The new political reality: the convergence of the north and south west (i)

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The strengthening of the alliance between the political institutions in the north and south-west has been one of the key developments of the 2023 elections. Examining the election results confirms this.

Out of the 8.7 million votes cast for the president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, 5.3 million came from the whole northern region, which includes the geopolitical regions of the north-west, north-east, and north-central.

Similar to the elections of June 12, 1993, in which Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory from the south-west defeated hometown favorite late Bashir Tofa in the north, Tinubu did well enough to defeat Atiku Abubakar, who received 4.8 million votes there, despite not winning as many states as Atiku.

Despite the fact that Tinubu did not win several states in the north outright, his vote total in key states like Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, and Sokoto was still significant enough to give him the victory.

In fact, Tinubu’s vote total of 5.3 million in the north more than quadrupled his vote total of 2.5 million in his home area in the south-west.

Political analysts have described this trend in relation to the 2023 elections as the crystallization of the north-south political romance that has been quietly developing for decades. Many claim that this development began in the lead-up to the 2015 elections, when Bola Tinubu led the south-west political establishment into an alliance with Muhammadu Buhari of the northern Congress for Political Change (CPC) and other political parties, leading to a political merger to challenge and ultimately defeat the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which was in power at the time.

Since it marked the end of the opposition politics the south-west had been renowned for, it was at the time seen as a political development that had never before occurred. It also showed that the south-west has finally embraced Nigerian politics’ mainstream, which the region’s political elite had studiously refused to do since Nigeria’s independence as a matter of political tradition.

Although many people may not be aware of it, the trajectory of the rapprochement between the north and south-west can be traced back to the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’adua (rtd), who attempted to establish political ties with rising figures in the south-west political establishment as a counterweight to not only President Shehu Shagari and the NPN but also to the ruling National Party of Nigeria at the time.

Dapo Sarunmi, Prince Ademola Adeniji Adele, and Tunde Edu were a few of the political personalities from the south-west who General Yar’adua attracted to this group. It’s interesting to note that Sarunmi and Ademola Adeniji Adele’s political protégé at the time, Bola Tinubu, the current president-elect, was a by-association member of this organization.

The older political figures and groups in the north and south-west were naturally hostile toward this emerging political movement, but thanks to its strong organizational foundation, it was able to weather the storms even under the military governments of General Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, who maintained their hostility toward the movement. This group demonstrated such strength and tenacity that it served as the foundation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) during the Babangida era and provided the framework for General Yar’adua’s victory in the party’s presidential primaries over the late former governor of Lagos state, Lateef Jakande, and Olu Falae, both of whom were prominent political figures in the southwest.

The political movement fell out of favor after the Abacha dictatorship, with many of its top figures and rank and file taking their political allegiances elsewhere.

The dominant northern political establishment made attempts to coax and integrate the south-west into Nigerian politics from the beginning of the new civilian administration, primarily as an act of atonement for General Babangida’s annulment of the election that Abiola had won on June 12, 1993. In this regard, the military regime of General Abdulsalam Abubakar railroaded two prominent political figures from the south-west into the race for the presidency in the lead-up to the transfer of power to a new political regime: Olusegun Obasanjo of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Olu Falae of the Alliance for Democracy.

Obasanjo was elected president, but it didn’t quite feel like the south-west had integrated into Nigerian politics. This was due to the fact that Obasanjo was not well-known to the southwest political elite and lacked the kind of political support that would have allowed him to become a regional political legend and greatly influence the path that the area might take in national politics. Since the majority of South Westerners supported his election as president, his rule could not have represented a change in the region’s opposition-based political paradigm.

We didn’t start to notice the beginnings of a significant seismic political shift in south-west politics until Tinubu started to lead his Action Congress (AC) into a political merger with northern-based political parties in the build-up to the 2015 elections.

All of this was due to Tinubu’s legendary political status in the south-west political stakes, where he had emerged as the most notable political figure after steadily building up and amassing a trove of political capital unmatched by any other figures in the region through political activism in the region and beyond. With this, he felt competent and secure enough to make an effort to shift the region’s politics from being in opposition to the mainstream.

He accomplished this in 2015 by guiding the south-west into the union that propelled Muhammadu Buhari to the presidency. And now that he has built on the political shift he originally led in 2015 by winning the 2023 elections in the manner that he did, he has changed not just the political orientation and direction of south-west politics but perhaps the course of Nigeria as well.

{Continuation to follow)

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