By Emmanuel Aziken

Last Thursday’s gathering of Southwest and Southeast political and traditional leaders in Enugu was interestingly themed: Handshake across the Niger.

The celebration of the handshake arose from the historic rivalry cum discord that had for long shadowed political engagements between the Yoruba and the Igbo. It was a rivalry that remarkably played out to the advantage of the Hausa-Fulani in the North which dangled political alliances in turns between the two to further its political leverage over the polity.

Handshake Across the Niger summit
Handshake Across the Niger summit

The Hausa-Fulani was able to sustain that political supremacy apparently because of the superiority the political structure that successive administrations conferred on it during military rule.

For the summiteers in Enugu, the electoral advantage of the core North over the rest of the country should be redressed to allow the kind of equity that would provide a level-playing ground to all sections of the polity.

It was as such not surprising that ahead of the summit that some supporters of the status quo sought to defuse the import of the gathering. Mr. Osita Okechukwu who has followed Muhammadu Buhari since 2002 was one of such.

Okechukwu took to Buhari after the death of his former political mentor, Chuba Okadigbo, who was Buhari’s running mate in the 2003 presidential election. His intellectual response to the handshake across the Niger was his proposal that Buhari would undertake political restructuring in his second term.

Okechukwu’s defence of Buhari was easy to dismiss in the camp of restructuring advocates many of who see him as unduly beggarly and apologetic towards a feudal system that it is claimed even failed to suitably reward him despite his long spate of discipleship under Buhari.

Another Buhari man in the East, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State was also quick to repudiate the summit giving the excuse that his state was not carried along in the organization of the conference.

Governor Umahi’s effort was, however, not shocking. In the past, the governor, despite being a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP had been accused of being a prop for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC in the Southeast.

Indeed, last year, the governor came out to endorse President Muhammadu Buhari for a second term stirring speculations about a possible defection to the APC.

Even more, the governor last November helped to cover the embarrassment of the president when he rolled out the red carpet to receive him on his first official visit to the Southeast. The following day, the president proceeded to Anambra to campaign for the APC candidate in that state’s governorship election.

By going to Ebonyi before going to ask for votes in Anambra, no one could then say that Buhari’s first visit to the Southeast was to solicit for votes.

Indeed, online insinuations of the more than normal relationship between Governor Umahi and Buhari are sharpened by claims that his state has the highest concentration of Islamic centres in the Southeast. One of the most outstanding Islamic secondary schools in the country is said to be in Afikpo, Ebonyi State.

If Governor Umahi would be accused of political subterfuge against his people, it is, however, doubtful if anyone would for now seriously accuse him of being a prop for Islamic evangelism given his strong Christian testimony.

Umahi is said to have become born-again in 1979, and has since 1990 been the chairman of the National Church Building Committee of Christ Embassy.

The efforts of Buhari’s Southern apologists nonetheless, the fact that former rivals from the Southeast and the Southwest shook hands and took common positions could inevitably put those who had in the past manipulated them against one another on notice. The seriousness of that message is underscored by the representation of the Middle Belt and South-South, at the Enugu summit.

It underlines that the political pattern that had worked to the advantage of one side of the country against the other will not be taken for granted.

As such, it would be foolhardy for anyone propounding 2019 political permutations to discard the message from Enugu.

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