Rotimi Fasan

By Rotimi Fasan

TODAY makes it exactly a month to the day Nigerians will go to the polls to elect their next president. The presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is one of the three leading contenders to the coveted office.

In the ordinary opinion of many and as far as Nigerian politics goes, he is, or should actually be, the candidate to beat. In this reading of the electoral schema, the election is his to lose. For this to happen, however, Tinubu needs the support of the Fulani, perhaps next to the support of his Yoruba ethnic group, to win. This will be in addition to the support of the other ethnic groups that constitute the ethnic fabric of Nigeria. 

It’s no use denying the obvious: the ethnic origins of the leading presidential candidates will feature prominently in their performance at the polls. The bulk of their votes will come from among the members of their ethnic group that will make up their base. They can and will thereafter look for the remnants of their votes from outlying ethnic areas across the North and South of the country. 

This need not be so. Nor should it be so. But this is what it’s turning into. Just as in the past, save, perhaps, the botched 1993 presidential election that MKO Abiola was poised to win before it was annulled. The fact that the ethnicity of the candidates, perhaps more than the depth of their pockets (another major factor) and the extent to which they are willing to deploy their contents in their electoral gambit, will feature prominently in the outcome of the election, should not be seen as a negative mark that singles out Nigerian politics for excoriation.

There’s nothing unique about us in this regard. Our politics is neither more tribal nor toxic, say, than American, German or British politics whose tribalism inheres more in the belonging of their racial and religious mix-up. Unlike ours that is more starkly defined by ethnic or religious affiliation which recent developments in Nigeria are, appropriately, making more and more untenable. 

The centrifugal tendencies of these tribal markers are reined in and disciplined by the far more entrenched institutional frameworks that guide political trends in these other countries. That for me is the main difference between politics as practiced in Nigeria or many parts of Africa and in the West. Otherwise, the human instinct that drives us to identify and align with those with whom we share basic identity traits unites both politicians and electorate in any part of the world. We suppress these instincts only by conscious and, indeed, educated choice. 

The fact that the presidential election that is due in a month’s time is by political design now turning out to be a three-man horse, wazobia race, involving politicians from the three main power blocs in the country, has brought out in bold relief the ethnic fissures and contours of the election. Things could have turned out otherwise, at least, less “tribalistically” but for the insistence of the Fulani-North to field a candidate.

Had the conventional zoning system in the two leading parties been adhered to, it would have been an open field for two Southern candidates even if a Northerner has emerged in a third party that is not likely to enjoy the widespread acceptance of partisans of the leading parties. The Southern zone would then have been left with the task of quibbling about which part of the South should field a candidate. 

But the Fulani through Atiku chose to muddy the waters for their counterparts from the South. I say this as a matter of observation and without prejudice to the merit or lack of merit in the zoning system. But not a few Nigerians thought Atiku Abubakar is wrong to want to be president immediately after the eight years rule of a Fulani Muslim.

While Atiku could exercise his right in the manner he has as an individual, the question is whether the Fulani as a group could do so without inviting questions about their loyalty or commitment to the right of other Nigerians to aspire to the highest office in Nigeria? This, having enjoyed the wholesale support of politicians from a region of the South, throwing up a president of Fulani extraction. 

Which brings me again to Tinubu and the lukewarm support that seems to be coming to him from the Fulani as opposed to the North generally. By all metrics, the Fulani are a minority group in Nigeria. That they have enjoyed a political leverage disproportionate to their population is due mainly to the historic sleight of hand they executed on the majority Hausa whose language they adopted and religion they jettisoned after conquering them politically. The days of Fulani control of the Hausa seem to be at end. To survive politically, they would have to depend on groups from within and outside the North. The candidacy of Tinubu which has been polarising for the Yoruba is proving a litmus test in this regard.  

Perhaps, more than Nigerians from other ethnic groups, Tinubu’s Yoruba critics have pointed to his inadequacy for the office he seeks and highlighted more than a thousand and one reasons why he is not fit to be president. Neither Atiku not Peter Obi has experienced as much savaging from people from their part of the country.

Yet, one can see that he will most certainly get the vast majority of the votes of the Yoruba. All he would need to tide over into the presidency would be the support of the Fulani north, especially, and their allies. Although Tinubu has paid his dues by the Fulani, their support for him seems grudging and stands on shaky ground considering the rather cool reception prominent Fulani politicians are giving him. 

Until he chose Kashim Shettima as his running mate, there was no question that these Fulani politicians, mainly governors, supported Tinubu. And if everyone would criticize and oppose his presidential ambition, it should certainly not be these politicians. It would be worse for them to transfer their support to another Fulani under any guise as they appear to be doing both overtly and covertly with cases of defection from the APC campaign by the likes of Najatu Muhammed.

She claimed to be quitting partisan politics one day only to emerge another day in the camp of Atiku Abubakar. There are a thousand and one reasons, I said, why Bola Tinubu may not be fit to be president but should he lose the election on account of his betrayal by his erstwhile Fulani allies, the Fulani as a group would have nailed their own political coffin and proven themselves as both unreliable and untrustworthy.

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