Top actors in the bid to return power to the Northern part of the country have increased their activism in recent weeks. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, highlights the rising wave of the 2015 battles, genesis of it all and the issues at stake.
Shortly after Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was sworn-in as President in 2011, top leaders of the North gathered at the Hilton Hotels, Medina, Saudi Arabia to strategise on the way forward for the North in the 2015 general election. That was during the Ramadan/Lesser Hajj season of August 2011. A number of issues were deliberated upon and a blueprint fashioned out. The issues included the need for the North to clinch the 2015 Presidency, need for unity among the political leaders of the region, roles of former heads of state from the North and the Northern governors, and the need to secure the friendship of former President Olusegun Obasanjo for the Northern quest for power.
Two years after the historic but secret meeting, the North has remained faithful to the implementation of that blueprint. In December 2011, a unity meeting, which was one of the resolutions of the Medina meeting, was held, bringing together all shades of opinion from the region. That was to lay the foundation for further activism by the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Northern Elders Forum (NEF). With that meeting done with, the next on the agenda is fostering unity among the governors of the region. In that respect, the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) has been more active than before under the leadership of Niger State governor, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu.
With the visit of four governors, including Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako, Niger State governor, Muazu Babangida Aliyu, Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido and Kano state governor, Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso, to former President Obasanjo in Abeokuta last week, the North appeared to have kickstarted another phase of the battle for 2015 presidency. The visit confirms the declaration of an emissary of the governor of Adamawa, Nyako to the August 2011 meeting in Medina, Saudi Arabia.
A source at the meeting had quoted Nyako’s aide as submitting that: “one thing that is common and central to all the Northern states’ governors is that, political power must return to the North in 2015, but that so far, how this is going to be achieved is what he and his governor colleagues are yet to decide upon.”
The aide was further quoted as saying that: “The trio of governors Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, Kwakwanso and Nyako who are good friends to former President Obasanjo, have spoken with Obasanjo and advised him not to offer any support to Mr. President should he (Mr. President) be fighting the North.
“He stated that the afore-mentioned governors had also decided to meet with Obasanjo on the following three issues - the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); the 2015 Presidency and Security.”
But that statement was made in 2011, right now, the coast has been widened to include another core friend of Obasanjo in the North, Governor Lamido and the group of governors appeared to be marching forward in the quest for Northern Presidency in 2015.
After the Abeokuta visit, the governors moved to Minna on Monday, where they had a parley with two former heads of state, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdusalami Abubakar. Though Nyako was not at the meeting, his spirit was with his other colleagues. He also spoke from Yola, where he reinforced the plan being pursued in Minna by his compatriots. At a meeting in Yola, he insisted that the governors would have no choice than to help bury the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) if things continue to go in different directions.
While the meeting with the former leaders was cloned as a meeting meant to discuss national issues and proffer solutions to the crisis in the polity, utterances of some participants however gave them away as only plotting towards the actualisation of the 2015 Northern agenda.
“I just want to commend the governors here and some of their colleagues, I was very impressed because they saw the problem of this country as our problem and they have taken the right steps to make the consultation widely, in trying to find solution to some of the leading problems,” “They are real patriots. I am very happy and I told them so,” General Babangida had told newsmen after the meeting.
But Niger State governor, Babangida Aliyu gave an indication that the meeting was all about the crisis rocking the PDP and the governors’ Forum. “Now we are consulting with our elders and leaders to look at some of the problems and proffer solutions to the problems that some of us perceived we are facing,” he said.
While responding to further questions, Aliyu said: “There is no gathering in Nigeria now that Rivers’ issue will not come up. Our meeting today (Monday) was a larger issue than even the Governors’ Forum. We are discussing on how to solve them.”
With Aliyu’s submissions, it was apparent that the Minna meeting was more of the 2015 battle. Incidentally, the 2011 meeting which produced the Arewa blueprint for 2015 had indentified the role of former Nigerian leaders of Northern extraction as one of the stumbling blocks to the Northern presidency agenda.
A participant at the meeting had quoted a governor lamenting the roles played by some former leaders and Northern leaders of thought in scuttling the 2011 aspiration, adding that the governors would not accept the attitude of some former heads of State or President as witnessed during the process leading to the 2011 Presidential election. The governor added that his colleagues are opposed to the gang-up leading to the Northern consensus candidate option.
Some of the other respected voices in the North were said to have cautioned on the roles played by Babangida and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in the North’s quest for the number one spot in recent years.
Besides, a homily at the start of the meeting had also directed the attention of Northern politicians thus: “If the North is not united, the region will be in a political dilemma in the years to come. The critical issues coming up on the front burner include the 2015 succession, particularly how the North can play a more united role, towards ensuring that political power returns to the region, as well as the issue of stabilising the country.”
Thus, the meetings in Abeokuta and Minna were not just foretold, they were aimed at strengthening the hands of the North in the 2015 presidential bid. Is all set for a coronation of a Northern candidate as President based on the perceived realisation of the emerging united front? That is an issue political actors will keep providing answers to as time draws close to the 2015 dateline. But the facts on ground confirm that a lot more needed to be done if the North will clinch the presidential ticket off the South South which is the incumbent.
Political observers would hold aloft the belief that the disposition of the five Northern governors who are pushing the peace initiative and the North’s 2015 agenda so far does not cut across all tendencies in the region. For instance, it could be easily said that all the five governors have one thing or the other in common; they are close allies of former President Obasanjo. While Wamakko was helped into PDP by the former President, Lamido was imposed on Jigawa by the Ota farmer. The same scenario happened in Niger, where Aliyu was plucked from the Permanent Secretary job and landed the governorship seat by Obasanjo on a platter. Kwakwanso was Minister of Defence under Obasanjo and he proved a good ally for the former President while the Ota farmer battled the former Speaker of House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba between 2001 and 2003. Nyako was also Obasanjo’s strong ally in the battle to take Adamawa off the control of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Indeed, the former President used his clout to silence critics of governorship primaries which produced Nyako, which was believed to be flawed.
Therefore, with all the protagonists of the 2015 agenda having Obasanjo’s baggage to carry, how will the other 14 governors of the North key into the agenda? Would it be far from the truth to say that Obasanjo’s camp is seeking to stop Jonathan in 2015 by installing one of their loyalists? Was it true that Obasanjo actually sent emissaries to Jonathan to persuade him to drop the 2015 ambition, so as to fast track the above agenda?
These are some of the questions governors like Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, Gabriel Suswam of Benue and Jonah Jang of Plateau state who have been largely sidelined in the battle will be occupying their minds with. A further question would be now that Jonathan has reached out to Obasanjo with an olive branch, what will be the fate of a Northern struggle anchored on the support of the former President?
Therein lies the dilemma of the North. Thus notwithstanding the decision to start early enough, the strategic moves towards 2015 is proving to be a tricky issue even for the core political strategists in the North.
Indeed, one of the undying issues is how the region will take care of the anger of politicians who felt betrayed by key Northern elements in the past. One of such is Attahiru Bafarawa, former Sokoto State governor, who was said to have also voiced out his anger at the 2011 meeting. At the Saudi meetings, Bafarawa was said to have noted that Northerners are their own problems and that until there is genuine reconciliation among Northerners, political unity might continue to elude the zone. A source had quoted him as sounding a note of caution on Obasanjo, saying that the former President betrayed the North, exploiting the lack of unity in the region.
“He believed that former President Obasanjo would not have been able to betray the North (in 2007), had Northerners not supported him,” a source quoted the former governor as saying.
“There are a lot of issues on ground that the leaders of the North need to address. For instance, someone like Bafarawa reeled out a long list of issues when he addressed the Saudi meeting; that many also have similar experiences which have not been sorted out as we talk. For instance, he said that Obasanjo betrayed him in 2007, and similarly claimed that Babangida betrayed him during the 2007 elections.
“He further claimed that both Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar betrayed him in 2009/2010. These are personal issues that could affect the unity of purpose as far as realising the Northern agenda is concerned,” another source said.
But aside the 2015 Northern agenda within the PDP, the opposition parties, especially the emerging coalition under the All Progressives Congress (APC) also has a similar plan which does not include Obasanjo. The fulcrum of that plan however remains the disintegration of the PDP, whose leaders are supposed to give tacit support to the APC in 2015. Incidentally, the opposition coalition has ceded its presidential ticket to the North. Another pillar on that front however remains the planned accord between the North and the South-West. It is believed that the South-West which is currently controlled by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) will translate that control to the emerging APC, which expectedly will feature a Northern Presidential hopeful and that with the break-up of PDP, the new party could take control of the government at the centre.
But then political observers will recall that such expectations were raised ahead of the 2011 elections and it never came to pass. The bid to ensure a united front within the PDP by its leaders who have set up reconciliatory moves is however said to be upstaging the projection of the opposition once again.
Will the Obasanjo tendency pull any appreciable string as the battle for 2015 hots up? Will the Jonathan camp provide the needed counterpoise to the Northern push to retain the Presidency? All these are questions whose answers lie in the prognosis of the critical political actors as they queue up on the road to 2015.