Opinion: Referendum on a Hegemony – Chidi Amuta
ENGAGEMENTS By Chidi Amuta
We might as well sound the end time alarm bugle loud and clear. This is in the desperate hope that we can avert a national catastrophe. Whether we are Christians or Muslims, APC or PDP, Northerners or southerners, a common existential burden now hangs over us all. The future of the nation, our common heritage, hangs on a balance because our politics is being manipulated to a perilous brink.
In the run up to a crucial power transition election, a terminal divisiveness threatens to overwhelm our fragile political system. Suddenly, the defining question of the moment has been reduced to the future of the regional hegemony that the Buhari presidency deepened, entrenched and weaponized. The dominant question of the imminent presidential election is now simply this: Can Nigeria survive another presidential term under a northern Muslim president?
The foreseeable eventuality is the possibility that both major parties could field northern Muslim presidential candidates. That will quickly transform the 2023 presidential election into a referendum on the continuation of northern rule and hegemony. It could also become the ultimate referendum on the future of the country as a united entity. That is how close we are to doomsday.
All perceivable signals in the political parties point in this dangerous direction. As it is, every activity in the major political parties is now consumed by north-south computations. Instead of working towards a free and fair democratic election, the hidden hands of hegemonic prevalence are manipulating the political system into a shameful plebiscite about two poles on the national compass.
The frightening omens of a systemic meltdown are in abundance. The two dominant parties are in the process of being toppled by the power of regionalism and geo political maneuvering. The internal democracy of the parties is being rubbished by the conservative forces of geo-political myth making. Attention has shifted in both parties from organizing orderly presidential primaries to crude antics for perpetuating the prevailing regional hegemony. As we speak, both major parties have clandestinely reneged on the north-south power zoning understanding. This however happens to be the pillar on which the nation’s stability and precarious balance of power has so far depended. As a result, the very survival of our fragile nation is being trifled with by a political class that does not care if Nigeria crumbles.
The APC which had for a long time repeatedly publicly announced its zoning of the 2023 presidential slot to the southern zones now seems to be walking back on that commitment. Its decrepit newly minted chairman, Mr. Abdullahi Adamu, has cast doubts on the party’s long standing commitment on the matter. In a statement that no one has so far denied, Mr. Adamu sheepishly rehashed the politically convenient line that the APC is yet to decide on a zoning principle for the 2023 presidential slot. This is a shorthand for smuggling in the possibility of yet another northern presidential candidate for the party. Some hidden hand has activated an insane deluge of southern presidential aspirants in the party (over 25 at the last count) and hardly any one from the north except the ‘Sharia’ advocate, former Zamfara governor, Alhaji Sani Yerima! A conservative task force is said to be daily pressuring President Muhammadu Buhari to buy into the new twist.
The PDP on its part was the first to turn its back on zoning. It has since opted to insist on a northern candidate while pretending to have opened the playing field to all aspirants for its presidential ticket.
While this political trampoline dance goes on, there is an urgent alarm of political wisdom that needs to be sounded to save the nation.
Political parties remain the cornerstone of the architecture of the democratic state. They are institutions of nation state survival without which the polity cannot renew or sustain itself. Even countries wracked by crisis and shattered by anarchy and war begin their recovery to democratic wholeness by forming political parties to aggregate citizen interests. Elections follow and precede the restoration of governance and order. Parties may not strike you with an expansive institutional presence. In fact, parties tend to inhabit small headquarter buildings from where they mint those who decide the plight of institutions with expansive reach and overwhelming presence. By their nature, political parties are modest but powerful institutional presences in the life of nations. They are not like, say the army, the stock exchange, the judiciary or the legislature which dominate space and deafen people with noise. Every party headquarters tends to be a badly furnished building manned by scruffy apparatchiks. But without parties, the entire elaborate edifice of the democratic state falters and collapses. That is why coup makers begin their business by proscribing parties and abrogating the constitutions that give them life. Therefore, any political antic that seeks to overthrow a political party system is a treasonous exercise. Those dark political knights now scheming to topple the internal democratic arrangements of both the APC and the PDP by scrapping presidential zoning had better have a rethink. They are attempting a coup d’etat and the consequences of such misadventure are very pretty known.
This is no time to debate the scientific enlightenment of power zoning. Everyone knows the ideal but Nigeria does not survive on ideals. We are a nation of contingency, expediency and compromises. The expediency of north-south power rotation has kept us going even under the worst autocracies. Why topple it now?
The impending upheaval in the parties has already produced a rash of clashing statements and utterances from diverse geo political groups. South east politicians in the PDP have become a political trade union of malcontents. Leaders of major Southwest political and cultural groups are rooting for a president from the south east. Chief E.K Clark of the Niger Delta has added his weighty voice, warning that Nigeria may not survive another northern Muslim president right after Buhari. The Arewa Youth organization has however added a sensible voice, insisting on the imperative of a southward zoning of the 2023 presidency.
Remarkably, some northern state governors, notably Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna and Babagana Zulum of Borno, have consistently advocated the zoning of the 2023 presidency to the southern zones.
Meanwhile, barely a few months to the 2023 presidential election, clandestine political dark knights are busy manipulating attention from urgent national problems of basic security and mundane economic survival for citizens. Everything is now about whether the next president should be a Northern Muslim or southern Christian, an Igbo or a Fulani, Yoruba or Urhobo. But by far the overriding axis of discord is the north-south divide which poses a strategic threat to the continuation of the Nigerian state. The note of mutual antagonism is palpable. Interest groups are fanning the embers of hate with incendiary rhetoric.
The systematic mismanagement of our diversity and the north-south balance of power by Buhari’s hegemonic excesses has weaponized what should be a normal democratic transition politics, converting us all into war mongers. No sensible nation allows the spread of hate and the rhetoric of war while preparing for a ritual of peaceful coexistence which is what elections ultimately are.
Inside the opposition PDP, an extant zoning agreement has been shredded by a fixation with the mathematical advantages of a northern presidential candidate. This has instantly alienated party leaders and politicians from other sections of the country. In the interim, all manner of webs and manipulations are being contrived to strike compromises in a pursuit of a non existent consensus.
The assumptions behind the scramble for a northern presidential candidate are based on a curious, lazy arithmetic and dubious political strategy. The logic seems to be that the fabled northern large demographics of voters will only vote for a northern presidential candidate. That is an insult to the sense of discrimination of the average Northern voting citizen. That line of thinking has no room for loyalty to party or subscription to people friendly policies. But a cursory look at previous presidential election results reveals the foolishness of this assumption.
Northern voters like all other Nigerians will vote for the candidates that the contending parties present to them. They do not insist that presidential candidates must be northern Muslims to earn their votes! We may need to ask who voted for president Obasanjo for two terms? Was the assumed northern majority voters not in existence when Obasanjo was being elected and re-elected? Who voted for Jonathan’s single term? Nigerians, irrespective of religion and region, vote for party candidates according to their preferences, not as unthinking regional mobs.
The myth of the cultic northern voting majority as an electoral factor came into being with Mr. Buhari’s desperation for power and his presentation as the ultimate northern redeemer. Jonathan’s rudderless governance and epic incompetence enabled the Buhari ascent. For the past seven years, however, the president that came to power on the wave of national goodwill and amnesty has pursued a sickening regional hegemonic agenda to nauseating levels. As a result, even the most ardent enlightened northern elite are now utterly embarrassed by this effete presidency.
The tragic irony of this single minded hegemonic mindset is that it has cast the north in poor light. Buhari’s chosen few are mostly a choir of incompetent mediocrity. They have fared abysmally and virtually run Nigeria aground. Happily, they do not represent the best of the north. Under the watch of the Buhari bunch, the Nigerian state has failed itself, failed its citizens and failed as a credible member of the international community. A vile and uncontrolled regional army of bandits, terrorists and vengeful thugs has been enabled.
An Irresponsible new political elite has abandoned the ordinary people of the north to the violent forces that their insensitivity has unleashed. Governors that prefer to remain perpetually on vacation in Abuja or Dubai while their states are overrun by casual terrorists are the same people now scheming to retain national power in a region they have laid waste. These are the people funding and fanning the current confusion in the parties.
Those now scheming for a perpetuation of northern rule are vicariously wishing Nigerians a continuation of the Buhari-type nightmare. Eight more years of unbridled corruption, inactivity, insensitivity, mercantile terrorism and economic morass.
Today’s power adventurers do not seem to understand the current mood of the nation. In the north, even in the mosques, the mood is to curse and disown the present version of northern hegemony as the source of violence and increased poverty. In the south, the hegemony is seen as the source of killer herdsmen and unsafe highways and railroads. Response to hegemonic arrogance and domination is the source of IPOB militancy and the Igboho separatist agitation. It is also the origin of the fear of Islamisation.
Therefore, the overriding challenge of the 2023 presidential contest is how to pry the heart of the Nigerian nation from the fangs of a vicious Buhari bred regional ogre of incompetent and unproductive hegemonists.
Even the north, the presumptive beneficiary region of the Buhari hegemony, is somewhat dazed and utterly embarrassed. Consequently, the northern political voice has acquired multiple tongues and many hues. The more enlightened nationalistic wing cried out early in the Buhari tenure. They opined that Buhari’s hegemonic extremism would damage the nation, alienate the north itself and endanger us all. Another northern faction disowned Buhari as a traitor of northern interests and an embarrassment to the best standards and aspirations of the region. A minority political voice, mostly Arewa youth, cried out that the best way out is to abide by a zoned power rotation arrangement to enable a southern Christian president succeed eight years of the Buhari interregnum.
The Northern Elders Forum has usurped the megaphone of regional spokesmanship in the service of the subsisting hegemony. The position of the Northern Elders Forum on zoning of the presidency has over the years been inconsistent, opportunistic and self serving. On 15th May 2013, the NEF issued a statement in which it insisted that:
‘Power rotation is a mark of equity and justice.’ That was in the midst of President Jonathan’s bid for re-election and in support of Buhari’s desperate bid for the presidency to revert to the north in the 2015 presidential elections.
Now in the countdown to the 2023 election and the end of Buhari’s parochial reign, the same Northern Elders Forum is back in business. On 16th January, 2022, the Forum stated: ‘power rotation is anti-democracy’. One Forum, two positions on the same subject but of course a consistent interest in the perpetuation of a regional power hegemony. The NEF supports zoning only in one sense: that the political leadership of the country should remain permanently zoned to the north. Hear the arrogant Hakeem Baba Ahmed, the Mauritanian – Nigerian spokesman of the Forum two weeks ago: ‘We will lead Nigeria the way we have always led Nigeria before. Whether we are President or Vice President, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the voters…’
The forces behind the new surge of hegemonic preeminence are not hard to find or easy to ignore. They must also be credited with a certain devious sense of strategic expediency. They recognize the pivotal place of the political parties in presidential power zoning hence the present guerrilla operation to get both major parties to field northern presidential candidates. Whether they are working in the PDP or the APC, it is a common task force at work in the service of the same hegemonic project.
But this conservative squad of hegemonists does not represent the collective enlightened self interest of the north. It is the narrow group interest of the handful of old school ‘Kaduna Mafia’-type conservatives that seems to have held Buhari under house arrest in the last seven years.
The more enlightened liberal democratic wing of the northern elite is embarrassed by all this. Of course they are hardly in the commanding heights of the present power politics. Nor do they subscribe to the hegemonic fixation of their uncles and fathers! The more liberal younger generation consists of persons who have served Nigeria creditably in various capacities. They take their departure from a nationalistic pedestal, recognizing the diversity of Nigeria and the necessity to balance the interests of competing groups in a diverse polity. They are mostly modern in outlook, armed with exposure to the best of both Western and Arab modernism. Ideologically, they are mostly social democrats with a reformist mindset and a more liberal outlook. A select roll call: Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Nasir El-Rufai, Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Buba Marwa, Babagana Umara Zulum, Attahiru Jega and a host of other kindred spirits.
These people hold the key to the future of a modern progressive north. They must seek political eminence and constructive consensus with their opposite numbers in the rest of the country. Their task is to smash the hegemonic blackmail of ancient knights and power racketeers so that the masses of the north can become proud Nigerians and empowered citizens like their opposite numbers in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The present state of discourse and rhetoric among our politicians remains disgraceful. We must keep insisting that what nigeria needs now is a president who can read the balance sheet of the national economy and address our numerous pressing problems. Nigeria’s leadership selection criteria must eventually move away from the from directions on the compass to a meritocracy of competence.