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Failed Proposition and Atiku’s Hollow Crown of Ambivalence

---Cutting-Edge Analytics—
By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published December 16th, 2010

He emerged from an ethnic game as the “consensus candidate of the North” and proudly parades himself as such in the nation’s political circles without qualms. But how in the world did a man, who emerged winner of a closet election conducted by nine handpicked sectional elders by razor-thin margin become the consensus candidate of the North or of any section of the country for that matter? I thought consensus was made of sterner stuff.

Did they really say or mean “Consensus candidate of the North” or it was a case of misrepresentation by some exuberant journalists? What exactly is that? The words alone make me want to throw up. I don’t know about you, but they’re as hard for me to swallow as stones, and my stomach has a problem receiving them talk less of digesting them.

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Don’t blame my stomach, folks. Blame those hard, rocky words that have forced their way down my stomach that is neither designed nor configured to handle stones and rocks and causing me serious constipation. And I’m not alone. Many, who took those words in have similarly come down with severe constipation and others are lacerated and hemorrhaging on the inside. Perhaps those who invented them could swallow stones and rocks, but I don’t. I’m still human and therefore flesh and blood with no gastric acids to handle stones and rocks. I’m not a vegan, but give me some veggies please and perhaps some amala or tuwo with beef stew to go with and I’ll be just fine; not stones and rocks for dinner as Mallam Adamu Ciroma had offered us. 

And that’s reason enough why somebody should come to my assistance, because I’m yet to fathom how anybody, who desires to be president of Nigeria could be comfortable wearing a banner on his forehead with the inscription “I’m the Consensus Candidate of the North!” in a multi-ethnic conglomerate like Nigeria. Has Nigerian politics sunk to such low depths that even presidential candidates now feel comfortable wearing geo-ethnic labels and still hope to coast to victory at national polls? I’m not exactly sure we’ve gone down so low, but I could be wrong.

Anyway, I’ll leave that for history to determine whether I’m right or wrong and history is beckoning on us to do its part and put that issue to rest. All I could do for now is just sit and wait it out. 

Perhaps I’m missing something here or rather something seems to be missing from the consensus equation that I’m trying hard to figure it out. For all we know consensus does not arise out of an election and a keenly contested one at that in which the winner managed to snatch victory by the skin of his teeth with just one vote. The word “winner” arises out of a duel, war, competition or contest involving more than one party. And it goes together with the word “loser” as its opposite in meaning. In politics, it takes the form of elections to determine winners and losers. Therefore, if Atiku emerged “winner”, it follows that many of his fellow contestants emerged “losers” in the contest and must bear the tag of “defeated” candidates forever. 

On the contrary, consensus arises out of a voluntary and general endorsement of an idea, a position or a person. It involves mutual understanding of common interests and agreements are hammered out after diligent and involved consultations, persuasions and trade-offs amongst the various stakeholders to come to a common position with no acrimonious contests or elections involved and therefore no winners and losers in the outcomes.

How was it then we’re told that a keenly contested election wound up producing a Northern consensus candidate named, Abubakar Atiku? By what alchemy was that feat achieved in the North? Wait a minute: The Nigerian abracadabra seems to be at work here and we need to demystify it right here, right now.

There are no two ways about it. It’s either that the meaning of the word “consensus” has changed in the English language or Ciroma and his group have reinvented the word and imbued it with perhaps a different, technical, or should I say, “Northern” meaning for the purpose of their ethnic game.

As far as the English language goes, consensus arrangements and elections are two completely different things and processes with completely different outcomes both in contents and nomenclatures, which are neither interchangeable nor transposable. And except someone out there is prepared to educate me and others like me that consensus arrangements and elections refer to one and the same thing in the Hausa or Fulani’s Fulfube language (and I have lived in the North), we cannot call the outcome of an election a consensus agreement and the outcome of a consensus arrangement an election without doing serious violence to both concepts.

The natural implication of the above submissions is that Atiku’s present status is a bundle of contradictions. Atiku is at once a “consensus” and an “elected” candidate of the North. He is touted as a consensus candidate, but he is not really one and anything but. How and what do I mean by that?

Hear Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State talking about Atiku as reported by the Vanguard newspaper 12/14/2010 edition: “I don’t know anything about consensus candidate. We already know our candidate, and President GoodLuck Jonathan is our only candidate for the presidency.”

His Benue State counterpart, Gabriel Suswam, couldn’t be more blunt and direct in his denunciation: “I, as the governor of Benue state, you take a decision and you do not consult me and you say that that decision is a decision that is binding, I don’t think that makes sense to anybody and it does not make sense to me anyway.” And these and others like them are important stakeholders in the North whose positions determine the ultimate status of Atiku one way or another, not the one imposed on the North by Ciroma and his group. 

The sentiments credited to both governors are reflective of the reactions of a cross section of Northerners to the outcome of the Ciroma gambit. It’s been condemnation and denunciation galore in the North.

Hardly a day passes without getting denunciations and condemnations of Ciroma and his group by northern groups and individuals. Atiku has become a poster child for political battles in the North that supposedly produced him as its consensus candidate. There are more voices denouncing the outcome of the consensus exercise in the northern parts of the country than in the southern parts and that bodes ill-wind for Atiku because he’s nobody’s consensus candidate but the four who elected him. 

And he was announced as an elected candidate but he is not really one either. Reason is that the committee did not want the world to know how he emerged through an election but that fact later came to light. The committee wanted to sell him as the “consensus” candidate without letting the world know that he was elected in closet election by just four votes rather than a real election involving all stakeholders in the North.

The leaking of that information has done great damage to its credibility and the final outcome itself. And that’s reason why Atiku is neither this nor that. He’s like the bat, which is neither a bird nor a four legged mammal. But Atiku can only be one or the other not both at the same time. The reality however is that he is neither of them. He’s, therefore, weighed down by crisis of identity arising from a failed proposition and wearing a hollow title of ambivalence.      

HOWEVER, WE must not rush to hasty conclusions without examining the matter a little more closely to see where the trails might lead us to. In this inquiry, therefore, the issue we must address with the information available to us in the public domain is whether Atiku was actually a product of a consensus arrangement in the North or a product of a secret election held by a handful of men in someone’s living room in the name of the North.

This issue would not have arisen if the proceedings of the committee were made public and not shrouded in secrecy like those of a secret cult or secret society. No one except the committee members knew what went on behind closed doors even the venues of the committee’s deliberations. No one knew its terms of reference except the candidates themselves.

All that was made public were the constant drumbeats of producing a consensus candidate for the north to rubbish President Jonathan in the forthcoming PDP primaries. Nothing else was revealed. Whatever Nigerians knew of the committee’s work were the snippets of unconfirmed and unverifiable information that the press managed to scoop out and fed to the public. It was all a guessing game.

And what’s more; widespread consultation, which is at the heart of consensus building was treated more like an afterthought, and limited in scope to isolated quarters rather than as an all-inclusive strategic imperative involving different Northern social segments and stakeholders in order to carry all critical segments and stakeholders along.

How could the proceedings and activities of a consensus committee be shrouded in complete secrecy when the act of consensus building itself necessarily involves wide-ranging consultations of different stakeholders and interest groups and nationalities in the North, extending even to the South, if it truly meant business, knew what it was doing and how to go about it?

Good enough the committee itself publicly announced Atiku as the “winner” of the consensus arrangement. “Winner”? That sounded more like an election rather than a consensus agreement. And sure enough, the dominos began to fall. The veil of secrecy was shredded and we now know what transpired behind closed doors. Information leaked out and the results of a closet election made public. Atiku was a product of a closet election after all.

In determining the status of Atiku, therefore, it is important that we get our terminology right. Election is direct negation of consensus arrangement.

The Webster New Collegiate Dictionary defines consensus as a “general agreement” or “judgment arrived at by most of those concerned.” It further defines the word “consensual” as “existing or made by mutual consent without an act of writing.” The above definition is clear enough and therefore requires no further elucidation.

However, it is also clear that the process of Atiku’s emergence satisfies none of the above and on the contrary, violates all of the above criteria. Nowhere is the word “voting” or “election” mentioned in the above definition as a process for arriving at a consensus position. Did the majority of the presidential aspirants, or for this purpose, candidates themselves, or of the members of the committee, or of northerners, agree amongst themselves on Atiku as their consensus candidate in the PDP primaries? Did they participate in electing Atiku to represent the North in the PDP primaries? Not a chance in hell! And that is why the outcomes of the Consensus exercise is not binding on anybody in the North, not even strictly speaking on the candidates themselves although morally bound to respect their voluntary written undertakings.

First of all, the Ciroma committee got all the contenders to undertake in writing that they would accept the outcome of the committee’s work however flawed it might be. That is not a consensus but merely an agreement to abide by the result of the committee’s work to be attained through consensus arrangement.

Secondly, the committee proceeded to conduct a closet election instead of working for a consensus, which was its original mandate. Thus, instead of getting a result derived from “general agreement” “arrived at by most of those concerned,” Atiku emerged “winner” not by unanimous votes or acclamation by the committee members but by just four votes to emerge winner.

The very word itself “winner” totally negates the idea of consensus. The idea of consensus is to avoid the idea or a winners or losers and that explains the phrase “mutual consent” applied in the above definition.

How did the committee come this? Here is what is in the public domain as reported by several newspapers regarding the procedure adopted by the committee. I took this one from “THE NATION” newspaper, 11/24/20/10 edition because it is more detailed and graphical about what happened behind closed doors. But see also ThisDay Online report of 11/23/2010 with the screaming headline: Revealed: Atiku Defeated IBB by Just One Vote!

Here we go: First, the nine committee members were divided on the mode of voting and haggled endlessly over whether it should be by secret or open balloting. It is instructive to observe that only Audu Ogbe and David Jemibewon who are Saraki’s kismen argued for secret balloting while the grand daddy of them all, Mallam Ciroma and others fought hard for open balloting obviously to intimidate the members and support his candidate. 

Quoting its source, THE NATION reports:

“But Audu Ogbe and Gen. Jemibewon (rtd) said they should do secret balloting.

“Ogbeh took about 10 minutes to address the committee on the imperative of secret ballot and why it would assist them to make their free choice.

“At the end of the day, they were all persuaded by Ogbe’s argument and they opted for secret balloting.

“Then, ballot papers were circulated to members to write their choice of consensus candidate before it was later compiled.

“After the compilation, the results indicated that Atiku had four votes; Babangida scored three; Saraki had two and Gusau had none.

“It was really a slim victory for Atiku.

“And his saving grace was that they ignored the initial rule to go for second round of balloting where it was a close contest.

The paper further reported that it learnt that members of the committee insisted on burning the ballot papers to “avoid any of the aspirants tracing their writings through forensic analysis.

Again quoting its source the paper states:

“So, before the decision was made known to the aspirants, the committee burnt the ballot papers.” 

It states that “But the voting pattern later got leaked from those assigned the responsibility of burning the ballot papers.”

“According to the source, those who voted for Babangida are: Mallam Ciroma; Senator Jubrin Salihu and Magi Dambatta.

“For Atiku are; Bello Kurfi; M. D. Yusufu; Buba Yaro Mafindi and Amb. M.Z. Anka.

“Saraki got his votes from Audu Ogbeh and Gen. David Jemibewon.”

“As at last night, all the aspirants were aware of the pattern of voting and those who voted for them.”

There you had it: all revealed in black and white! What was conceived and executed in secret to the extent of burning ballot papers has become public property. Everybody knew who voted for whom including Ciroma himself and Atiku’s razor thin margin of victory; thanks to those who recorded the voting pattern before the ballots were burnt and leaked the information to the press. This should indeed count as Atiku-Gate or, if you will, Ciroma-Gate! It rubbished the work of the committee, making both the winner and the losers aware of who voted for and against them. It’s the source of the bad blood that is now hunting and hurting the North. The above account has not been disputed by the committee and it is anything but consensual.

On what factual basis then is Atiku being paraded as consensus candidate of the North? True, the Ciroma committee was specifically asked to produce a consensus candidate but failing which it went beyond its specific mandate to produce an elected candidate for the north not the consensus candidate it had set out to produce. So much for consensus baloney!

It is abundantly clear, therefore, as night and day that Ciroma and his group of ethnic gladiators seemingly succeeded in pulling a fast one on the nation particularly the north and they know it. It is out and out fraud. If Mallam Ciroma and his so-called Northern Leaders Political Forum did not know what they were about when they started out, it is hardly surprising that they produced a flawed product that is now suffering from serious identity crisis.

Atiku emerged from a fundamentally flawed process He must therefore contend with its consequential crisis of identity. There is just no way an elected candidate could be marketed to the nation and accepted as a consensus candidate otherwise all elected officials would similarly be deemed to have attained their positions through consensus arrangements including councilors, lawmakers, governors and the president himself.

Yet one must empathize with the self-inflicted position the committee found itself in the course of its self-imposed assignment. The committee simply did what it did because there was no viable alternative to it. It would appear the committee had failed to develop clear cut criteria for assessing the candidates without resort to balloting, which is the antithesis of consensus.

The crisis of identity now being suffered by Atiku has arisen due to the committee being forced by circumstances beyond its control to abandon midstream its original mandate of working for a consensus candidate for the North and substituting that with an election due to its inability to get the candidates to agree on one of them to carry the mantle on behalf of the north.

With none of the contenders yielding to one another, the committee ought to have developed objective criteria mutually agreed upon by the members and the candidates to evaluate the contenders, that is totally devoid of partisanship and stick with that to the end. Rather than doing so, it allowed the obstacles placed by the contenders on its path to summarily abandon its original mandate.

With that, the character of the mission abruptly changed from consensus to election and that explains why the candidates themselves were out and about selling themselves to their northern publics who nevertheless had no say in the final outcome and are therefore stuck with a candidate they knew not.

At this point some people might want to know what difference it makes whether Atiku is a consensus or elected candidate of or for the North?

Well there is a huge difference that is not merely semantic or academic, but substantial and historical in significance. It is substantial because a consensus candidate would command greater respect and acceptability across the board than an elected candidate in that he would be a product of general agreement amongst the stakeholders, including the contestants themselves. By their very nature elections are contentious and inherently controversial no matter their level and this is more so in climes like Nigeria where losers have been known never to accept defeat and concede victory to the winners, and would always fish for reasons not to accept the outcomes of electoral contests.

The purported election of Atiku is already suffering from this Nigerian disease as allegations of favoritism and underhanded deals are already flying in the air belying the outward show of solidarity with Atiku by the defeated candidates.  We are beginning to see the game IBB is up to as earlier predicted by this writer that he would find a reason to dump Atiku before long. His so-called threat to quit the PDP is a direct and frontal attack on the outcome of the exercise. He’s fishing for a reason to quit the PDP so as to free himself from the consensus tango with Atiku and contest the presidential election under a different party platform. That is what election means in those parts of the world—bad blood and ill-feeling.

It is becoming clear that everyone, including Atiku has fallen victim of the consensus business invented and imposed on them by that geriatric iconoclast called Ciroma. The reverse would have been the case with consensus arrangement. Consensus engenders minimal ill-feelings in that it is a voluntary undertaking that does not engender the sense of “victory” or “defeat” in the camps of those who won or didn’t get the ultimate price because they help decide who gets the ultimate price. In fact, as earlier indicated the words “winner” and “loser” do not apply in consensus arrangements and everybody is a winner.

Secondly, it is historical because the nation’s political history ought to properly reflect the dynamics, modus operandi and dramatis personae involved in the political evolution of the nation in different epochs, including the process employed in the nomination and election of its leaders at all levels of governance at both regional and national levels. 

Thirdly, the fact that the process of Atiku’s emergence has wider implications for the national unity by setting a dangerous precedent obviously commends it to appropriate analysis and documentation for future generations. We cannot, therefore, call a closet election a consensus. That would amount to falsification of a still evolving history. And;

Fourthly, it matters because properly defined, the so-called consensus arrangement was a total failure and ought to be recorded as such for the history books and properly situated in the present scheme of things by calling a spade by its real name and not a “shovel”, “hoe” or “machete”.    

Properly called, therefore, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku is not in the plain and ordinary meaning of the word the consensus candidate of the North but the elected candidate of the Ciroma committee purportedly for the North under the PDP platform.

How did the nation come to fall for this egregious fraud by Ciroma’s NPLF? Simple: No one seems to be asking pertinent questions about anything in Nigeria. Some loonies simply emerge from the woodworks to seize the nation’s imaginations by the throat without questions to get their 10-minute fame and fade out. Boko Haram, Abdul-Mutallab; you name them. Nigeria is a haven for roving lunatics, who should be confined to mental institutions.

Ordinary Nigerians have too much on their plates to think about the meaning of consensus and election. And the Nigerian media is preoccupied with merely reporting the news that takes care of their critical bills without bothering about its analysis, which is much more involved intellectual enterprise requiring depth and breadth and a measure of historicity to it. And that’s why there is little or no investment in investigative journalism. Sensationalism brings the bacon home not hard core investigative slugs.

Don’t get me wrong on this: The Nigerian media are a vibrant one and pretty enterprising too. But more often than not they have fallen short of in- depth investigative journalism to get to the root of things and have fallen victims to the shenanigans of ethnic and religious warriors to the detriment of the national agenda. Our national media shouldn’t reduce themselves to echo chambers of ethnic bigots to the detriment of our national aspirations.

Was it in the national interest for the Ciroma Committee to reduce the Nigerian presidency to an ethnic property? Obviously not. Why then was the media complicit in giving some measure of credibility and legitimacy to the antics of Ciroma and his group through its reporting without serious questioning? It’s one thing to report news and another to give comfort and undue publicity to purveyors of ethno-religious divisions in the nation.

While it is not in my position to report the news, however, it is in my position to analyze it. This consensus baloney would have long been exposed and rubbished for what it is had the media dutifully asked the relevant questions at the right time without necessarily taking positions one way or another.

I’m convinced beyond every shadow of doubt that had the media given his group cold shoulders as a way of showing their disapproval of his ethnic mission it would have dampened his ethnic zealotry and poured cold water on his mission. I’m, therefore, appealing to the Nigerian media through this medium to do everything in its power to discourage the likes of Ciroma from dragging this nation back to its dark past. And it is never too late to do so because there are many more Ciromas, embolden by what he has done, waiting in the wings to spring another ethno-religious or sectional agenda on the nation.

Now, Ciroma has executed his coup plot and it is for the victims to face the fallouts in its wake. And make no mistake about it: There are no bigger victims than Atiku and IBB. They both rode the tiger and ended up its belly.

But you know who the winner is? You guessed right: President Goodluck Jonathan!  Ciroma has paved the path for Jonathan in real time, not for Atiku, who is being abandoned to his fate, and certainly not for IBB, whose ego has been deflated, or Gusau, who was humiliated, or Saraki, who was cut down to size. At the end of it all, the only man left standing is Goodluck Jonathan.

And who says Mr. Otorofani has a problem with that? Not with a failed proposition with multiple casualties in its trail! Boy, I’m having a good laugh! 

Hey, can’t blame me for that!

Franklin Otorofani, Esq. is an Attorney and Public Affairs Analyst


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