Ignore the north at your own peril. We can ruminate over and skirt around issues on the repository of political power; make arguments of how the south is Nigeria’s economic bulwark, but the truth is the north holds the ace in the emanation of power. It has been so since the 1950s/60s when Ahmadu Bello’s Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) went into an entente with Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) – an accord which resulted in the emergence of Tafawa Balewa as prime minister, and Azikiwe as ceremonial president.
The 1979 Shehu Shagari and Alex Ekwueme novelty as well as even the presumed victory of MKO Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo’s odyssey from prison to Aso Villa — all had the imprimatur of the north. I believe the divine as configured Nigeria so. While the south wields the economic reins, the north holds the political lever. To me, this is fair as it ensures a balance of power. We have to appreciate our unique strengths and harness them for the progress of Nigeria.
The north is the kingmaker region; hence any clamour for power shift to the south that obviates and threatens the north is injudicious. Governors of the south have at different times demanded a southern transposition in the geography of power in 2023. The demands of the southern region governors unnerved the power proprietors in the north who felt threatened and isolated on an issue that concerns all Nigerians.
Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, responded to the threats by the south with a commination. He said the north would not accept a second-class position and that it could choose to hold on to power for as long as it wanted.
As I said in ‘These reckless comments on 2023 presidency’, when leaders in the south make indecorous statements about power shifting to the region in 2023, naturally it provokes a reaction from the other side. I think matters of this complexion require tact and diplomacy – not threats or counter threats. Even if most people agree that power should orbit to the south in 2023, there is still a need for popular consensus. We all have to work together. Leaders only deepen the sectional fears and widen the chasm by making uncontrolled comments. Where the next president should come from is a collective decision, no region or group should be isolated or made to feel threatened over this.
Personally, I do not think the northern custodians of authority want to retain power in the region beyond 2023. The north is mature in its politics and knows when to let go. Prominent Nigerians from the north like Nasir el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna state, and Babagana Zulum, governor of Borno, have publicly said power should orbit to the south in 2023 for the sake of justice. Other eminent Nigerians from the north have also called for power shift to the south.
So, the speculations and conjectures of the north angling to keep power in the region after the tenure of President Buhari are vacant of materiality. History has shown that if the north wants power it does not dilly-dally about it or engage in a hide-and-seek sport, it goes all out for it — brazenly. However, in the case of the 2023 presidential election, the north clearly has no interest in housing power but perhaps only in ensuring that any emergent leadership does not become a threat to the region.
The south – south-east, south-west and south-south – whichever zone within the region that seeks power at the centre in 2023 will only be chasing a will-o-the-wisp if it discounts the principal ingredient of forging an alliance with the north as well as other groups and building confidence. The south cannot go at it alone. The north remains a dominant character among the dramatis personae of power.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide says it is speaking with northern groups on 2023 Igbo presidency. According to the group, “there are ongoing talks with the northern elders and the Arewa chieftains, especially the youths. We believe that the discussions through sincere engagements will change the northern fears over 2023 Igbo presidency. One of the practical steps to be taken seriously is the engagement of the other sections of the country especially the north. We are building up a new alliance with the north, but definitely, we will achieve this lofty position through building consensus and confidence’’.
I believe this is a sensible approach – rather than stay in an ethnic igloo and retch threats. Building confidence and consensus is necessary on matters of power geopositioning. Other groups in the south should broker talks and forge pacts with other regions.
Power shift to the south in 2023 is a decision the south only cannot make.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a journalist and writer.