OPINION: North would support Buhari in 2019–Unongo


There is no comparison between President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. The above verdict came from the chairman, Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr Paul Unongo. In this interview with WILLY EYA, the elder statesman was emphatic that in 2019, the North would still go for Buhari instead of Atiku. He spoke on various issues.

Ahead of 2019 general elections, political activities are gradually building up. One of the most recent is the resignation of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). The speculation is that he would soon join the PDP. So, the question on the lips of many is between President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku, who will the North support considering that both of them are Fulani and from the same geopolitical zone?

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What has Atiku got to offer Nigeria? Atiku would be in one party for two hours and he would abandon it and join another one for three hours and when he does not get what he wants, he jumps into another party. And now he is like saying Atiku must be president, Atiku must be president of Nigeria. There is no single person in Nigeria that must be president. I think money tries to make some people mad; they think they can buy anything they want and everybody. The North has no problem whatsoever and it is not only the North that elected President Buhari in the last presidential election. Buhari got average of the votes in virtually all parts of the country. Remember that Buhari contested for the primaries with Atiku and he beat him in that election thoroughly. Atiku did not even come second. Kwankwaso, the former governor of Kano State got more votes than him. People who are thinking that Atiku can do something when he joins the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) are making a mistake. Nigeria has passed that way and left it behind for a long time ago. We are not impressed by Atiku who jumps from one party to the other and say oh! I have a lot of money and I must be president. Nigerians are not going to put such people in power. We love Buhari, a man of integrity and principle; you can predict him and when he says a thing, you can be sure that what he is saying is true. Buhari would win Atiku any day, anywhere and any time.


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But what is your view on the position of a school of thought that while Buhari would get the support of the conservative North, Atiku is likely to get the votes of the progressives in the North. The class of people who hold this argument believes that many progressives would support Atiku for his position on the need to restructure the country.

I do not know who are the progressive North and the conservative North. My name is Paul Unongo and I am a Northerner. I have gone to the prison 24 times. I think I am a progressive. I just finished a lecture praising late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe on his memorial lecture in Lagos. I am also the convener, leader and chairman of the Northern Elders Forum. So, where do I belong? Between me and Atiku, who is a progressive and who is not? I can tell you that Nigeria’s democracy is waxing stronger. If the PDP likes, let them field Atiku. If he contests with Buhari, he would win Atiku by 9 o’clock in the morning. Buhari is a tested and trusted principled leader. We are not for sale and the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not for sale. The presidency is not for the highest bidder. We in the North have no problem on who to choose between Buhari and Atiku. We are not divided. I used to say to everybody in Nigeria that we in the North are more radical than the South. We can accommodate both Buhari and Atiku but the North is mature politically and they know where to go and we are going to go where we should go. But we are not going to vote to bring the PDP back to power.

You know that ahead of the elections, there are all manner of permutations. Some insist that why Atiku’s candidacy may fly is because it appears that the pulse of the majority of Nigerians suggests that Buhari has largely failed to meet the expectations of the people. Do you agree?



The economy was knocked down by the previous administration and Buhari promised that he would bring it up and he did. The security situation in the country was terrible so much that the Boko Haram sect was taking over some parts of the North and Buhari promised that he would address the situation and he did. Nobody would contest that he has addressed substantially the issue of security in the country. He said he would fight corruption and today, they are recovering piles and piles of money including dollars even buried underground. Nobody had done that before. He promised these three and has delivered on all of them. Everybody is seeing what he is doing. There is no doubt that he is better than Atiku and I can assure you that we would stay with President Buhari.

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But the argument is that if a strong candidate comes out from the South, the North which would be divided between Buhari and Atiku may lose out in the 2019 power struggle. Don’t you think so? 

I can predict exactly what the South would do. In the last presidential election, if you count the votes in the three geo-political zones of Southwest, Southeast and South south, Buhari still had the majority of the votes. We are going to repeat that in the 2019 general elections because the candidate that the PDP is trying to bring is not the type that you can compare with Buhari.

Despite your obvious support for Buhari, in 2019, what are those extra qualities that the North would be looking for to make their choice for a presidential candidate?

The ideal candidate should be like the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. If the people of Nigeria can produce an Azikiwe that is able to unite the rest of the country; if they can produce an Azikiwe that is truthful and transparent, people would go for him, because they believe that he would not change. If Nigeria can produce that candidate that would ensure what Azikiwe called pragmatic federalism, that person would be able to challenge any person or presidential candidate from the North. But until then, I have not seen that politician that can challenge Buhari in 2019.

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You are a leader in the Middle Belt, a region which though is part of the North is perceived not to be getting enough attention from President Buhari. Are you comfortable with the perceived insensitivity of Buhari to the plight of people from that zone especially with the activities of the Fulani herdsmen?



The situation is not only in the Middle Belt. I do not know whether Zamfara is part of the Middle Belt. The killing of farmers is also going on in Zamfara. Zamfara is part of the old Sokoto State. You cannot be more Northern than Zamfara. The killings are also going on in Kebbi State. I do not know if those are not Northerners. And also in the Middle Belt or the North Central as you people call it today, the killings are going on. The killings have been there in Plateau, they have gone on terribly in Benue and also in Taraba. They did not stop there; the killings have gone on in Anambra, Enugu, Edo State and some other places. Why are you not talking about the killings in Zamfara which is not part of the Middle Belt. The truth is that we have a problem and I think other states should start what the Benue people did through the anti-grazing law. The only way is to build the ranches and we can all latch unto it. The Houses of Assembly can work on such laws to separate the herdsmen and the farmers and the only way is through ranches. We have few strange herdsmen; we have lived with herdsmen for over 300 to 400 years. We lived like that but suddenly we have strange herdsmen who come with guns, AK47 riffles and so on; and they start attacking our women, young men in the farms and killing them. When the people of Benue could not tolerate that, they made the anti-grazing law and they gave enough time for anybody who wanted to make an input into that law. They said that these strange Fulani people that are killing our people and who are so blood thirsty, if they want to stay with us, allow them to stay, but they should rein in their cows. The idea is that they stay one place and would not have to meet with people who are in their farms or returning from their farms. And the law was not passed for only Fulani people. I have cows too and I also have goats and rams, so the law also applies to me. I have to keep them in one place. I support the law and the issue is not a territorial thing to only Benue. Nigeria cannot be different from the rest of the world. Every country where you have these migrant cattle herders have developed into settlements and the animals are kept in ranches. We in Benue have adopted that system and we believe the rest of Nigeria would follow suit. And since it started, there had not been any fighting and slaughtering of people. The strange Fulani herdsmen have killed over 100,000 people and that is not acceptable.

So, on the road to 2019, what are your expectations?

What I expect is that there would be a free and fair election and the better candidate would win the presidency. And it must be a president that would be for all Nigerians; it must not be an arrogant, rich and overconfident lazy candidate who feels he can jump from one party to the other to buy the conscience of the people. That did not happen in Anambra and it would also not happen in Nigeria in 2019.

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