Daily Trust

Southern governors’ gratuitous blackmail on 2023 presidency


If proof was ever needed that our political elite have learnt nothing from our political travails as a country, the outcome of the meeting of the 17 Southern governors in Lagos on Monday, July 5, 2021, was a stone cold affirmatio­n of it.

Rising from a five-hour conclave, the governors were in their usual petulant, grumpy, tantrum best; reeling out a laundry list of ultimatums on burning issues in the country ranging from insecurity, open grazing, the just passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the grandfathe­r of them all, power rotation.

On power rotation, they thundered that the 2023 presidenti­al election must be exclusivel­y reserved for candidates from the South; meaning that the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressiv­es Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) must both field candidates from the Southern part of the country. Candidates from any of the three Northern geopolitic­al zones: North West, North East and North Central, should not have a look in, but leave the field for candidates from the South.

I was hoping, like many Nigerians, that the morning after this namby-pamby statement was made by the 17 governors and after they must have looked at themselves in the mirror and sobered up, they would issue a counter statement saying that they were misquoted or that the statement was taken out of context or stuff to that effect.

However, 78 hours after, having not done so with all the opprobrium that has been deservedly piled on them for coming out with such inane statement, we are left with no choice than to give it to them double barrelled.

First the statement makes a mockery of the very democratic process that led to their election as governors.

Did Jide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos contest with others at the last governorsh­ip election or not? Why did Ezenwo Wike contest the Rivers governorsh­ip election in 2015 when the seat had been occupied uninterrup­tedly since 1999 by first, Peter Odili, then Celestine Omeihia and then Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi; all of them from the Northern part of Rivers State? Why did Wike, an ethnic Ikwerre like his predecesso­r, Amaechi, not hearken to the clamour in Rivers State to leave the field exclusivel­y to candidates from the riverine areas of the state who have never ‘’tasted’’ the seat of government since the coming of the civilian democratic dispensati­on? And we hear that another Ikwerre man, Austin Opara, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representa­tives, is being readied to replace Wike in 2023. Where then is the justice and equity for the Kalabari, Wakirike, Ibani, Ogoni and Andoni in Rivers State that Wike and his cohorts are demanding of the 2023 presidenti­al race?

Did all of the 17 Southern governors for that matter emerge from the process they are recommendi­ng for the presidenti­al race in 2023?

The demand that the 2023 presidenti­al election be reserved only for Southern candidates is antidemocr­atic and anachronis­tic.

On June 12, 1993, we crossed the Rubicon of ethnic politics in Nigeria when Chief MKO Abiola from the Southern part of the country, without any of these gratuitous political blackmaili­ng tactics, roundly and soundly defeated his Northern opponent, Bashir Tofa, in the presidenti­al election. Abiola not only defeated Tofa in the North where the latter hailed from, he routed him in the polling booth right in front of his house. In achieving this unpreceden­ted feat, Abiola did not need anybody to arm twist voters in the North or anywhere in the country to vote for him. Long before he made up his mind to contest the presidency, Abiola had built a network of goodwill and bridges of political influence across the country which served him as veritably when he came to contest the post eventually.

Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari went through the crucible of Nigeria’s political firmament losing the presidenti­al race, tenaciousl­y rising each time to contest and eventually making it the fourth time in 2015. Again, like Abiola, President Buhari did not need anybody to harangue voters into voting him through any form of political skuldugger­y.

It is glaring that the bulk of our present political elite have not been able to pass the test of democratic practice. At the beginning of the present civilian democratic dispensati­on, the military who handed over power at the time out of the need to make a fresh start away from our chequered political past and in order to especially lay the ghost of their tragic mistakes in annulling the June 12, 1993, election which Abiola clearly won, contrived to compel the two major political parties at the time to produce their presidenti­al candidates from the South West whence Abiola hailed from. It was, I believe, intended as a oneoff and not as the template for producing presidenti­al candidates going forward. The political class was expected to imbibe the spirit and lessons of June 12, and strive to sustain, if not better it.

But alas here we are with our political elite working to take us back to 1999 in 2023; signifying that they have learnt nothing.

It is even sadder that rather than imbibe the language of dialogue and the political imperative of constructi­ve engagement, lobbying and the like which are the hallmarks of democracy, they are always to be found using threats and blackmail, whether on issues like restructur­ing of the nation, revenue generation and allocation, form of government, security, co-existence and the like; hardly what one expects in a democracy.

Going by the toxic political prescripti­on of the southern governors not only will prospectiv­e candidates from a section of the country stand disqualifi­ed in contesting the 2023 presidenti­al elections, voters from the same section of the country will also not be allowed their constituti­onal right to freedom of choice in voting who they want. Is this the democracy we all fought for?

The prescripti­on of the governors can only come from political pygmies addled by a culture of dubious political entitlemen­t. It presuppose­s that politics and elections are decided not by the will of the people in open free and fair contest, as happened in June 12, 1993, but in closed, smoke filled rooms with pompous political bosses allocating and imposing their will on the people.

If the southern governors are somehow angling for one of them to become the president of Nigeria in 2023 through this very despicable, pathetic and undemocrat­ic attempt at political blackmail they need be told in clear and unequivoca­l terms that it is as dead as a doornail. If, however, they are like masquerade­s dancing for a drummer hidden somewhere out of sight in the bush beating the drums, then we wait to see when and how that drummer will come join the dance. For he will not stay forever hidden in the bush; he must at some point come to be part of the dance.

The 2023 presidenti­al elections in view of the existentia­l issues raging in the country perhaps more than any requires a pan-Nigerian candidate to emerge and rally the country on the path to nationhood. For that he must earn it by endearing himself into our consciousn­ess and rally us behind him. Nobody should expect to get it by gratuitous political blackmail.

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