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Atsar Terver
Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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Another dimension is that, this election has superficially shifted that dividing line further north, excluding the Middle Belt region from the core-north. It creates a false sense of realignment of political alliance of the region from the North to the South. But how sustainable this ‘alliance of convenience’ is, remains to be seen. The average southerner still sees anybody beyond the Niger as an ‘illiterate Northerner’ (actually Hausa). It was this mentality that informed Reuben Abati’s insistence  recently on television that Buhari must make his call for peace in Hausa language in order for the rampaging youth to understand him. One could not miss the condescending attitude in that remark.

 

On Jonathan’s Divisive Victory

The 2011 Presidential election has come and gone, but like a Tsunami that leaves rubbles in its trail, the nation will have to grapple with the aftermath for a while. The country needs some tremendous capacity to absorb political shockwaves generated by this election.

 

The manner the reconciliation of aggrieved parties is managed would determine whether the nation’s already fragile unity could be sustained or not. It will be the true test of leadership for Jonathan to be able to heal the gaping wound inflicted, particularly on the core North, by his insistence to be President following Yar’Adua’s death in spite of  the zoning formula, which he jettisoned after benefiting from same in the past.

The outcome of the 2011 Presidential election was never anticipated to be different from what transpired on April 16th, with Jonathan as a candidate. It is almost like a taboo in Nigeria for an incumbent to lose elections. In a big country like Nigeria, prosecuting a presidential campaigns is capital intensive and a sitting President usually has unlimited access to state financial resources, security apparatus and the media, giving him an edge over opposition candidates.

The reaction coming from the North was also not unexpected. The stage for the current scenario was set moons ago when Jonathan in connivance with some Northern elites, dumped the zoning formula of the ruling PDP, which was seen as a tool for the assurance of equity and justice to all ethnic nationalities in the federation who otherwise hoard deep-held suspicion of perpetual domination and marginalisation by the dominant nationalities.

It would therefore be the height of naivety if Jonathan and his handlers had anticipated no backlash resulting from his ‘victory’ and designed effective damage control measures ahead of the election.

GJ’s nomination as PDP’s flag bearer was not without arm-twisting, intimidation and blackmail from the Presidency of several state governors who had a second tenure or Senatorial ambitions at stake. When it became obvious that majority of northern state governors were favourably disposed to upholding the zoning formula, GJ had vowed not to go down alone. That singular threat marked a turning point.  

Thus the Northern elites sponsored mainly by desperate State Governors and legislators scheming for return tickets to their seats, gathered at Eagle square in January to nominate GJ as flag bearer for the PDP, they probably mislead Jonathan into thinking that they were true representatives of their people and were indeed speaking on behalf of the masses in the North. However as his campaign trail blazed through northern cities, the reception ranged from cold to hostile in many places he visited. Twice his convoy was pelted with stones. If these telling signs could not help him to discern that his personal ambition could widen the north-south divide, then it is probably true that power and political ambition have blinding effect on man.

Whatever doubts he may have had on his non-acceptability to the Northern voter should have vaporised by now going by the voting pattern. Were he to be one who keeps to his word, he would have declined to accept this victory, because in one of his electioneering speeches, he had promised  emphatically that he would never preside over a divided Nigeria. But no election results in Nigeria has ever emphasised the north-south divide as this election has done. A glance at the map of Nigeria, showing all the states where Jonathan lost, would show a clear dividing line.

The voting pattern also showed a strong Christian-Muslim divide, while the core Muslim states went for Buhari, the Christian South and Middle belt settled for Jonathan. Therefore it is curious that when analysts trumpet Jonathan as a nationally acceptable candidate, they overlook this factor namely that tribe and religion rather than issues and ideology were the defining criteria for voting. Hardly have any of the persons who voted for Jonathan been able to give me any coherent reason for his choice outside the fact of his being a Southerner or a Christian. The altitude is simply that of, ‘let-our- own-be-there’, and the subtle desire to spite the ‘North. That MEND issued a threat to ‘defend’ Jonathan’s mandate, which is supposed to be a national mandate, tells the whole story.

Another dimension is that, this election has superficially shifted that dividing line further north, excluding the Middle Belt region from the core-north. It creates a false sense of realignment of political alliance of the region from the North to the South. But how sustainable this ‘alliance of convenience’ is, remains to be seen. The average southerner still sees anybody beyond the Niger as an ‘illiterate Northerner’ (actually Hausa). It was this mentality that informed Reuben Abati’s insistence  recently on television that Buhari must make his call for peace in Hausa language in order for the rampaging youth to understand him. One could not miss the condescending attitude in that remark.

The Middle Belt region would therefore henceforth struggle with a deeper crisis of identity with several repercussions. While they would never be assimilated in the South, the core North would also regard them with deeper suspicion. The indigene-settler tussle and religious acrimony in the middle belt would aggravate in the coming years.

While the violence in the north is condemnable, it has to be contextualised. The protests coming from the North are not just about Buhari loosing an election. He has lost election twice before, without these demonstrations. This time around, he just happens to be a symbol or rallying point for the northern masses that harbour deep resentment about the process that usurped the power equation to the favour of the south and to their disadvantage.

They are venting their anger against the few elites that sacrificed the collective interest of the North for their private deals with GJ. This explains why notable politicians and traditional rulers in the region were targeted. It is not true as been insinuated in some quarters that the North does not believe a southerner should ever be President of Nigeria due to some ‘born-to-rule’ mentality, because they voted for Abiola and Obasanjo in 1992, 1999, and 2003.  But this time around they are angry because of perceived short-changing of the region in the zoning/rotation arrangement. They are also expressing their fear and apprehension of an impending 'Northern Cameroon' treatment which seems to be the broader objective of the new power block, backed by a violent militia in the Niger Delta region where the so called ‘national cake’ is baked.

If the election is a true reflection of the wishes of the people then it has put a lie to the clamour for change by the Nigerian public. We simply do not possess the will or moral fabric to bring about the change we desire. For instance the South West could not demonstrate the much hyped disdain for corruption by voting overwhelmingly for Ribadu, who their sentimental press propaganda helped to package as a presidential material when many of us (and even Ribadu himself) knew he was not.

If Nigerians were truly looking for a leader on merit, a leader with vision and leadership acumen, anti-corruption record, and integrity, as the anti-zoning enthusiast like to make us believe, they would have rejected the PDP. But like I always say, the kind of leader a people get is a true reflection of their character. The Nigerian society itself is corrupt, dishonest, tribal and full of religious bigotry.

Now that we have endorsed corruption, ineptitude and lacklustre leadership offered by the PDP (and typified by GJ), I do not expect any outcry against the incoming government on any of these vices from any quarters. Jonathan performed abysmally on power, employment, security, and infrastructure in the last one year and promised us nothing for the next four years; we shall therefore hold him to nothing.

Let me end this article by commenting on the role of international observers in lending legitimacy to this election. While there is great improvement over the 2007 elections, we must not be blackmailed by the apparently scripted report of the International observers into accepting the conduct of the 2011 election without noting the observed deficiencies. That would be missing a great opportunity for continuous improvement.

Repeated reference to International observers as the basis for declaring the election free and fair is nauseating. What did we see ourselves as the people that went out to vote? Are we convinced or have we assured ourselves that the process was credible free and fair? If so that should be the reference point and not the testimony of foreign observers who do not even have the full grasp of our complexities, nor do they have compressive coverage of the entire process to warrant sweeping conclusions.  Our sovereignty as a nation must not be made dependent on the approval of the West. It should not be forbidden to question the report of the Observers when it clearly overlooked glaring irregularities, intimidation of opposition by state security agents, pockets of violence, in several places and outright manufacturing of votes in others where actual voter turnout was far below reported votes.

 

 


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