Nigeria Needs Igbo President in 2023 to End Rotational Presidency
What is the sound argument for Igbo president, based on power rotation? There are, actually, two mutually-reinforcing irrefutable arguments for it.
I was the spokesperson for the presidential campaign of Kingsley Moghalu in the 2019 general election. My decision to volunteer for his campaign was driven by my belief in democratic meritocracy, and my conviction that Professor Moghalu would positively impact that campaign season, based on his education, professional experience, eloquence and passion for a united Nigeria that works for all the citizens.
Moghalu’s year-long political mobilisation and campaign culminated in his outstanding performance at the main debate for the presidential election. On the basis of this, many Nigerians viewed him as the best candidate in that election.
But he didn’t win the election. The results declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), showed that Moghalu did not come close to winning the 2019 presidential election. And he has publicly stated that, although the votes INEC announced for him did not represent his estimate of the total number of votes he polled, he would not have won the election. Notwithstanding, he ran to win.
The 2019 presidential election was not decided on merit. It was decided on the notion that the north should retain power in 2019, to complete what was believed to be its turn for two terms of the presidency. Accordingly, the candidates of the two major political parties in that election were from the north: President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Whereas power rotation is a decision of the political elite, it is true that the electorate has often backed it, both psychologically and with their votes. This same scenario played out in 2019, in spite of the dire need for a competent president for the country.
The top-down decision for rotational presidency is arguably not undemocratic. But the evidence abundantly shows that it has ill-served the country. Apart from undermining a merit-based system of electing candidates (by votes or consensus) in the party primaries, rotational presidency has accentuated ethnicity in our governance system – far beyond our electoral choices. With ethnicity as the first consideration in reaching pre-election decisions, meritocracy began its journey to irrelevance in our public governance.
However, the decision for rotational presidency was caused, and has been sustained, by the need for justice, fairness and equity in the Nigerian political system. The outcry for political justice sounded off with the annulment of the June 12, 1993 landmark presidential election. The result already announced for the election showed M.K.O. Abiola, a Yoruba man from the southwest of the country, was on his way to victory and ending the streak of about 10 years of military dictatorship by two northern Generals: Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida. But “June 12” was not only annulled, Abiola subsequently died in detention after another northern military dictator, General Sani Abacha, had seized power and wanted to perpetuate his regime.
The entire annulment gambit cannot be completely explained without the overt prejudice of the northern military elite and their civilian supporters at that time against the south, as far as the political leadership of the country was concerned. Therefore, the cry for political justice and fairness entailed a leader from the Yoruba ethnic group was by all means elected president, when the country reached a political consensus to return to democracy in 1999. That agitation was resounding. Thus, the main candidates of the 1999 presidential election were two Yoruba men: Rtd General Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae. The former emerged President and served for eight years.
Any agitation for power rotation could have rightly ended in 2007, with the country shifting to a merit-based, democratic electoral process. But the politicians didn’t go along that path. The agitation by the northern leaders for power to rotate back to their region prevailed. Therefore, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua became President in 2007. But he was not able to complete his first term of four years; he died in office in May 2010. According to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which was substituted by a “doctrine of necessity” by the National Assembly, President Yar’Adua’s deputy, then-vice president Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from the south-south geopolitical zone of the country, became President.
The possibility of the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan had raised a new round of ethnic agitation for the top political office. It would have been natural to our democracy that Jonathan automatically succeeded President Yar’Adua, based on our Constitution. But the northern political henchmen did not want to allow it. The accident of the death of an incumbent president had presented a constitutional opportunity for the region where we derive crude oil, which accounts for over 70 per cent of government’s revenue, to produce the president for the first time in the history of the country. Yet, some northern leaders felt such a very rare opportunity should be denied.
But the prospective presidency of Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 was not just a constitutional imperative, it also became an agitation for political justice and fairness. To press home the demands, militants in the Niger Delta said they were ending the ceasefire agreement with the federal government which had restored relative peace in the oil-producing region. Ultimately, however, Jonathan became President, to serve out the one year left of the first term of Yar’Adua’s northern presidency.
It was the constitutional right of President Jonathan to run for president in the 2011 election -- leveraging his incumbency -- versus the belief that the north had to complete its presidential two terms. Whereas President Jonathan may be accused of opportunism for running for office in 2011, it is doubtful the north would have felt political justice was fully served if the region had produced a new one-term president in 2011. The north could have felt cheated by nature, or President Jonathan, of one year of its presidential two terms between 2007 and 2015, and use that as an excuse to hold on to power beyond May 2015. We may learn the decision the north would have reached in 2015 in 2023, when the region that produced the current president would have held power for eight straight years.
Where in all of this does the rotation of the presidency to the Igbos of the southeast come in? What is the sound argument for Igbo president, based on power rotation? There are, actually, two mutually-reinforcing irrefutable arguments for it. The first argument is that the north did not end power rotation in 2007. It should have done so, allowing the president to emerge from any part of the country through a fair and equitable process that promotes democratic merits. Instead, the north made ethnicity, or regional transfer of power, the basis of deciding the 2007 presidential election. As the 2019 presidential election would later show, power rotation is still alive and kicking.
The second argument is that, for Nigeria’s power rotation to be a credible political engineering, it must be among the north, southwest and southeast regions. These were the regional power blocs and geopolitical structures to which the British relinquished power at Nigeria’s independence in 1960. To end power rotation in 2023 without having the Igbos produce the President through the power rotation construct would be unjust, inequitable and unfair. With the presidency having by national consensus rotated between the north and the southwest, 2023 should be the turn of the Igbos. There is no just, fair and equitable reason to delay the rotation of the presidency to the southeast by another presidential election after the one of 2019.
However, the Nigerian power rotation is not a constitutional framework, susceptible to natural disruption, counterproductive and it needs to end in 2031. This means we have 11 more years to foster national unity, such that the democratic best man or best woman for the office of the president can emerge from any part of the country with popular acceptability. Short of this, we may as well accept that, although we tried for 70 years to integrate the country politically, it was an impossible task.
But Nigeria will not take a sudden flight to having a competent president in 2031 that emerges from any part of the country and is generally accepted. We have to prepare the stage for him or her. The only way to facilitate this is the proverbial killing of two birds with one stone in 2023, by electing a visionary, competent and nationalistic Igbo as president.
A merit-based electoral system is likely to work wonders for Nigeria. Apart from dramatically improving the quality of governance, our electioneering will help integrate the country under its U.S.-styled presidential system, one in which broad-based, cross-ethnic support is required to win the presidential election. Although we may be divided by ideology, we would all be fighting for one and the same country.
Jide Akintunde is the Managing Editor of Financial Nigeria magazine. He is also Director, Nigeria Development and Finance Forum.
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