Ango Abdullahi’s assertion that Northerners have enough votes to elect one of their own as Nigeria’s president is false
As the Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria from 1978 to 1986, Professor Ango Abdullahi’s tenure was characterised by a series of controversy which culminated in the brutal murder of some students by policemen he invited into the campus to help quell a riot. Many members of the North’s premier tertiary institution still insist that the ABU riot resulted from the vice-chancellor’s draconian approach in the administration of the higher institution.
But it was the VC’s utterly careless statement that “only six students were gunned down” that eventually snowballed the ABU protests into a national crisis, with National Association of Nigerian Students and Nigeria Labour Congress at the vanguard of the call for the removal the Professor of Agriculture in the famous ‘Ango must go’ protest marches across the country in 1986. But it seems the former university lecturer and administrator has not lost his penchant for careless talk two decades after that episode.
This much he has displayed since he wormed his way back into national political consciousness and took up the role of chief spokesperson and defender of interests of the northern part of the country as a member of Northern Elders Forum, NEF, about two years ago. Whenever he is not engaged in to-and-fro throwing of brickbats with similar irredentists from across the Niger, like Chief Edwin Clark, or former militant leader, Asari Dokubo, on issues like resource control or over which region will benefit more from a break-up of Nigeria, you are sure to find him at a press conference postulating on how the North will ensure that President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenancy in Aso Rock presidential villa would not be a day longer than 29 May 2015.
Abdullahi recently addressed a press conference where he reiterated the determination of people in the northern part of Nigeria to stop President Jonathan from returning to Aso Rock in the 2015 general elections.
Also present at the press briefing were three other groups with similar objective of defending the interest of northern Nigeria, including the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF. Speaking in the most possible condescending manner, the NEF chieftain told journalists how the North ‘gratuitously’ ceded the presidency to the South from 1999 to 2007 in the first instance and, following the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, from May 2010 till date.
This, the former presidential adviser said, was to give the South a sense of “belonging”, while emphasising that persons from other parts of the country have been allowed to assume the presidency only at the pleasure of the people northern Nigeria. “The fact that we don’t come out in shouting match and in abusive language and so on sometimes gives the wrong impression that we do not have deep-rooted concern for ourselves about 2015. This is not true. The South-South is a tiny enclave of a few people, perhaps not bigger than Kaduna State,” Abdullahi said while rubbing in the fact that the geographical zone the incumbent President hails from lacks enough voting power to ensure his return to power in 2015.
He, therefore, said either through recourse to the controversial zoning policy of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, by which the presidency should have returned to the North in 2011 or by its sheer voting power, the North would upstage the South in the race to Aso Rock in 2015. And when that happens, the North can decide to ensure to make one of their own a perpetual landlord of the presidential villa. In his opinion, the North holds the yam and the knife when it comes to decision on who occupies the number one position in Nigeria: “The North, on the basis of one-man-one-vote, can keep power indefinitely in the present Nigeria state. If it is on the basis of one-man-one-vote, the demography shows that the North can keep power as long as it wants because it will always win elections.”
The Professor of Agriculture is wrong on many fronts. For one, to win the Nigeria presidency, Section 134 of the Nigeria Constitution stipulates that a candidate must not only have the majority of votes cast at the election, he or she must also have not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
This implies that 25 per cent of voters in at least 24 out of 36 states in the country and the FCT must have voted for the candidate. Northern Nigeria currently consists of 19 states – Adamawa, Jigawa, Kogi, Sokoto, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kwara, Taraba, Benue, Kano, Nasarawa, Yobe, Borno, Katsina, Niger, Zamfara, Gombe, Kebbi, and Plateau. President Jonathan was declared winner of the 2011 Presidential poll after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was satisfied that he met this requirement by scoring 25 per cent of the votes cast in about 30 states of the federation.
As it is, the constitution has ensured that no region can install one of its own as Nigeria’s president without the support of the other regions. Therefore, assuming that the former VC’s claim that every northerner in the 19 northern states will vote for a northern candidate in the 2011 elections comes true, such a candidate will no doubt also need to score 25 per cent of votes in at least five states in the southern part of the country before he/she can be allowed to assume the presidency. So, Ango’s assertions that, “If it is on the basis of one-man-one-vote, the demography shows that the North can keep power as long as it wants because it will always win elections,” is not only not hollow, not well thought-out, but patently false.
But also implied in the professor’s assertion is the claim that voters in the northern part of the country have always voted for the same candidate on the basis of the fact that the region is one monolithic entity. Contrary to what Abdullahi and his ilk will want Nigerians who are not from their part of the country to believe, the fact is that the North is populated by people of diverse ethnic, religious and political outlook. For example, while Christians are clearly in the majority in northern states like Plateau, Benue and Taraba, states like Kogi, Bauchi Adamawa, Nasarawa, Gombe, Yobe, Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna also have very heavy Christian populations.
In the same vein, it is also debatable if the Hausa-Fulani are in majority in states like Nasarawa, Niger, Adamawa, and Borno. Jonathan Asake, National Youth Leader, Middle Belt Forum and a former member of the House of Representatives, in an interview with this magazine, posited that the Kanuri are the majority in Borno and Yobe while the Hausa-Fulani only make up 49 per cent of the population of Kaduna and 45 per cent of Gombe. “The main areas of strength of the Hausa-Fulani are: Sokoto, Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Jigawa, Bauchi and part of Gombe and Kaduna states,” Asake told this magazine.
Rather than sheepishly following the dominant Muslim Hausa-Fulani, as Abdullahi would have us believe, the fact is that northern religious and ethnic minorities have, even before Nigeria’s independence, always tried to assert their cultural and political independence.
Just before Nigeria’s independence for instance, minorities in the northern part of the country formed the United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC, to create a political platform for the various ethnic groups in today’s North Central, covering parts of present day Benue, Kogi, Plateau, Nasarawa, Adamawa and Kwara states. Under the leadership of the late Joseph Tarka, the party formed an alliance with the Action Group, the dominant party in the then Western Nigeria, to contest the pre-independence election of 1959 and the subsequent election of 1963, to the discomfiture of Hausa-Fulani, Muslim-dominated Northern People’s Congress, NPC.
The party became the leading opposition and voice of the minorities in the Northern Nigeria Assembly which was dominated by NPC. The alliance with the AG later resulted into the emergence of Tarka as a vice-president within the AG and his appointment as shadow minister in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, following the victory of the UMBC/AG alliance in the Middle Belt region in the 1959 federal elections. Therefore, rather than every northerner voting for a northern candidate as implied by Abdullahi, it was NPC alliance with southern Nigeria-based parties (like the Harold Dappa Biriye-led Niger Delta Congress, NDC, and later, National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons before independence and after the federal elections of 1964) that produced Tafawa Balawa as Nigeria’s first Prime Minister and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as the Governor-General and later, as the President, following the adoption of Republican Constitution in 1963.
The scenario was not different in the Second Republic during which the National Party of Nigeria, regarded as the offshoot of the NPC, won in Sokoto, Benue, Kwara, Niger and Bauchi.
NPC shared the northern states with the defunct People’s Redemption, Party, PRP, which won Kaduna and Kano; the Nigeria Peoples’ Party, which won Plateau and the Great Nigeria People’s Party, which was victorious in Borno and Gongola states. In the 1979 presidential election, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the candidate of NPN, also largely won with votes from other regions outside of the North. According to the results announced on 16 August 1979 by the Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, Shehu Shagari scored 5,688,857 votes nationwide whilst Obafemi Awolowo had 4,916,651 votes.
The difference between the two candidates was less than 800,000 votes and voters in the then Rivers and Cross River states which make up the South-South, now being derided by Abdullahi, could as well claim to have made Shagari the president then. In their analysis of the 1979 election, Yusuf Bala Usman and Alkasum Abba noted that the NPN presidential candidate obtained 3,336,600 out of the total of 5,688,857 votes he used to clinch the presidency from seven states outside of his ethnic origin: “For, the candidate who won the elections, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, did so with the votes of states outside his own Hausa-Fulani home area. In fact, he obtained more percentage votes from some of these states than his home state.”
Shagari’s highest percentage of votes from the states was in this order: Benue 76.38 per cent, Niger 74.88 per cent, Rivers 72.66 per cent, Sokoto 66.58 per cent, Cross River 64.40 per cent, Bauchi 62.48 per cent and Kwara 53.62 per cent. These seven states which are, except Sokoto not Hausa or Fulani, gave him more than 58.9 per cent of the votes he got in the election, noted the two scholars. Just like the NCNC helped in stabilising the Balewa Government, NPP also helped to put the Shagari administration on a sound footing with its alliance with NPN after the election.
Critics have also attributed the inability of General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), former military head of state, to make a headway in the three times he has contested for the presidency to the inability of his political platforms to build a credible alliance across the Niger since he started contesting for the number one position in 2003.
Also, in the run-up to the PDP primaries for the 2011 general election, a group of elders led by Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, under the aegis of Northern Political Leaders Forum, had embarked on a project of choosing a northern consensus candidate to compete against Jonathan, a scheme not different from the ongoing one being championed by Abdullahi. The group eventually chose former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar above three other aspirants – Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Aliyu Gusau (retd), and Bukola Saraki. Curiously, Sarah Jubril, the only female and Christian aspirant from the northern part of the country on the platform of PDP was excluded from the search. Nanso Nanok of Middle Belt Forum had noted then that the exclusion of Jubril, who is from the same state as Saraki and who had bought and submitted her nomination form as required by the PDP guidelines, from the search for consensus candidate by the NPLF “exposed the real agenda of the NPLF, which is to exclude a section of the North on the basis of ethnicity, religion and gender”.
Though the process was tainted by allegations of bribery, it was not a surprise to many that massive voting against Atiku by delegates from the South and North Central states in particular, ensured that the former vice-president flatly lost the ticket to Jonathan, in spite of the consensus arrangement.
In the 2011 presidential election for instance, President Jonathan’s PDP won 22,495,187 of the 39,469,484 total votes cast, a number that far outstripped the votes for Buhari, of the Congress for Progressive Change, the main challenger, who won 12,214,853. Analysts believe that the voting pattern observed during the presidential election was influenced more by religious considerations in the North and ethnic consideration in the southern part of the country than any other factor. Thus, voters across the South, except in Osun State, went to the polls during the presidential election to vote against the Hausa-Fulani candidate, thus giving their ballots to PDP.
Also, the Christian majority in Adamawa, Gombe, Taraba, Plateau, Kogi and Kwara states voted as a bloc in their various states to give Jonathan victory in their areas. On the other hand, the CPC candidate won massively in the predominantly Hausa-Fulani states of Northern Nigeria, though there were also evidence of massive rigging by both candidates in their respective areas of strength.
“In 2003, General Buhari contested with Obasanjo and most of the core North enclaves voted overwhelmingly for Buhari. It is this area of minority enclaves in the North and Middle Belt that gave Obasanjo the victory at those elections. It was the same thing during the election that returned Jonathan as the president. The votes that he (Jonathan) garnered to secure his 25 per cent were those enclaves of the Middle-Belt. In southern Kebbi, Jonathan got over 300,000 votes in those areas such as Zuru and Kanbari areas. If you go to Bauchi, places like Tafawa Balewa, Bogoro and Das local government areas gave him the 25 per cent required,” said Asake.
Continuing discrimination on the basis of religion by authorities in charge of some northern states is also key among reasons northerners, to the disappointment of the former ABU VC and his group, may not speak in one voice politically. In a communiqué it issued at the end of its meeting two years ago, the Middle Belt Dialogue regretted what it described as the flagrant violation of right to religion and worship in states that have adopted Sharia in the North.
The group listed the states to include Sokoto, Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi Kebbi, Zamfara. It noted that the states have millions of indigenous Christians and animists, whose right to their religion, and other civic rights such as the right to gainful employment, are restricted. “Since the introduction of Sharia in 2000 in these states, the teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) in all their public schools has been banned. Also, these states have banned the building of new churches. Each week, a church is demolished for flimsy reasons while huge sums are voted from public purse to build mosques and sponsor Muslims to Hajj,” the group said while urging the federal government to urgently investigate the issues of the violations of the rights of Christians and animists in the Sharia states in the communiqué signed Rima Shawulu Kwewum, its facilitator.
Analysts told this magazine that the division between the predominantly Hausa-Fulani and other tribes who are mostly Christians scattered across the North has even become more aggravated with the killings by Boko Haram, unrelenting attacks of farmers by nomadic herdsmen and the widespread arson, murder, including the killing of electoral officers and 13 National Youth Service Corps’ members that followed the announcement of the results of the 2011 presidential election. In spite of the fact that, as President Jonathan recently noted, the Boko Haram may have killed more Muslims, many Christians across the North continue to regard themselves as the primary victims of the ethnic and religious cleansing campaign of the terrorist group and its other affiliates.
Christian leaders in the North who have gone as far as asserting that the terrorist groups are only acting out a script of northern leaders wasted no time in accusing the President of distorting facts on Boko Haram victims with the claims that there have been more Muslim victims of the terrorist sect. “Everybody, including the international community, knows that Christians and their churches have been the target of the terrorists. The statistics are there for everybody to see how Christians have been massacred by the terrorists,” the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in the 19 northern states and the FCT said in a reaction to the President’s statement.
In the same vein, CAN, at the regional and national levels, has at different times accused key northern Muslim political leaders of giving veiled support to the insurgent group by not condemning its murderous activities and by opposing government moves to crush the sect at every turn. CAN has been virulently opposed to the setting up of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, otherwise called Boko Haram Amnesty Committee, established by the federal government on the recommendation of the Northern Elders Forum, for instance. “All monies that would be squandered on the committee should be put into supporting the Joint Task Force and vulnerable communities in affected states. There can be no amnesty for unrepentant murderers and insurgents without reconciliation with the victims,” said CAN.
Thus, when Gen. Buhari described the declaration of state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states by the federal government and the subsequent military offensive against the Boko Haram Islamic sect in those areas on a radio programme as “a gross injustice against the North”, CAN wasted no time in describing the statement as insensitive to thousands of families who have lost their loved ones to the deadly activities of the insurgent group. It was gathered that the statement of the 2011 CPC presidential candidate was a source of concern to the other partners, especially members of Action Congress of Nigeria, in the emerging All Progressive Congress, APC, coalition.
Buhari is favoured to emerge the candidate of the yet-to-be registered party and many believe that the former military head of state may provide an alternative for the North in case a candidate from the region was unable to obtain the presidential ticket of the PDP. However, with such statements, the Daura-born General is further narrowing his chances and damaging his not-so-bright likeability among the northern Christians. “Who are these people he is defending and what is his connection with them? We want to know. And if he is going to be our president as he wants to, then he has to explain to us his connection with Boko Haram. Let me say this: any party that is taking Buhari as its leader has to explain to us its position on Boko Haram, because this must not continue,” Musa Asake said.
North’s loss will therefore be Jonathan’s gain. Already, the President is enjoying support from states in the South-South, Middle Belt and South-East. Tellingly enough, prominent among Middle Belt leaders who recently visited President Jonathan and asked him to run for a second term were a former military governor of Katsina State, Major-General Lawrence Onoja; Senator Ameh Ebute and Senator John Wash Pam. Onoja and Pam are strong members of the Arewa Consultative Forum and Northern Elders Forum, the two organisations at the forefront of ensuring that power returns to the North. “We will wait and see whether the alliance of minorities, whether in the South-South or in the Middle Belt, when the votes are counted, will be enough to secure victory for the President,” was the reaction of Abudullahi when this was pointed out to him. The fact, however, is that his continuous scaremongering about the 2015 presidential election and the desire of the North to capture power is also a sort of irritation to many Nigerians. “We need to think more, pray more, plan more, work harder, relate better, but talk less. Battles are better fought and won through wisdom and strategy than through inflammable pronouncements and political tantrums,” another northern leader, Theophilius Danjuma, advised recently on the way forward for the North. This is an advice that Ango Abdullahi should take to heart even as he goes about his northern presidency project.