Nigeria: 2023 Presidency - Nigeria Faces Deeper Turbulence Without Power Shift

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12 May 2022

SO what? That's the key question for thinking through the future consequences of any action. As a critical-thinking tool, it forces you to identify the possible implications of your action. Well, let's apply this test to the 2023 presidency.

Of course, there are many "so-what?" questions about 2023, but my focus here is on the critical issue of zoning. So, let's ask two so-what? questions about power shift.

First: So, what if another Northerner succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari next year? Second: So, what if a Southerner outside the South-East becomes president? I can hear someone saying: "Heavens will not fall."

Really? But what if Nigeria is thrown into a destabilising political crisis? This is not scare-mongering or dire catastrophising. Rather, it's a dose of realism about the consequences of riding roughshod over the principles of fairness andequitythat make power shift imperative inNigeria, a multi-national state.

Lately, I have been asking the "so what?" questions, thinking through the probable consequences of both the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, rejecting zoning for the 2023 presidency.

Sadly, my fear is that the ensuing political turbulence would create a cataclysmic perfect storm that, God forbid, could induce military adventurism! The problem and its root-cause stare us in the face.

Looking at how politicians are jostling in droves for the 2023 presidency, without displaying an iota of integrity, without giving a hoot about the impacts of their selfish ambitions on inter-ethnic unity and national cohesion, one must wonder whether Nigeria is not teetering on the brink of some political calamity.

It was once fashionable to say that if the military had not intervened in 1966 and terminated the six-year-old First Republic, Nigeria would have become a matured democracy. It was also often said that if the military had not intervened in 1983 and ended the nearly five-year-old Second Republic, Nigeria would have become a strong democracy. But what excuse can anyone give for the appalling state of politics and democracy in Nigeria today, despite, by next year, 24 years of uninterrupted civil rule?

Truth is, Nigeria, cobbled together by the colonialists, was a mere geographical entity, not a nation, and over 60 years after its independence, it has failed to evolve into a unified nation state; its ethnic nationalities are locked in hostile rivalry and cut-throat struggle for power; its self-aggrandising politicians exploit ethnicity for their selfish political ambitions instead of building nationhood through deliberate promotion of fairness and equity, conditions that engender a sense of inclusion and, thus, nation-building. Take the zoning issue.

PDP has zoning provisions in its constitution, but, pressured by its powerful Northern members, decided to throw its presidential ticket open, allowing for the emergence of a Northern candidate against the imperative for a Southern president in 2023.

Even stranger, APC, which was widely believed to have zoned its presidential ticket to the South, recently said, through its new chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, that it had not zoned the presidency, leaving room for the possible emergence of a Northern candidate.

Unhelpfully, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, weighed in, saying that "zoning is retrogressive, unwanted and anti-democratic"; its leader, Ango Abdullahi, described zoning the presidency between North and South as "dead and buried". The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF, retorted: "Bury zoning, bury Nigeria"! Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, fired back, saying it wasn't afraid of secession, insisting the North must produce the next president.

Meanwhile, all is not well in the South. Ohaneze Ndigbo said the next president must come from the South-East, which has not produced president since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999. But, emerging from their recent meeting in Lagos, Yoruba APC leaders insisted that the presidency "must come to the South-West in 2023", despite the zone having produced president for eight years and vice-president for, by next year, eight years.

And in the South-South, which produced president for five years and vice-president for three years, several aspirants, including some strange characters, want to become Nigeria's president next year. So, we have a zero-sum, non-cooperative situation in which neither the parties nor the politicians, neither the North nor the South, neither the South-West nor the South-South, care about zoning, showing utter disregard for the principles of fairness, equity and justice.

Which brings us back to the two so-what? questions. Take the first: So what if APC and PDP field Northern candidates in next year's presidential election? Well, there are two possible scenarios, neither of which bodes well. First, as Chief Edwin Clark, leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said in a recent interview, the South could boycott the election.

Surely, if the South boycotts the poll, no Northern candidate will have the requisite spread -one-quarter of the votes cast in two-thirds of 36 states, that is 24 states - to become president. That would trigger a major crisis. Would President Buhari invoke Section 305 of the Constitution to extend his tenure until, perhaps, the South could be pacified? What could happen if he did?

Second, even if the South doesn't formally boycott the poll, the turnout could be extremely low across the South, well below 10 per cent. In such circumstances, where's the "winning" Northerner candidate's legitimacy to govern Nigeria?

Attempting to use military force to suppress the inevitable agitations could amount to riding the back of the tiger or endangering Nigeria's corporate existence. What about the second so-what? question: a Southerner outside the South-East becoming president? That presupposes that the North agreed to zone the presidency to the South, but the South refused to micro-zone it to the South-East.

Well, there would be deep and festering uneasiness in the South-East, and a Southern president, particularly a Yoruba, whose zone wilfully ignored theIgbo's fairness-based claim to the presidency would struggle to contain the rising agitations. Power rotation is an imperative. To avoid escalating political instability, the presidency should be zoned to the South and micro-zoned to the South-East.

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