Fellow Nigerians, please, allow me to remind you of an article I wrote in 2014 titled IN SEARCH OF MATHEMATICIANS. It was a simple calculation and permutation I made about how Major General Muhammadu Buhari was going to defeat the incumbent President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in the 2015 Presidential election. As at that time, the confidence level of the Buhari camp was still quite shaky, indeed it was quite low. The APC candidate had lost three previous elections and had virtually given up before the daredevilry of Bola Tinubu, Rotimi Amaechi, Bukola Saraki, Atiku Abubakar, Aminu Tambuwal and others exhumed and resurrected his dead ambition. It is interesting to note that of those from that list, who gave their all in ensuring Buhari’s success at the 2015 polls, only Amaechi and to a much lesser extent, Tinubu continue to enjoy some sort of romance with the President. It seems that this is not only the way of politicians but the way of Nigerians generally. We always seem to strive to ignore most of our benefactors.
Anyway, I remember how many of Buhari’s supporters bombarded my phones in utter excitement about my favourable prediction. That was the first time I ever spoke to Senator Hadi Sirika, the current Minister of Aviation. He was in the company of his friend Honourable Farouk, another protege of Buhari. I took Senator Sirika’s call in Ghana and they both took turns to speak with me. They saluted my brilliant analysis and wanted a brief clarification which I obliged. According to them my impassionate calculations and permutations had the semblance of reality. It had buoyed their hopes and given them more confidence that the goal, and task of making Buhari the President, was easily achievable if they followed my blueprint. I will explain this preamble in a moment and point out the important lessons in it.
Let’s fast forward to 2021 before we land in 2023. Those Northern politicians who are already gloating and boasting that they will contest and win and produce the next President and that heavens will not fall are merely trying to bully the Southern politicians who have suffered so much intimidation in the past and have since lost their self-confidence. The Northern politicians know the truth as well as the reality that no Northern politician can ever win a Presidential election if he can’t penetrate the South substantially. I do not talk on this matter or engage in this discourse on a fanciful, wishful basis. I do so with justification premised on scientific and empirical knowledge of Nigeria’s political and electoral history and practice since the advent of a Presidential system of government in the second Republic.
In 1979, the National Party of Nigeria found it almost impossible to win in a straight fight between its candidate, Alhaji Aliyu Shehu Shagari and Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria. The logjam and apparent looming impasse was only resolved when the highest court of the land went through the rigmarole of mathematical somersaults and ended up with the infamous, and forever notorious, two thirds of nineteen is twelve two-thirds algorithm of the existing States in Nigeria, a computation which fractionalised one of the states simply for electoral purposes, in order to fulfil the constitutional requirements to make Shagari win at the first ballot and save NPN from the potential slippery debacle of a run-off election. Had Shagari won a simple number of 13 states, Nigeria would have been saved the hoopla and hullabaloo. Even with Awolowo winning mainly in the South West and a sprinkling of other places, he gave Shagari a good fight and nearly recorded a stalemate until the ill-fated intervention of the court.
My next example would come from 1993 when Chief Moshood Abiola, from political hibernation, came out of the blue to join the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He instantly made it known that his reason for joining the Party was that he was ready and prepared to run in the Presidential race. Notwithstanding that this seemed an impossible mission for several reasons, Abiola was resolute in his mission and convinced of the attainment of his vision. For the purpose of the lessons that I am about to impart I will now go through some of those reasons.
SDP was largely a party of the South while its arch-rival, the National Republican Party (NRC) was dominantly a Northern Party. Interestingly, the SDP actually had a strong Chairman, Alhaji Babagana Kingibe from the Northern Borno State.
Chief Abiola was confronted by at least three gargantuan hurdles. How to grab the SDP tickets from the political heavyweights that littered the SDP, and in particular Kingibe, who enjoyed the unflinching support of most of the SDP Governors and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who enjoyed the avuncular support of the hugely politically influential Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, who himself had only recently been banned from contesting by the military President General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. These were formidable leaders within his own party.
He had no guarantees or assurances that the military was ready to hand over power coupled with the fact that the top echelon of the military was populated by Northerners and so a Southerner could be perceived as taking a big risk with such a Northern military conclave.
Despite these seemingly insurmountable challenges, Chief Abiola remained undaunted and pursued his dream with uncommon gusto, conscientiousness and industry. An average Southerner would have panicked and possibly chickened out. But Abiola was supremely confident that he had done most of the work required to successfully take him past the finishing post in pole position in the past three decades. The Presidential race is not a day or month’s journey. You must have toured the world extensively and touched so many lives expansively and expensively to succeed. It is first a popularity contest. It is also a game of personal interests for members of the privilegentsia who call the shots in most countries.
Above all, it is a game of wit and skill. A complex game of chess with very grave even fatal consequences if there is as much as a tiny misstep. It is, simply put, a tough and rough game. Abiola eventually stood against Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa of NRC, a Northerner from Kano and took him to the cleaners with the mathematical and clinical precision that an astute and cosmopolitan accountant can muster. When the military top brass realized what had happened against all odds, they had to annul the election summarily. But there was never a doubt that Abiola won fair and square. He has now been vindicated posthumously by the Buhari administration, something which General Buhari will always be positively remembered for through the ages.
Let’s fast forward to 2003 when President Olusegun Obasanjo was seeking re-election. His then Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, was also eyeing the top seat and had to be begged and importuned to allow his boss to complete his second term, in peace and not in pieces. There was another challenger, former Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari. I must note that by then, Buhari had succeeded in building a cult following in the North and his teeming supporters were blindly loyal and absolutely fanatical in their unalloyed support of him. It is doubtful if anyone, since the emergence of Sir Ahmadu Ibrahim Bello, The Sardauna of Sokoto, had ever been that apotheosised in his lifetime in vast swathes of Northern Nigeria. Only Aminu Kano could be said to have enjoyed something similar, but his reach was limited to Kano and Kaduna States. However, despite his significant popularity in the North, Buhari could not defeat President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. Forget the cries of being rigged out. The truth is that Baba Buhari’s acolytes could not have made him President through Northern votes alone. Buhari again contested against an ailing Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007 and still lost the election. Yar’Adua won because he enjoyed sizable numbers in the South. No irredentist can ever win a national election without a crossover appeal. Buhari’s Northern appeal was still not enough for him to tilt the popular vote in his favour.
One more example should suffice. Buhari took on President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011. I’m proud to say I also contested in that election, and I learnt very useful lessons. Once again, Buhari lost the election despite massive support from the North. Whilst Jonathan, his opponent, did relatively well in the South, he was able to garner some significant votes in the North and thus the quest by Buhari to wrest the Presidency from Jonathan ended up in tatters and flames. Reports claimed that Buhari was so devastated that he wept and vowed never to contest again. The big lesson in my view is that Buhari lost because the South had a pathological fear of Buhari as an ethnic bigot and religious fundamentalist. I need not prove anything further.
Buhari is the all-time example of the unjustifiable, unwarrantable and unfounded myth that the North can win Presidential elections permanently based on its numbers alone. It is a tale told by lazy and indolent politicians who are happy playing second fiddle to some nebulous and ephemeral mythical politicians in the North. When did it become the norm for the place of birth to be the only prerequisite for becoming the President of a country as ethnically diverse and religiously divided as Nigeria? As I have tried to demonstrate, nobody who has relied on the Northern votes alone has ever managed to achieve it in the Presidential system. It is remarkable that people, especially Southern politicians, forget that between 1999 and 2011 three out of the four Presidential elections were won by Southern candidates including a Southern minority.
Let me now propound the thesis of why Southerners may easily lose elections to Northern candidates. Firstly. it may be said that the Southern politicians always work at cross purposes and undermine and undercut themselves. They are so scared and frightened, of the illusionary Northern might, that they make no attempt to probe or challenge it, but rather accept it as a truism. Northern politicians are only too happy to exploit and manipulate them as they wallow in their folly. Secondly, the fable of a monolithic North has long been shattered into smithereens. No such thing exists. The Middle Belt, and now The North Central part of Nigeria, has never been fully subjugated by the core North. This fact is always glossed over or ignored by the dozy, sleepy somnolent South.
The only advantage the North had for a long time was its ability to suddenly unite during elections. But it is obvious things are no longer at ease in the North since things fell apart under the watch of the amazing Buhari.
The North is haemorrhaging badly, bleeding ceaselessly and the question on most lips is of what benefit has holding power endlessly been to the long-suffering people of the North?! The current President is from Katsina State, same as former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, yet Katsina has since fallen into the hands of bandits and terrorists. So, on what basis are some Northern politicians insisting that another Northerner should take over President Buhari, in a country where many groups are clamouring for a breakup into different nations. Some of those Northerners warming up as candidates have done little or nothing in their private or public lives to request us to trust them with our political, social and economic life. Even those who have been in public life suffer from the same disability. They have neither managed people nor resources successfully. Any experience they have is one of failure, flop or fiasco! What then is their motivation for God’s sake?
My practical proposition is that we must no longer allow these artful dodgers to browbeat us into submission again with their folktales and fables. The South should wake up from its somnambulist and narcoleptic state. For 2023, PDP as the leading opposition party must stand up for its traditional role as a veritable opposition party and act responsibly by playing a joker or an ace, depending on your viewpoint. Majority of Nigerian youths today are tired of voting for recycled leaders. That is the reason for the low voter turnout in most States nowadays.
If the Southern leaders are serious, the journey should start from uniting the three geo-political zones of the South. Today, those zones face similar problems and common enemies. Some of the same issues are also prevalent in the North Central. Let the South agree for once that South is South and look for two candidates in APC and PDP with an Abiola kind of template, not necessarily a hardcore politician but people who cut across: successful, bright, tolerant, cosmopolitan, and so on. But if the Southerners continue to insist on asserting that it is the turn of Yoruba, or Igbo or Ijaw, and fail to embrace one another as Southerners, it will be a monumental disaster. This is my honest opinion.
The Arithmetic is easy, three regions in the South with a firm handshake across the North Central and it is a done deal. victory will be assured. The truth is that some inroad will be made into the massive votes that will come from Kano, Kaduna and Sokoto states as well. Let nobody fool or hoodwink us that all the votes from those areas will totally be for the ruling Party. Experience has shown that this is not the case. It will not change now. It will be a lot easier for the PDP if it can get its act together and turn to pastures green in sourcing a candidate. One that is without much blemish and is not associated with the rot that the Party was known for in the 16 years of its controversial rule.
The critical question and crux of the matter is whether the older generation or the established politicians will leave power without a serious fight from the supposed new breed? Time will tell.