By Ado Umar Muhammad
In the checkered history of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his political associates are probably the first group to have bargained with a presidential candidate of a new party, claimed to have helped him to come to power and striven to get maximal benefits from the bargain.
This was after the merger of three political parties and factions of two others to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013. The group struck the bargain with Muhammadu Buhari, who emerged as APC’s presidential candidate.
The bargain, according to the group, was that if he won the election, he would execute some major projects in the South West of the country. Fortunately for the group, the March 28, 2015, presidential election was won by Buhari. And so it dawned on Tinubu and co. that the central government was at their disposal. Expectedly, they used their influence to get strategic ministries and agencies allocated to them. That was necessary to facilitate the execution of the projects they craved to deliver for their people.
They started earnestly to use the ministries to achieve their goals. But before long complaints arose that the ministers were promoting parochial interests. The complaints were directed at a particular minister who promptly came out to justify his actions by claiming that the projects were promised to them by the president.
However, one remarkable thing about the development is the group’s resolve to execute the projects, which although they seemed petty, portrayed them as conscientious politicians who had the interest of their people at heart. Most importantly, their determination also helped to institutionalise bargaining as a political strategy worthy of emulation by other zones.
In fact, this prompted me to advise our elders and youths about three years ago to stop deluding themselves about the ‘monolithic North’ by striving to revive it at all costs. They do this by floating all kinds of regional groups such as the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Northern Youths Council of Nigeria (NYCN), etc. I said zonal associations would be more functional and beneficial to our people.
However, it must be conceded that umbrella regional groups such as the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) and Coalition of Northern Youth Groups (CNYG) should continue to exist. This is because there is still the need to sustain a semblance of ‘northernism’ for obvious reasons. But the famed massiveness of the North is no more; it died with the creation of 12 states in 1967.
My advice to our elders and youths was contained in an article published by Daily Trust on March 11, 2019, titled, “The North needs zonal, not regional elders.” In it, I observed that the regional groups had failed to command general acceptance among all ethnic groups. They were hardly seen, for instance, by minority groups as their true representatives and voice on vexing national issues.
I noted also that regional groups tended to be less effective than zonal and/or ethnically-based associations such as Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo. This is because the ethno-religious conflicts we had over the years promoted tribalism and ruined the spirit of unity in diversity, peace and tranquility that prevailed among ethnic groups in the pre-independence North.
The tension that arose as a result of sectarian conflicts in the North is still palpable in certain volatile areas. Minority elites have been angry with leaders of majority tribes whom they accuse of monopolising the political and economic space. Consequently, the serenity and sense of belonging, which was the hallmark of Northern unity under the superlative leadership of the late Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Region, Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, has eluded us to date.
To restore the lost glory I emphasised that zonal, as opposed to regional leadership, was imperative in the North. I said leaders of a zone would be more capable of solving the socio-political problems that are peculiar to their areas. This is because they are conversant with the challenges and aspirations of their people and are in a better position to express them while bargaining for capital projects with presidential candidates.
To my delight, shortly after the publication, I read reports of the emergence of new zonal elders’ forums in North Central and North East zones. This was despite the so-called Middle Belt Forum, which is obsessed and more concerned about religious issues. Over such issues, the MBF seems so alienated that its leaders find it expedient to align themselves with the South to spite the North!
Nevertheless, now is the time to begin such bargains as the two main political parties have elected their presidential candidates. While the ruling APC opted for Tinubu, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) settled for Atiku Abubakar as its flag-bearer. Not to forget the smaller parties- New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Labour Party (LP) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) have also elected Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Peter Obi and Kola Abiola respectively as their torch-bearers. Although very few people expect these parties to win the election, there are postulations that one or two of them could spring surprises.Leaders of the newly formed zonal elders’ forums should, therefore, pick up the gauntlet and seek to meet the candidates with blueprints for what they expect them to do for their people. They should of course base their support on the promises of the candidates. Their demands must also be accompanied with a caveat that failure to redeem the pledges will result in withdrawal of support in the next election.
The snag here, is the fear that an incumbent president may renege during his second term. He may think that after all, he won’t seek re-election. If that happens, the leaders should accept it with equanimity.
Muhammad is a former Editor-in-Chief, Triumph Newspapers, Kano firstname.lastname@example.org