By Akin Osuntkun
Caveat emptor: No arguments and positions canvassed hereunder should be construed as preference for any other option than the expeditious return to true federalism going forward.
“The proposition for an Igbo president is likely to be the most consequential subject in the 2023 election year. If it comes about, there will be consequences for Nigeria and the Igbos. If not, the consequences will be even more dire.
If the proposition fails, Nigeria will carry the moral burden of continuing as a nation sustained on systemic injustice. Fifty years after the end of our civil war, the estrangement of the people of the South-east from the mainstream of national political life is a national embarrassment”- Chidi Amuta.
The Nigerian presidency (inclusive of the prime minister variant of the First Republic) is a graveyard of group and individual ambitions- some, fatally so. First, save major General Muhammadu Buhari, none of the lot of Tafawa Balewa, Shehu Shagari, Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan deliberately sought the office.
It was Ahmadu Bello who drafted Tafawa Balewa and delegated the office of the prime minister to the latter. Under the parliamentary Westminster model, Bello was the prime minister designate by virtue of his position as the leader of the majority party, the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). Shehu Shagari was contesting for a Senate seat, before he was equally maneuvered to run for the presidency by a shadowy Northern power caucus.
Olusegun Obasanjo followed suit when he was drafted by a remorseful Northern military establishment to wear the Nigerian political crown. Obasanjo, in turn, crowned Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan as president and vice president respectively. The workings of providence subsequently ensured the latter succeeded the former as Nigerian president.
To the contrary, nearly all the self-willed contenders including Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Shehu Yar’Adua and Moshood Abiola were felled and the latter two traded their life to the bargain. The exception to the rule, Buhari, was first rendered physically prostrate and debilitated for the better part of his first term as president but more importantly is the attendant destruction and death of his reputation as a potential transformative Nigerian leader. He is on course to surpass Sani Abacha as personification of Nigerian leadership dysfunction.
This personal tragedy is a fate worse than those who did not accomplish their objective. Failure to realise his presidential ambition would have assured Buhari immortality in the manner of the Awolowo precedent. He would have been similarly feted and celebrated as the best president Nigeria never had. What this antecedence and precedence suggest is that ascension to the top dog office in Nigeria is fraught and wedded to the quirk of providence. And that none of the names being speculated and bandied around in the media is likely to make the final line and breast the tape.
For that matter, if I was recruited to do a trend analysis and draw a country profile on Nigeria with a view to 2023 and on the evidence of contemporary ominous portent, I will begin by casting serious doubt on the capacity of Nigeria to get to 2023 in one piece let alone staging a stable election and transition. More than ever before, Nigeria is grappling with an escalating crisis of nationhood compounded by a destabilising economic distress bordering on the disastrous.
Someone at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) recently bellowed the rude awakening that Nigeria now begs to sell a barrel of oil for nine dollars-which is probably less than the cost of production. The danger of economic despair and hopelessness is that it is individually self-motivating and sets the stage for anachical implosion. A desperately hungry and hopeless Nigerian has no stake in the peace and stability of society. Of recent, Nigeria has witnessed intermittent intimations of this starvation induced compulsive disorder in the pervasive guerrilla insurgency ravaging the North and the general security breakdown. Saddled with this proximate perfect storm, what are the options available as palliatives and remedial gestures?
Of essence is the ability of the leadership to inspire and mobilise the citizenry across board to commonly confront and overcome the adversity and crisis attendant on the natural course of human existence. This is the prescribed leadership skillset for Nigeria as with any other nation especially the young ones comprising groups with disparate cultural origins and orientation. Hence the question, what best serves the cause of national integration and political stability at this critical juncture? Is there a better option than the purposive gesture of healing the festering civil war wound and the attendant political marginalisation of the Igbo by the contrivance of an Igbo acceding to the Nigerian presidency in 2023? In my reckoning, any option to the contrary amounts to the elevation of abusive power politics over the ideal of national unity and integration.
2023 presents an opportunity for Nigeria to subordinate realpolitik to the politics of ‘moral consequence’ without which no nation can long endure. The first America president, George Washington set the standard for the ideal of moral politics in the United States when he declined to serve beyond two terms of four-year tenure as president- a precedent that has subsisted as a foundational norm. He did more. He turned down the offer of becoming the king and pointed out the contradiction in the American rejection of the British monarchy only to adopt the same wrongdoing of monarchical rule.
Several decades later, Abraham Lincoln reinforced the moral tone of American politics with the abolition of slavery and staked all in the pursuit of this noble objective. A more morally informed Nigerian nationalist president would seize this occasion as a teachable moment for all of us on the citizen requirement of altruism and self-sacrifice. Think of what a selfless concession of political power would do to the moral fibre of Nigerian politics and the lesson it will serve for upcoming generations. It is a singular opportunity of disavowing the pernicious philosophy of might is right that crystallised as a national ideology at the conclusion of the civil war in 1970.
From the counter coup of July 1966 to the end of the war in 1970, the Igbo subset of Nigerians were subjected to the height of unrelieved tragedy. If there was any account to be settled for the offence of January 15th, 1966, the reprisal mutiny that followed in July of the same year was more than adequate recompense. The pogroms that ensued thereafter was a genocidal victimisation that justified the recourse to secession. Fifty years later and the escalating crisis of the national question to the bargain, one of the few options left to assuage this crisis is a national nod to the notion of conceding the Nigerian presidency.
’This is the essence of the politics of moral consequence whose ultimate aim is to avert the dire consequences of a nation sustained on systemic injustice’. The criminalisation of the Igbo on account of the civil war stands on an incurably wobbly premise. First, they were more of victim and certainly not the villain. Second is that both the Western and the Northern regions had loudly contemplated the same recourse. In the case of the latter, the contemplation was as vivid as the following account by Ahmadu Kurfi: “The original intention of the July 29 counter-coup leaders was to seize the reigns of government and then announce the secession of the Northern Region from the rest of the country.
This was in line with the general mood of the people of the North whose clarion call during the May 29 disturbances in the North, which claimed many Igbo lives, was Araba or Aware (Hausa word for ‘secede’). Whatever extenuating circumstances that resulted in the presidency of Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari holds true and valid in the reservation of the office for the South-east this time around and the remaining two zones of North-central and North-east thereafter. Haven thus fulfilled all righteousness it automatically lapses with the incumbency of the sixth zone.”
The Return of Junaid Mohammed
“First and foremost, argues Mohammed, my understanding of democracy is not about the postulation of people who talk about zoning or rotation in democracy. This is because zoning or rotationing is not in any way democratic. Democracy is at its finest when we talk about freedom of choice by the people. When you believe that power is just going to be rotational, then it means you also believe that power is going to be abused,” This postulation then begs the question.
Why don’t we equally throw recruitment into the Nigerian public service open to free market meritocracy? Why should we limit the principle of the freedom of choice to political choice alone? This was the same man threatening fire and brimstone were Buhari denied a second term-because zoning should not be jettisoned when it is the turn of the North. So why should we now jettison zoning when political equity suggests it should be the turn of the Igbo? Those who want to affect the posture of democracy purist had better begin with the 1999 Constitution.
By the standards of democracy, the Nigerian constitution is an aberration, it was foisted on Nigeria by a military dictatorship. Even at the level of realpolitik, it raises the question of the likely consequences of marginalising a regional subset of Nigeria ad infinitum. How much does the relative peace at the Niger Delta oil fields have to do with the fact Goodluck Jonathan was a Nigerian president? Absent Jonathan’s incumbency, how effective would we be in convincing the Niger Delta freedom fighters that they otherwise have a stake in the corporate stability of Nigeria?
Structurally, Nigeria is not a level playing group and it was in acknowledgement of this imbalance that federalism became an imperative. It is the present operative and constitutional abrogation of this imperative that is at the root of the political iniquities to which remedy is sought by zoning. Until Nigeria is restored to true federalism, it will continue to require deliberate efforts of political palliatives to foster stability and sense of belonging. If the centre has become far more consequential than it should be in federalism (through the usurpation of the coordinate powers of the supposed second tier of government) then it requires the kind of mitigation that federalism renders superfluous.
-This Dialogue With Nigeria by Osuntkun was first published in Thisday