Apart from the general insecurity engulfing virtually all the six geo-political zones in the country, more Nigerians are seriously concerned with which part of the country will produce the next Nigerian president in 2023. Some analysts from other parts of the country other than the South East have persuasively argued that the topmost political position in the land should be zoned to the South East, the only zone in the Southern Nigeria that has not occupied that post since the return of democracy in 1999.
This is also the position of many stakeholders in the South East region. Yet, there are other Nigerians who would want the position to go to any qualified Nigerian irrespective of where he comes from. This has been the dominant position of some people in the North. To these people, the ethnicity or tribe of the person does not matter and his religion does not also matter.
Regardless of whatever view any of the groups may hold on 2023, there is need to go back to history in order to understand Nigerian politics since independence till now to be in a better position to appraise which geo-political zone is entitled to produce the next president of Nigeria, which going by the gentleman power sharing arrangement between the North and South will definitely come to the South in 2023. It is not about zoning being or not being in APC constitution or the PDP not yet decided on where it will zone its presidency come 2023.
If the truth must be told, all political parties, especially the two dominant political parties, the PDP and the APC will zone their presidential ticket to the South in order to maintain the power rotation agreement between the North and the South. Any attempt to jettison this power sharing formula will upset the nation’s political equilibrium and generate its own crisis. Already, we have so many crises to contend with, adding the powering sharing own in 2023 will be too many to handle. Whether anyone likes it or not, there is nothing wrong with ethnicity or tribe to which a person belongs.
Any Nigerian president must definitely come from one ethnic group or the other. He must as well come from one religion or the other. Perhaps, tribe or ethnicity can only be demonized when a Nigerian leader decides to be nepotistic with appointments in federal ministries, departments and agencies and location of federal projects. This is an instance when ethnicity becomes a problem. In a federal system of government, the federal character must be reflected in most appointments in government’s agencies and institutions.
While the politics of state and local governments do not give Nigerians much headache, the same cannot be said of the national politics where every group scrambles for the soul of Nigeria. The scramble for federal power, the presidency, has been at the centre of the nation’s political crisis from independence till date. We have seen times without number the inherent abuses of such powers by the civilians, military and the civilians that replaced them.
Due to our colonial heritage, which emanated from the amalgamation of different and unwilling ethnic groups to form the Nigerian nation-state, we have not made conscious effort to dissolve into a nation where all of us will be known and addressed as Nigerians. In one of my studies, it has been underscored that “most Nigerians identify first with their ethnic nationality before subscribing to their ‘Nigerianness.’ There is overt ethnic consciousness than national feelings and nationalism.” Until we reach such consciousness, our politics, especially at the centre will continue to be defined by ethnic or tribal identity. In fact, it has always been like that since inception. That is why it is important for us to reflect on 2023 and why the ethnicity of the candidate for the presidency should matter. We cannot for now play our national politics without recourse to ethnicity, religion and other factors. There must be a balancing act between ethnic groups, regions and religions. This is the fact of our existence as Nigerians. During the first republic, the Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, came from the North while the President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, came from the East.
During the second republic, the President, Shehu Shagari, came from the North and the Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme came from the South. Even in the military, when the head of the government is from the North, his second in command will come from the South. We have seen the North/South arrangement since the current political dispensation which started in 1999. President Olusegun Obasanjo from the South West started the political relay race in 1999 with Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who hailed from the North East.
Then came President Umaru Yar’Adua from the North West and Vice President Goodluck Jonathan from the South South in 2007. With the demise of Yar’Adua, Jonathan paired with Namadi Sambo until he lost out during the 2015 election. President Muhammadu Buhari entered in 2015 with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and they will leave office at the expiration of their joint tenure in May 2023. From 1999 till date, it is only the South East zone that is yet to produce the presidency from the South. That is why there is strong clamour for a Nigerian president of South East extraction.
From the foregoing, it is easy to conclude that ethnicity and religion have been so important on who will be the president and vice president of the country. The two posts have invariably become the most coveted political positions in Nigeria. Not even the highly acclaimed June 12 election can truly be said to be blind to ethnicity. No person from the South East can truly be said to have presided over Nigerian affairs except Maj-Gen J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi’s six months in office as Nigeria’s first military Head of State. The presidency of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, following Nigerian’s republican stature in 1963 was ceremonial. It lacked executive powers. Everything now, therefore, favours a Nigerian president from the South East in 2023. It will be better if the two dominant political parties zone their presidential ticket to the South East as it was done to the people of South West in 1999. This is the best way to make our democracy inclusive and enduring. Democracy is not about the views of the majority alone; it is also about the views of others. That is why Americans voted Barack Obama into office so that the blacks will have a sense of belonging.
To those calling for the abrogation of the power sharing arrangement between the North and South, my response to them is that we cannot stop the practice when the post has not gone round. We cannot stop power rotation in Nigeria because some zones have had theirs. It should continue till the South East and other zones have theirs. It is after it has gone round that we can say bye to power rotation and even the federal character principle if need be.
Some people have asked what can a president from your zone do for you. My response is that, it is not that someone from your ethnic group will do wonders for your people. There is psychological satisfaction that one of yours has been there. There is pride and prestige in having one of your own at the seat of power so that when past presidents meet, you will be represented. At present, the South east is not represented in such meetings.
While Americans contend with the issue of race, in Nigeria, we worry over tribe and religion. We see things first from the ethnic and religious angles. We would have to live with it for some time until the North and South agree to form a nation out of the over 250 tribes or ethnic groups that make up the country. Sadly, the concept of one Nigeria is daily being contested by the insurgents, separatist agitators, bandits and others.
That is why there is urgent need for a continuous and productive dialogue and cooperation between the North and South to have a truly Nigerian state where there will be no inequalities. The best way to achieve such a nation state is through power sharing and radical restructuring of the country.