“The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” – Ayn Rand
With the presidential election just 16 days away, Nigeria’s geopolitical north is in an uncomfortable situation. Never has the region been so boxed in since the start of the present republic than now. This time, unlike in the past, the North’s tricky situation is akin to the man with a tsetse fly perching in his private parts.
The first instinct is to kill the bloodsucker before it bites. The tsetse fly bite is often painful and can develop into a red sore. But despite the danger, a bigger danger is in crushing the scrotum while striving to kill the fly. The North faces a similar quandary today ahead of the February 25 polls. The geopolitical North is confused about who to vote for in the coming presidential ballot, unlike in the past when they had it easy making choices among the contestants who are always two front runners.
In this year’s landmark election, the choice is tricky and requires some form of tact and care. Four top contenders appear to have scaled through the screening panel for the job: Labour Party’s Peter Obi, APC’s Bola Tinubu, PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, and NNP’s Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso–two northerners, two southerners, one Christian three Muslims. Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups (Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa-Fulani) upon which the nation’s age-old tripod rests are represented in the top four contenders for the Aso Rock Villa. They are Atiku the Fulani man, Tinubu the Yoruba man, Obi the Igbo man, and Kwankwaso in between Hausa and Fulani.
The North harbors both Christian and Muslim voters but the latter group is touted to outnumber the former. The “Accidental Governor” Nasiru El-rufai of Kaduna says Christian voters are insignificant.
From the beginning, the above three variables of tribe, religion, and region have combined to dictate the electoral behaviour of the electorate more than even merit, competence, capacity, and capabilities. Even the obvious incapacitation of a candidate does not deny one electoral backing of his ethnic and/or religious background.
Observers of the Nigerian political scene hold that our leadership issues are traceable to the influence and sentiments of tongue and creed. However, the coming election appears to wear a new garb, because Peter Obi of the Labour Party is in the presidential race with different narratives altogether. For the first time, in our electioneering as a nation, somebody is emerging as a front runner for reasons other than the ethnic and religious background but more for the generational support from youths cutting across entrenched barriers fostered by native tongue and or religion.
Several variables can explain Obi’s huge and quick breakthrough into the big four: his penetrating messages, his antecedents, his verifiable record of performance, and his acceptance by the generality that has borne the brunt of warped governance over the years.
It is still largely believed in some quarters that as real as Obi’s wave seems, it is still a flash in the pan–too early in the day to anticipate an electoral upset. This view is held by political traditionalists who believe that the status quo will continue to stand In Nigeria despite the social and digital impact in the political space globally.
This school of thought attributes its stand to the so-called non-exposure of many northern voters said to reduce the outside influence on them. Unlike in the South, the voting pattern in the North is thought to derive from bulk influence. The “vote your conscience and vote for merit” message, makes little impact up north where people still look up to their traditional, religious, and ethnic leaders for direction.
This is why this year’s election is putting the region in a very cumbersome situation. The few influencers that always dictate the electoral direction to follow among two top candidates have at least four this time. And the contending interests slightly vary. Whichever way, the North goes in arriving at a candidate they have issues explaining. If, for instance, the North opts for the ruling party, they would be accused of aiding and abetting a divisive same-faith ticket and by so doing injuring the sensibilities of the Christian segment of the northern population, already urging for a sense of belonging.
If it votes for PDP, it will have a heavy backlash on fairness, going for a Fulani to succeed another Fulani. A region that ought to be conscious of the stability of the polity will be hesitant to stoop so low. The same analysis will apply if the North looks in the direction of NNPP’s Kwankwaso. Perhaps, the only area the north can go among the top four and freely defend the position is Peter Obi of the Labour Party. Obi is a paradigm shift from the old order that is yielding place to the new. Obi solves the problem of fairness and balance coming from the Igbo South East that has not smelt the Presidency since the inception of this republic. He has also indisputably shown among the top contenders to have a better grip on the problems ahead and he also has age and vitality as his potential for a people seeking generational change.
Despite the attraction that Peter Obi holds out and his messages, the conservative North, especially the Muslim segment of the population, makes it an uphill task to market him there. The northern elite who make up the undisputed movers and shakers of the place are also boxed between the devil and the deep blue sea. If Obi looks as likely to take them out of the two difficult situations, the elite may also be looking out for their selfish largesse that the Obi option may not be offering.
Today, the North is standing between the status quo which maintains the dubious rights of the selfish northern elite, and the pragmatic and populist position of generational northerners who seek to institute and bring back Aminu Kano’s dream of the talakawa policies of working for the greater good of the masses.
There can never again be a monolithic North as it used to be in the days of the mythical Kaduna Mafia. When the North started the manipulation of the political space, it was with the imaginary group called the Kaduna Mafia. The group was so powerful and yet a mere myth. Then, it held the proverbial knife and yam and could direct the political journey the way it pleased.
In those days, if you are not a northerner and aspired to be anything in the political sphere, you must find a way of romancing the mafia. The undemocratic nature of the military regimes helped to strengthen this arcane and abstruse group.
But with the exit of the military and or return of democratic rule, it fizzled out and several attempts to recreate it failed because of the selfishness of the then-northern elite that could show no justification for the continuity of the hegemony to the younger generation.
Looking back, broadminded Northerners, especially youths, are asking questions and getting no convincing answers about how out of 63 years of Nigerian nationhood, the North has held power for 46 years and yet remains the poverty headquarters of the federation, if not the entire world.
It is, perhaps, the lack of cogent and clear answers to this striking question that is helping to push the Obi mantra in the North today. So February 25, 2023, polls will provide the North with a huge opportunity of retaining their leading political influence in the country. That is not an easy task but it is not insurmountable for people who desire to approach issues with justice, equity, and fairness as their driving force. God, help us.