Describes zoning as poor, lazy, poisonous politics
Dismisses current political leadership as the worst that has ever governed Nigeria
Says Legislature acting as if waging war against women.
As the north and south continue to bicker over which region of the country produces the successor to incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Hakeem Baba Ahmed has sounded a strong warning that Nigeria would either survive as a nation in 2023 or sink. Ahmed, who engaged nonagenarian Afenifere leader, Pa. Ayo Adebanjo in an altercation on Wednesday night on Channels Television programme, Politics Today, insisted that merit, rather than zoning should inform the choice of the next president. Adebanjo had stuck to his position that with the principle of zoning being practiced, the presidency should not only go to the south, but should go to the southeast which has never produced a president.
The fiery NEF spokesman who also berated the National Assembly over the outcome of constitutional amendments, said Nigeria currently has the worst type of leaders that have ever governed this country, both in the executive arm, and in the legislature, even as he expressed sadness over the rejection of all the five gender-based bills by the lawmakers.
Defending power shift to the south, the Afenifere leader had said “That is the equity, that is the morals, that is the principle, except we are deceiving ourselves. That is the equity; when it comes to the south, it’s the turn of the southeast”. Adebanjo explained that it was “because of the heterogeneity of the country, to keep us together, that that projection comes in to accommodate ourselves as much as possible”.
But asked pointedly if it was the position of the NEF that the presidency should remain in the North after Buhari whereas it should naturally shift to the south, Ahmed said “We don’t think there is a legal basis for it. We think it is poor politics; we think it is lazy politics, and it’s very poisonous. And the poison is what I’m telling you now. It’s not so much the quality of the electoral process now. It is the political environment in which this new amended electoral law has to operate.
“If we bring in the poison from the political process, this one is ours, you can’t do it, you can’t take it, it has to be ours; if we extend this argument, politically, to campaigning, associations and so on, we will substantially cripple the electoral process between now and June. And then when candidates emerge, depending on how it plays out, it could be anyone amongst the parties; some will come from the north, some will come from the south.
“Our position has always been that every Nigerian must be free to contest for the ticket of his party to the degree that a party trusts a northerner, that northerner must be free to campaign everywhere else, and we will welcome every southerner to compete in every part of the country, and there must be no hindrance”.
According to Ahmed, “Just before I came into your studio, I saw professor Jega speak about the 2023 election, and he was saying how vital it is. Let me tell you the truth. It’s not an election; it is a defining moment for this country. We are either going to survive as a country in 2023, or we will sink. And that is how important it is”.
Noting that this is a very testing period in the country, Ahmed cautioned that “rhetorics, conduct, exercises, anything to do with campaigning by aspirants, must be done and concluded, and it must be done in an atmosphere that allows free expression, freedom of association; rhetorics by people who say don’t come and campaign here, we are only interested in southern candidates, or northern candidates, must be discouraged”.
He argued that “No matter how good your law is, if the political process is poisoned, and ours is poisoned, severely poisoned; it’s been poisoned by, I’m sorry to say, socio-cultural groups, which we have also contributed because a huge part of the country is already lining up behind the rhetoric that unless it is southern or northern candidate, we don’t want to see them, we don’t want to support them, we don’t want to have anything to do with them….
“If anybody dares to start putting blocks around the candidates…you can’t come and contest here, we will have a very serious problem. And it is important to alert the nation to this. We need to lower the rhetoric; we need to recognize the fact that presidents have to campaign all over the country, governors have to go wherever they want. Nigerians have to recognize the fact that democracy is preeminently an issue that requires tolerance and accommodation”.
Condemning in strong terms the rejection of all gender-based bills by the lawmakers, Ahmed noted that there were some key clauses that would have added substantially to improving the quality of the constitution, and leadership selection. “One of them, tragically, was the rejection for setting aside some percentage, 35%, of the elective positions for women. Now, for a country like Nigeria, the level of under-representation of women in key positions and decision-making is tragic; it’s really tragic. We’ve reduced women only to, basically, the role of voters. The political system has reduced everybody else, except the people that we elect, as spectators. We are only relevant for the purposes of elections. After that, the people we elect run away with the power and do what they want with it.
“I was particularly saddened by that rejection. Every gender-based amendment was rejected. It was as if you had a legislature that was waging war against women. You have an extremely self-centred set of legislators. There are people who think any concession made to a critical group like women is power they lose. They read themselves into all these amendments rather than the interests of the public. If you don’t widen the scope for leadership selection, if you don’t allow, one way or the other, greater number of young people and women to emerge through the process, how else do you change the quality of leadership that we have?”
Lambasting the present political leadership in the country, Ahmed said “We currently have, quite possibly, collectively, the worst type of leaders that have ever governed this country, both in the executive arm, and in the legislature. I don’t want to say anything about the judiciary. But if you hear what people say about the judiciary, you would know how bad this country is; in what state we are.
“When you listen to elders like Chief Adebanjo who thinks only a revolution, because that is what it amounts to… If he rejects in its entirety a constitutional amendment, and he rejects the constitution as a basis of what the nation stands for, it means obviously, he’s saying the only thing that will satisfy me is a revolution. And who is going to lead that revolution?”
Further upbraiding the federal legislators, Ahmed posited that “When you address issues that represent positive improvements in terms of leadership selection, that is when you see the crass selfishness of the people who are holding power. They look at themselves as the beneficiaries or the losers of any amendment rather than the Nigerian people.
“We are running a democracy that is working for those who wield power rather than the people who put them in place. … The flaw in our constitution is that it designs a democratic system that is actually the hostage of a political process that works only for the led. Our democracy is government of the powerful, for the powerful, by the powerful. Nigerians have very little say. When you look at the whole sections of the constitution that have been passed, you see a mishmash. But what you see basically is a huge amount of collection of interests around the interests of those who currently wield power”.
On the issue of security, Ahmed was exasperated that state governors remain hamstrung when they literally fund security agencies. According to him, “They literally fund the military, the police, the paramilitary agencies, everybody. Now, if they run the security agencies, you have to ask yourself what is the role of federal government in all these? Federal government will tell you they are buying weapons; something is wrong.
“If people are spending all this money – governors – in supporting security infrastructure of this country, shouldn’t they have some responsibility in terms of actually saying this is the way we want our security to be done? Should it be a favour? …People hold them responsible. We need to address federating units the way federating units is properly run, and one of the ways they run is that they must assume some responsibility for their own security”.