South South And The Presidency

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South South And The Presidency
 

By

 

Reuben Abati

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, May 26, 2006

 

The struggle for the post of the President of Nigeria by 2007, now effectively vacant, has begun with the North and the South South as front-runners both in terms of their insistence and the articulation of their preferences in the public domain. The South West is automatically out of the race having spent the last seven years in office (?). Some other geo-political zones, particularly the Middle Belt, are not as enthusiastic. The South East makes some occasional noise about its interest in the Presidency, but Ndigbo is disunited, and this is its biggest problem, its leaders sound ambivalent, those who have expressed interest in the Presidency from that zone have too many internal enemies who are determined to stop any other Igbo man from rising.

 

Beyond this internal division, the North has never hidden the fact that it is opposed to the idea of an Igbo Presidency; it is an option that the North never considers. Other ethnic groups have also never really forgiven Igbos for the civil war. But whenever it is eventually the turn of Igbos to be President, Nigeria would have become a far more politically enlightened country; the ghosts of the past would necessarily have been laid to rest. But that is a subject for another day, lest some ethnic wrestlers misinterpret my true position in the matter.

 

What is indicated in the present circumstance, however, are the same old issues about power rotation, power shift, and the need to run this country in a manner that every stakeholder will feel a sense of belonging. It is now incontestable that one possible way to ensure national unity in this country is to allow power to rotate among the various stakeholders, including the smallest groups. Ethnicity is an eternal albatross that Nigeria must carry like the load of Sisyphus. Section 55 of the 1999 Constitution which recognises only three major ethnic groups: Yoruba, Ibo and Hausa, makes other Nigerians look like passengers in the Nigerian arrangement.

 

In the past decades, the marginalised, minority groups, owing to the spread of Western education among them and their awareness of international human rights, have very radical in responding to all images of internal colonialism. They are opposed to internal colonialism, especially the type that is endorsed by Section 55 of the Constitution and which is given full effect in governmental operations. They want this displaced in order for us all, as individuals and citizens to have a proper country, and build a nation. The minorities began their struggle long before now, and that is the import of the Willinks Commission and successive protests by that region (Adaka Boro, MOSOP and Ken Saro Wiwa, Niger Delta Volunteer Peoples Force, MEND etc) , but it seems certain that the future of Nigeria is tied to the resolution of the anxieties of the minorities. When one minority in a particular geo-political zone is offered a sense of belonging, other minorities, who indeed collectively represent the majority in Nigeria, would have been granted a sense of possibility. Human beings are driven by a sense of possibility. They are driven to desperation by a sense of denial and closure.

 

Am I speaking in parables? No, and I guess the thing to do is to immediately contextualise the present struggle for power. The North wants power desperately. It is already fighting as if its life depends on it. Power is the oxygen that keeps the North alive. For 35 years, the North held on to power at the centre, and ruled Nigeria as if it belonged to one particular group. That is the Fulani, for it would be wrong to assume that power in the hands of the North we knew meant the Hausa (who are not even accepted as an ethnic group by the Fulani) or any of the other marginalised groups in the North who must be subservient to the Fulani to gain any form of attention. The Fulani are in more than twelve countries in Africa as a nomadic group and wherever they are either as majorities or minorities, their acute interest in power is a permanent aspect of the power equation. In more than seven years in power in Nigeria, they have been shut out of the corridors of power, and access to the control of Nigeria's economic resources.

 

Obasanjo who suffered immensely in the hands of his Fulani successors in power has not been very kind to the general Fulani group since he came to power in 1999. One of them jailed and humiliated him. Obasanjo has also further displaced the Fulani hegemony. He destroyed the LPO system which sustained that hegemony; he offered positions to children of the North but he refused to put them in charge of the economy. The economy, he handed over to Ndigbo, thus creating an ironic balance. The North's bid for power in 2007 is in part a response to this withdrawal factor; this marginalisation of the North by the Obasanjo government.

 

To worsen matters, he who used to be their man and candidate has refused to be manipulated by them. He has for the most part ran his own show in the last seven years, the defects of that show are singularly traceable to his own limitations, already well-defined elsewhere. In addition, the average Nigerian continues to nurse a deep-seated grudge against the North and its principal icons. Thirty-five years of Northern domination of political power brought few advantages to the North, if anything, it further divided the North. Is there any guarantee that the return of power to the North would create a different situation? This is the basic issue that the Northern elite must worry about even as they search for a candidate that would represent the interests of a non-existent monolithic North.

 

But where do we stand in relation to this as Nigerians, as ordinary Nigerians who are not looking for power on an ethnic basis but who are just interested in being citizens of a country that works? It is not difficult to know what ordinary Nigerians want. They want a country that is properly managed. They want a country where the human being can feel a sense of humanity. They want leaders who are motivated by a sense of the common good and an interest in history. They want a united country where a Yoruba man can woo a pretty Ijaw woman and not feel that he is doing something strange. They want to live like the people of London and New York where even the poorest of the poor do not have to worry about those details that give ordinary Nigerians the greatest anxiety. They want to live like human beings, and this includes those rude Nigerians who abuse others on the internet with their terrible, ill-mannered prose. Ordinarily, it should not matter where a leader comes from as long as he is a leader, but nations are not the same and societies must manage their own circumstances.

 

By far, the South South seems to have prepared a more reasoned claim to the Presidency through both advocacy and militancy. The latter method represented by the likes of MEND and its band of hijackers and the Asari Dokubo group on the other end of the scale may have attracted much criticism but no one can claim not to know what the South South wants. This remains clear even if some of the elites from that region nearly diluted that message with their open, may be insincere declaration of support for the Third Term agenda. They have however since recovered their voice, heard loudest during the National Conference and almost simultaneously through such groups as the South South Peoples Assembly, with their articulation of the compulsory need for a South South President in 2007. The South South probably has the largest collection of advocacy groups seeking justice and equity for the people of that region and the power question is right at the centre of that agitation. Nigeria's refusal to listen to the complaints of the South South and by extension the cries of the minorities is largely responsible for the instability in the country. There is no other place like the Niger Delta in the world. At the moment, the South South's search for power at the centre can be linked to ethnic power politics, and it actually looks like a credible entry point into resolving the national question. But perhaps not exactly as the South South elite is currently phrasing it.

 

It seems to me that the South South search for power is predicated on the woolly assumption that once a man from that region becomes President, the fears of the people of the Niger Delta and their neighbours would be addressed automatically. Our experience with political power in Nigeria has shown that ethnic anxieties are not necessarily addressed by the kinsman in power. It is possible to have a South South man in power and he could prove to be an enemy of South South interests and a good promoter of his own selfish ambitions. It is true that if the South South were to win the Presidency in 2007, it would be a great revolutionary development indeed.

 

But the South South must never be under the illusion that the North would willingly grant it that opportunity simply because there is violence in the Niger Delta. South South leaders must take their search for power beyond the level of rhetoric. They must organise, organise and organise. They must also reach out to other Nigerian constituencies, groups and stakeholders. A minority South South President will be kept in power not by MEND and the Asari Dokubo group or Egbesu boys but the consensus of other stakeholders. Such insular and regional methods adopted by the ethnic militants in the South South can only in the long run prove to be politically counter-productive.

 

The other challenge before the South South is to identify the right and proper candidate, and build a consensus around that candidate. The SSPA after its last meeting in Port Harcourt had said that its plan is to appeal to every political party to choose a South South Presidential candidate. That kind of wild goose chase makes no sense to me. To gain power the South South must operate as a united front if it is serious about its ambitions. But having won power, it would then face the bigger task of ensuring that the man who gets to power on the South South platform will be not just a nationalist, but a nationalist with "a local base".

 

For sure, a South South Presidency will be resisted by the North which claims a superiority of numbers, and has shown a tested capacity for power politics. Strategists of the South South Presidency must begin to worry about how to sell their candidate(s) to the average man in the North who may have been tutored to believe that the presence of a South South President in Abuja could mean a reversal of all inherited advantages. Can the South South find a bridge-builder, someone with the political savvy and maturity to navigate Nigeria's troubled waters, a man or woman that can be trusted with Nigeria? If such candidates exist, the South South must move beyond media posturing and sentiments and name such persons without any further delay...

 

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