Viewpoint : Shehu Sani, Tinubu and northern conspirators

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By Idowu Akinlotan
WHEN ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo completed his two terms in office, there was no controversy surrounding which region would produce the next president. He was succeeded by the late Umaru Yar-Adua from the North in deference to an unwritten but commonsensical rule to sustain national peace and cohesion. If Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, had completed two terms, there would also have been no controversy regarding where his successor would come from. President Muhammadu Buhari will complete two terms in office in the next two years. But already, a provocative controversy is brewing over which region should produce his successor.
Zoning, some northerners have begun to argue, is not a useful and adequate tool to elect a president. How they hope to sustain that argument and push it with any force or logic is hard to fathom, especially in the face of the audacity of criminal and land-grabbing herdsmen and the parochialism of the Buhari presidency, two issues that have made the South, not to say the extremely marginalised Southeast.
Some northern politicians around President Buhari are preparing to throw their hats into the ring. He cannot pretend not to know what his aides are up to. But so far, he has remained ghoulishly silent on what he thinks about rotational presidency, whether he thinks that given the peculiar and delicate circumstances of the country he should be succeeded by a northerner. However, no matter how hard the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) try, President Buhari will not be succeeded by a northerner. The two leading parties are baiting each other on their intraparty zoning arrangements, which are expected to reflect how their minds work on 2023 presidential zoning permutations. However, their fancy footwork will end in disarray in the coming months as the reality of the existential troubles facing Nigeria manifest in bold relief.
The crisis which Nigeria’s political elite will contend with in the years ahead, assuming their incompetence, bigotry, and ethnic exceptionalism do not make it impossible for them to pull off a miracle in 2023, is how to mitigate the overwhelming damage done to the body politic by the insularity of the Buhari presidency. A southerner will emerge president if the election holds, but he will be hobbled by the dangerous and explosive precedents set by President Buhari in eight years as he went about making the core North a super race. Disentangling the country from the convoluted policies of tribe, religion and regionalism will task the ingenuity and resilience of the next president to no end. How successful he will be will depend on his national contacts and network, ability to forge compromises and consensuses, and intuition and charisma.
But already, the narrative has been distorted by many analysts who set naïve criteria for the next president. They have pictured the ideal candidate, and somehow, also, pictured the simplistic arithmetic and mechanics by which he will get magically elected into office. The reality is, however, much different. When the country teeters finally on the brink, the elite, now recklessly accustomed to pulling back in the nick of time and saving the day, may yet be able to pull the country’s chestnuts out of fire one more time. This time, it will not be the disingenuous doctrine of necessity; it will be just plain commonsensical avoidance of the inevitable cataclysm. Their shortsighted policies and incompetent and hypocritical members have pushed the country to the brink; they will have the responsibility of pulling it back, even if they have to make the most galling concessions as well as abandon their schizoid ethnic fantasies.
Last week, in Osogbo, Shehu Sani, the activist and former representative of Kaduna Central in the 8th Senate, had reason to warn Bola Tinubu, who is widely believed to be gunning for the presidency in 2023, to beware of the hypocrisy of the northern politician. In an earlier tweet, he had suggested to the former Lagos State governor and national leader of the APC to secure the services of a translator because the richly idiomatic Hausa may be telling him something different in Hausa contrary to what he thinks they are telling him in English. The senator further expounded this thesis in Osogbo when he said: “Well, the person of Asiwaju is the one I know in the field of struggle…He should try to know the actual feeling on the ground as far as North is concerned because I know what Abiola went through. Abiola served the North more than any other businessman from the western part of Nigeria.
He printed the Quran and shared it with many Muslims. He donated houses and empowered people; he supported academics and religious clerics. Abiola was one of those passionate about the unity of Nigeria because of the solidarity between the Southwest and the northern part of Nigeria. But how did he end up? They (northerners) conspired against him and sabotaged him and at the end of the day…”
Without saying it, Sen Sani implied that the reluctance of the ordinary northerner to rally behind the Tinubu banner for now may signpost what is probably a tectonic shift unwisely and shortsightedly triggered by President Buhari in making the North and herdsmen feel unassailably superior. If Asiwaju Tinubu cannot get northern leaders to rally their people behind his banner, his campaign might come to grief, the senator counseled. Sen Sani sometimes shoots from the hips, and keeps his fingers crossed on delicate political matters, particularly when those matters have been complicated and contaminated by base goals and emotions. As an activist, and despite his ordeal in the hands of law enforcement agencies, he can’t afford to be less. He is not afraid to call out northern politicians as hypocrites and conspirators, and President Buhari as inadequate for modern Nigeria and unfit as president.
But if the northern politician is a conspirator — and Sen Sani is probably right, though the monolithic North ceased to exist a long time ago — the Southwest politician is probably even more treacherous, often blinded by ambition and loth to exhibit any loyalty to their leaders and mentors on the grounds that their proud history forbids them from grovelling before anyone, saint or sinner. If Asiwaju Tinubu decides to contest regardless of the dynamics of his party and the pussyfooting of the presidency, he will have to contend with the egregious machinations of his mentees who disdain his paternalism. The former Lagos governor will not only need a Hausa translator, as Sen Sani says ruefully, he will also need an enigmatic code breaker to determine who in the Southwest he can trust, given the fact that the loudest, earliest and bitterest voices against his presidential ambition have come from his region of birth. It is in the nature of the Yoruba to loudly destroy their own contenders, unmindful that such a seemingly noble and innocuous exercise contrastingly promotes more unqualified and probably more vicious and irredentist contenders from other regions. But they are hardly bothered by such contradictions.
Sen Sani may not have directed attention at the Southeast and South-South in advising Asiwaju Tinubu, but there is hardly anyone who does not know that the deeply alienated Igbo have become indifferent to Nigeria as a country, not to talk of its skewed politics; while the minority region always sees merit in political quiescence to the conservative and often northern-led parties, a by-product of the fear of their more militant and domineering next-door neighbor.
The whole political atmosphere may be hazy, and getting increasingly hazier by the day; but one thing is clear: there will be power shift to the South in 2023. The cost of keeping power domiciled in the North will be too expensive for anyone or group to bear, let alone for fragile Nigeria not to buckle under. And regardless of how the APC and PDP bait each other with 2023 in view, and notwithstanding the huffing and puffing of the Atikus and Malamis, they will come to the ineluctable conclusion that forbidding power shift is a price they cannot pay, and a tactics they cannot hope to sustain.
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