By Prof. Usman Yusuf
It appears as if the seventeen Southern Governors that met in Lagos on July 5th, 2021 as a follow up to their meeting in Asaba on May 11th, 2021 are possessed by some political demons clouding their senses of judgement. How else can any sane person explain this statement in their after-meeting communique? “The Next President of Nigeria MUST come from the South” Or what? I wondered aloud.
The Governors met to discuss the security situation in the country, constitutional amendment and Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), they unanimously agreed that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria must emerge from the South.
They re-emphasized their need for State Police and also resolved that Governors of the seventeen-member states must be informed by federal security agencies before undertaking any operation in their States.
They also set Wednesday, 1st September, 2021 as the date for all seventeen-member states to start the implementation of the anti-open grazing law they enacted.
Their communique in my opinion, is a clear manifestation of political naïveté and ineptitude especially since sixteen (94%) of the seventeen of them, belong to the two major parties. The fact that they are having to resort to empty threats and blackmail outside their party machinery is an indication of their irrelevance in their respective parties.
Nigeria is a constitutional democracy, there is now herein the 1999 constitution as amended where power rotation is mentioned, neither is ethnicity, religion nor place of origin stated as a qualification to contest for the Presidency.
Every eligible citizen has the right to aspire to the highest office of the land and political parties are free to field a candidate from any part of the country. But, the ultimate deciders of the winner are the citizens, not any internal political party arrangement.
On election day, eligible citizens will vote for a candidate of their choice and their votes must be respected.
Northern Nigeria is a region blessed with diverse ethnic, religious and political groups. Kaduna state alone has 53 ethnic groups. There is no state in the region that has only one ethnic or religious group. Contrast that with the SE and SW regions that are essentially ethnically and in the case of the SE, religiously monolithic.
This is the main reason why these two geopolitical zones are always the sources of ethnic agitations, intolerances and threats of secession like the clamour for “Yoruba Nation” and “Oduduwa republic“ in the case of the SW and “Biafra” and “Igbo Presidency” from the SE.
Below is the data of the percentage of eligible voters in each of the six political zones as released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Northwest: 28%, Northeast: 15%, North central: 13%, Southwest: 21%, South south: 13% and Southeast: 10%
There are about six million (6m) more voters in the North than in the South.
Northerners tend to take their civic responsibility of voting more seriously than southerners in spite of the pervasive insecurity in the region.
Northern voters will endure more inconveniences than their southern compatriots. In fact, the voting ratio is, for every Southerner that votes, two Northerners would vote (Ratio of 1:2).
President Muhammadu Buhari could still have won the 2019 election without the SE (2% of his votes) or SS (7% of his votes).
In the SW, Lagos state had six and a half million (6.5m) registered voters but only one million (15%) voted at the 2019 Presidential election.
President Buhari got six hundred thousand votes in Lagos while Katsina, his home state, gave him twice as much (1.2m votes).
The question to ask is, how can the South with 44% of the eligible voters and poor voter turnout get to the Presidency by insulting, blackmailing or threatening the North that has 56% of the eligible voters with high voter turnout?
Why should the majority relinquish power to the minority in any democracy?
Smart politicians or political groups would look at the electoral realities and find ways to build bridges for a pathway to victory instead of these worthless hysterical political pronouncements by the southern Governors.
The mood in the north
There is now a very palpable rage in the North against both the federal and state governments for failing to protect them against the daily mayhem of bandits and Boko Haram. People in the region have no patience for any politician or group of politicians from anywhere in the country telling them you must vote for this group or that in 2023 when they are busy burying their dead.
Northern electorates are independent minded and politically sophisticated not to be dictated to by anyone.
Northerners cannot be intimidated into voting for any candidate against their wish regardless of ethnicity, religion, geographical origin or party affiliation.
Northerners have in the past, without being blackmailed or threatened, voted for three Southern candidates (Abiola, Obasanjo and Jonathan).
To northern governors
I have seen video clips of some Northern Governors advocating for rotation of the Presidency in 2023. At a time when the region is busy burying it’s dead daily, their villagers under siege by bandits and Boko Haram insurgents, hundreds of their school children still in the hands of kidnappers in the forests, no Northern Governor has the moral standing or the goodwill of his people to tell them who to vote for in 2023.
Ban on open grazing
Section IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the fundamental rights of every citizen to freedom of movement, the right to reside in any part of the country, freedom from discrimination based on ethnicity, place of origin, religion, gender or political opinion.
The ban on opening grazing is therefore, unconstitutional, null and void. The Attorney General of the Federation has said as much.
If in the process of implementing this illegal ban, lawful herders and their cattle get killed as has happened most recently in some southern states, Southern Governors will be held responsible for the repercussions that may follow.
To southern governors
Excellencies Sirs, please tone down on the toxic rhetorics and threats and show some responsible leadership. Reach out and build bridges and alliances across our great rivers, sell your ideas to all Nigerians on how you can move this country forward by unifying and securing the nation and growing its economy for the benefit of all.
To all politicians
Insecurity is an existential threat to this country and the year 2023 may just be a mirage if it is not solved. All efforts must be geared towards addressing this challenge instead of scrambling for offices in 2023.
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Usman Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation