Sambo: The New Northern Leader

Sambo: The New Northern Leader
Written by Ibrahim Sheme
Published in LEADERSHIP
Friday, 21 May 2010

In his congratulatory message to Alhaji Mohammed Namadi Sambo, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu advised the new vice-president to henceforth regard himself as a national leader and not somebody from this or that part of the country. “Vice-president Sambo should see the whole country as his constitiuency. This is an entirely different ball game,” the former governor of Abia State argued in an interview with LEADERSHIP published Thursday.

Well, it is indeed a different ball game. Sambo is no longer the governor of Kaduna State. His sudden elevation has catapulted him to the centre, at once making him the number two citizen of this country. It is henceforth a different theatre, and the dramatis personae are different. As deputy to the president, he has automatically become a few metres taller than his former colleagues, the state governors who, it should be pointed out, scarcely played a role in making him what he is today. It was his predecessor in Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, they had worked hard to get into the coveted office. Sambo is entirely the making of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and, of course, the almighty God.

Kalu has also advised Sambo to forget about the politics that nearly denied him the vice-presidency. He said, “Whatever transpired on his way to Aso Villa is past tense. For now, he is neither from Kaduna nor from the North-West.”

The truth, however, is that it would be foolhardy for the vice-president to disregard where he comes from. In fact, his political future rests squarely on his capacity to work in the centre while minding the periphery. Being the vice-president, he is expected to help Jonathan work for the whole of Nigeria, but his primary constituency, this time the whole North and not just a section of it, is equally important. Besides, there are great benefits to derive from being a regional leader in present-day Nigeria.

Clearly, providence has thrust the weight of Northern leadership on his shoulders. This section of the country will regard him as its political head from now till the next general elections when a new crop of leaders will be had. And it is not the first time such happened. Way back in 1999 when Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was made president, he picked the newly elected governor of Adamawa State, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as his deputy. That single act transformed Atiku into the North’s leader overnight. At a grand reception organised for him in Kaduna to commemorate the development, not everyone doubted his elevation as the region’s new leader. While the romance with Obasanjo lasted, Atiku enjoyed a firm grip on the various sectors of Northern leadership. State governors, especially those of the PDP stock, rallied round him.

Atiku only began to lose grip when his romance with Obasanjo soured. His ambition to succeed the latter as president was thwarted by Obasanjo, who wanted to succeed himself instead. Their bitter rivalry, culminating into the loss of the third term bid, is one of the tantalising stories in the history of politics in Nigeria.

Atiku has since made frantic attempts to regain his leadership role in the region – from floating an opposition party to his recent bid to return to his former party, the PDP. Regrettably, just when the Action Congress looked set to present a real challenge to the ruling party, Atiku jumped ship, abandoned his captainship of the AC and made a hilarious move to rejoin the PDP, a move that was resisted and scuttled by the party’s leaders in his home state with the active connivance of the party’s national leadership. As things stand, Atiku is now in political wilderness, oscillating between being an opposition figure and someone trying to romance those in power. His naked quest for power is repugnant to many an observer; it is doubtful if he will ever regain his former hold on power, both at the regional and national levels.

Sambo’s ascension appears to have sealed Atiku’s fate. The ongoing drama is like a rewind to the events of 1999, with a few differences. Once again we have a president from the South and a VP from the North. We are coasting towards another general election. Sambo is expected to remain loyal to Jonathan as they plot to run together in 2011 after the PDP might have jettisoned its zoning formula in order to accommodate Jonathan’s yet-to-be-divulged ambition. While this is going on, Sambo will be consolidating his position as the leader of the North in the emerging arrangement. As he does so, Atiku, who once played that role, would become increasingly isolated, unless he helps build a formidable opposition to the PDP. And it looks like it is too late for him to do that between now and the next elections, especially with his flippant, nay chameleonic, histrionics in opposition activities.

I do not see the PDP not giving its all to both Jonathan and Sambo as the elections loom closer. Besides, the party is being rebuilt, with a redoubtable Prince Vincent Ogbulafor out in the cold and a pro-Jonathan national chairman coming on board. It is quite reasonable to expect the whole National Working Committee of the party to be changed very soon, giving way to apparatchiks that are willing to do the president’s bidding. Now with this renewal of the party leadership, both Jonathan and Sambo would become stronger leaders, much stronger than we have seen since 2007. At least, none of them suffers from any debilitating illness that would limit their capacity for action.

Reading the lips of Jonathan lately, one can safely say that the dice has already been cast. During the swearing-in of Sambo on Wednesday, the president took time to emphasise that he and Sambo were going to have a very chummy relationship. “The stories of crisis between the president and vice-president will not arise,” he promised. “I will make sure that we work together as a team.” Sambo himself said quite the same. By this, they were reminding us about the bitter relationship between President Obasanjo and Vice-president Atiku. And they were telling us that theirs was going to be different. Jonathan says that he knew the areas of disagreement that made governance difficult in our recent past. So we should expect to see a new era in which the two most powerful men in the country will not be fighting each other.

Jonathan says he wants Sambo to cooperate fully with him, and he will do the same for him. Scratch my back, I will scratch yours. If that plan works, we expect both to reap its dividends. Jonathan will hope to get elected next year in order to rule the country for another four years. And if everything goes according to plan, he may be forced by circumstances not to run again, and then he will scratch Sambo’s back. That means Sambo, unless he bungles it the way Atiku did, and unless the opposition elements erect a wall more formidable than the one we are seeing, is on the road to becoming Nigeria’s future president. And assuming that Jonathan decides not to run next year, as many want him to do, the PDP can present only one candidate – Namadi Sambo. This explains the recent frenzy over who Jonathan should nominate as vice-president. And that is certainly the biggest dividend of being the leader of a region as vast as the North.

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