Reasons why the North is afraid of Goodluck Jonathan

Slowly, but steadily, President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2011 presidential game plan is gaining ground. But the North, which since independence had always used its numerical strength to tilt the outcome of elections in its favour, appears jittery over the whole game plan.

One of the reasons the geopolitical zone appears afraid of a Jonathan presidency for another four years, sources revealed, is his perceived closeness to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who many northerners believe is on a vengeance mission against the region.

Recently, a former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and now chieftain of the Action Congress (AC), Chief Audu Ogbeh, gave insight into this perception. He told reporters that the Obasanjo he knew was a man with great passion for Nigeria. And that he exhibited it in his speeches and concerns.

But, he added: “The tragedy was, after all that, he diverted to a great deal of mystery and vengeance.”

Asked what could be responsible for Obasanjo’s sudden mischief against the North, considering that the region trusted and believed in him, and even “imposed” him on Nigerians in 1999, Ogbeh said part of the reason was the attempt to impeach him during the tenure of Ghali Umar Na’Abba as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Secondly, according to Ogbeh, was Obasanjo’s belief that his former vice, Atiku Abubakar, betrayed him.

It was also gathered authoritatively that some northern elders, including a retired Inspector-General of Police from Katsina State, supported the late President Umaru Yar’Adua while he was undoing most of the things Obasanjo put in place before his tenure ended in 2007. So the fear is that with a Jonathan presidency for another four years, Obasanjo was likely to come after them one after the other.

They also claim that already Obasanjo was using his influence within the corridors of power to ensure that prominent northerners, including former governors, were denied loans from banks to further their agricultural activities, even when their residential houses were put up as collateral for the purpose of securing the loan.
But apart from this, there is also the perception that Obasanjo is not alone in the game plan as he allegedly has the unseen support of some Western countries, which sources claimed were not comfortable with the late Yar’Adua’s “non-committal and nonchalant” attitude towards them.

“There was always a mutual suspicion between him (Yar’Adua) and the West. For instance, even though he could have got better healthcare in the West, he was always afraid for his life and therefore sought recourse in the Muslim Arab countries. For late Yar’Adua, the last straw was putting on sale an oil field that belonged to Exxon-Mobil, a firm with United States interest, with a Chinese company favoured to grab it.

“The International Federation of Electoral Systems used by America to fund electoral processes in developing nations was immediately asked to pull out of Nigeria. The excuse was that they wanted to concentrate on funding capacity building for civil societies and awareness programmes by the civil societies for the masses. Monies deployed in funding the agitations and protests across the country were funded by them.

“They were also behind the scandalous reports on Nigeria by the Human Rights Watch and other such international bodies. All these were all aimed at pressing home their drive for regime change.

“And to do this effectively, a new Executive Director, a former Consular to the U.S. Embassy in Lagos, was appointed for a centre owned by one of Nigeria’s former leaders, purportedly set up for leadership training, to oversee the whole process. That was the beginning of the formation of the G21, an ostensibly Reform Group within the PDP. “Then there was this group fighting for electoral reform, and then the mega party arrangement. Once part of these information leaked, another group was formed to divert attention,” one of the sources further claimed.

The West, mega party and PDP crisis

President Jonathan being sworn in
The crisis in PDP, the source continued, more than any other factor, had to do with two related issues - the failure of the mega party arrangement allegedly sponsored by the West, owing largely to the “greed of the power mongers the West mistook for progressives and democrats; and the West’s desperate move to quickly take over the party to ensure it got from the back door in 2011 what it failed to get through the mega party arrangement.

Our correspondent further gathered that withdrawing the charges preferred against erstwhile Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, by the Federal Government was part of the grand design, allegedly through the West, to again use him to drive the anti-graft agency to “manhunt and stampede” especially the governors to silence towards the build up to 2011.

Ribadu, it was learnt, had been an integral part of the whole plot from the onset and is said to have been positioned to play a vital role in the present government, especially on the issue of anti-graft.

Options for 2011

The chairman of the PDP Reform Group, Senator Ken Nnamani, and another leading light of the group and former House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Bello Masari, have severally denied that their effort at “reforming” the PDP had anything to do with Obasanjo’s interest. But the feeling among some key leaders in the North is that even if the group did not seat with Obasanjo to articulate a common position, its agitation appears to be tailored towards achieving Obasanjo’s agenda for 2011.

For instance, notable Obasanjo loyalists stormed the group’s last meeting before the installation of Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo as the party’s national chairman.

They include former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, former presidential spokesman as well as former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, and Political adviser to Obasanjo and former Director General, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Akin Osuntokun.

Babangida option

The agenda was to install Jonathan as President come 2011. If that fails, it was learnt that, the fallback position will be former military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
It is not yet clear who IBB would run with, but investigations reveal that Nnamani and the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, have been penciled down as possible running mate.

For now, the plot to install Jonathan at all costs seems to be succeeding, but the fear of possible rebellion by the North and the larger PDP in particular poses a severe danger to the plan.

The North’s Catch-22

The greatest dilemma of the North as the country moves toward 2011 is its inability to speak and act in unison. Already, the issue appears to be assuming a religious dimension, a situation that has consistently forced General Muhammadu Buhari, to distance himself from the alleged gang up by the North to stop Jonathan from running in 2011.

The former Head of State, who is favoured to pick the presidential ticket of the newly registered Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, has continued to spurn the series of ongoing meetings in Abuja and Kaduna at the instance of certain northern leaders, led by Babangida and Atiku. His latest position came at a time the northern leaders had concluded plans to invite him to the next leg of their meeting to hold in Abuja soon.

Buhari, a two-time presidential candidate on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, in apparent reaction to the call by the northern Christian elders that they would only support a Christian candidate from the region, described as unfortunate the trend the struggle for the presidential slot had assumed in recent times.

He further argued that all those aspiring for the number one slot should be judged based on credibility and what they could contribute significantly to the development of the country, rather than adjudging them on the basis of region or religion.

“It is rather unfortunate that 50 years after independence, the office of the Presidency of the country is still trivialized along sectional divides. We wish to make it clear that the Presidency of Nigeria is not about North vs South or Muslims vs Christians. It is about programme for development; it is about performance or non-performance; it is about integrity and accountability. It is about fight against corruption and mismanagement of public funds. And Nigerians, under free and fair election, should be allowed to make their choice.

“Our attention is drawn to widely publicized media reports of meetings held in Kaduna and Abuja by a certain group of Northern political elite. The meetings, according to the reports, were a ‘kind of northern’ opposition against the possible candidature of President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 general election. It was also aimed at insisting zoning of presidential slot to the North. The communiqué of the Abuja meeting indicated the decision of the conveners of the meeting to invite General Muhammadu Buhari among others to their next meetings.

“We wish to use this medium and make it very clear that General Buhari and his party, the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, would have nothing to do with this meeting, as it is diversionary; and whose principles is consistent with the tenets of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The meetings were largely a PDP affair and General Buhari cannot be a party to them. We, however, concede to the right of those Northerners who are members of the PDP to continue to advocate zoning or anything they like. That is the business of the PDP, which is quite different from the North,” he said.

Less than one week after Buhari’s comment, another group working for Jonathan in the North, Consolidated Support for Jonathan Forum, which is led by former ANPP Assistant National Secretary, Alhaji Umaru Isa, asked the northern elders to quit the stage for the younger generation.

Isa, who insisted that the North cannot stop Jonathan in 2011 because the leaders were already in disarray, also said those who make up the Northern Leaders Forum have had their turn in leadership positions, and that Nigerians would no longer allow ethnic or religious sentiments to becloud their sense of judgment.
Interestingly, his comments came on the heels of a declaration by a Middle Belt group that it was ready to back Jonathan in 2011.

The Middle Belt Dialogue Group said it does not believe in the concept of one North, stressing that those calling for northern unity with the aim of confronting Jonathan were selfish politicians that had failed the country.

The group in a statement signed by a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Kaduna State and one-time PDP National Legal Adviser, Mr Mark Jacob, noted that since Jonathan became Acting President early this year, “the ailing Northern political class has gone into a frenzy, issuing threats, organizing showcase meetings and grandstanding, all to frighten a minority from staking for federal power…

“We in the Middle Belt Dialogue Group observe with seriousness that the very concept of a political North is fraudulent as recent events have exposed it for the lie it is. The political North, as long as it has existed, has promoted the exclusive political and economic interest of the North West of Nigeria while the Christians in the North have been used as donkeys only good for carrying the political burden of the region.”

Individuals like Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, former Kaduna governor and 2007 presidential aspirant, also believe that there was no point crying wolf because some people met and expressed their opinion over the 2011 presidential race.

He argues: “Those who say Jonathan should join the race for the presidency in 2011 have the right to say so. Everyone in Nigeria has the constitutional right; the rest really is a personal decision. We all have the right to decide what to do…

“Of course there is a difference between nomination and the actual election. All these would apply to the different political parties. The presidency is not an exclusive right of any individual or zone.

“…So, instead of the debate on who is to run, let us have credible Nigerians showing up. If you are from the South South and you want to challenge President Goodluck Jonathan because you feel you are more credible and can perform better than him, then you owe it to Nigerians to show up. If you are from the North, and you feel that you are good enough, then show up. Let us build a national consensus on this issue.”

Reminded that Jonathan’s presidency may amount to short-changing the North, Makarfi again remarked: “Every individual will rationalise it as he sees it. The North in my opinion should vote for anybody credible enough to develop Nigeria. And that should really be the core point that should guide the judgment of Nigerians.”

The near consensus in the North, according to investigations, is that except the region has any other presidential material other than those that have so far indicated interest, it should better let Jonathan have a go at it.

This near representative view was succinctly captured by another vociferous Jonathan campaigner and chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, Alhaji AbdulRahman Mohammed, who is under fire from a section of the ACF for daring to ask northern presidential hopefuls to tarry awhile in an exclusive interview with a national daily.

“I speak with my conscience, based on the realities on ground. That was not the first time I was raising the issues I raised in the recent Sunday Sun interview. Before then I had granted your sister publication, The Spectator, a similar interview shortly after the (Major) Jokolo interview in Sunday Sun, where he also said that if all we have in the North are recycled leaders, we should just let the South have it, even if it was our turn. And I share his views.

“Look, if these northern leaders put forward their children, or any young and intelligent northerner forward; and we have them in abundance, we will be fools not to rally round them. But if Britain, a conservative society, will allow a young man with ideas to govern them, what stops us from doing the same thing?

“If the northern leaders had extended their recent gang-up against Jonathan to our 19 northern governors on the need to provide quality leadership, good governance and service to the people, you think we will be where we are today? I think we should just come off this gang-up and face the reality. If we do not have a succession plan, allow Jonathan to run and use the four years to plan, pure and simple,” Mohammed said.

So far, about 11 formidable groups in the North are promoting the Jonathan presidency, and only time will tell whether or not the North will cave in.

From Ismail Omipidan, Kaduna