One of the paradoxes of the Nigerian State is the pervasive tendency to define justice in very narrow, self-serving terms. This is especially the case when the issue at stake, borders on resource distribution; be it political appointments, distribution of projects or budgetary allocation. The result of this paradox can be found in skewed appointments, denial of equity, lip service to inclusion and diversity; all snowballing into the spectre of unending agitations for restructuring or self determination, that continues to plague the polity.
There is no doubt that the definition of justice has always been problematic. Nevertheless, no matter how justice is defined, it must include notions of equity and fairness. And for justice to make sense within the context of an ethnically plural society such as Nigeria, it ought to be holistically embraced, to capture the totality of the significant and, at times, painful sacrifices and contributions, made by of all the stakeholder groups in an effort to accommodate the “weak”, no matter how that weakness is manifested, be it in academics or resource endowment, to mention just a few.
That is why the convoluted argument that has trailed the jostling for the positions, of principal officers, in the next National Assembly, deserves to be subjected to dispassionate scrutiny and honest resolution if, indeed, we sincerely desire a solution to the challenge of nation-building. One sour point in the argument has been the position of those who insist that the South East does not deserve to head either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Advocates of this position hinge it on the claim that the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, did not garner enough votes from the zone.
Statistically, that could be correct. Yet, it is an argument that is flawed because it has not considered the weight of each vote that the APC got in the South East. It should never be forgotten that the President was required to emerge through not just the plurality of votes but by achieving a spread determined by scoring 25 percent of votes cast in two-thirds of the states of the Federation. President Buhari met that requirement in Abia, Ebonyi and Imo States; that is, in three out of the five states of the South East. Percentage-wise, that translates to 67 percent success in the South East. When compared that with his performance in the zone in 2015, not only does this translate to a profound improvement in the performance of the APC, it also confers on the President greater legitimacy.
It will amount to a gross understatement to say that that performance did not come by happenstance. As any unbiased watcher of the political dynamics of the South East will readily admit, was the outcome of the doggedness of the APC leaders in the zone; a performance that deserves commendation. Dr. Chris Ngige, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, Dr. Uche Ogar, Hon. T.O.E. Ekechi, Senator Hope Uzodinma, Senator Ngozi Nwaogu, and their compatriots encountered formidable odds, risked stigmatization and suffered physical abuse; all in a relentless effort to give the APC a national character and ensure that the President was not denied the two-thirds requirement in the South East. They succeeded. It is within this context that the disingenuous attempt, by some politicians and commentators, to deny the South East zone the leadership of one of the arms of the National Assembly, should be seen as the height of mischief if not outright disregard for the unity and stability of Nigeria. This is even more repugnant, with the emergence of Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba as one of the top contenders for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Proponents of the winner-takes all, of ‘might is right,’ line of argument, conveniently ignore the fact that if the winner-takes-all principle was to apply in every competitive situation such as Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination, candidates from certain zones may have great difficulty gaining admission into Nigerian universities, to study courses requiring very high scores. But the framers of our Constitution and successive administrations were perceptive enough to eliminate such an extreme position. That is why JAMB scores are lowered for candidates from some states of the Federation. That is the meaning of diversity; the rationale behind Affirmative Action in the United States of America and the essence of the Federal Character Principle in Nigeria. That is why President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly should reject the attempt to MARGINALIZE and retire, to political oblivion, one of the historical TRIPODs on which Nigeria’s Federal structure has always rested.
Pray, where are the proponents of exclusion based on electoral performance when JAMB candidates from the South East are denied university admission in order to accommodate their counterparts from other zones? Where are the proponents of electoral performance when, in spite of sterling performance, civil servants from some zones are compelled to mark time at the same level in order accommodate their counterparts from other parts of the country? Why should we not apply the same principle of quota system, federal character and zoning in determining leadership positions in the legislature? When has it become the case that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander?
President Buhari and the leadership of the APC will be making a grave mistake if they succumb to the shenanigans of politicians with dubious nationalistic credentials who have no qualms denying the South East against zone the equity they had demanded, for their zone, in time past. To buttress this point, it is instructive that those elements who, in 2011 swore never to forgive President Goodluck Jonathan, for failing to stop the conspiracy that denied the South West the position of Speaker, are in the forefront of the unholy alliance to thwart the justifiable demand of the South East for the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives. As events turned out, neither did they forget nor did they forgive both the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan. In fact, some people believe that the Jonathan Presidency ended the very date Tambuwal ascended the throne to the exclusion of the south west. You are left to wonder why those strong voices of equity from the South West have now either gone quiet or are singing a completely different tune under the same moral challenge.
It is annoying when some self-serving politicians try to hoodwink us into accepting that there is no morality or principle in politics; that everything is about expediency. That is correct only for the malevolent characters who have held the polity captive and who manipulate the naivety of the innocent electorate, to foist on the polity a moral regime that neither promotes development nor enthrones social harmony. To such people, they should dust up the Seven Deadly Sins of Humanity, and read about politics without principles, as postulated by the legendary Indian Leader, Mohandas Karamachand Gandhi, whose impact on social and political thought explain the soar away success that India’s democracy has recorded and why today, in spite of a huge population, the country has taken its seat among the world’s tech giants.
It takes some genuine self-examination and concerted pursuit of justice, based on equity and fairness, to succeed in nation-building. That is why, in spite of earlier missteps, President Buhari’s recent assurance that he would run an inclusive administration, is not only reassuring but inspirational.
The point to start is at the National Assembly, the repository of the Sovereign Will of the people. The President should ignore all self-serving gladiators posturing for 2023. Let him rise to the same statesmanship that earned Nelson Mandela, the status of a global icon. Let the South East produce the Speaker of the Ninth House of Representatives. That is justice based on equity and fairness; and that will strengthen the APC in the South East, for future electoral exploits and success.