Somewhere between the G-5 and northern APC governors

df tunji ajibade
df tunji ajibade

The dissenting five state governors of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party were in London the other time. Details of what the governors, known as the G-5, did or didn’t do out there aren’t the focus of this piece. Rather implication for the polity of the politicking they’ve engaged in is. By now some within the PDP see the moves by the G-5 as an existential threat to themselves and the party, so they proclaim their displeasure. But this intraparty crisis could have been bigger; it could have been a national crisis threatening the unity of Nigeria. This would have happened if the ruling party had gone in the direction the opposition party did during its presidential primary. But the Northern APC governors had wisely prevented such a national crisis. Statesmanship doesn’t come bigger than that. I shall explain.

Now, I’ve always claimed that what I bring into journalism is my academic background in political science. Each time I look at the political landscape, I do with a recollection of details of what transpired from the time Nigerians fully contested in the 1951 election, the elections after 1960, and the one in 1979. I didn’t start getting to be aware of these details when I first sat on the political desk of newspaper, Lagos, in 1997. I started when I was 14 years old taking ‘government’ as a subject in secondary school. Since then I instinctively compared each political dispensation with what obtained in the First Republic, looking for what changed, what didn’t. That’s one way substantive analysis is done, rather than sentimental comments that confuse more than clarify.

So, I see happening now within the PDP the kind of scenario hardly ever witnessed in party politics in this nation. Here, a political party consciously walks into a situation that makes members feel they aren’t part of the party. The other day, one PDP national chieftain from Lagos said his party gave major positions to a part of the country, but “what do they give the South-West? Zero.” This made me think about our political history, concluding that the current situation within the PDP is unprecedented. The manner the constitutions of 1951 and 1954 were configured as well as the parliamentary system practised permitted a situation where one party could be the majority that formed government, without having elected members from other zones of the country. Region-based parties were what we had. By 1958, however, the constitution made it impossible to have one region exercise such control at the centre. So we got independence with the Northern Peoples’ Congress forming a coalition with the Nnamdi Azikiwe-led NCNC.

Still, the ruling party was quick to seize the crisis between Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the Action Group and Ladoke Akintola to form another partnership with the South-West. Also, the Action Group formed coalitions in areas with minority tribes in the North. Under the 1979 Constitution and the presidential system of government, it had become practically impossible for any one party to rule at the centre without winning significant votes across the nation.

This was reflected in how the ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria’s executive positions, for instance, were shared among parts of the federation in 1979. It had as its chairman Chief Adisa Akinloye from Oyo State while Alhaji Shehu Shagari from Sokoto State was the president. Against this backdrop, 2022 is the first time in recent history a major party goes into general election while the major posts are concentrated in one geo-political zone. Before the last presidential primary happened, I was already imagining what would be the shape of the PDP if it presented a northern candidate. Then its chieftains began to talk about putting their “best foot forward.” The ‘best foot’ they have in mind is the current PDP presidential candidate. Not a surprise considering that the result of the 2019 presidential election was contested in court for as long as the then candidate could. I had imagined such was one means of remaining in public consciousness long enough to secure the 2023 presidential ticket. It happened as I suspected.

The outcome of the PDP primary would make any observer feel that another northerner was being prepared to succeed the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari(retd.). While it isn’t in the constitution where a president should come from or that occupying the office must be by rotation, we know that the situation of the nation demands that we play practical, sensible politics. I’m for the best candidate wherever they could be found. But I’m also realistic enough to know that the definition of politics as “the art of who gets what, when, how,” applies to us rather peculiarly at this stage of our political development. Who sits in the presidency and where they come from still matter to Nigerians. When we get to that point when no one’s sentiments can be manipulated on ethnic or religious basis regarding who sits in which office, all of us will know it.

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Where the PDP now finds itself is almost incomparable in our political history. From the First to the Third Republic, I don’t recall any major party that has all major party positions only in one region. I don’t recall that NPN in 1983 considered making another northerner succeed President Shehu Shagari. The talk in the air at the time was that the NPN was preparing a southwesterner to take over from him. This was where we were in the past in terms of trying to unify the nation. Now the PDP has turned all of that on its head by presenting a presidential candidate from the North when the national mood is that its candidate should come from the South. This is at the root of the G-5 crisis that the PDP has.

My view is that just as northern APC governors have patriotically supported the move to ensure that a presidential candidate from the South succeeds Buhari and ensure unity, thus demonstrating statesmanship, the actions of the G-5 governors achieve the same goal. They too are working to ensure that the unity of the nation is not threatened. Worthy of note is that, unlike the APC northern governors who realistically favoured a southern presidential candidate, northern stakeholders of the PDP worked contrary to the mood of the nation. They possibly believed they could break with the national mood, and thus satisfy their own political desires in some ways. I had concluded after the PDP primaries that making a northerner emerge as its presidential candidate didn’t show statesmanship on the part of PDP stakeholders. The G-5 crisis has proved this point right.

Statesmanship is practical, pragmatic; all decisions are taken in the interest of the people, cognizance taken of the mood of the nation, unity and peace among citizens ever a priority.  The APC northern governors displayed such statesmanship. For had they supported a presidential candidate from the North, it meant the two major national parties would have presented northerners. In the event, the current PDP internal crisis would have been a full blown Nigerian crisis. Since the primaries ended, I’ve always stated that northern APC governors saved Nigeria a major embarrassment. Had the APC too selected a candidate from the North, it’s not just the G-5 governors that would be in full rebellion; it would have been the whole of the South. Both the APC and PDP members would have been insisting they wouldn’t vote anyone from the North to succeed Buhari. Northerners would behave in the same manner if they were on the receiving end. The nation’s unity is thus threatened.

To me, in the current circumstances, just as the APC northern governors showed statesmanship, so do the G-5 governors who have indicated their desire to see a presidential candidate from the South succeed Buhari. For through their politicking the G-5 doused a political crisis in the PDP that, if not well managed, could become a bigger national crisis which ultimate consequences are never predictable. The street violence following the 1953 civilised disagreement over the self-government motion raised in the Federal Parliament, as well as the political violence of the 1960s are unfortunate examples. But now that the grievances of the aggrieved G-5 governors might be assuaged if they found other political parties that would meet their interest, a potential national political crisis is bottled. Statesmanship worthy of applause is here somewhere.

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