knowing-it-all mentality. One elderly politician from the zone observed that “Peter Obi is not only very rich, but stingy; his stinginess is not out of prudence but wickedness.”

And so the visit to Aso Rock villa by the Southeast governors was meant to achieve two things: First, it was to pay Obi in his own coin. While he held sway as chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum, Obi romanced the then ruling PDP Presidency, which helped to guarantee his two terms in office.

Then the visitors must have decided to humour President Buhari with affected solidarity, ostensibly to ensure that given the sequence of election in 2019, which placed the Presidential and National Assembly first before the governorship, in the event that Buhari wins, he could reciprocate their good gesture by availing them of the federal might.

On the other hand, should APC lose to the PDP candidate in the presidential election, the president is expected to understand that the failure was not out of lack of efforts by the governors, but by the nature of voter behaviour in the zone, which has been averse to Buhari.

In does not seem that by rethinking its initial decision not to field a presidential candidate and throw its weight behind Buhari, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has found a strong footing.

The presidential standard bearer, retired General John Gbor is perceived as being dead on arrival as such robbing APGA a good marketing commodity to canvass for Southeast votes.

So just as Governor Willie Obiano was favoured with a second term after several shuttle visits to the villa, the real motive behind the governors’ visit was political. The issues of infrastructure and others raised were mere façade to obfuscate the Southeast voting public, which holds reservations about APC presidential candidate.

The chairman of Southeast Governors, Umahi, told journalists that they were in the villa on behalf of Southeast people to thank President Buhari for the award of N206 billion contract, and to seek a reduction in construction time for the second Niger Bridge from 42 to 24 months.

However, what could be in it for the governor could be in line with the popular impression that they were in the villa to cancel out the publicity effect of public presentation of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s book, My Transition Hours. That was the politics of the visit.

The Mustapha 2023 initiative

IT was that political aside that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, did not lose opportunity to introduce.

The SGF has for some time made himself the cabal’s special political envoy to the Southeast charged with the responsibility of selling the 2023 presidential ticket dummy to the zone.

To show the political undertone of the governors’ visit, Mustapha declared that the “visit by the leaders was remarkable (because they) debunked the impression that the Federal Government was not doing enough for Southeast people.”

Echoing his statement during a pro-Buhari rally in Owerri shortly after the APC convention, the SGF reminded Southeasterners that their political investment in the re-election of Buhari in 2019 election would determine their fate in 2023.

He had stated: “Remember there was a programme in the Southeast where I represented the president and I flew the kite by telling the Southeast states that their quickest and easiest means to Presidency is to support Buhari’s second term.

This means that they can short-circuit the period in terms of only having him there for another four years.

“Whatever they do in 2019 will determine what will happen thereafter because politics is a game of numbers and it is like a cooperative society.

Whatever you bring as an investment when dividends are going to be shared, you will get proportionate with your investment and your investment in politics is what you bring to the table.

“I urge the Southeast to look at this matter seriously that every time we have Presidency in Nigeria, it is negotiated in several ways. It is either negotiated by votes or what you bring to the table and you must negotiate from the position of strength. You can’t negotiate from the point of weakness.”

Mustapha comes off as a good marketer and negotiator, but what he failed to reflect in his selling pitch to the Southeast is how APC would balance the investment of Southwest with those of the Southeast, which did not vote the party in 2015.

Moreover, virtually all the APC stakeholders in Southwest have been mouthing 2023 as the mainstay of their support for Buhari and the party to the extent that it is being speculated that the president actually guaranteed Tinubu and Southwest his support for the 2023 presidential slot.

But all the swivel argument sounds puerile because the SGF fails to reflect the fairness doctrine in his marketing efforts, because situating the 2023 presidency on the basis of level of support to Buhari does not seem to make political sense.

In the first place, why was Buhari unable to make himself President on three attempts until the Southwest marketed his propaganda and votes? And, how far has the party shed the toga of exclusivity against the Southeast since the general impression is that APC belongs to Buhari and Tinubu?

Two weeks ago a coalition of Igbo groups in Lagos State enjoined APC and Buhari to gift them with the position of running mate to underscore his intention to support Southeast for the 2023 Presidency.

There is no gainsaying the possibility that the ruling party will garner more votes in 2019 polls than it did in 2015, but with Obi as presidential running mate of PDP candidate, the SGF’s offering remains as a message to who it may concern.

Just as the North did all it could to ensure that power moved back to the zone in recognition of the zoning arrangement, there are options open to the Southeast in 2023.

In the unlikely event that the zone does not get the Presidency, agitation for referendum or even ratification of the amalgamation could attain a new momentum.

Voter rebellion

AS things stand in the zone, the republican nature of the people of Southeast would likely come into great expression in next year’s election. What this means is that any agreements entered into by leaders could be subject to embarrassing breach.

During the initial misgivings by some PDP stakeholders over the nomination of Mr. Obi as the running mate to Atiku, a leader of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Dan Nwanyanwu, noted that the fact that anybody was elected governor or Senator in Southeast does not automatically confer on the person the status of Igbo leader.

Simply put, the mood in the Southeast after years of political wheeling-dealing by representatives is that the PVC remains the ultimate argument and only the possessor knows how best to appropriate its powers.

There is no political playmaker in Southeast; as such individuals and communities take their voting decisions based on their interests.

While the elite might attempt a gang up against Obi and PDP, the threat of voter rebellion in the zone is real.

Not that alone, another potential threat to maximum vote tally in the Southeast is the ongoing campaigns for election boycott and referendum by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Lower Niger Congress (LNC) respectively.

Based on the foregoing imputations that the Igbo has learnt not to put all its electoral eggs in one basket sounds like mere wishful thinking.

The political parties are not engaging the people in a conversation towards consensus. Top of that, the people are still neck-deep into the business of searching for what they could get for the day.

Zikist argument

MEANWHILE, a political action committee of APC in the Southeast, which styles itself as the Zikist-Buharist Movement (ZBM) has descended on a factional governorship candidate of the party in Enugu State, Senator Ayogu Eze, for describing the governors’ villa visit as counterfeit.

ZBM, which is an offshoot of Buhari Support Organisation (BSO), taunted Eze, saying that he wants to slow down the rising Buhari momentum in the zone in a mad quest for an elusive gubernatorial ambition.

It would be recalled that Eze had, while commissioning his campaign office, pleaded with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was the Chief Guest of Honour, to inform President Buhari that the Southeast governors who visited him at Aso Villa last Wednesday were fake and should not be relied on.

“Nobody should crawl to Abuja and promise you 25 per cent; don’t listen to them. You already have 90 per cent of votes here,” Eze had stated.

But reacting to the Senator’s broadsides, ZBM Acting Secretary, Godwin Onwusi, cautioned Enugu APC factional governorship candidate to emulate the pragmatism of the great Zik of Africa, stressing that “all hands must be on deck, irrespective of party affiliations, to deliver President Muhammadu Buhari in the forthcoming 2019 presidential election.”

Onwusi, in a statement said: “We of the ZBM welcome all hands on the deck and accordingly, salute the Southeast governors, Igboezue Cultural Group, United Peoples Party (UPP), Senator Ekweremadu, Dr. Chekwas Okorie, Emeka Okwuosa and all eminent Igbo sons and daughters who joined us in mobilising and scaling up Buhari’s vote in the region for 2019 presidential election.

“The new Buhari momentum in our zone will reinforce our quest for a Nigeria president of Igbo extraction in 2023 and encourage the president to invest more in critical infrastructure in the Southeast region. It’s not wise to put all our eggs in one basket.”

The group argued that while the 90 per cent promised by Senator Eze for Buhari is not in doubt, “as Zikists, we are pragmatic and reasonable; the 2019 presidential election may not be easy. So, we salute the governors and Igbo patriots for being pragmatic in choosing between two Fulani Muslim brothers.”

While tasking the governors to showcase genuineness, ZBM commended the president for the award of the Second Niger Bridge to Julius Berger at the cost of N206 billion and payment of N7 billion as mobilization fee.

In looking ahead to next year’s election, ZBM urged the zone to emulate the great Zik’s North/East alliance, insisting that “nobody’s ambition or interest should wittingly or unwittingly dispose him to play politics with our dream of returning Buhari in 2019 or halting the new Buhari momentum in Igbo land.”