What does the North want?
I don’t assume that there is a monolithic North. This is encouraging since the South has never pretended to be anything but heterogeneous. But at times there is a coincidence of interests when the North or the South appears to speak in unison. Such a time is this in respect of the South but unfortunately for the North, the Middle Belt appears to have found its voice.
The core North appears to have overreached in its lust for the return of presidential power as it now appears to invest its mental resources in bogus conspiracy theories. As it betrays its greed for power, it inevitably doesn’t mind losing long-term allies in the South. Historically, the Southwest championed the cause of ethnic minorities across the country. In particular, against all odds, Chief Obafemi Awolowo strongly supported the creation of Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers (COR) State during the First Republic. What did he get in return? His candidacy was rejected by those whose cause he championed. They preferred a northern candidate.
In the Second Republic, both the Southsouth and the Southeast aligned with the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) even when the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) picked an Igbo as running mate. And while the two-party system of the Third Republic attempted to put an end to ethnic politics, and both the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) drew membership from across the nation, the annulment of the presidential election quickly brought back the old animosity with a majority of other southern nationality groups, especially the Igbo, snubbing the Southwest and supporting the annulment and campaigning for the military. It was what the North wanted and succeeded in having.
Now there is a new alignment going on. The North has lost its old allies in the Southsouth and Southeast, and it now appears that a southern solidarity front is emerging.
I am not sure what to make of this development and how long it will last. What appears to be fuelling it is the perception, especially in the Southsouth, that the North is not a dependable ally. Assume that the North drops its objection to President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term ambition, I am almost sure that the Southsouth, and most certainly the Southeast, will forgive and resume their friendship. Southwest has always been and will be left in the lurch.
Now, in its latest gripes, the North is either genuinely confused about what it wants or is deliberately confusing issues for maximum political effect. First, its delegates to the National Conference accused other delegates of smuggling a Third Term agenda into the draft report and insisted that Jonathan must not run for re-election if he doesn’t want to plunge the country into crisis. Second, they rejected the inclusion of a draft constitution in the report of the conference on the grounds that it was neither part of the mandate of delegates nor within the legal bounds of the conference to draft a constitution or organise a referendum. Thirdly, the Northern Elders Forum demanded that Jonathan must bring back the Chibok girls by October or forfeit the support of the zone for re-election.
I sense confusion—whether genuine or contrived. First, the concern of a hidden Third Term agenda is without any sound basis. What we had in 2005 was totally different and very glaringly in favour of a Third Term for the president. It was also true that the agitation against such an agenda was led—as it always does in pursuit of freedom and justice when others blink or decide to side with the agents of dictatorship and retrogression—by the Southwest even when a southwesterner was supposedly to be the beneficiary of such a term elongation. How can any reasonable person or group now expect southwestern delegates to be part of such a scheme for Jonathan? On what grounds? If this was even contemplated, I expect that delegates from the Southwest would have been up in arms.
The northern delegates came up with this cock and bull story because of their belief that a “draft constitution” is included in the report. On the basis of this, they also believe that (a) the draft constitution has provision for a six-year presidency and (b) once a new constitution is adopted, the President can run under that constitution and in light of a Federal High Court ruling in 2003, he would be entitled to a third term. These are just too far-fetched and fuelled by unruly imagination. In the first place, the idea of a six-year presidency has been debunked since the “draft constitution” provided for the same two terms of four years each for the president and governors. Where did this false reading of the “draft constitution” come from? It’s pure hallucination; and a very unfortunate one as such.
Second, assume that the draft constitution makes it possible for the president to run a second term, why is it beyond the realm of possibility for this aspect to be brought up in the discussion of the draft and subject to debate and possibly expunged before a final vote? In other words, why throw away the bath water of a confused reading of the provisions of the draft constitution with the entire report of the conference for which every delegate has made substantial sacrifice of over three months? Are we missing something here?
Thirdly, how is it that the preparation of a draft constitution that simply combines the resolutions of the conference, which everyone agrees amount to amendments to the constitution with the extant portions of the constitution that were untouched in the deliberations of the conference, is considered illegal by northern delegates? What the conference leadership did was to not simply compile resolutions, but also to put them in rational form worthy of intelligent people. Why is this reasonable approach an anathema to northern delegates? More importantly, why do they have to see everything in terms of conspiracy to deny them access to political power?
As reported in the media, one of the reasons given by the northern delegates was that because conference delegates were not elected, they “lacked both legal and moral authority to draft a new constitution for the Nigerian Federation.” If they had exercised some patience and allowed the leadership of the conference to explain the rationale for the preparation of what they referred to as “draft constitution”, the fear of the northern delegates would have been allayed. It was simply a proactive approach from the intellectual vanguards of the conference with no ulterior motive or hidden agenda. It shouldn’t even have come to this.
But I take the last sentence back. It inevitably would have come to this. The North has been opposed to any change to the status quo. For them, nothing is wrong with the 1999 Constitution. Nothing is wrong with the structure of the country. Nothing is wrong with a revenue allocation system that truncates federalism and enshrines centralised dictatorship, with states having to beg for the crumbs from the master’s table. And certainly nothing is wrong with the direction the country is heading, with a President determining what revenue goes to the states and when they can receive such, for maximum benefit to him and his party. As far as the North is concerned, what is wrong is simply that the North is not in charge. With that mindset, the North’s grudging acceptance to participate in the conference was to ensure that nothing changes. If what the North seeks is a country at its beck and call, it should know that we passed that stage and that it is fast losing its old allies and not gaining new ones.
Finally, in the matter of the fate of the young Chibok girls, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) simply played dangerously into the open trap of a presidency whose propaganda machinery is unparalleled. There is no doubt that the Federal Government has not only been caught napping about the rescue of the girls, but it has been criminally negligent in directing military resources to where it is needed. But why an ultimatum tied up with support for the President’s second term ambition? Given its record so far, the presidency knows that it is at the mercy of the girls’ kidnappers. Hitting back at the NEF is all it can do.
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