Rotational Presidency, The politics of Zoning, and a Hobbled Nation: Confronting the Hypocrisy of the North/South Dichotomy

A cursory study of many modern states will reveal that their emergence was a result of pangs and pains borne by their forebears towards the realization of a more perfect union. History teaches us from the United Kingdom to France, Germany, USA, and Rwanda that a nation is forged together by the sweat and blood of its people. By no means is it insinuated here that Nigerian leaders of yore have not sacrificed blood and sweat. It is common knowledge that the Nigerian civil war caused the loss of many lives but it can be argued that it was waged for all the wrong reasons. What is missing in the Nigerian emergence is a lack of national conversation about the status or better still the viability of the Nigerian state.

To claim that Nigeria is just a geographic expression will not be totally inaccurate. Here is a country that came into being mainly due to the desire of the British crown in her quest to easily administer what was up until then two distinct protectorates.The ground work that is necessary for a nation state was not sufficiently present before the amalgamation. The nation state that emerged from it sees itself first as an Oduduwa republic, a Biafran republic, and an Arewa republic. These various subgroups within the Nigerian state did not share a collective sense of nationhood then and even now.

The proponents of zoning in 1999 were responding to an injustice that was done to Nigeria in 1993. These proponents cut across Nigerian religious, cultural, geographic, and linguistic barriers. To keep the boat of the Nigerian state afloat, the Nigerian rulership class led by General Ibrahim Babangida decided to reward the Yoruba nation with the presidency. The calculation was to install General Olusegun Obasanjo, a known ally of the rulership class into office and in their calculation the balance of power will be maintained. Thus, a gentleman agreement of power rotation between Nigeria's two former protectorates was born.

Olusegun Obasanjo, a man not known to miss a golden opportunity did not refuse this suspicious offer; he grabbed it with both hands. If Obasanjo had insisted to Ibrahim Babangida in 1998 that he (Obasanjo) will contest for the office of the president; not because of his ethnicity but because of his years of service to Nigeria and a desire to offer hope instead of fear to the Nigerian people; the idea of a rotational presidency will not have entered our vocabulary. But Obasanjo is not known to take such principled stands.

This is 2010 and yet again, we are in a conundrum; the talk of zoning is rife in the air. It is shameful that some have attempted to cast this as a North vs. South political battle. Those who are campaigning for power to be zoned to the North have simply ignored the lessons of the recent past. After popular agitation in 2007, General Obasanjo acquiesced to Northern political demands but instead of a free and fair election, he installed Umaru Yar'adua into power. The question that begs for answer is what if any did the North and Nigeria benefit from the Yar'adua presidency?

The southerners clamoring for the end of zoning are also being clever by half. There is a need to acknowledge that indeed there was a gentleman agreement of power rotation amongst the two zones and President Obasanjo was the first beneficiary. After such an acknowledgement, the South can puncture the North's argument for zoning by making a genuine argument for Nigeria. The proposed dialogue should be respectful and take into consideration the North's perceived sense of injustice. Southern Nigeria should be careful not to be seen also as campaigning for a Southern candidate because (A) he is an incumbent or (B) a Southerner.

The South can seize the moment to campaign for a pan Nigerian candidate. This struggle should not in anyway be about the North and South of Nigeria; this struggle ought to be and should be a struggle for the soul of Nigeria. If we succeed in electing a pan Nigerian president, there is a chance that we may begin the tortuous road to a nation state; where each and every region sees themselves first as Nigerians. Ideally, what needs to happen is for enough reasonable people from both sides to sit down and clamor for a functional Nigerian state. The two regions ought to work harmoniously to ensure that government is decentralized and states empowered to serve as laboratories of democracy.

If we do this, it will not matter whether the man from Onitsha is the president of Nigeria. As it is, it can be safely said that the clamor for zoning or no zoning is the clamor for lucre. When the role of government is sufficiently decentralized, both the North and the South of Nigeria will win.


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