From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The agenda of the meeting stated that it was to inaugurate the South-South/South- East Traditional Rulers Forum. It was not to be, as midway into the programme, a new twist was added with what clearly turned out a political outing by royal fathers.
For close observers of politics ahead of 2015 presidential elections with prominent politicians from the South-west and the Northern region mobilising to stop President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election plans, the new alliance between the South-south and South-east in the face of the vicious opposition is understandable.
Before the Nigerian civil war, the South- east and South-south enjoyed a mutual, cordial relationship. This was, however, shattered during the civil war, as the South-south queued behind the Federal Government to break the secession plans of the South-east. Since then, there has been mutual suspicion between the two groups until politics of the late president Musa Yar’Adua’s illness and the 2011 presidential elections rekindled a political relationship that would have its greatest test during the 2015 presidential election.
In the build up to the 2011 Presidential elections, the South-east political leaders made it clear where their heart was and this was demonstrated by the high votes recorded by Jonathan in all the South-eastern states. As the nation inches towards the 2015 elections, their body language has once again showed where they would swing the pendulum in the event that Jonathan is a candidate in the 2015 presidential elections.
The leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDVPF), Alhaji Asari Mujahdid Dokubo, captured the new political relationship better.
“During Jonathan’s election, the Ibos voted for the South-south. Before, the Southern minority, as we are called, always voted for the North to divide and rule. Former Midwest region would always vote for whom the Yoruba voted for. During Jonathan’s election, the Ibos carried it on their heads and voted for him. And this is a debt the Ijaws, who are second to the Ibos in this part of the world, owe the Ibo people to ensure that 2019, if Nigeria survives, we will stake our lives to make an Ibo man president, no matter what it takes.”
According to sources, having felt betrayed by the Northern political establishment after the 2011 presidential elections with widespread protest against the emergence of Jonathan and unsure of continued support from the South-west, the South-south, with Ijaws at the forefront, are leaving no stones unturned in solidifying their political relationship with the South-east. The traditional rulers forum of the two geo-political zones are just one of the several political alliances that the South-south and South-east would float together in ensuring that Jonathan stays beyond 2015.
Investigations reveal that the driving force for the inauguration of the South- South/ South East Traditional rulers’ forum being championed by a former Minister of Petroleum and presently the Amanayanbo of Nembe, Dr. Edmund Daukoru was the mobilization of support for Jonathan from the home base.
For close observers of the build up to the 2015 Presidential elections, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson has told those who care to listen that the Ijaw national interest is the protection of the presidency and mobilization of support for Jonathan to succeed in office. Those close to him would maintain that Dickson is one of the point men assigned to garner support for Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election. Inside sources said the Bayelsa State government was part of those that bankrolled the forum with a view to continuing in its determination to forge alliances with other geo-political zones in endorsing Jonathan for a second term.
The choice of invitees also gave away the organizers as having a political motive for holding the inauguration. Considering the barrage of criticisms from the North and South- West, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muahhamed Sa’ad Abubakar and the Oni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade were invited. Though the duo could not attend, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar El-Kanemi and the General Secretary of Yoruba Council of Monarchs, Oba Aderemi Adedapo, stood in for them. Also in attendance were known foot soldiers in the Jonathan 2015 project. They include the President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Senator Tari Sekibo, former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and Chief Ikedi Ohakim.
When each speaker got up to talk, the motive of the gathering became clear: endorsement of Jonathan for re-election. Oba Adedapo and the Gbong Gwom, Jos, HRM Da Buba Gyang both described Jonathan as one of the best leaders Nigeria has ever had.
Hear Oba Adedapo: “Dr. Jonathan’s emergence as President of the country was a fulfilment of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s “prediction that an Ijaw man would rule this country some day in the future”.
“We thank God today that we have an Ijaw son as a good and great leader of this country. If you were there on May 29, 2013 in Abuja where I was representing the South-West, you will agree with me that this man (Jonathan) has surpassed many leaders we have ever had in this country.
“I am not a politician, I’m a traditional ruler. Among the Yorubas, we have this saying “You are seeing something, you are hearing the voice but you are still asking what is this? We thank God for giving us this President at this point in this country”.
The Chairman, South-East Council of Traditional Rulers, HRH Cletus Ikechuckwu Ilomuanya said the forum would ensure the two zones act and speak with one voice.
He said: “You would agree with me that of all the geo-political zones in Nigeria, the people of South-South and South-East zones share common affinity especially in the areas of culture and tradition.
‘Historically, we are one people of the same lineage but for political expediency and administrative convenience, we now pretend to be people from two different zones of South-South and South-East. Therefore, it is one of the aims of the South-South and South East Traditional rulers to re-orientate and galvanize our people to begin to think and act as people of one cultural and traditional identity”.
Daukoru who is the Chairman of the South- South Traditional Rulers Forum said aside contributing to peace and stability of the nation, the forum will promote inter-zonal cultural activities, as well as take joint position on matters affecting their collective interest.
Iwuanyanwu was to provide the icing on the political endorsements Jonathan had received when he called on Nigerians to give Jonathan another term of four years as there was no where he promised to serve just one term
His words: “‘Today, I have gone round everywhere in this country and I feel a sense of joy and happiness that Jonathan has not disappointed us. He has done well.
“However, I am surprised to hear some people in some circles talking about four years’ tenure when our constitution allows him to run for eight years if he wishes to do so. Some people even say there is an agreement to that effect but I am telling you royal fathers, that there was no such agreement.”
However, some traditional rulers from the South-South have voiced out against the coming together of the South-South/South-East traditional rulers forum. The aggrieved traditional rulers under the aegis of the Concerned Traditional Rulers are pointing accusing fingers at Daukoru for acting without consultation with prominent traditional rulers in the South-South. Leading the pack of aggrieved traditional rulers are prominent ones from Delta State that believed Daukoru has hijacked the South-South Traditional Rulers forum because of his agenda to use it to drum support for the re-election of Jonathan in 2015.
The traditional rulers who alleged that the meeting was packaged solely because of the endorsement for a second term for Jonathan said some of them were not invited to avoid a rancorous situation as some of them would ask questions.
Analysts argue that with the endorsement, Daukoru would need to put his house in order as he is still functioning as an interim chairman. Some also reason that those packaging Jonathan should know that other revered traditional rulers in the South- South need to be in the picture of the support they are galvanising, otherwise all their efforts would end in futility if respected traditional rulers begin to dissociate themselves from future endorsements.