Nigeria has not conducted perfect elections since 1999. Nigerian leaders have not adequately satisfied the desires of the people in the provision of infrastructures and good governance. Despite all these shortcomings, Nigerian democracy has managed to thrive. The survival of the fourth republic has defied every prediction by local and foreign observers. Earlier republics could not even survive one tenure and one leader. Tafawa Balewa was the only leader of the first republic. He was killed. Shagari was the only leader of the second republic. He was overthrown. MKO Abiola was the only leader of the stillborn third republic. He died in detention for trying to be President. To the chagrin of the whole world, the fourth republic has transited from one leader to another, from one party to another and from an incumbent to an opposition party within 16 years, and our democracy is still standing. The ruling party, PDP, predicted then that this fit will take 60 years to achieve. It happened within 16 years and heaven did not fall. God is a Nigerian.
The foundation of this success was laid on June 12th, 1999, when Nigerians demonstrated that they were ready for democracy and tired of dictatorship, ethnicity and religious bigotry. They willingly voted for a Southern President in a Muslim-Muslim ticket. This great achievement was aborted by the Military junta who didn’t want to leave power. He cancelled the election and this was perceptively interpreted to mean that some ethnic nationalities and a section of Nigeria are more equal than others and didn’t want power to shift and rotate to other sections of the country. Nigeria was heading towards a collapse when the leaders and elders came together and positively decided to use democracy as an instrument to restore people’s belief in the equality of the ethnic nationalities that make up the Nigerian nation and consequently redress the injustice. They identified 6 Geo-Political Zones during the 1996 Constitutional Conference as the federating units and the basis to rotate the post of the President. The principle relied on was the federal character principle and it was on this principle that the fourth republic was born.
The federal character principle is enshrined in our Constitution and states in Section 14(3) that, “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs, shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies”. Although the 6 Geo-Political Zones did not find their way into our Constitution, they have long been legitimatized by the Federal Character Commission Act. The Act stipulates that positions which are not up to 37 in accordance with the 36-State structure and the FCT, should be shared on the basis of the 6 Geo-Political Zones. The political parties in 1999 adopted this position and ensured that the first 6 political posts in Nigeria were shared among the 6 Geo-Political Zones. The PDP, which was the only major political party by 1999 that is still existing today, vowed in Preamble 2(d) of its Constitution “to conform with the principles of power shift and power sharing by rotating key political offices amongst the diverse peoples of the country”. The APC, which is one of the major political parties today, swore in Article 20(v) that “… the National Working Committee shall subject to the approval of the National Executive Committee make Rules and Regulations for the nomination of candidates through primary elections. All such Rules, Regulations and Guidelines shall take into consideration and uphold the principle of Federal Character, gender balance, geo-political spread and rotation of offices, to as much as possible ensure balance within the constituency covered”. In the issue of the President of Nigeria, the entire Country is one constituency. This simply means that the post of the President should be shifted and rotated between North and South and among the 6 Geo-Political Zones of the Country.
General Abdulsalami Abubakar organised the 1999 elections. When the time came for the Presidential election, in the spirit of power shift and rotation and redressing the injustice meted out to South West by the cancellation of June 12 presidential election, all the political parties ceded the post of the President to the South West which saw the emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President. This landmark achievement worked like magic as it assuaged the feelings of the Yoruba people that they were no longer wanted in Nigeria and for the first time integrated the South West to the mainstream national politics. It was still in adherence to the principle of rotation and power shift that made Nigerians defeat Obasanjo’s third term agenda that would have perpetuated him in office for life and inevitably truncated our nascent democracy. Obasanjo was forced to hurriedly organise the 2007 election in a do or die fashion that brought his successors to power. He publicly admitted that Yar Adua was chosen from the North to respect the agreement that power should rotate between North and South. The Yoruba should be commended because the progressive elements among them were part of the people who frustrated Obasanjo’s attempt at third term. Having suffered injustice as a people in the past, they were not willing to use their undue advantage to deny others their own privileges and rights. Eventually, three Fulanis from the North contested the 2007 election as presidential candidates of the major political parties and no section complained of marginalisation.
The unfortunate death of President Yar Adua altered the power shift and rotation to the detriment of the North and it was agreed, reportedly, that Goodluck Jonathan should complete the two terms of the Yar Adua/Jonathan joint ticket and also take the turn of the South South to govern Nigeria. Efforts by President Goodluck Jonathan to break from the agreement and do another term was collectively rejected by the North which came together on the basis of the power shift and rotation and voted him out in 2015. The North will complete its eight years by 2023 and by the concept of power shift and rotation, power should go South by then. The South East is the only Geo-Political Zone that has not had a chance at the Presidency. It is very comforting to see the zeal of all the leadership cadre in Igboland, traditional, social-cultural, religious and political, registering their interest in the post of the President. This shows in very clear terms that Ndigbo prefer one Nigeria based on equality and justice to belonging to any separate country. This puts paid to the impression in some quarters that Ndigbo are interested in seceding from Nigeria. Also many lovers of Nigeria from other ethnic groups have pointed out that in the interest of justice, it is the turn of Ndigbo to produce the next President of Nigeria.
If there are people from the South, who are arguing that the agreement of power shift is between North and South and as such every Southerner should be allowed to contest for the Presidency in 2023. It is important to remind them that this North/South agreement was in force when Nigerians agreed to zone the post of the President to the South West. He that pleads equity must first of all do equity. In law, equity entails equality. The question to ask to determine which Zone qualifies for the post in 2023 is which Zone will suffer the greatest injustice if it is denied the President in the South? Which zone will feel most alienated, lose sense of belonging and loyalty to Nigeria if denied the President?
Ndigbo is the only ethnic group in Nigeria that has suffered the agony of war against them. They were rejected across Nigeria and refused independence in their own land. At the end of the war, they lost more than one million lives. Hunger was even adopted as a weapon of war against them. In order to reintegrate them after the war, they were promised rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation. That never happened. Over time, their infrastructures became dilapidated, their hard earned positions in the Nigerian military and civil service before the war were taken away from them. Voices of separatists among them get louder and louder everyday and is almost getting to a tipping point. The new generation of Ndigbo do not understand why they should be made to suffer from the misunderstandings between their forefathers and the forefathers of other tribes. Their argument is that if you say you want us in one Nigeria, you must make us feel like any other Nigerian or in the alternative, let us go. To worsen their psychological torture, whenever former Heads of State and Presidents are meeting anywhere, they will not see any Igboman with them. Yet they are told they are one of the majority tribes in Nigeria. What will be the best way to reconcile this people than ceding the President to them in 2023, after all, the other Geo-Political Zones in the South had taken their turns.
Ndigbo must realise that power is not gotten by threats in a democracy but by cohesion among their own people and collaboration with other peoples of Nigeria. Igbo Presidency will indeed become a soothing balm that will heal every wound of the past. In doing this, they will rely on the sense of justice of the people of South West for which they fought against their own Son, Obasanjo, to stop him from altering the Constitution to achieve a third term in office to the detriment of the earlier agreement for rotation and power shift. They will rely on the South South to reciprocate the love they showed to them when they supported their Son, Goodluck Jonathan, for President without minding that they are the next majority tribe in the South, after the South West. They will rely on the sense of sacrifice the North made in 1999 when they ceded the position of the President to the South West to compensate them for the injustice of June 12 and ensure that the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria is guaranteed. Ndigbo have openly demonstrated their desire for one Nigeria by aspiring to the post of the President of Nigeria, what remains is whether the other ethnic nationalities and Geo-Political Zones also believe in one Nigeria by ceding the post of the President to them. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.