Nigeria Matters

The Igbo, Goodluck and the Ides of April 9

In a period of 72 hours up to last weekend, America lost two remarkable women whose career trajectory, though miles apart from each other, nonetheless found a meeting point in the effort they both made to excel in their chosen paths.

On Wednesday, curtain was drawn on the earthly sojourn of 79-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, a woman whose name became, for more than six decades, synonymous with Hollywood. Though the bright side of her glorious career was often overshadowed by crisis in her personal life and series of illnesses, Liz Taylor was one of the greatest stars to emerge from Hollywood.

On Saturday, Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to become vice presidential running mate on a major party platform in America ended her race at 75. She was running mate to Walter Mondale, Democratic Party presidential candidate in the 1984 election, an election that was won by Ronald Reagan, then the incumbent. US President Barrack Obama acknowledged the path-breaking role of Ferraro in his tribute to her on Saturday when he said: “”Geraldine will forever be remembered as a trailblazer who broke down barriers for women, and Americans of all backgrounds and walks of life.”

In a number of respects, Ferraro and the late John Kennedy had much in common. They were minorities of sorts. They both broke down barriers. Ferraro, whose father was an Italian immigrant, was a Catholic, a minority in a largely Anglo Saxon society, just like Kennedy, who became the first and so far the only Catholic to rule America. Their emergence became the catalyst that threw up other minorities like Obama.

Like them, Goodluck Jonathan, who in his own way is blazing a trail, is a minority in Nigeria. The presidential election slated for April 9 is going to redefine a lot of things in Nigerian politics. First, it is going to be the first presidential election in Nigeria’s 50 years as a sovereign state in which a minority is not just a front runner but a favourite to win the election. Jonathan, the incumbent and presidential candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party is from the Niger Delta. In his declaration speech at Eagle Square, Abuja on September 18 last year, he had said he never believed that someone like him, from Otuoke, Bayelsa State, could come this far in Nigerian politics.

When President Umaru Yar’Adua was alive, Jonathan was regularly humiliated as vice president. There were occasions when he would sit in the president’s waiting room for hours patiently waiting to be ushered to see his boss while other members of the kitchen cabinet would be moving in and out of the president’ office. So when Jonathan said he didn’t believe that he would be where he is today, it should be understood as a statement coming from deep down.

When he emerged acting president in February 2010 a time when Yar’Adua was incapacitated in a Saudi Arabian hospital, Jonathan was reminded by Vincent Ogbulafor, then national chairman of PDP that he was ineligible to vie for the 2011 presidential ticket of the party because of the zoning arrangement in the party which meant that the North still had up to 2015 to hold the office of president.

He cleared that hurdle by taking steps that rendered Ogbulafor irrelevant in PDP.

Next was that he would not win the presidential primary election of the party. A group of northern irredentists led by the respected Adamu Ciroma vowed that the zoning arrangement must be maintained. The rest, as they say, is history.

The opposition of the Ciroma group to Jonathan’s ambition should be understood in its historical context. Jonathan is the first presidential front runner whose emergence was not a product of northern endorsement, orchestration or manipulation. For instance in 1999 when the military was to return the country to civil rule, despite the fact that Alex Ekwueme, second republic vice president, had led the G-34 that metamorphosed into PDP and was set to clinch the presidential ticket of the party, the North was more comfortable with Olusegun Obasanjo, who was in prison. He was released, granted state pardon and railroaded into the presidency.

Throughout Nigeria’s history as an independent nation, the core North had held the ace whether it is by way of delaying Nigeria’s independence, clinching the position of prime minister at independence, determining census figures, delineation of federal constituencies, monopolising plum positions in government, pitching the rest of the country against one another in order to dominate, determining who gets what, when and why, etc.

But the 2011 election is the first time the rest of Nigeria and not a northern clique will determine who becomes president. It is not about Jonathan, it still would happen in spite of him, it is an issue of historical inevitability.

With the core North not favourably disposed to Jonathan and the South West firmly in the hands of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Southeast and to a lesser extent, the North Central, will determine the outcome of the April 9 presidential election.

The final figures released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on voter registration, gave the total number of voters to be slightly above 73 million out of which the South East has the least with a little over 16 million registered voters. The North West has the highest number of registered voters with a little over 35 million. That figure is however, deceptive. It is trite knowledge that because of low level of economic prospects in the South East, there are more people outside the South East than in the South East. Investigations have shown that Igbo in the North make up about 40 percent.

It is known that all across Nigeria, the Igbo constitute the single largest ethnic group outside the indigenes of such a place. In Lagos, they make up also about 40 percent of the population.

The Igbo have come out to state their support for Jonathan. The apex Igbo organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo has officially endorsed Jonathan. They don’t have much option anyway. The other candidates have not endeared themselves to the Igbo. Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of CPC chose as running mate, Tunde Bakare, a man who brings no electoral value to the ticket; Nuhu Ribadu of ACN took Fola Adeola, a banker, who will not add much votes to him as running mate while Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP has as running mate John Odigie-Oyegun, who is not much on ground in Edo State, where he was a governor.

With none of the three other candidates not picking their running mate from the South East, it is difficult for any of them to pick meaningful votes from the Igbo.

Also, even though the South West is overwhelmingly ACN, since there won’t be governorship election in Ekiti, Osun, Ondo (which is Labour Party controlled) and Edo State, Jonathan will pick majority votes from these states. Even Lagos, which is ACN controlled is not likely going to pose any challenge for Jonathan. While Babatunde Fashola, the incumbent and ACN candidate, looks good to be returned by wide margin, the residents of the nation’s economic capital will most likely vote for Jonathan.

So far, unless there is any significant change, Jonathan is set to be given a four-year mandate on April 9. Will that be the beginning of history for Nigeria? As opposed to the gloom and doom theories predicted about the country and in spite of the crises and violence that have trailed the campaigns, the outcome of the April 9 presidential election may change Nigeria fundamentally.

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