Northern elders on Wednesday spoke on the 2023 elections, alleging that the South is using the agitation for restructuring to bargain for the zoning of the presidency.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF), led by Prof. Ango Abdullahi, said Southern leaders are threatening the North with the restructuring crusade to achiever the objective.
Abdullahi, former Presidential Adviser on Agriculture, said the approach by the South can destroy the merit of restructuring and put the country in danger.
He said: “Using restructuring as a threat or bargaining tool for accepting zoning will destroy the imperatives of restructuring and imperil the country.”
Also, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) complained that the South is provoking the North by what it described as attacks on Northerners in the three Southern regions.
Describing the North as the fabric holding the nation together, ACF Deputy Chairman Senator Ibrahim Ida said the North should not be taken for granted.
Peeping into 2023, NEF said Northerners will not vote on ethnic-religious lines.
According to the group, secession threats in some parts of the country should be seriously addressed by the Federal Government to keep Nigeria one entity.
A former House of Representatives Speaker, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, alleged that a former president from the South had an agenda to destroy the North in 1999.
Prof. Abdullahi, Senator Ida and Na’abba spoke on the challenges confronting the North at the Northern Summit held at Arewa House Kaduna.
The theme of the summit was: “Barriers between the people and their leader”.
Ida called for unity, cohesion, and consensus building in the North to survive the challenges. He said: ”We are the fabric holding Nigeria together. We are being provoked by the incessant attacks on Northerners in the South. We must therefore ensure at the end that nobody takes us for granted or underestimate us. Let us change the template, portray our interest in the way we want it.”
Ida added: “The North is at crossroad. We really need internal cohesion through elite consensus of what the North stands for, the resources available and what we want to achieve.
“We have enemies within and we need to turn them around and make then see things our own way. There is absence of inclusion in the way we run our affairs.”
Na’abba said in the last 60 years, the system has worked for Northerners, adding: “Lots of people are eligible to contest, but not suitable to lead. Leadership is not for everybody, its not an all comers affair, leaders must posses so many virtues”.
He stressed: “In 1999 when I realised that there was an agenda against the North, I did everything possible to ensure it doesn’t succeed but its among our governors that I met one of the stiffest oppositions. Some of them because they want to come back, some because they want to become president, worked with the president who want to destroy the North.”
According to NEF, the decision of Northerners to toe a different voting pattern was because they had learnt the hard way.
Abdullahi, who also spoke at the summit, said Northern aspirants should not expect automatic votes because they are from the region.
He said: ”No Northerner should assume that he is guaranteed the support of our people simply because he is one of us. Only politicians who have socio-economic development plans for Northerners irrespective of tribe and religion” would have North’s votes.
Abdullahi said the North has resolved to ”think out of the box and elect a new set of leaders who will do a lot better than the current ones.”.
His words: “Northern voters have supported three Southerners- (MKO) Abiola, (Olusegun) Obasanjo, and (Goodluck) Jonathan to victory in the past, two of them against Northerners. Northern voters are enlightened and conscious of their responsibilities. They have learnt, perhaps at greater cost than most Nigerians, that ethnicity and faith alone do not make good leaders. They will not accept to be further weakened so that they abandon the same rights all Nigerians enjoy.
“Those politicians who want Northerners to vote in a particular manner should soil their boots and convince Northerners how their candidates will improve security, economy and society in the North and the country.
“Politicians who cannot impose their influence on irredentist that threaten our corporate existence and the lives and livelihoods of our fellow Northerners stand on very thin ground in our estimation.
“Politicians who want the support and the vote of the Northerner, but will not raise their voices and act to protect them against underserved treatment in areas where they have power and influence, should not expect to find our people with open arms when they ask for support.
“By the same token, no Northerner should assume that he is guaranteed the support and votes of Northerners simply because he is one of us. Our experiences have taught us the values of critical scrutiny of records, dispositions and empathy.
“It is not acceptable that innocent Northerners should be made pawns in political games because political elite cannot win support of their people without yielding grounds to thugs and political minions to intimidate Northerners.
“It is not acceptable that any Northerner should protect criminal Fulani, whether he operates in the North or South, and it is equally unacceptable that Fulanis who are not involved in criminal activities should be profiled, demonized, murdered or expelled from communities.
“It is not acceptable that the state should tolerate growing irredentism which holds communities’ hostage and threaten national security.
”The North wants peace, security and economic progress. We believe that it is possible to achieve these in a strong, united Nigeria. We do not need to apologise to any group for this, and we will express another opinion if that is what is best for the North.
“The North has paid a huge price for the survival and unity of Nigeria, and will continue to support this survival and unity to the degree that it serves everyone’s interests. We are naturally worried over alarming rhetorics suggesting serious elite polarisation and failure of the state to address basic elements that guarantee our co-existence.
“The North has its issues with Nigeria, but we believe they will be best addressed by Nigerians agreeing to collaborate and find solutions to them, as well as those of other regions.”
“We must think out of the box and elect new sets of leaders who will do a lot better than the current ones”.
Abdullahi also advised those agitating for secession to have rethink, saying that secession is not a solution to any grievance.
He said: “Groups that threaten to walk out of this union should read our history again. “We have all contributed to the development of every inch of Nigeria, and no group should contemplate ceding with our commonwealth. We do not see secession as a solution for any grievance, and we strongly advise our national leadership to take these threats with all the seriousness they deserve.
”Virtually all communities and aggrieved parties in Nigeria point to the absence of justice in the manner they relate with each other or the Nigerian state.
“No country can survive with injustice. If ours will overcome its challenges and grow to meet the yearnings of future generations, it has to rediscover the place of justice as the foundation of all our systems and relations.” (The Nation)