“Atiku as consensus candidate of the North. Jonathan is going into the battle of his life. If he wins, he’ll demystify the North PERMANENTLY. If he loses, he’ll be crippled PERMANENTLY, politically”- A text message.
The famous Chinese curse is very apt in a moment like this; it simply says “May you live in interesting times”! And who can deny that these are very interesting times in Nigeria? We are on the verge of one of the most titanic political battles in our history. I have chosen today’s title from a re-working of the text I received on Monday night, after the Northern political establishment announced Atiku Abubakar, as their consensus candidate. Stripped of subterfuge, it means that the Northern wing of the PDP has chosen Atiku to do battle with Jonathan Goodluck, for candidacy of the PDP in 2011. It is zoning versus its undertakers; and a lot more besides!
My initial impression was that Atiku was chosen, because the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) deliberately decided that their interest is best served by going for a consummate politician who is also a dogged fighter. And against the backdrop of the approaching battle, Atiku Abubakar fits the bill. The fight for the PDP ticket will be as bloody as any political contestation for hegemonic control, can ever be. In choosing Atiku, the NPLF, went for broke, because not only will they be confronting Jonathan Goodluck, they are in the theatre of war, against a long list of political foes, headed by the old despot, Obasanjo, who tore into shreds the PDP policy of zoning and effectively declared a war on the North, and all it stands for. The Jonathan group has played a stealthy game of manipulating the ethno-religious fault lines as a central element of their campaign strategy and in the weeks ahead that will come into even bolder relief, as the battle heats up.
Jonathan’s team deceived themselves when Ima Niboro said they were “excited by Atiku’s selection, because this decision has made the coast even clearer for President Jonathan”. That is an over-effusive outburst of a spokesman, without a grasp of the rough and tumble of politics. In Atiku, they will face a most formidable fighter, as he showed in the many battles against Jonathan’s mentor, Olusegun Obasanjo. Jonathan will soon discover that most of those collecting money are only cutting a piece of the lucrative cake but are not really in support of Goodluck. For the first time in his political life, the president chose to battle against the backdrop of bitterness trailing his flouting of PDP’s zoning policy. It is instructive that Jonathan has reportedly exhumed a political corpse, Tony Anenih, to help breathe life into a flagging campaign. But nobody should under-rate the power of incumbency too, because Jonathan has unlimited access to our funds and controls the security forces!
Similarly, Atiku Abubakar now has to prove his métier as a fighter with staying power. He has become the fulcrum of the Northern ambition to win power in 2011; that other aspirants gracefully endorsed him became a major victory for the consensus-building tradition of the North. In the weeks ahead, he must keep everybody in line, and still believing his candidacy can rally the North and do Nigeria good. Atiku nevertheless carries many baggages. He won a lot of sympathy in his battles against Obasanjo, but lost goodwill, after the infamous “dance of witches” secret meeting at Obasanjo’s house. Many people will still ask whether he can be trusted. So we have a classic battle on our hands: a political light weight president, Jonathan Goodluck, who entered the fray against the conventions of his party. He must win willy-nilly or become politically crippled forever. On the other hand, Atiku must win to reinforce the myth of Northern political adroitness; otherwise, the North becomes demystified forever! It will be a classic battle!