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North-South West rapprochement, the new political reality (1)

One of the salient developments of the 2023 elections has been the consolidation of the alignment of forces between the Northern and Southwest political establishments.…

One of the salient developments of the 2023 elections has been the consolidation of the alignment of forces between the Northern and Southwest political establishments.

A look at the results of the elections bears this out.

Out of the 8.7 million votes that President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, scored in the elections, 5.3 million came from the entire Northern region comprising North West, North East and North Central geopolitical areas. Significantly like in the June 12, 1993 elections in which Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory from the Southwest defeated homeboy late Bashir Tofa in the North, Tinubu, despite not winning as many states as his challenger Atiku Abubakar from the North, however, did enough to beat Atiku who scored 4.8 million here.

Tinubu may not have won that many number of states in the North outright, especially the huge voter states like Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Sokoto states,  however his votes tally in these states individually was huge enough to help him over the line.

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Indeed all told, Tinubu’s 5.3 million votes in the North almost doubled his vote tally of 2.5 million in his native Southwest region.

Reflecting on this aspect of the 2023 elections, political observers have described the development as the consolidation of the Northern and Southwest political romance which has been slowly evolving for decades.

Many will say that this development started from the run-up to the 2015 elections in which Bola Tinubu led the Southwest political establishment into a political alliance with then Muhammadu Buhari of the northern-based Congress for Progressive Change and other political parties, to a political merger to challenge and eventually defeat the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party at the 2015 elections.

At the time it was thought to be an unprecedented political development as it signified the end of the opposition politics that the Southwest had been known for. It also indicated that the Southwest has now joined the mainstream of Nigerian politics which the political establishment of the region had studiously declined as a matter of political tradition, to belong to since Nigeria’s independence.

Although many may not know it, the trajectory of the rapprochement between the North and Southwest can be traced back to the late 1980s when late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’adua (rtd) feeling excluded from reckoning of the then National Party of Nigeria, NPN-led administration of President Shehu Shagari, attempted to forge political links with rising figures of the southwest political establishment as a counterweight not just to President Shagari and the NPN but also to open up a second political front of northern political elements.

Among the southwest political figures that General Yar’adua drew into this group were, Dapo Sarunmi, Prince Ademola Adeniji Adele and Tunde Edu. Interestingly, Bola Tinubu the present president-elect, then a political protégé of both Sarunmi and Ademola Adeniji Adele was a member of this group by association.

Although this budding political movement predictably came under hostile attention from the older political figures and groups in both the north and southwest, its structure was such that it was able to weather the storms even during the military regimes of General Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, who continued the antagonism against the group.

So strong and resilient this group proved that it formed the nucleus of the Social Democratic Party of the Babangida years which provided the platform for General Yar’adua’s victory at the presidential primaries of the party defeating late former Governor of Lagos State Lateef Jakande and Olu Falae both of them notable political grandees in the southwest.

In the intervening years from the regime of Abacha, the political group went into abeyance with many of its leading lights and rank and file pitching their politics elsewhere.

The politics of the new civilian administration from inception saw attempts being made to coax and bring the southwest into the mainstream of Nigerian politics by the dominant northern political establishment mainly to atone for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections by General Babangida which Chief Abiola had won.

In this regard, two notable political figures from the southwest, Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP and Olu Falae of the Alliance for Democracy were railroaded by the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar into the contest for the presidency in the run-up to the transfer of power to a new political regime.

Although Obasanjo emerged as president, it did not quite have the feeling that the southwest has joined the mainstream of Nigerian politics. This was mainly because to the southwest political establishment, Obasanjo was not known to be part of nor did he have the sort of political following that could have made him a regional political icon to significantly determine the political direction that the region could take in national politics. And so for the majority of people in the Southwest his ascension as president was welcomed, his presidency could not have signified a shift in the Southwest political paradigm of opposition.

It was only with the moves that Tinubu began to make in leading his Action Congress into a political merger with northern-based political parties in the run-up to the 2015 elections that we began to see the beginnings of a major seismic political shift in southwest politics.

This was all down to the iconic political status of Tinubu in the southwest political stakes wherein he had become the most outstanding political figure having steadily built up and accumulated a trove of political capital unmatched by every other figure in the region through political activism in the region and beyond.

With this, he felt able and sure-footed enough to attempt to change the direction of politics in the region from opposition to the mainstream. This he did in c2015 by leading the Southwest into the merger that brought Muhammadu Buhari to power. And now with his victory in the 2023 elections in the manner he did, he has consolidated on that political move he first led in 2015 effectively changing not just the political orientation and direction of southwest politics but potentially of Nigeria as well into the future. (To be continued)

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