682 views | Jideofor Adibe | March 25, 2021
The political space is increasingly dominated by the discourse over which part of the country should produce Buhari’s successor as 2023 draws closer. The central question is: should power be rotated to the South after eight years of Buhari’s presidency, and if so, which part of the South should it go to?
Different groupings and tendencies have their own arguments. In the North for instance, while some have argued that in the “spirit of fairness, equity and justice”, power should rotate to South after Buhari’s tenure, there are others who use the same “spirit of fairness, equity and justice” to contend that it should not. The arguments here include that the North should be allowed one more term in office to compensate for the fact that Yaradua died after only three years in office, and was succeeded by his Deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, who not only completed Yaradua’s first term but also contested and won in 2011 thereby denying the North its “right” to rule for eight years. Some tendencies represented by the likes of Governors Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and Bala Mohammed of Bauchi argue that zoning and power rotation have become anachronistic and that the field in their parties should be thrown wide open for everyone so that the most competent or a person most acceptable by the generality of Nigerians will triumph. Some also argue that since the South presumably holds the economic and commercial power in the country, the North needs to retain political power as a lever to balance the South’s assumed economic dominance.
The South-West premises its quest on the ground that it was instrumental in making Buhari president in 2015 through the merger of its regionally based Action Congress of Nigeria with other regional parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC). Others like former Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola argue that power should not only move to the South after Buhari’s presidency in the “spirit of fairness, equity and justice’, but should specifically move to the South-west because there was presumably a gentleman’s agreement at the formation of the APC that the zone should be supported to produce a successor to Buhari.
As the South-east upped its own campaign for a President of Igbo extraction on the same argument of the need for “fairness, equity, and justice”, Dr Doyin Okupe, a former media assistant to both President Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, who had announced a largely- ignored interest in running for the presidency of the country in 2023, said the North had not forgiven the Igbos for the January 15 1966 Igbo-dominated coup in which several Northern leaders, including Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, were killed. Dr Okupe was reported to have said that he would shelve his presidential ambition “in the interest of national unity” for a candidate of Igbo extraction only if the Igbos should, in “humility” beg the core North for forgiveness and get them to support their presidential bid. There is the suspicion that Dr Okupe is merely fronting for a bigger masquerade who probably wants to de-legitimize the South-east competition by dusting up a sad chapter of our national history which he believes will resonate with the core North or will goad the Southeast to counter him with their own narratives of the counter-coup of July 1966, the pogrom against the Igbos in the North and the Civil War, all of which would in turn lead to accusations and counter-accusations between the North and the South-east. In either scenario, the goal of de-legitimizing the South-east’s competition in the North would have been achieved, leaving the South-west as a viable contender to produce Buhari’s successor after eight years of Obasanjo as President and another eight years of Professor Yemi Osinbajo as Vice President. With separatist agitations from the South-west becoming more frontal than ever (itself interpreted by some people as part of the hustling for 2023), tendencies from the zone, which had previously used the clamour for Biafra to de-legitimize the South-east’s bid, seem to have become muffled.
For the South-south, though the clamour has been rather hush-hush, there were some who felt the zone should be given a chance to complete their “turn” of eight year because their son, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, served only one term in office. This was largely the argument of some at the time it was widely rumoured that the APC was wooing the former President to run for President in 2023 under its banner. With President Jonathan now reportedly ruling himself out of the 2023 race, the South-south is not thought to be seriously contending to produce a successor to President Buhari, though there are Nigerians who feel the likes of Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Godwin Emefiele could be surprise compromise candidates that will be acceptable to both the South-South and the South-east.
The South-east, which traditionally uses marginalization to frame its national political discourses, has hinged its quest on grounds that it is the only major ethnic group in the country which is yet to produce the president of the country in this civilian dispensation. The South-east’s marginalization argument resonates very well across the entire Igboland and oxygenates Nnamdi Kanu’s brand of separatist agitation. Remarkably, and as if to tell the South-east that no zone has a monopoly over claims to marginalization, the South-west also recently began using marginalization to frame its national politics, with agitators for Oduduwa Republic claiming that the Yoruba is the most marginalized and unfairly treated ethnic group in the country.
How should the country resolve the competing claims of these various groups? There are a number of observations:
One, what is permissible may not necessarily be morally and politically acceptable, and each group, whether it gets what it is agitating for or not, has to live with its moral and political aftermaths. This is a version of what veteran columnist Dr Chidi Amuta called “the politics of moral consequences” when he argued that national history has a moral arc that moves inexorably in the direction of justice. Take the north for example: until recently it is believed that people from the North, especially the core North, make more reliable political allies than people from the other zones because they are be more likely to keep their promises than others. Though it can be argued that Nigeria has changed remarkably over the years and that Nigerians from different cultural areas are becoming increasingly similar in their pattern of responses to stimuli, the belief that the core North is more reliable than other zones is a golden currency the zone leverages to consolidate its political hegemony in the country. In essence, insisting that power should be retained in the North not only erodes the value of that currency but will also strengthen the hands of those who accuse the region of having ‘born-to-rule’ mentality or having a sense of entitlement. Besides, insistence that zoning and power rotation should be abrogated after benefitting from it would have implications for other aspects of national life including possibly triggering a clamour for the abrogation of some affirmative action policies that have served our country well by ensuring that every part of the country has a sense of belonging. You cannot for instance morally argue for power rotation and zoning to be abrogated and still believe it is right for students from different parts of the country to have different cut-off marks to gain admission into federal government colleges (also known as unity schools). Additionally, such a posture will accentuate feelings of exclusion in the South and further animate separatist agitations there. It will equally amount to hypocrisy if some of the key Northern political players in the zoning and power rotation controversies of 2011 (when many from the North felt that Jonathan contesting the election amounted to cheating them) see nothing wrong in the argument that the North should retain power after Buhari’s tenure or present themselves to benefit from the retention of power in the North.
Two, one of the moral and political consequences the South-west faces in its current agitation to produce a successor to Buhari is that they will lose the right to accuse the North of having a ‘sense of entitlement’ or born to rule mentality. Since there are group dynamics in politics, the South-west will also find it difficult to utilize its Southern identity as a mobilization platform without appearing to be a hypocrite: if it argues that it is the turn of the South because the North has had its turn, it will be reminded that it too has had its turn in the South. You certainly cannot accuse one group of having a sense of entitlement or born to rule and then come to your sub-group and precisely exhibit the same mentality. The subtle innuendo by Dr Okupe that the Southwest is contending for the presidency only because the North has not forgiven the Igbos for the killing of Sarduana, has even more dire and unpalatable consequences for nation-building since the subtext is the dangerous assumption that the Igbos are not wanted in the country – a belief that has been oxygenating the separatist agitators in the zone. The truth is that every part of the country has an institutionalized memory of hurt and of feelings of being unfairly treated in the Nigerian project.
Three, it is axiomatic that the Igbos, on their own, cannot produce a President of Igbo extraction and therefore will need to work with others – as some Igbos claim they have always done. But what happens if a President of Igbo extraction is realized or not realized? If the Igbos do not actualize their quest, it will most likely accentuate the Biafranization of more Igbos and bolster the widely prevalent feelings of exclusion in Igboland. But what if they succeed? While it may momentarily assuage separatist agitations, it is likely to accentuate rather than attenuate feelings of being unwanted in the country because our national political history since 1999 has shown that the ethnic group whose son is in power often faces some backlash based on suspicions that they are favoured or have become triumphalist because their son is the President. Obasanjo might have been an exception to this rule since 1999 but that was largely because he was rejected by his core constituency of South-west – a rejection that paradoxically worked to bolster his nationalist credentials. In essence, while gesture politics could be helpful, it may also paradoxically exacerbate the problem it was designed to solve as it can actually worsen the antipathy towards an ethnic group – as happened to the Niger Delta under Jonathan and is happening to the Fulanis under Buhari.
Will an Igbo becoming President in 2023 solve the problem of separatist agitations in the South-east and cries of marginalization? This is very unlikely because if ceding the presidency to the South-west for eight years (1999-2007) and Osinbajo being the Vice President for another eight years(2015-2023) are insufficient to quell the clamour for restructuring in the South West and the increasing frontal demands for Oduduwa Republic, there will be no ground to believe that a President of Igbo extraction will be an effective antidote to separatist agitations or cries of marginalization in the zone.
Four, a crucial issue in the Igbo agitation for the presidency is what happens if someone regarded by the generality of the Igbo as an efulefu (a never do well who stands for nothing) is sprouted and supported by the kingmakers, and pitted against someone from another ethnic group who is deemed to be more honourable and intellectually endowed? My suspicion is that such a scenario will lead to a ‘moral dilemma’ for many Igbos – close to what we saw in the relationship between Olusegun Obasanjo and the Yoruba during and after the former’s presidency. Apart from Buhari, our national politics seems configured in such a way that anyone who is treated as a hero in his or her region is automatically distrusted by other component parts of the federation. This means that if the presidency is conceded to the Igbos, the chances of someone regarded as an efulefu emerging as President of the country is higher than someone who commands in-group respect. If such happens, will the Igbos feel cheated and continue the agitation for a President of Igbo extraction – as seems to be the case with the South-west now?
Five, while is true that having a person from one’s ethnic group/geopolitical zone as President is purely an elite game which will not necessarily guarantee progress for such a zone/ ethnic group, what is often forgotten is that identity politics (ethnicity, religion and regionalism) has acquired an ideological character, which brings in its wake both ethnic/regional ideologues and watchers. These set of people and groups have the capacity to press the right emotional button among their in-groups to throw a regime into a legitimacy crisis – if they are given the ammunition to strike. In essence, while the benefit of having a member of one’s ethnic or regional in-group as President is largely psychological, denying people that psychological benefit will fuel a sense of alienation and trigger a ‘de-Nigerianization’ process from that group. This is why respecting the rules of optics in governance is crucial and often a good indicator of statecraft.
Six, a major danger in not resolving the issue of zoning and power rotation – when it should be rigidly applied or discarded – is the danger of triggering the revival of the cluster politics of the First and Second Republics where each major ethnic group formed a party it dominated with the hope of using the control of its enclave as a bargaining chip. I see cluster politics as a step backward in our nation-building process.
Seven, our political history has also shown that apart from Buhari (who contested for the presidency a record three times before becoming lucky the fourth time), people who show obvious ambition to become President of the country hardly succeed in getting the crown. If our history repeats itself, we may be looking beyond the current crowd of people scheming to succeed Buhari for who becomes President in 2023. This means that Buhari’s successor and the zone the person will come from will most likely only be settled not more than four to six months to the election, and the person will more likely than not be a compromise candidate.
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You have said it all mentor,if I were a political actor i will just use this as a case study to win elections…. factual, balance and in-depth analysis of our political landscape… may Allah add more wisdom to you
On point! A well balanced analysis. Thank you Prof.