“I am not a partisan politician, my politics is the nation” Gowon speaks again.

Gowon, northern chiefs and the national queries …

The search for solutions to the numerous ills plaguing the Nigerian state is on with sundry associations and groups struggling to outdo one another in a bid to be heard. For some, politics is the reason for the unusual assemblage while others insist that the stability of the nation in the midst of tension occasioned by the mindless killings in some part of the country, informed their decision to congregate. But for those capable of seeing beyond the ridge of their nose, the 2019 general elections to a large extent, contribute largely to the resuscitation of old alliances and the new ones springing up by the day. Last week, yours truly met with stalwarts of the Northern Leaders and Stakeholders Assembly (NLSA) on the invitation of Colonel Bello Haliru (retd), former Minister of Defence and a one-time Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service. A few minutes after my arrival, the likes of Mohammed Abba Gana (former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory), Tanko Yakassai (ex-Presidential aide), Senator Joseph Waku and Maryam Inna Ciroma (erstwhile Minister of Women Affairs) arrived and we drove in a convoy to the Yakubu Gowon Centre for a scheduled appointment with the nation’s second military Head of State. Yakassai who led the delegation wasted no time in briefing General Gowon on the rationale for the formation of the group as well as the effort it had thus far made in the realization of its objective. “Your Excellency,” Yakassai began, “this assembly was formed at a meeting attended by carefully selected prominent Nigerians from the three geo-political zones of Northern Nigeria. Our vision is to have a North that is peaceful, united, prosperous, developed and secured; with a sincere and purposeful leadership, produced by a frank and conscientious political class through a free, fair and democratic process.” Gen. Gowon He would go on to inform Gowon that the NSLA was doing everything possible to bring together Northerners of good standing to arrest drifts in the region and rebuild individual and group confidence amongst the people of the region. Although the group insists it is not partisan, Yakassai’s admission that the assembly is bent on establishing “a wide and enduring political network and channel of communication for consultations and dialogue among the apparatuses and leadership of all the various Northern political elites,” has left quite a number of Nigerians wondering how non-partisan NLSA is or claim to be. In what appears a vote of no confidence on President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, the group picked holes in the management of the nation’s affairs, arguing that the country must rediscover itself or regret from failing to do so. Yakassai continued: “All across Nigeria, there is palpable disquiet, distrust and loss of confidence of the mass populace on the nation’s political class; a situation that is both creating a serious threat to the survival of democracy in the country and a nationwide loss of confidence on Northerners to effectively direct the affairs of this country. We see it as a matter of urgency that Northerners of good standing come together to arrest the drift, recapture national power, redeem the battered image of the Northern political class and rebuild confidence in our ability to effectively pilot our democracy.” NLSA’s claim to non-partisanship is further deflated with the group’s objective of creating “a preparatory ground for selling Northern Presidential candidate among members of democratic groups and institutions in the North.” So, how does NLSA intend to do this knowing well enough that Presidential candidates emerge only on the platform of political parties? That said, Yakassai said he and other members of the group came to seek the blessing of Gowon, having earlier met with his military and junior colleague in the army, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (retd). …And Gowon speaks “I am not a partisan politician; my politics is the nation,” he began after cracking jokes with his guests. For Gowon, Nigeria is much more than what any ethnic group thinks or sees it to be and until everyone takes a good look at it, without the conflict of dual loyalty; artificially-created problems would continue to live with the nation and her citizens. In dealing with the challenges of the Nigerian State, Gowon told his visitors to speak with one voice even as he condemned the proliferation of sundry groups in the North. To him, too many groups speaking for and on behalf of the North could send an alarm bell of dangers to other parts of the country that would see this as an indication of disunity. “I can understand what you are trying to do but it is a question of the unity of people from the North. There are so many groups and this is one problem you have. Why don’t we try and get all to meet together, the leadership of these groups and then either form one family grouping that can encompass everybody rather than to have several groups? We already have three groups and they are doing exactly the same thing you are doing. I think this is going to even polarize or divide the efforts that you are trying to make. “We need to probably have a get-together of the three; otherwise if we have three different groups trying to get what you want, this will not augur well for us as a people. So for me, that is what I would like to see,” he stated. “After the civil war and the return to democracy, I think we formed two parties, the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). I was a contestant in that one too (SDP). And then of course we had the new parties with the Peoples Democratic Party staying for long. Until the last elections, the PDP that was rarely in opposition was defeated and there was the move of the bulk of the north leadership state by state to the other party. “So the north really shot itself on the foot for doing that. If they were thinking in the national interest and for them to be able to continue to have influence in the government that would not have happened but however it is now history,” he noted. Although not a partisan politician (his words), Gowon demonstrated his knowledge of happenings in the polity as he questioned the rationale for the call for a third force as a way out of the nation’s political conundrum. According to him, both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP could have themselves to blame should other political groupings collapse into one and forge a common front in 2019. He continued: “A new group is now coming that does not believe in any of the old two parties and from what I can see and read, they want to come together to do exactly what the present group has done. But if majority of those parties (about 66 of them) are able to come together and agree; then they will probably put aside the present two old political parties. “I can understand what you (NLSA) are doing but it is a question of the unity of people from the north. Why don’t we try and get all to meet together, the leadership of these groups and then form one group that can encompass everybody rather than to have several groups? Multiple groups, I think this is going to polarize the North the more. “As I have said, I am not a partisan politician but to do some of these things, you have to be partisan. The only joy that I had was that my constituency then had only one party called Nigeria and everyone was a member except those who were against it. It required the understanding and cooperation of all for us to be able to create states and if our elders, leaders, chiefs and so on had not listened to the reason we had to do it, it would have been very difficult.” Deepening unity and cohesion in the North should not start and end with the 2019 elections, Gowon counselled, stressing that in the foreseeable future, leaders should have a reckoning with their conscience when called upon by the kids to render account of their stewardship. “You are not doing this because of the next election in 2019 but you are doing it looking forward for the future and I have hope in the future and unity of this country. From whatever position you are to be able to influence the population; be proud of where you come from, be proud of the north but you are doing that because you are making your greatest contribution for a Nigeria that you want to make greater and in which your sons and daughters will play the role that are expected to play,” he said, even as he pointed out the mileage in seeking the cooperation of the South in the interest of the nation. Democracy as a model of government thrives on disagreements through which an end is reached after exhaustive debate. To this extent, he pleaded for those not comfortable with the leadership style of President Muhammadu Buhari not to see impeachment as an option, warning “it is too early for Nigeria to start impeaching Presidents, otherwise, there will be no President in Nigeria that will not get impeached by especially any group that is not agreeing with that particular leader.”

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