We takes a critical look at the clamour for a consensus presidential candidate in the North in some quarters for the 2019 election
At the height of the struggle for the presidential ticket of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party in 2011, a group of predominantly northern members of the party under the leadership of a former Minister of Finance, Adamu Chiroma, formed the Northern Political Leaders Forum.
The sole purpose of the group was to identify and present a northern consensus candidate to challenge the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.
To demonstrate its seriousness, the group set up a Consensus Committee which it gave the mandate to actualise the objective.
After what the members called wide consultations across the 19 northern states, the Ciroma-led group announced former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its choice.
The secretary to the committee, Alhaji Sabo Ibrahim, who announced the results, said, “Four aspirants namely: Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Aliyu Gusau; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and (the then) Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki, were considered.” The rest is now history.
Against this backdrop, there appears to be renewed calls by some northerners for their kinsmen to either rally round President Muhammadu Buhari or in the alternative, find a candidate it can build a consensus around.
A public affairs commentator, Mallam Ya’u Al-Hassan, said the political situation in 2011 and 2015 differed significantly from what it is today. He argued that irrespective of “the noise” about the performance of the Buhari administration, ordinary northerners had built a consensus around the President.
“When you talk to the ordinary northerner on the street, he or she will tell you that President Buhari for now represents our best foot forward. He is not a president for the North; he is the president for all progressive Nigerians,” he stated.
He, however, admitted that considering current realities, it was near impossible for any geopolitical zone to go it alone by presenting a consensus candidate whose only claim to high office is having the privilege of being born in a particular section of the country.
He Al-Hassan added, “Times have changed. Even in the 1950s and ’60s, when you had conservative parties like the Northern Peoples Congress, you still had the pro-masses cum progressive parties like the NEPU. Candidates are bound to try their luck even when they know they are not popular.”
The convener of the Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen Forum, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said with the current state of affairs, it would be difficult but not impossible, for the North as a political entity to agree on a consensus candidate.
He explained that northerners, like most Nigerians, were capable of building a consensus around a person or persons they believed could improve their existence not necessarily because the person is from the North.
According to him, several attempts by some northerners to promote the idea of a consensus candidate failed in the past and are likely to continue to fail because there is lack of sincerity on the part of those championing such causes.
Junaid stated, “To date, there have been several attempts, starting before Nigeria’s independence to date, to produce a so-called consensus candidate and it has never worked.
“The only realistic one I remember vividly and I say it was realistic because behind it, there were two people of integrity and character. They were the late Mallam Aminu Kano, the late J. S. Tarka and some of the remnants of the old Northern Peoples Congress, who were involved during the First Republic.
“So, when they saw the tragedy that could happen to the country in a free for all military regime, they decided they were going to create one party and that that party would be able to produce a candidate who is moderate, responsible, who has character and integrity and might be presented as a consensus candidate of the North.”
Junaid explained that even at that time, these leaders never said they wanted a northern candidate, but a truly national party to provide a platform for the development of Nigeria.
This, he said, was informed by the experience garnered from the trauma Nigerians suffered during the civil war and the misrule of successive military governments which followed.
Those knowledgeable about Nigerian party politics posit that this formed the basis for the formation of the defunct National Party of Nigeria. The NPN was home to most northern conservatives. The party held sway at the national level from 1979 to1983.
Aminu Kano’s romance with the NPN came to an acrimonious end when he felt the ideals of the party were being eroded by new entrants.
Junaid, who was one of the young Turks in Aminu Kano’s political dynasty, said, “It was the elements of the NPN from the core North that out of greed, stupidity and their personal ambition killed the idea of a truly national party.
“First, they went out of their way to provoke the late Mallam Aminu Kano and everybody knew he was the backbone of the party. He was the one who brought people together from across the country. When they provoked him and quite a number of us felt Aminu Kano’s idea of having a national movement was no more attractive to the majority of the people who came later on, he left and some of us left with him.
“He left behind some of his comrades like J. S. Tarka and the late Chief Solomon Lar. I will describe that as the only honest and sincere attempt at presenting a so-called northern candidate.
“I can’t say it is impossible now because I am not a fortune teller but the chances are much slimmer than they used to be.”
Elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, said the possibility of having a northern consensus candidate for the 2019 presidential election or any other national election going forward would be an “impossible task.”
He told Newsmen, “It’s not possible to have a northern consensus candidate. There are so many reasons. For one, we are operating a multi-party democracy. Even when the late Gen. Sani Abacha was adopted as a consensus candidate of the five parties during his time, you can remember that the late M. D. Yusuf came out to contest against him within the same party.
“In a multi-party democracy, it is difficult particularly with the number of registered political parties totalling about 60 that we have in Nigeria, to get a candidate on consensus.
“Secondly, having a consensus candidate is not democratic. Democracy is about competition. I have never been a party to the search for a northern consensus candidate.”
While explaining the role of the Northern Leaders and Stakeholders Assembly, a group he recently unveiled, he said the group was not set up with an intention “to produce a consensus candidate or even to support a candidate.”
The main purpose of the organisation, he said, was to get the President to confront national issues. He argued that since the return to democracy in 1999, the North, like most parts of Nigeria, was still grappling with the challenges of development.
Yakasai added, “The reason is that we looked at those who have been elected since 1999 to date and we found that except for maybe the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, other administrations came to power without a clear agenda of what they intend to do in office.
“Reports in a section of the media that our group is searching for a northern consensus candidate for 2019 are simply the figment of the imagination of those promoting the idea.”
A businessman and development expert, Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, is of the opinion that the conversation going forward should be about service delivery.
He said, “Though slight progress has been made since the advent of democracy in Nigeria between1999 and 2015, Nigeria, from all intents and purpose, still remains a country classified as ‘underdeveloped’ making the question of an agenda for an all-round national development topical and germane.”
A former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Abdullahi Jalo, puts it succinctly, “You can’t have a northern consensus candidate, not now that morals have degenerated and human beings have become more selfish, while greed has taken over.”
It is now more than ever before difficult to have a northern consensus candidate that power at the centre remains within the region unlike in 2015 when there was a common opponent.