PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign tour of the South-South zone no doubt provided food for thought for Nigerians who might not have come from that geopolitical zone of the country. Apart from the flavour of celestial ordinance around Goodluck Jonathan’s ascension to his present position, the claim of the minorities of the South to the leadership position in Nigeria has incontrovertible justification on the platform of morality.
Besides, the validity of this aspiration has undeniable statistical legitimacy. In the First Republic, the people of Benin and Warri provinces of the old Western Region felt that it was only by teaming up with the parties other than those in power in the Yoruba-dominated Western region that they could realise their dream for a Mid-Western region.They were either discomfited by the aggressive mercantilism of the Igbo or alienated by the cultural dominance of the Yoruba. The expectation was that being in the ruling party guaranteed their protection against the perceived oppressors.
Similarly, the COR (Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers) Movement never thought that their salvation lay in the hands of the Ibo-dominated National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), and looked outside for support for their cause.
Thus, the fear of being in opposition to the party in power at the centre became the one consistent principle that underpinned the politics of the minorities of Nigeria. However, all that was to change in the Second Republic when the Plateau people, led by Solomon Lar, pitched tent with the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), while the people of Edo and Delta (Bendel) shunned the more powerful National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and embraced the late Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
Meanwhile, the Northern minorities of Gongola and Borno, contrary to the expectation that they would go with NPN, rallied round the late Waziri Ibrahim and his Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP).
But, otherwise, the minorities of the South have consistently extended their handshake to the North. They tend to consider the Hausa/Fulani as the more trustworthy political partners.
It is also significant that the South-South has always delivered its votes en-masse to whatever party is favoured by the North. It did not matter that the beneficiary of their loyalty was Fulani (Shagari in 1979 and 1983), Yoruba (Obasanjo in 1999 and 2003) and Fulani (Yar’Adua in 2007).
Records clearly show that the South-South even surpassed the North-West in terms of quantum of votes given to the PDP in the previous elections aforementioned. The following table shows that in all the elections, votes from the South-South were overwhelmingly higher than those from the North-West zone.
In the past, it had been either a Yoruba or Fulani (as shown in the example above). But change is bound to take place some day. At present, the majority of Southern minorities are PDP-led –Cross River, Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa-Ibom. The controversy over whether or not Goodluck Jonathan should vie for the Presidency in 2011 is very typically Nigerian. Nigerians would invent a controversy around any issue even where there should not be one.
The South-South is Nigeria’s economic backbone. It has been for much of the last 50 years, and will continue to be till the very far future. But what has the region to show for being the national economic backbone? Ecological disaster occasioned by spillage of petroleum products, displacement of local people from their traditional occupations in agriculture, fishing, forestry, etc, into poverty and militancy.
The mere fact that Jonathan is president will not necessarily end the desperate situation of the Niger Delta. His presidency will not mean the automatic end to the problems of the creeks, the despoliation of its fragile environment, pervasive unemployment and its youths vulnerability to violent militancy.
But a popular vote for him to continue in 2011 would be symbolic acceptance by Nigerians that this country belongs to every section of the country, majority and minority alike. It would be a statement of a national intention to embrace peace.
A Jonathan vote would be a symbolic acknowledgement of the fact that it was the minorities of the South-South that rescued this country from the brink of disintegration less than six years after independence.
It would be an appreciation of the contributions that people, dead or alive, from the South-South have made to the progress of Nigeria, straddling various fronts. These include Humphrey Omo-Osagie, Jereton Mariere, Festus Okotie-Eboh, David Ejoor, Ambrose Alli, Wenike Briggs, Graham-Douglas, U.J. Esuene, Samuel Ogbemudia, Anthony Enahoro, Matthew T. Mbu, Okoi Arikpo, the Ibrus, Paul Omu, the Clarks, Diete-Spiff, Sam Amuka-Pemu, Dele Giwa, Tekena Tamuno, Alele-Wiliams, Anthony Anenih, Omo Omoruyi, the Late Abel Guobadia, Clement Isong, Pat Utomi, Demas Nwoko, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Rex Jim Lawson, Victor Uwaifo, Etim Inyang Henshaw, Ene Henshaw, Sunny Okosun, and many others. Servitude is not a forever thing or, as Chinua Achebe would put it, something that people wear around their neck like a millstone. Servitude is something that a people historically dialogue with.
The people of the South-South are ready to engage in this dialogue with destiny.
However, we have seen that allowing people to dialogue with their destiny all by themselves is dangerous.
Let Nigerians undertake this dialogue with them to eliminate the frightening possibilities that come with ignoring people’s genuine aspiration to aspire to leadership positions previously occupied by compatriots from other ethnic nationalities without any dissent. It is retrogressive to declare that Jonathan should not contest
on account of his ethnic origin.
YEAR ZONE VOTES DIFFERENTIAL
1999 North-West 3,884,536
South-South 4,226,330 341,794
2003 North-West 9,065,816
South-South 15,260,081 6,194,265
2007 North-West 5,224,633
South-South 6,461,111 1,236,478
Mr. ROBERT OSAGIE, a public affairs analyst, writes from Benin City, Edo State.