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Curious 2011 build-ups

By Ochereoem Nnanna
I HAVE watched the unfolding race for the presidency with a measure of amusement at what I consider some lack of seriousness in the build-ups among the contenders. Let me start with the president, the sole Southern candidate, because we now know for sure he will run.

No ethnic group or even section (not even a united North) can win the presidency without the support of a large majority of other Nigerians. When a candidate belongs to a minority group as in the case of President Goodluck Jonathan, the challenges are much more daunting.

And some of the things we see indicate that he has not done enough to really enlist the help of critical sections of Nigeria for his ambition. He is leaning too much on his presidential powers, which will not be enough to get him what he wants.

For instance, I attended the South East Summit in Enugu last week, and it was easy to see that the initiative for the event did not emanate from Igbos.

It was a presidential prodding, which motivated some interests eyeing jobs and contracts after the presidential race to put it together. Another pro-Jonathan meeting took place in the Asokoro residence of Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark.

It came out with a half-hearted statement that the Igbos and the minorities of the South would now work together as there is “no ocean without a debris”, adding that they would work for the success of the Jonathan presidential ambition.

Curiously, nearly every Igbo leader who was listed as having attended it has come out to refute participation. So, which Igbos did Clark talk to? In any case, why is Jonathan allowing Clark, who is by no means a unifying factor, to front his presidential ambition? In his self-assigned defence of Ijaw interests, no group has been spared his acerbic style of socio-political relationship, and yet, it is these same Nigerians that Jonathan will need to get there.

Clark is turning Jonathan into an Ijaw president at a time no one is interested in any ethnic president. In my article of Thursday, February 18, 2010, I warned the then Acting President Jonathan to beware of Chief Clark and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who are going to make more enemies for him than friends if he allows them to act as his political standard-bearers. If care is not taken, many people are going to act against Jonathan not because of the president himself but to spite these troublesome elders.

Again, Jonathan is running a government that is obviously a power sharing between the Ijaw and the North. Very little consideration was given to the West, the Igbo and fellow Southern minorities in terms of distribution of the more prestigious portfolios. Jonathan cannot pretend that the cabinet was foisted on him by anyone.

He dissolved the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s cabinet and wilfully set up his own, which has this objectionable configuration. If a delegation of genuine Igbo leaders walks up to him and demands what he has done so far to merit their support, I wonder what he will tell them, except to say he permitted loquacious Minister of Information Professor Dora Akunyili to call him “Ebele, Azikiwe”.

Apart from the sentiment that Jonathan is a neighbour, there is nothing else to show that the Igbo interest will be protected if he is supported for the presidency in 2011. He had better be advised that he will not get it for nothing. Igbo people will go with whoever offers them a better deal.

Another group of politicians that have engaged in what I call curious build-ups are the presidential aspirants from the North. They have approached their presidential aspiration with what I call “the NPC mentality”.

NPC stands for the Northern Peoples Congress, the mega regional political platform to which the retreating British colonial masters handed over power despite the fact that they did not convincingly win the 1959 election.

In its heydays, the NPC could hope to win elections at the federal level whether it campaigns in the South or not. During the First Republic , Northern politicians did not have to campaign in the South, but their Southern counterparts, such as Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had no choice but to campaign in the North.

When the Second Republic dawned and the military abolished regionalism and made it mandatory that all political parties must have national spread and get minimum national support to win the presidency, Northern politicians had no choice but to come down South to campaign.

The National Party of Nigeria (NPN) which was founded, in the main, by Northern political leaders, made great efforts to reach leaders from all parts of the country, and in so doing was able to build the most successful national political party in the nation’s history. The same thing happened in the days of the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the aborted Third Republic .

However, since General Muhammadu Buhari founded his Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) he has been busy planting its branches all over the North, but little is heard of his efforts in the South. Little is known about his cross-regional bridge building activities.

The same thing applies to General Ibrahim Babangida, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) presidential aspirant and party-less Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Apart from Babangida, who has a powerful national network of friends he made in his time in power whom he can call up with the snap of a finger, the others seem to believe that once they win in the North they have won the presidency.

Let me say that the presidential candidate of Northern Nigeria extraction who will made the greatest impact in the forthcoming presidential race will be the one who mobilised more Southerners to his side.


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