In what appears to be a major crack in the conservative Muslim North, which has been taken for granted as a safe political base for APC’s President Muhammadu Buhari, the Northern Elders Forum has joined forces with other socio-cultural groups, namely, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF and Middle Belt Forum in endorsing PDP’s Atiku Abubakar ahead of the February 16 presidential polls. While it was an open secret that there was no love lost between Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF and the Middle Belt Forum on the one hand and President Buhari over his leadership style, many didn’t see his rejection by Northern Elders Forum coming.
Having unleashed a wave of marginalisation against Nigerians of Southeast origin to such a ridiculous extent that they are excluded from the entire top echelon of Nigeria’s security architecture and the president’s kitchen cabinet, Ohanaeze’s rejection of Buhari was only a reflection of the popular will of the demography they represent. For not just failing to curtail the murderous activities of killer herdsmen that are pillaging the predominantly Christian farmer communities of central Nigeria, but actually justifying such carnage on the purported obliteration of ancient ‘’grazing routes’’ or ‘’anti-open grazing laws’’, President Buhari’s rejection by the Middle Belt Forum is simply a form of political SOS.
The 2015 presidential election, which was keenly contested by then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the oil producing Niger Delta and President Buhari, a Muslim from the Northwest left the country divided along ethno-geographic and religious fault lines. Having emerged victorious, President Buhari in what many have described as a feat of exuberant triumphalism treated the Niger Delta region, whose ‘’son’’ has just lost to him, with disdain and contempt. Apart from marginalising the Niger Delta region, in key appointments in open show of distrust and government presence in terms of infrastructure while also attempting to reverse some gains that accrued to the region under previous administrations in addition to President Buhari’s rare physical presence in the region has been perceived as undisguised disdain. Even in the proportion of his visits to states, President Buhari has marginalised the South, particularly the Niger Delta region. Whereas, President Buhari has visited northern Nigeria states like Kano, Sokoto, Kaduna and Bauchi more times for both formal and informal events such as wedding ceremonies or condolences, he has paid relatively fewer visits to Southern states. For failing so far to visit his predecessor’s home state of Bayelsa, President Buhari lost a golden opportunity to demonstrate his first step towards national reconciliation after the fractious 2015 presidential election. That PANDEF has endorsed Atiku going into the February presidential polls is a future foretold.
The Southwest geo-political zone, which gave President Buhari the second highest support in the 2015 presidential election, was left sulking as it was handed the shorter end of the stick despite producing the vice president. Yemi Osinbanjo as vice president comes across as an outsider to President Buhari’s powerful kitchen cabinet, which is stuffed with individuals from the Muslim north. Until he was propped up as the only credible face of the administration to go into the self-conflagrated waters of eligible voters to fish out votes for President Buhari, Osinbanjo was more visible in churches delivering homilies while the powerful members of the kitchen cabinet otherwise known as ‘’the cabal’’ ruled the country by proxy. It also didn’t escape the notice of many Nigerians of Southwest origin including his wife that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who goes by the honorific ‘’national leader’’, was practically used and dumped after Buhari’s victory of 2015. He will be resurrected from political limbo when it became expedient to once more use whatever is left of Tinubu’s political potency in the Southwest to shore up Buhari’s political fortunes going into the February presidential polls. Many Nigerians of Southwest origin are irritated by what appears to be Tinubu’s pitiable sight as a glorified power hostage who has lost all moral claims to political progressivism and his insistence on reinforcing Buhari’s government beyond 2019. In order to help Tinubu from his fast lane to political self-immolation among many other socio-economic negatives of the Buhari administration, Afenifere has to ensure a stitch in time saves nine.
If the rejection of Buhari by four out of six geo-political zones of Nigeria wasn’t unexpected, his rejection by huge chip of the northern political establishment bloc, the Northern Elders Forum, is a clear indication of a major upset in the offing. To the discernible, it is clear that Buhari’s traditional political base of the Muslim North has quacked and may cave in under the weight of his leadership.
The reality today is that the negative consequence of Buhari’s leadership is more felt in the Northern part of Nigeria such that the region has become a blight on the rest of Nigeria. That Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world today is attributable to the fact that northern Nigeria is the poorest region in the world. Nigeria is today ranked as the third most terrorised country in the world thanks to the intractable Boko Haram insurgency, herdsmen terrorism and cross border banditry in eastern, central and western flanks of Northern Nigeria. Of the over 13 million out of school children in Nigeria, about 75 per cent are domiciled in northern Nigeria thereby compounding its woes of educational backwardness.
Buhari’s sectionalism, which has brought scorn upon the North leading to a heightened demand for restructuring from other sections of the country, has ironically not benefited the region thereby leaving it in an uncertain state of double jeopardy. Despite the concentration of security top jobs in the region, it remains the most unsafe part of Africa ahead of Somalia. Buhari has taken the solidarity of the north for granted and may pay for it.
Fortunately for the north, the rest of Nigeria is giving it the advantage of eating its cake and having it by projecting the Atiku alternative; a man no less northern and Muslim than Buhari as a replacement for the current administration and save the north and Nigeria from the path of hopelessness. The Northern Elders Forum is aware that the rest of Nigeria may not be able to bear Buhari’s divisive, exclusionist, and sectional leadership beyond 2019 if the north makes a peaceful democratic change of regime impossible by deploying its superior democratic demography in his support in the February 16 presidential polls. An alternative path to democratic freedom from Buhari’s failed leadership will not be in the interest of Northern Nigeria. Buhari’s second term ambition is clearly not worth a costly alternative to the North. Buhari’s failure to develop the north socio-economically to such an extent that it becomes independent of the oil mineral revenues from the oil wells of the South simply means the North must take advantage of the Atiku alternative as it apparently needs the rest of Nigeria more than the rest of Nigeria needs it.