Presidency: ‘Why the North should wait till 2019′

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By Wale Akinola

Chief Tom Ikimi, the National Chairman of the Third Republic National Republican Convention (NRC), was part of the process that gave birth to the opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC), but now in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, Ikimi speaks on his exit from the APC. He also explains why the North should wait till 2019 to return to power at the federal level while pointing out the flaws in the assumption that the APC will win the forthcoming polls overwhelmingly in the South-west and North-west geo-political zones.

NIGERIA HAS NEVER BEEN ON EDGE THE WAY IT IS SINCE 1993 AND NEVER SO POLITICALLY DIVIDED ON ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS LINES. HOW DID WE GET TO THIS FRIGHTENING STATE?

Following the overthrow of the Shehu Shagari democratically elected government in 1983 by General Muhamadu Buhari, we had ten long years of military rule before the annulled June 12, 1993 election took place. The build-up to that election, contested by two popular national political parties, the NRC and SDP, saw three northern-born popular presidential candidates, General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, MallamAdamuCiroma, and AlhajiUmaruShinkafi among others summarily disqualified and taken into detention.

In the circumstance, while it may be convenient to characterize the June 12, 1993 election as the freest and fairest, behind that facade rested deep tribal resentment, mostly from the North, of what had occurred. In some other parts of the country, mainly in the South West, protesters, not necessarily confined to the leadership of the SDP, found the Abiola cause a convenient platform on which to organize overt resistance.

In the midst of all this restiveness erupted among southern minority elements, particularly in the Niger Delta area, mostly for reasons of apparent grievances. They commenced challenging what they described as a reckless plundering of the natural resources from their native soil – oil.

The coincidence of the sudden deaths of General Abacha and Chief MKO Abiola did not put the firestorms sparked by these crisis to rest. The emergence of General Obasanjo, on the platform of the PDP in 1999, by virtue of an arrangement conceived and executed by his top military colleagues did not really fulfill the intention of the inventors to assuage the anger of the South West whose leading political figures distanced themselves from Obasanjo’s candidature.

Unfortunately the OBJ personal agenda, which included a plot to position himself for an indefinite presidential reign, rather than work to unite the country, created massive asssault on the peace and orderly progress of the new democratic structure. OBJ was virtually forced out of office. He departed with a vengeance, ceding power to an ailing successor, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, from northern Nigeria.

President Goodluck Jonathan assumed the presidency in the midst of escalating unrest and crisis in his indigenous area, the Niger Delta. Simultaneously, parts of Northern Nigeria was gradually being criss-crossed by Muslim religious fundamentalist, who took advantage of Nigeria’s extensive,   porous borders with neighboring Niger ,Chad and Cameroons. The sectarian-fomented crisis in North Africa and parts of the Middle East started sipping through to Nigeria.

Although President Jonathan successfully brought the Niger Delta crisis to an end, political fortune hunters as well as mischief makers inside and outside the PDP invoked the tribal card as a means of challenging the President’s legitimate second term bid. In the circumstance, the genuine effort by some of us to unite the opposition in order to produce a strong alternative political platform, which should ensure a balanced polity with adequate checks and balances was suddenly hijacked by a crop of desperate political contractors.

WHAT SHOULD WE BE DOING TO BRING DOWN TENSION IN THE POLITY AND SEND A SIGNAL THAT THIS ELECTION IS NOT A DO-OR-DIE AFFAIR?

The nation is currently gripped in the reality of the struggle for the presidency. This has generated a heat of its own. Otherwise, tension in the polity basically the product of intra party differences, has been simmering all along. That was not an end product of the quest for the presidency.

The lack of consolidated internal party democracy is the bane of all the parties in various degrees of complexities. Party primaries conducted by the two leading political parties have not been the best examples and INEC monitoring of the primaries was ineffective. The PDP, despite its long tenure as the party in power, has suffered fundamental stress emanating not only from the sudden adjustments to its national leadership but also the loss of cohesion in the ranks of its governors.

A number of governors, who left the party, are now engaged in do-or-die battles for survival. Similarly, the APC, recently born out of a successful amalgamation of major opposition parties, has not been able to retain its appeal or freshness following its leadership hijack by some desperate individuals as well as its final contamination by the influx of the break away PDP governors. While those who lost out in their party primaries are gradually coming to terms with the reality, at this point in time, only the prospects of a free and fair election conducted by an unbiased umpire can bring down the tension.

Nigeria is a vast and vibrant nation and, with the rather high stakes in the 2015 elections, the crucial role of the media no longer rests with the print press only but also with the influence of radio and television as well as an increasing viral social media. With the proliferation of smart phones in the country, estimated at about one hundred million, the social media has emerged as a key factor in molding the disposition of our people.

Therefore, moderating the dissemination of volatile materials will help in bringing down the tension. The peace pact, recently signed by the presidential candidates   as well as some governorship candidates in some states, seems to be a mere public relations exercise as the frequency of its breach by some elements make nonsense of the high profile launches.

THE LATEST BID FOR THE PRESIDENCY APPEARS TO HAVE RUPTURED THE NORTH/SOUTH SOUTH POLITICAL FRIENDSHIP THAT DATES BACK TO THE FIRST REPUBLIC. WHAT WENT WRONG?

In October 1963, Nigeria proclaimed itself a Federal Republic. Parliamentary elections were held in the country in December 1964. The election saw most parties run as part of alliances. The NNA, Nigerian National Alliance, was led by the NPC, the Northern Peoples Congress, whose national stature was only guaranteed by a formation that included southern minority parties.

These were the Nigerian National Democratic Party, the Midwest Democratic Front, the Dynamic Party and the Niger Delta Congress, led by Chief Harold Biriye. Harold Biriye led some southern minority leaders principally from Degema, Ogoni, Brass and Western Ijaw divisions. The friendship between the southern minorities and northern Nigeria was bolstered by the role of Melford   Okilo of the Niger Delta Congress, who was appointed Parliamentary Secretary by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.

He became the leader of the NPN in Rivers State. He was elected governor of Rivers State in 1979. He mobilized     the region to support the emergence of Alhaji Aliyu Usman Shagari as the NPN President of Nigeria. This record speaks eloquently of a long standing friendship between the South-South, particularly southern minority and northern Nigeria.

Nigeria celebrated one hundred years of the amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria last year but, since independence in 1960 and the political party elections from 1963, the struggle for ultimate leadership of the country between the North and the South has remained a hard nut to crack. The situation has been complicated not only by the multiplicity of ethnic groups on both sides but the emergence of Islam as the dominant religion in northern Nigeria and Christianity as the dominant religion in southern Nigeria.     The formation of alliances has been one way of ensuring that a balance is retained.

However, the PDP, which has retained national power over the past 16 years, operates a system of rotating the presidency between the North and South of Nigeria on a two terms eight year basis. This arrangement never envisaged a President dying in office and so the passing of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua after two years in office has presented controversies over putting back the rotation principle on track.

I am sure the North would certainly be comfortable with the South-South as their long standing reliable ally. In the circumstance, it would make for national peace for President Jonathan from South-Southern to complete his two elected terms so that the presidency may revert to the North in 2019 when hopefully they will field a healthy nationally acceptable candidate.

THIS IS THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF NIGERIA THAT THE OPPOSITION HAS BEEN SO ORGANIZED SO MUCH SO THAT THE INCUMBENT IS NOT SURE OF BEING RETURNED. WHAT DO YOU MAKE OF THE SCENARIO?

This claim has turned out now to be more apparent than real and is, indeed, not an accurate portrayal of the history of strong opposition organization in the political history of Nigeria.

On the other hand, the other big and strong party, which was the opposition party, was UPGA. This was an amalgamation of The National Council Of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), the Action Group, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC).In the late 1960s, two major parties, UPGA and NNA, emerged through the amalgamation of political parties with similar political and ideological tendencies and partly skewed towards the sectionalist arrangements of the period. These were the NNA, formed by the amalgamation of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and the South West based Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), led by the Premier Chief S.L. Akintola.

In the Second Republic, although the NPN was the ascendant party, the UPN was a formidable opposition party but was hobbled by its narrow sectional base.

The Third Republic featured the SDP and the NRC as two national formidable political parties. I was honored to serve as the pioneer Chairman of the NRC. I have always desired a balanced polity in which the opposition is strong enough to be an alternative platform ready to assume the role of government.

This would assure effective checks and balance in the polity. My experience in the days of the SDP and NRC gave me remarkable insight into this option. I eagerly pursued, with some dedicated colleagues, the creation of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The entry of the APC into the nation’s political firmament was received across the nation and beyond with great joy and happiness. We proclaimed a new party with a clarion call of CHANGE as we strongly believed that we had created a party that would pursue democratic principles with an emphatic culture of internal party democracy.

I thought we had finally broken loose the shackles of tribal, regional and religious politics unlike the NNA of 1960s that was founded on the premise of securing national electoral power through a coalition of fundamentally ethnic-based parties involving the intrinsically “North for northerners”, Hausa-dominated NPC and the essentially schismatic Yoruba party, the NNDP. That assumption which seemed feasible under the regionalist Independence Constitution was that this sectionalist alliance as a formidable political party would win federal power.

Those who hijacked the APC dwelt on that erroneous assumption based on the archaic 1960 theory that a Yoruba South West and a Hausa-Fulani North West Nigeria alliance will produce electoral victory. The APC democratic credentials were put to test in its very first convention  where the self-styled “leader of the party” successfully plotted and executed the installation of cronies as the party’s National Executive. In a desperate effort to build a team that was solely designed to unseat President Goodluck Jonathan, PDP break away governors were  recruited.

It should be noted, as it is already evident, that the assumption of automatic and unanimous votes from the two zones, the North West and South West, for the APC is not realizable. Today, the hold of the APC over the South West has been dented in states such as Ekiti and Ondo; its hold has crashed in Ogun State – due to the soaring profile of the SDP and PDP in that state; in Oyo   – due to the PDP and ACCORD, while in Lagos, a major break through has been secured by the PDP, not only because of the very diverse electorate, the charismatic PDP governorship candidate – Jimi Agbaje, but the total rejection of the Lion of Bourdillon.

President Jonathan has an airtight support in the South-South and South-East where Buhari would not secure the mandatory 25%. President Jonathan will secure more than 60% of the votes in the North Central and not lass than 50% in the North East and North West. His return as President of Nigeria for a second term is assured.

OPINIONS ARE DIVIDED ON THE REASONS OF SECURITY ADDUCED FOR SHIFTING THE POLLS FOR WHICH GOV’T IS BEING BLAMED WHEREAS MANY BELIEVE INEC WAS NOT READY. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

While various opinions being peddled around speculating on the rationale for shifting of the polls, the compelling facts that eventually rendered February 14 unsuitable were quite simply the obvious security situation, and INEC’s unpreparedness.  Both these reasons were plainly valid.

The security situation in the north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe was such that if elections had been held, large numbers of Nigerians would have been disenfranchised. In this context, which ever party lost could use the fact of low voter participation to generate interminable post-election crisis that the country does not need. Conducting the elections in those States with swathes of territories still disrupted by Boko Haram would have been a very daring undertaking and definitely not in the interest of election personnel.

Therefore the decision to shift the election dates and vigorously address security has achieved two objectives. First was to demonstrate President Jonathan’s determination to enfranchise voters wherever they may be located. This is significant because some of these areas are assumed to be opposition zones. Secondly, the decisive, speedy and stunning victories of the Nigerian forces have resulted in the liberation of virtually all of the north eastern territories previously under Boko Haram. This liberated condition automatically provides the opportunity for the voters in these areas to exercise their franchise that would not have been possible if the elections had been held in February.

With regards to INEC, I found it very strange that the Chairman of INEC, Professor Attahiru Jega, failed to disclose to the public the actual reason he postponed the elections. In his presentation to the Council of State a few days before he made the postponement announcement, he had admitted that a number of critical elements for free, fair and credible elections were not yet in place. As at the 7th of February, the date of his world press conference, of the 68.8 million Nigerians registered to vote, only 45.8 million had collected their Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs).

This meant that a total of 23 million (33.8%) registered voters had not yet collected their PVCs. It was obvious that it was not logistically possible for INEC to complete the distribution of the said 23 million cards in the one week left before the elections. If INEC had proceeded with elections on the 14th of February, 23 million registered voters would have been disenfranchised.

The skewed distribution of cards affected states that were not necessarily PDP states.

The issue of card readers, which INEC proposed to use, is a new device based on a new technology that had never been demonstrated or tested in situ in any Nigerian locality or previous elections. The first tests only recently carried out three weeks after the 14th of February recorded massive failure. For some unknown reasons, Jega is determined to throw Nigeria into unprecedented confusion with this ill designed contraption otherwise referred to as card readers on the 28th of March…

HOW DO YOU SEE THE PRESIDENTIAL POLL PLAYING OUT BETWEEN JONATHAN AND BUHARI BASED ON YOUR PERCEPTION OF THEIR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES. THE PLATFORMS BOTH ARE CONTESTING ON ARE STRONG. BEYOND THAT, JONATHAN HAS THE POWER OF INCUMBENCY. BUT BUHARI IS ALSO POSITIONED AS THE RARE ANTI-CORRUPTION CRUSADER WE NEED.

I would say that earlier on my belief that President Jonathan has a good strong chance of winning the election derived from perception. I am now firmly convinced that, in fact, he will win the election resoundingly. This is based on the strength of rousing public awareness that woke to his spectacular accomplishments under his Transformation Agenda covering several strategic spheres including education, agriculture, aviation, roads and railway, industry such as motor car manufacturing, power and the economy.

He as President is leader of a broad based party which is not owned by any individual but a party that is well rooted across the entire nation with more than 70% of the local councilors being PDP members. Jonathan, educated to PhD level, is of the prevailing generation and in sync with the new Nigeria.

General Muhamadu Buhari, contesting the presidency for the fourth time, was in office as Head of State some 32 years ago when he  dethroned the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari.He is remembered as the ruthless military leader who seized power and would not entertain anyone discuss any plan to return the country to civil democratic rule. Politicians remember him, how aggressively he hunted down key politicians across the length and breadth of the country.

This hunt was selective as he manipulated the escape of selected tribal friends. He was the author of the infamous Decree 2, an instrument used to muzzle the press. Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, among others were imprisoned. Death sentences were recklessly passed on civilians through the instrumentality of a hurriedly enacted decree back dated! Plea for mercy from inside and outside Nigeria on some of the condemned civilians, including a woman, was ignored. He ordered the selective trial of politicians for alleged corruption and jailed those from a part of the country to ridiculous terms of hundreds of years each.

Buhari has failed to make the presidency three times. After the 2011 elections, he wept publicly and announced that he was not going to present himself again in contest for the presidency. It is true that over the past 16 years, he has managed to acquire a good crowd of die hard followers from a number of his homeland constituencies.

Political contractors from southern Nigeria, particularly from a South West state, cashing in on the North-South political rivalry, the religious issue and the insecurity in north eastern Nigeria, have virtually recruited the general and persuaded him to recant on his 2011 proclamation not to contest again. These political contractors see Buhari’s candidature as the convenient route for them to grab Nigeria.

Those parading Buhari, singing a song of CHANGE, have now been challenged by many to define the change they are really talking about and whether they are talking of moving Nigeria from the digital age of today back to the analog age of 1983. The media is now awash with the Transformation projects executed by President Jonathan and many are arguing that those successful projects are indeed the change that you can see.

The GMB handlers, who advised the general to steer clear of an open debate with Jonathan, have tried hard to formulate a platform for their man creating a false image of him as an anti-corruption man. This is pure balderdash!! My first assignment as adviser to government in 1994/95 was to prepare the memo on which basis the PTF – Petroleum Trust Fund-was created. As Chairman of this juicy portfolio over which the general enjoyed unfettered control, the PTF was funded with a total of around 180 billion Naira between 1994 and 1999.

The general failed to curb stinking corruption in the organization but authorized more than 70% of the funds to be spent in his own part of the country. An Interim Management Committee, headed by his own kinsman, Haroun Adamu, discovered that over 25 billion Naira was stolen under GMB watch in PTF. I suppose this fact is recorded in the OBJ watch since he set up the Haroun Adamu Interim Chairmanship. GMB cannot claim to be an example of anti-corruption.

As Federal Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, it was discovered that $2.8 billion of Nigeria’s oil money was withdrawn from the Midland Bank London and the funds lodged into an account in a bank where it generated interest amounting then to over 400 million pounds which vanished into private pockets.

The entire anti-corruption and integrity campaign has collapsed and the final nail on the coffin of that campaign was the airing of The LionOf Bourdillon.  As for the issue of security as it pertains to the menace of Boko Haram ravaging the North East, it is now also clear who really were supporters of the Muslim fundamentalist attacks on Nigeria but mischievously turned around to blame President Jonathan. President Jonathan was left to equip a military, army, air force and navy, over night. He has done a yeoman’s job that during the last four weeks the insurgents have been virtually cleared from Nigerian soil.

The overwhelming opinion across the country at this time has swung in favor of President Jonathan and it is obvious that the overall peace and stability of Nigeria will be guaranteed by his election.

DO YOU REGRET LEAVING THE APC, WHICH HAS, TODAY, BECOME THE MOST FORMIDABLE OPPOSITION EVER TO THE RULING PDP?

It was an experience of great joy and satisfaction for me to host and lead the process that gave birth in February 2013, at my Abuja residence, to the All Progressive Congress (APC) with the successful unification of the major opposition parties – ACN, ANPP, CPC and a part of APGA.

Several failed attempts had been made by various people since 1999, to strengthen the opposition by uniting a number of the opposition parties. This had not been successful for a number of reasons prominent among which was always personal interest and ambition. Consequently, most well known leaders, particularly in the ranks of the former ACN, never thought it would be possible to achieve the unification. As soon as it became apparent that we would succeed, a number of them, notably the current self proclaimed leader of the party moved in to seize control of the party and has since employed every means to retain his hold.

It became clear to me that an agenda was brewing as the main objective of the new party. This included a move to install General Muhamadu Buhari as President with Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Vice President notwithstanding the facts that both men are Muslims with credentials I do not agree with. Most of my colleagues in the top leadership of the party also became aware of this trend. They merely grumbled about it but seemed not able to muster the courage to openly fight against it.

The first National Convention was an abysmal failure. The event was a mere charade at which a cabal succeeded in installing a group of cronies as the party National Executive. Core leaders of the legacy parties found themselves trapped in this arrangement, which turned out to be the construction of a framework dedicated to just one objective, which was to bring down President Goodluck Jonathan and install Buhari and Tinubu.

Notwithstanding Tinubu’s failure to make the ticket recently for this election, I am convinced that Professor Osinbajo has only been brought in as a stepping-stone and much has been spoken about this already. I observed the negotiations between ACN and CPC in 2011 at which Tinubu insisted that Pastor Bakare, who was already picked as running mate to Buhari by CPC, should provide an undated letter of resignation as Vice President. The pastor refused and so the negotiations broke down.

My quest for an alternative political platform in the country was not motivated towards fulfilling any personal ambition to contest for executive power but I hold firmly that it is in the best interest of our country to have a credible structure of two strong political parties that would guarantee the necessary checks and balances in the system. Notwithstanding the negative trends exhibited by the APC at this time, I believe a robust political contest has, at last, arrived. But this is not the time to cede government to a desperate upstart commanding a vengeful army of flatterers all with a mission of stampeding an illusory enemy.

In conclusion, I have no regrets at all leaving the APC as I have always viewed a political party as a congregation of like-minded persons who become welded together in a close-knit brotherhood in a manner beyond mere friendship. I find the APC now a collection of strange bedfellows of very ambitious people of diverse interests all constantly plotting against each other.

Source: Vanguard

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