By Femi Aribisala
NO doubt about it, the North betrayed Goodluck Jonathan in the last election. The greatest ally of the North in Nigerian politics has been the South-South. Therefore, it was not asking too much for Jonathan to expect the North to return the favour under his administration; when he is clearly carrying the mantle of the South-South.
Jonathan did not take Northern support for granted. In his six years in office, he spent the overwhelming proportion of resources at his disposal on the North. The $1 billion Kashimbila Dam, one of the biggest projects handled by his administration, is in Taraba in the North. Jonathan built over 150 Almajiri schools in the North. He revived Nigerian agriculture, to the primary benefit of Northern farmers.
Most of Jonathan’s political appointees were Northern. He entrusted a Northerner, Attahiru Jega, with INEC, bucking the tradition whereby INEC chairmen tend to come from the South-East. When the North complained about the Chief of Army Staff, Azubuike Ihejirika, Jonathan replaced him. When the North complained about Festus Odimegwu at the National Population Commission, Jonathan fired him. Nevertheless, when the election time came, the North betrayed Jonathan and the South-South.
Northern PDP governors secretly worked for Buhari’s victory. In Jigawa, Sule Lamido only paid lip-service to Jonathan’s campaign. In Bauchi, Isa Yuguda watched as Jonathan’s campaign train was stoned. In Niger, Babangida Aliyu did not care that no Jonathan poster was placed anywhere in the state throughout the campaign. The blunder of these recalcitrant governors was in thinking they could be lackadaisical about the PDP at the federal level, but passionate about the PDP at the state level. They all ended up losing their states to the APC.
Retracting on promises
In order not to scare off dodgy members of his party with his anti-corruption rhetoric, Buhari promised to let corrupt sleeping dogs lie if elected. APC party chairman, John Oyegun, declared that Buhari would not waste time going after embezzlers of public funds before 29th May, 2015. He said: “The future of the people of this country is too important for us to spend valuable time trying to dig into the past.”
But now that the election has been won, Buhari no longer feels any obligation to keep his word. Instead, he said on TV Continental that, unlike the Quran and the Bible, the APC position during the election is subject to change. The signs indicate that the APC is now inclined to engage in a vicious propaganda campaign of maligning the Jonathan administration and the South-South through mud-slinging probes.
Buhari now says he will revisit the issue of the allegedly missing $20 billion from NNPC accounts. He said in Hausa to his Northern constituency: “Imagine a situation where the former CBN governor, who by God‘s grace, is now the Emir of Kano, raised an issue of missing billions of money, not in naira but in dollars, $20 billion. What happened, instead of investigating whether it was true, they simply found a reason to remove him.”
In short, in spite of the forensic audit of NNPC accounts by the prestigious PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which concluded no money was missing, Buhari has already declared Diezani and the NNPC guilty and Lamido Sanusi innocent. He claims the matter was not investigated, which means PriceWaterhouseCoopers is not good enough for him. Who is he now going to ask to conduct a new probe when we already know the answer he wants?
What we have here is the beginning of a witch-hunt. One of the first questions of interest is where Buhari’s oil minister is going to come from. Within the context of the cynical view that the insistence of a cabal that power must return to the North is not unconnected to pending oil bloc allocations, the question remains whether our new oil minister must also be from the North.
In Nigeria, the FCT Minister is always from the North. However, the oil minister is not always from the South. The North has no oil, but it longs to control the lucrative oil industry. Under Jonathan, oil minister Diezani Allison-Madueke has come under prolonged attacks and harassment, not only because she is a woman, but also because she is from the South-South.
Under Yar’Adua, the Petroleum Minister, Dr Rilwanu Lukman was from Kaduna. The Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Sanusi Barkindo, was from Adamawa. The Director-General of the National Petroleum Directorate, Alhaji Bello Gusau, was from Zamfara. The Executive-Secretary of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, Mustapha Rabe Darma, was from Katsina. Are we in for a Northernisation of the oil industry again under Buhari?
If Buhari is now determined to probe the oil ministry under South-South stewardship, contrary to his campaign promise; he must also probe it under South-West stewardship. President Obasanjo doubled as his own oil minister for eight years. If Buhari is now going to probe Diezani, then he must probe his new ally, Obasanjo, as well? Otherwise, if care is not taken, Buhari’s war against corruption will quickly divide Nigeria along ethnic fault-lines.
Once you decide to probe the Jonathan administration, the Niger-Delta is going to insist on a probe of the Obasanjo administration. Once you probe the PDP, which represents Southern rule, there is going to be insistence that you probe Northern rule. Should Buhari decide to probe NNPC, the issue of his own tenure as petroleum minister and the 2.8 billion saga will also be brought up. He cannot apply today the discriminatory standard he used yesterday, whereby vice-president Ekwueme languished in jail while president Shagari relaxed under house arrest.
If our president-elect wants to stay true to his election campaign promise, he should stick to the issue of passing the Petroleum Industry Bill expeditiously, instead of opening the Pandora’s Box of NNPC probes. He should also look into the whole process of dismantling the NNPC itself, and selling it off. Hankering after the past suggests the APC is bereft of innovative policy ideas. Witch-hunting Diezani is no substitute for lack of policy.
The first thing General Buhari did on seizing power in 1984 was to declare in a television interview his determination to “tamper with the press.” The first thing he has done this time around, even before being sworn in as president, was to seek to impose a ban on the AIT. AIT is one of the press houses that did not support him during the election campaign. Moreover, it is owned by Raymond Dokpesi, a South-South man.
History, they say, has a tendency to repeat itself. Those of us who were adults during the first coming of General Buhari took great pains to warn Nigerians of his antecedents. Those too young to know about him were convinced we were making up stories. Others denied the relevance of Buhari’s pedigree. One man tweeted: “Even if PDP shows a video of Tinubu and Buhari on AIT robbing the Central Bank of Nigeria, it won’t change our minds.”
A cease-and-desist order on Buhari’s censorship of AIT came thankfully from APC Central. Sane minds prevailed from the party’s headquarters, mindful that any attempt to curb the press this time around is likely to end Buhari’s honeymoon with the media immediately. Suffice to say the press operates everywhere as a tight union. Attack on one is deemed an attack on all.
APC-friendly press houses had a field day maligning Jonathan for over five years. No one tried to muzzle them. APC itself came up with all sorts of lies. APC publicity secretary for Lagos State, Joe Igbokwe, wrote a libelous and defamatory article against me entitled: “Behold the Wind Chaser called Femi Aribisala.” Igbokwe claimed I am a registered member of the PDP, which is false. Among other lies, he said: “In Osun Femi and his robbery gang came with helicopters, guns, bombs, jackboots, tanks etc. but ordinary people with bare hands stopped their open robbery.”
I was not in Osun during the 2014 gubernatorial election. I have no robbery gang. I have no helicopters, guns, jackboots, or tanks. I could have sued Igbokwe for all he has got. But I decided to let it pass. However, until called to order, our president-elect seems inclined to use the apparatus of the state to settle personal scores. This is a bad omen about his incoming administration.
The same discrimination is already evident in the president-elect’s stated position vis-à-vis election offenders. President Jonathan was magnanimous enough to concede defeat in a flawed election. But APC is not prepared to let sleeping dogs lie. Despite now holding sway in 22 states to PDP’s 13, the APC continues to cause trouble everywhere. Once it is not declared the winner, the election must have been rigged.
The president-elect has joined the fray. He proclaimed his determination to prosecute election offenders. But he only enunciated this policy with reference states where APC is currently disputing the results. Accordingly, he instructed the governors of Edo, Imo and Rivers to document all offences alleged to have been committed.
These states happen to be those with APC governors; and in the South-South and South-East where the APC was routed. Are we going to get corresponding prosecutions in cases in the North, including the president’s home state of Katsina where, surprise surprise, more ghost-voters came out of the woodwork to vote in the lackluster governorship election than in the high-profile presidential election?
Mr. President-elect should be reminded that he is going to be president of all Nigerians; including especially those who did not vote for him. He should be very careful how he treats the South-South. Without a doubt, nerves are much frayed now in that geopolitical zone; which also happens to be the economic jugular of Nigeria.
My advice to him, for what it is worth, is that he should leave the sons and daughters of the South-South alone. Thanks to President Jonathan, we have just missed the bullet of the much anticipated post-election turmoil. This is no time to start stepping injudiciously on South-South toes in the name of anti-corruption. Upheaval in the South-South will be far more economically devastating for Nigeria, and for his vaunted presidential agenda, than what we have experienced under the onslaught of Boko Haram.