If there is any subject that is favourably competing with the state of insecurity in Nigeria today, it is certainly the issue of presidential zoning in the coming 2023 elections.
The only other issue tailing that will be issue of the entitlement to the collection of the value added tax between the federation and some states.
This issue of value added tax collection, just as that of rotational presidency, has largely pitched majority of the Northern states against the Southern states. In virtually all conversations recently, this issue of which region or zone the next president of Nigeria should come from is domineering. It is a major discourse amongst the politicians as well as practically all other stakeholders in the Nigerian project.
In fact, it has transcended the traditional strugglers for power, into the various ethnic groups and individuals. To this end, the Governors of the two regions of the country have publicly come out to state their respective positions; while the southern Governors believe that the presidency must naturally be zoned to the southern part of the country, the northern Governors are of the view that it must be opened to all. Thus, the crux of the ‘agitation’ is simply whether the southern part of the country should exclusively be entitled to the slot come 2023, or the ticket be made free for all, irrespective of the region or zone you are from.
This is equally an issue that I have perfunctorily commented upon in recent past but not in a formal manner that I intend to do now. Although there has been legion of comments from several quarters and individuals on the subject, of interest to me however are those of two of my colleagues that I read of recent. In a seemingly controversial manner, the two erudite scholars will appear to be on a war path on the issue but to mind, their positions are easily reconcilable and sustainable.
The first to fire the salvo is my friend and brother, J. S. OKUTEPA, SAN who contended in his submission that “Nigeria does not need ‘power shift’ but ‘leadership shift’, ‘character shift’ and ‘attitude shift’; a shift in ‘the way we do things’. Nigeria does not need Igbo, Hausa/Fulani or Yoruba power shift because it is an insult to the collective sensibilities of the more than 240 other tribes that are part of the Federation of Nigeria. Nigeria does not need a ‘power shift’ to any of these so-called majority ethnic nationalities of Igbo, Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba because leaving power in the majority ethnic groups has led to deteriorating political, social, and economic developments as the majority ethnic groups have successfully nurtured corruption. Come 2023, let us avoid power shift… we cannot continue to operate a lawless system and expect good results and development… it is the leadership shift we need”.
This position of the learned Silk used to be my position until recent unfolding events, particularly that of justifiable secession and restructuring clamour. My thought has been that we must not emphasize our diversity at the expense of our unity which should be our strength. However, observing unfolding events convinces me otherwise.
That is to say that if the unity must be promoted and sustained, all parts of the country must be positioned to believe in the unity and indivisibility of the nation. Of course, there are several ways of achieving this but the most potent is where they are given the proper recognition in the scheme of things in the country, particularly with regard to the occupation of public offices. Beyond the allegation of nepotism that is rife in the country, the obvious fact is that the number one political office of the country is in the last six years plus being in possession of a particular region of the country, precisely the northern region. The expectation, therefore, is that the office will naturally move to the southern part of the country.
This is what is being described as rotation as opposed to the treatise of Okutepa, SAN on leadership shift. The learned Silk’s position is simply that we should not be bothered by the region or zone the next president of the country is emerging from but rather focus on the content of the potential leader. The import of this is that such competent leader can come from any part of the country.
This argument is indisputably sound where the question of nationalism and patriotism is settled. In other words, it is feasible where the inhabitants of the country see themselves as one. Regrettably, however, this cannot be said of our nation which historically, in the first instance, is a conglomeration of several ethnic nationalities that are not well-knitted. Even if the reality of that evolution was not foreseeable and preventable, same cannot be said of subsequent events to the country’s independence.
The expectation would have been that with time, the differences in us as men and women from different ethnic nationalities would have been dwarfed. Unfortunately, our leaders, over the years, have not succeeded in promoting this ideal but rather actively done otherwise. Today, nobody can pretend that the diversity is staring us more in the face as agitation for restructuring of the nation and secession continues to grow.
This fact convinces me, therefore, that there certainly must be an arrangement in place capable of engendering the confidence of all if the origin of the potential president must not matter. It is the absence of this thought that preliminarily flaws the contention of my brother Silk and necessitates the rotation of the presidency amongst the different regions and probably zones. Thus, my hitherto view of allowing the emergence of any Nigerian as the president of the country has changed. As indicated above, this is not only premised on the historical evidence of the existence of different tendencies in the country but even recent glaring facts of seeming domination and oppression in the country.
The implication of this is the creation of multiple suspicions amongst the different ethnic nationalities. This is now more pronounced mainly between the major regions of the north and south of the country. Altercations along those lines of diversity is now a recurrent decimal in virtually all discourses in the country. This ugly development is certainly unhealthy for the nation.
Thus, to assuage the feeling and allay the fears of the other region, it is expedient that the presidency must be allowed to shift to another region if we mean well for the nation. It is equally essential that this must be done in order to promote the unity of the country crucial to her development. Our leaders need to heed the admonition of the former President of the USA, Bill Clinton, offered to the residents and people of America as a farewell message on his leaving office, quoted in Udemezue’s work and which is apt to the Nigerian situation, to the effect that “… we must remember that America cannot lead in the world unless here at home we weave the thread of our coat of many colours into the fabrics of America.
As we become ever more diverse, we must work harder to unite around our common values and common humanity…. In our hearts and in our laws, we must treat all our people with fairness and dignity, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation”. In line with the above, my view is that the presidency must shift to the southern part of Nigeria. In the course of preparing this script, I stumbled on another of my colleague’s work, which is that of Sylvester Udemezue, titled, ROTATIONAL PRESIDENCY IS A MANDATORY REQUIREMENT OF THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION AND A NECESSARY PRE-CONDITION FOR STABILITY AND NATIONAL INTEGRATION (a rejoinder to J.S. Okutepa, SAN).
This work substantially mirrors my thoughts on the subject and I was willing to adopt the reasoning therein in toto as mine but for the volume and the editorial policy of my publisher that forbids same.
I, therefore, will encourage my readers to locate the full version of his thoughts which are not only scintillating, well researched, pungent but fantastically articulated. In fact, I had sought his permission to just simply run the article in my column but for the editorial policy that will not permit. Hence, my decision to reecho his thoughts which substantially align with mine but for the extensive legal basis graciously provided by him to all the questions. The starting point of this discourse is the grundnorm, the Constitution of the country which a lot of commentators have relied upon in insisting that rotational presidency is unknown to the Nigerian Constitution and therefore ‘illegal’.
This was the loud position of the northern Governors also. The apostles of this view often forget that it is not everything that the Constitution of the country provides for. It is only the Nigerian Constitution that I have seen to be this voluminous. Constitutions simply contain the fundamental basis of organization and not the details. In responding to this question, the great scholar, Udemezue, deployed the preamble to the Constitution in conjunction with relevant and germane provisions contained in Chapter 2 of the Nigerian Constitution on Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.
The preamble to the Nigerian Constitution stipulates that the country must be organized and run on the principles of freedom, equality and justice for the purpose of the unity of the country. Further, the Constitution recognizes and reminds all his subjects of its supremacy which implies that the affairs of the country must be run on the strength of its provisions.