AN 2023 AGENDA FOR SOUTHERN NIGERIA

By Bola Bolawole

There is a saying that he who rides the tiger must not disembark. The moment he does, he ends up in the tiger’s belly! Many have interpreted this to mean that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the one riding the tiger which, in this case, is the North. Therefore, he is the one who dares not disembark or else, he ends up in the tiger’s tummy. The North, ruthless and Machiavellian as ever, will devour Tinubu once he disagrees and attempts to part ways. In fact, as the narrative goes, the North is already digging pits around the Jagaban Borgu! What with the dissolution of the APC NWC said to be under Tinubu’s belt? What also with the latest but surprising exhumation of the Bullion-vans-at-boudillon saga, with orchestrated protests and calls for Tinubu’s trial?

I want to stand this on its head and see the North as the one that rode the tiger first in 2015 and then again in 2019 and who, from reports yet to be confirmed, now wants to disembark in 2023. I think Bola Tinubu is a tiger; in fact, the tiger that the North rode to power in 2015 and 2019. I think without him Buhari and the most conservative and reactionary section of the Northern Establishment, bereft of ideas but full of gluttony, would not have come into power. President Goodluck Jonathan would have been re-elected in 2015 had Tinubu supported him and Atiku Abubakar would have trounced Buhari in 2019 had Tinubu supported Atiku.

If Buhari/APC disembarks from the back of the tiger called Tinubu in 2023 and still wants to keep the presidency, it will be interesting to see what happens if Tinubu withdraws his support from the North and proves the tiger that this proposition supposes that he is. Tinubu should know that the debate is raging out there whether he (Tinubu) is the tiger or the North is the tiger. Who devours who: Is it the North that will devour Tinubu or it is Tinubu that will devour the North? Like Jimmy Cliff crooned, everybody wants to know! Tinubu must not chicken out of the fight; he must not abandon the battlefield. Let him withdraw support from the North if the North disembarks from the back of his tiger in 2023 and let us see the outcome. Does that make any sense?

It was in December last year in Yola, Adamawa State that I first mulled an idea. I had been invited by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation to its 2019 FICAN workshop as discussant and chairperson of one of its sessions. The theme was the “Nigerian Financial System Stability: Tackling Emerging Issues”. Since the NDIC began the series in 2002, it has missed only one edition. The Yola session was an eye-opener. The venue, the American University of Nigeria (AUN) Hotel Conference Centre Spa was delectable. Did someone say it and the university belong to ex-VP Atiku Abubakar? One of the paper presenters confirmed what everyone appears to know: The middle class, once vibrant, has, to all intents and purposes, been wiped out in Nigeria. Today, it is either you are rich or you are poor. That is greatly responsible for why the country, today, is the poverty capital of the world. The impression that poverty resides only in the North is, however, false. Poverty resides also in the South while there are oases of affluence in the North, even better than you can find anywhere in the South. Northern elites who have cornered resources and are stinking rich, are the envy of their Southern counterparts. When you have travelled in the North, you also cannot but marvel at the rate of infrastructural development that many areas there showcase.

Rents (as in all rentier states, according to Dan Nabudere and other Marxist scholars) or oil receipts, we all know, account for over 80 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. The service sector accounts for much of the rest. Agriculture and manufacturing are not only marginalized but have continued to regress. The NDIC workshop posited that non-oil receipts must do far more if the often-touted diversification of the economy must become a reality. There is a snag, though: Government Treasury Bills have crowded out borrowers, which include manufacturers and farmers; and, starved of funds, there is no way these sectors can be vibrant and well. Yet, they should be the prime movers of an economy that should create the quantum of jobs needed for the country’s teeming army of unemployed youths. Over exposure to the oil market is another factor that will not allow the banks to lend optimally to agriculture and the manufacturing sector. If anything adverse happens to oil, our big banks, said one presenter, will be in deep trouble.

Five big banks were said to carry 80 percent of the loan shares, estimated in their trillions of Naira. The same five big banks control 80 percent of the market share in a near monopoly, which is why tax-payers’ money is rushed to bail them out each time they run into trouble because the reverberating effect of their collapse will shake the entire system to its very foundation. Statistics put the deposit base of the banks at 21 Trillion Naira: Out of this, 97 percent of Nigerians own Three Billion Naira while three percent of Nigerians own N18 Trillion Naira. This is a clear demonstration of Jimmy Cliff’s “too little people have everything while too many people have nothing”! There is the need, then, to remake the world as the Jamaican reggae artiste suggested. When and how remains the issue. As Karl Marx said, philosophers, writers and agitators from ages past have interpreted the world. The point, now, is to change it.

Taking a break from one of the NDIC workshop sessions in Yola, I trekked to use a nearby ATM, giving thought, as I did, to what we need to do to change our own world, which is Nigeria. The task before the South towards 2023 is straightforward enough – but will the politicians see it that way? By 2023, power would have been in the North for eight straight years during which Buhari, true to his words, have made a distinction between those who gave him 97 percent of the vote and those who gave him 5 percent in terms of appointments and allocation of resources all over the country. To get its priorities right, the South must ask itself germane questions. One is, should our priority be that power return to the South, since it would have been in the North for eight years by 2023? If so, we must not mind where power goes in the South in 2023; provided it goes to the South. We must sacrificially ensure that we make the right choices that will deliver power to the South in 2023. Whatever we need to do; whichever decisions that will deliver the presidency; and whoever is the best candidate who can ensure that this goal is achieved should be rallied round by the entire South. In other words, the South must put its best foot forward. Tribe and religion must be relegated to the background if our priority is for the presidency to go to the South. Personal interests must be subsumed to the regional interest of having the presidency in the South in 2023.

Two: Since a Moslem would have been eight years in the saddle by 2023, should our priority be that the next president be Christian? That being the case, we should not care where the person comes from, provided he is a Christian that we can all vouch for; not the apologetic and genuflecting “Christians” flapping their wings in the corridors of power but irrelevant to themselves and the needs of Christendom as well as irreverent to God Himself. In other words, that person can even come from the North, provided he or she is the type of Christian that we need.

Three: Should we insist that the next president be both Christian and Southerner since a Moslem and a Northerner would have been in the saddle for eight years by 2023? Again, I considered: Shall we narrow it down further still and try and pin-point where the president should come from in the South? Should it be from the South-East, South-south or South-west? And if a Christian, should we also decide where the Christian should come from in the North or in the South?

I discovered that the more I narrowed it down to specifics, the more difficult it became! I suspect this as one of the hurdles that the South may have to scale to have the presidency in 2023.

Again I considered: Can we work towards a three-horse race – North, East and West – in 2023, instead of the North versus South face-off that often lends itself to easy manipulation and rigging? Can we work towards having a re-run where the first two go head-to-head and the one that drops out becomes the beautiful bride? Should that beautiful bride be from the South, he should remember our starting point: That the presidency MUST come to the South; and should it be from the North, then, head or tail, we win!

Just thinking aloud!

*Bola Bolawole*

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