By Uche Chris
It is sad, and really unfortunate, that the communique issued by the north and read by the chairman of the Northern Governors’ forum, Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau state, after their combined meeting with traditional rulers in the region held in Kaduna, last week was completely misunderstood across the length and breadth of Southern Nigeria. This says a lot about us in the south; the lack of deep thinking, and how far we, as a nation have drifted into mutual exclusiveness.
A preponderance of views and opinions on the matter believed that the northern governors rejected power shift by insisting that they retain power in 2023. Nowhere in the communique was it implied or expressed. The statement was clear and unambiguous on the issue: The north is not opposed to power shift but condemned the way, language and manner the Southern Governors’ forum adopted to realized it.
How the commentators came by their understanding of the statement implying opposition to power shift is a lesson in political communication and strategic nuance for the rest of us, because we were confused with the issues and went on a tangent chasing shadow, rather than the substance. It showed how masterful the north has always been in controlling the political narratives and manipulating the south.
Because we were focused on what they did not say, we completely missed the weightier and more important issue, which amounts to almost a threat, to the south, and one that may change the political dynamics of both 2023 and beyond: The VAT controversy.
Hear what they said in paragraph6(a): “The judgment of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt calls to question the constitutionality of VAT, withholding tax, education tax, Niger Delta Development Commission, National Information Technology Development Agency, 13 percent Derivation, National Economic Development Council, and many others currently levied by the federal government of Nigeria…”
Implied and explicitly stated, the northern governors questioned the legality of NDDC and will likely challenge it. Unlike in the presidency issue, they took a clear position on this matter, and that will be the next phase of the conflict. But we completely glossed it over as if it did not matter, which will be their intended sucker punch and bargaining chip over the VAT case.
It will not be surprising that all these issues may form the package of negotiations for the presidency in 2023. The north will not relinquish the presidency and at the same time lose access to the VAT revenue, whatever the outcome of the case; it will be too much for them to bear, especially in the face of the devastation being inflicted on the region by bandits and Boko Haram.
The lesson in this is that we must learn to pay close attention when the north speaks; unlike the south, they are masters at political manipulation and savvy in divide and rule, as well as give and take strategy. They never lose out on any political contest.
Perhaps, we were carried away by the political bombast of Dr. Baba Ahmed, who acted as a cat’s paw, and flew a kite with clipped wings. The north wants to have a stake even as vice president, contrary to southern vice presidents, such as Osibanjo and Jonathan; unlike Atiku Abbakar and Nemadi Sambo under Obasanjo and Jonathan respectively.
For the presidency, the north has few options to retain power in spite of the acclaimed superior population; the cost of a southern rebellion would be disastrous. Even with all the security agencies in their control, the north cannot afford to fight the south as a unit. Perish the thought! With what? War is not about weapons only; it is also economic.
In any war with the south, the north will collapse within six months. How would they fund the war when every resource of the country comes from Southern Nigeria? The south can decides to rule this country in perpetuity if it stays together, because the north cannot fight it; but the south has always made itself vulnerable, which the north had easily exploited.
The north understand the fact that the mood in the south is changing and with the growing restiveness and ethnic agitations, they have to tread carefully to keep the country united and one. Imagine what it took Nigeria to defeat Biafra; compared with the entire south, it says enough: It will be over for Nigeria even before the war is declared and there will be no single shot to make it happen; for the simple reason that north cannot fight the south. Impossible!
The south may have won the battle for 2023 presidency, but the war over VAT and NDDC is not yet over. We must continue to keep our eyes on the ball to sustain the current political gains, especially with the presidency. But let no southern president be fooled that it will be all bed of roses, because it will not; the war has just begun.