Recently, when the revered and accomplished former journalist, Mallam Mamman Daura, granted an interview to the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), one thing that came to my mind was the Igbo proverb: The toad does not run in the daytime for nothing. As the Igbo say, whenever the toad runs out of its hole or hiding place in daytime, either it is after something or something is after it.
Mallam Daura rarely grants interviews. Even when he turned the landmark 80 not long ago, he did not grant any interview. He is not also seen much at public functions or political gatherings. He is conservative, reticent and calm. In the last five years, many things have been ascribed to him. Some say he is the power behind the throne in the President Muhammadu Buhari presidency. Others say he is the fulcrum of the proverbial cabal in government. Mallam Daura is neither a member of the current federal cabinet nor any government board. He is a well-respected private citizen.
However, one thing you can give to Mallam Daura is that his words are weighty. When he talks, people listen, being neither frivolous nor garrulous. So was it a few weeks ago when he spoke about the occupation of the next Nigerian presidency, in 2023, saying it should be based on competence and not zoning. At a time when there are a lot of calculations and expectations about the 2023 presidency, Mallam Daura’s positions had stirred a hornets’ nest. Many have cried blue murder, accusing him of flying a kite about the political plot of his section of the country, the North. Those from the southern part of the country, mainly, have faulted his stance, saying that to talk about competence now, against zoning, is more or less a coup against the South, which is expected, from the unwritten order of power rotation, to produce the next President of Nigeria.
It must be noted that, since 1999, when the country returned to democracy, there has been rotation of power, for the presidency, between the North, as a political bloc, and the South, as a geographical zone. President Olusegun Obasanjo, from the southwestern part of Nigeria, started the rotation regime. He was President from 1999 to 2007. Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, from northwestern Nigeria, took over the mantle from 2007, but died in office in 2010. In accordance with provisions of the Constitution, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, then Vice President, from the South-South, assumed office as President in May 2010. He completed Yar’Adua’s tenure and went ahead to win the 2011 presidential election. The expectation was that, after him, if he had won the presidential election in 2015, a northerner would take the next slot. These happened in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Jonathan lost the 2015 election to President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), from northwestern Nigeria. Buhari has completed four years in office and won re-election for another four years. Nigerians hope that, after his tenure of office, the mantle of leadership would fall on a southerner. In fact, the agitation has been that the two major political parties – APC and PDP – should, in the next presidential election, present southern candidates only, just as they presented candidates from the North in 2019. This is to ensure that, whichever of the two political parties that wins, a southerner would be President.
With this expectation, the position of Mallam Daura on zoning rankles among those hoping for power rotation to the South in 2023. No doubt, Mallam Daura is entitled to his opinion. He is right that competence should be the cardinal criteria in picking Nigeria’s leaders, including President. However, condemning zoning in its entirety raises some suspicion. It gives the impression that the rule is being changed in the middle of a game or competition. Zoning or rotation of power does not eliminate competence. There is no part of this country where a competent President cannot be picked. Competence knows no race, colour or creed. As someone said, “competence is no longer a scarce commodity.”
Some of us were of the view that the important thing is for the country to have a competent President who has the wherewithal and capacity to deliver good governance. However, when a people begins to think or arrogate to themselves the toga of always being in the driver’s seat of power, we can’t help than say that charity must begin at home. In a country where all the component units should be equal stakeholders, irrespective of population and accident of state creation, equity and justice should prevail. And justice and equity presuppose that not one section of the country should only produce the President.
Mallam Daura is a man I respect so much. People like him make journalism profession proud. That a journalist would wield the enormous power attributed to Mallam Daura gives me joy. It shows that our profession is a force to be reckoned with. However, there are some things about Mallam Daura’s competence theory that must be critically interrogated. Who defines competence? As Laurence J. Peter said, “competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eyes of the beholder.” These questions are pertinent: Were the outcomes of the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections a result of competence? Would Mallam Daura say that President Buhari was chosen over Jonathan in 2015 because he was more competent? Would he say that President Buhari emerged as winner of the 2019 election because he was more competent than former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, of the PDP or Prof. Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressives Party (YPP)?
By simple definition, competence is “the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.” Would Mallam Daura say that, from 2015, things have been done successfully and efficiently in the economy, security, discipline in government, elimination or reduction of corruption, unity of the country and in making Nigerians proud of their country? Competence has never been the driving force in Nigeria’s politics. Voters are not primed or in a position to determine competence. In a largely illiterate and poverty-stricken country, the majority of voters do not have the capacity to know and determine competence in elections. In Nigeria’s setting, the motivating factors in elections are ethnicity and religion. And those who have the greater population are using it against the rest of the country, without providing a convincing justification for such decision.
Some people would say that a time was in the country when voters from all divides rose up in unity in an election that would have produced a nationally acceptable President in the late Chief Moshood Abiola. They may also say that the populace, at that time, shunned religion and voted a Muslim-Muslim ticket in Abiola and Alhaji Babagana Kingibe. Yes, these happened. However, the question is: Would there have been such a result had there been a Christian-Christian ticket? Were Abiola and Kingibe Christians, would the Muslims in the upper part of Nigeria have accepted the ticket, just as the Christians in the South did not reject the Muslim-Muslim ticket?
No matter how we pretend, Nigeria has been polarised in a North-South line. The dichotomy became more pronounced in the last five years because of actions of those in the current government. The south of Nigeria now feels more marginalised in government than ever. That is why the zone is agitating for restructuring of the country, to address the imbalance in state and local government creation, resource allocation and political power control, among others. One of the ways to assuage the feelings of the South is to maintain the already established power rotation between North and South. Rotation would not relegate competence.
I commend Mallam Daura for bringing to the front burner the need for competence. He should, however, know that competence should not only be invoked in playing politics. It should be in all spheres of life. The first thing to do is to abolish the Federal Character principle. We cannot be talking about competence when, in admission into schools, a section of the country would be tagged educationally disadvantaged and, therefore, given lower cut-off mark, while the so-called educationally advanced section of the country would have far higher cut-off mark. If we are amplifying competence, it should be in everything. It means that when you want to appoint the managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) or the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) or any government corporation, for instance, the position would be advertised and those who apply, within or outside, are interviewed by a known recruitment company. The best among them should then be appointed. Admission into schools, secondary school or university, should be on merit. The grading and expectation should be the same for everybody. Those who make high marks nationwide should get admission and those who are below average should not be admitted. This is the principle of competence.