I sounded alarmed and gravely disturbed in this column some weeks ago, because I suspect that the race for 2015 could get so hot and consuming that some governors and the President could be distracted so much that efforts at national development could suffer. The point I tried to make was that no one should offer cheap excuses for our leaders’ inability to deliver on their campaign promises to the people. A leader who meets the hopes and expectations of the electorate would, quite easily, I think, be re-elected. Happily, the Nigerian electorate gets wiser and more mature with each election, as recent research has shown.
But by far, the most eyed of all political offices in Nigeria is, of course, the presidency. President Goodluck Jonathan is, so to say, in the eye of the storm. Many politicians, from different geo-political zones in the country, are angling to succeed Jonathan and govern Nigeria. That is perfectly in order and helps to showcase the enormous beauty of democracy. Interestingly, Jonathan is enabled by our laws to seek a second term, and some of his supporters, both within his party and outside of it, feel that he should contest again. After all, the logic of our turn-by-turn style of politics allows a zone, in this case the South-south, to occupy the office of the Executive President of Nigeria for two terms before the rotation continues. This is the first time in over 50 years of Nigeria’s post-colonial history that someone from the South-south is governing Nigeria. So, Jonathan has the right to stay for eight years, just as former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, re-contested, won and stayed on till 2007.
Curiously, in my view, elements from the North of the Republic are also eyeing 2015 because, as the Chief Servant of Niger State, Muazu Babangida Aliyu, puts it: “President Jonathan signed a single-term pact with PDP governors and that was why we supported him in 2011.” So far, Aliyu Babangida is the governor bandying this theory and tenaciously pursuing the idea that political power should return to the North where, perhaps, it rightly belongs. Yes, the Chief Servant wants power back to the North and he sounds vehement and insistent about it, that a friend of mine sent me a text that simply read: “Can someone near to that Chief Servant please tell him that there is a zone called the South-east and there are people called Ndigbo who are waiting for Jonathan to properly finish his term, and the contest for Aso Rock would then begin. And let me say this: Ndigbo easily unite and fight their own battle only when pushed to the wall. Let Governor Aliyu watch and see.”
Lest we forget, this country has been ruled by northern political elite for 39 years, both civil and military, and that perhaps explains why we are where we are today. The idea that the North must rule or appoint or anoint who should be there ‘in their absence’ simply does not add up or make many people from the South too happy. But for the purposeful regime of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the amiable Prime Minister in my secondary school days, a great mind that we all lost under regrettable circumstances in January 1966, every other northern-led federal government failed to take Nigeria to any level higher than it met it. Otherwise, Nigeria and Nigerians would not be suffering today from poor road network, poor and shameful electricity supply to our homes, offices and industries, unenviable healthcare delivery system and declining standards in our educational facilities. Name it! Many countries that Nigeria started this post-colonial race with have left us squarely behind. Electricity in Ghana, Kenya, even Burkina Faso, is taken for granted. Yes, soon after General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi was murdered on 29 July 1966 in Ibadan by northern elements in the military led by a ruthless army captain called T.Y. Danjuma, the disgusting relay game began: from Yakubu Gowon to Murtala Muhammed, then, accidentally, to Olusegun Obasanjo, then back to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, to Muhammadu Buhari, to Ibrahim Babangida, to Sani Abacha, to Abdulsalami Abubakar and then back to Obasanjo. Actually, since 1 August 1966, political leadership of Nigeria, either from Lagos or Abuja, has been a ping-pong game, not exactly between the North and the South of the republic, but surely between the North and Olusegun Obasanjo. This is true!
It actually came to a point where a southerner could only rise to a certain level in the federal bureaucracy, the military and police, diplomatic corps, etc. only with the approval or endorsement of all kinds of cliques and power brokers based in the North. Company registrations with the Corporate Affairs Commission were processed faster, if northern names were among the list of directors. It was a veritable apartheid, but only very few had the courage to say it out, or write about it. The internal colonisation was so brazenly entrenched and at the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA News) where I worked for some years in the early 1980s, the fear of Usman Muktari was the beginning of wisdom. And this ugly phenomenon was noticeable and practised in nearly all federal establishments. The military wing of the northern political establishment created states and local governments to suit the political calculations of their region. That is why today, some zones have six states while others have five. Local governments were created by decree for areas that had no human population, only arid land. That clearly indicated the level of surrender that the South was subjected to for years. The country was under the jackboot of a succession of visionless military administrations headed by ‘leaders’ from a section.
But should we really blame the North? The blame should, more appropriately, go to political leaders from the South who watched helplessly as the country that started this race for development with Malaysia, Singapore, Ghana and South Korea gradually but steadily missed golden opportunities of becoming a fast-developing economy. Yet, we shamelessly hail this country as ‘the Giant of Africa’! Those who are privileged to have Jonathan’s ears should encourage him to contest again, and he will win if he should concentrate on the specific reforms that he promised Nigerians.
Electricity determines and defines Jonathan’s political calculations. He must not joke or play politics with it. The Ministry of Power under Professor Chinedu Nebo and the Presidential Task Force on Power led by Engr. Beks Dagogo-Jack must be encouraged, supported and given all the tools they may need to deliver more electricity to Nigerians. The current effort to rescue some parts of the North from Boko Haram should continue now that victory is in sight. The second bridge over River Niger instantly delivers South-east votes to him. Ndigbo are particularly emotional about the matter. The recent complaints of marginalisation in federal appointments by the Yoruba are worth addressing. In the South-south, the East-West road is becoming an increasingly sad topic for discussion in many places in Port Harcourt, and it is sensitive and emotional to the people of the Niger Delta. And the administration should also look into the half-work and run away style of NDDC.
The President should recapture the initiative, and then focus on core priority areas – electricity, security, roads, job creation, etc. He should be fair to every section of the country and bold in taking hard decisions.