By Ayodele Okunfolami
IN a couple of media interviews, elder statesman, Mamman Daura had made comments suggesting that geopolitical zoning of the presidency be jettisoned.
He argued that politics is a game of numbers and that anybody or geopolitical region interested in the most prized position of the presidency should align themselves with mainstream political establishments.
His view was that political positions should be competitive for the most qualified and not served on a platter of rotation.
Daura’s comments generated debates from different groups who smell an underbelly of ethno-oligarchic entitlement in the words of the elder statesman. Some sociopolitical groups have differed with Daura, opting instead for a Southern presidency in 2023 as a way of addressing the perceived imbalance in the polity.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State even recently reaffirmed his earlier argument for the major political parties to rally around a Southern candidate in the next general elections. By the way, Daura was not speaking for any political party or the presidency. The highest seat of power has distanced itself from his comments with a statement.
Zoning is an unspoken understanding by the ruling class, whereby the position of the presidency is expected to oscillate between aforehand-agreed geopolitical zones of the federation.
Because practically every demographic exercise has revealed a certain region as the more populated section of the nation and coincidentally has been in power, whether through civil or military rule, for the larger chunk of the nation’s existence, other parts of the federation whose sum can’t match have felt cheated.
Should a futuristic and competitive nation still be debating on the tongue and tribe of its leader in the 21st century? Why are gerontocrats on either side of the zoning aisle turning back the clock by deciding the trajectory of a youthful population with a strong presence in meritocratic diaspora?
Where has provincial presidency taken us besides the pseudo psychological satisfaction that “our man is in power”? Over time, it has shown that regions from where the Nigerian president comes from are left deficient in infrastructure, education, healthcare, security and every other common denominator.
Then why are all regions angling for the presidency? Can Nigerians south of the Niger wager that a dog-eared, bowler hatted or red capped president guarantee the second Niger Bridge, East-West Rail or the Lagos-Ibadan expressway or reverse the patterned skewness in governmental appointments?
Unfortunately, it is the combination of all these developmental deficiencies and presumed injustices that makes ethnic groups continue to eye the presidency. First, defining democracy in terms of periodic elections or the individuals that occupy such positions is myopic.
Democracy, often defined as “government of the people, for the people and by the people”, actually makes the office of the citizen the highest office. When entrenched, it is expected to evolve the society into egalitarianism.
However, Nigeria is getting more distant from this ideal seeing the inordinate benefits associated with elective positions, expanding inequalities and opportunities to be change agents tied only to exalted statuses.
This is why leadership positions into medical, community development and bar associations, and transport, students and labour unions are becoming more bitter and messier by the ballot. From universities to sporting associations, Nigerian leadership positions are becoming more contentious.
Periscoping this with the actions of the political class that looks for every means possible to attain and retain power, only shows our problems are more structural.
As long as economic power and ability to make reforms remains unjustifiably in the hands of a minority, majority will continue to canvass for political power as a means of satisfaction.
Although marriage and market attempt to blur our regional and religious lines, the overall national infrastructural and institutional underdevelopment darkens those contours the more.
When journeys across the federation are getting longer, more tortuous, riskier and becoming impossible because of deplorable roads and insecurity, ethnic mistrust will linger.
When the vicissitudes of our communication network fluctuate between husky and poor, we will continue to misunderstand the Nigerian on the other line. If admission and employment into federal institutions, that is supposed to be a collective patrimony, is still based on a biased quota system, it is only fair that the scales are balanced with an intentional rotation of the presidency.
In principle, zoning should be a fair deal. As a matter of fact, not a few bodies like the Nigerian Bar Association, National Association of Nigerian Students and trade unions practice rotation in one form or another, but theirs is often without the dramas of the political scene.
Of course, the office of the Commander-in-Chief is the Holy Grail, however, the political class has a way of manipulating the selection process such that the best of respective regions is not presented as candidates of the major political parties. So, at the end of the day, the area producing the president is the first to be shortchanged.
This dovetails into Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegu-Ojukwu’s words that “the more empty the leadership, the more reliance on primordial forces”. Campaigns are based on sentiments of vain promises of spending single terms to handover to a perennially betrayed region.
No empirical approach to electioneering beyond dancing clownishly on stages with the worn generic pledges of bringing infrastructure to the poor uneducated audiences that have nowhere to go.
No thought-out numbers that would be lifted out of poverty, unemployment or the impact on GDP the promised schools, hospitals, roads or electricity will bring.
That is why one can’t fault the voter. He is not presented with a clear nor grey but all black choices. He is left, if at all he comes out to vote, to rely on his primitive clannish or canonical instincts. He knows his vote is just a quid pro quo to settle political scores, compensate a loyalist or to install an understudy in anticipation of coming elections.
He doesn’t see his future in the politicians. When a visionary with prowess in communication, a uniter not a divider appears on the ballot, the voter won’t need to sell his vote and would care less where his president comes from or where he goes to pray.
As commonsensical as Mallam Daura’s argument to do away with presidency in turns may sound, if presidents continue to shed off their pan-Nigerian campaign attires to adorn that of his kin with a partisan hat to match after elections, other geopolitical zones don’t want to spectate but see their man too in the seat of power.
When the president appoints only those who speak his language or reluctantly sets up a federal cabinet because the Constitution compels him, Nigerians won’t outgrow zoning.
Instead of el-Rufai wanting to flip the switch of power in 2023, he should use his position as governor and member of the governing party to influence institutional changes like doing away with state of origin for state of residence.
So that when he talks about presidency going to the South, it doesn’t necessarily mean giving it to a non-Hausa or when we talk about a South East presidency, it may not necessarily mean Igbo presidency.
Finally, instead of those sociopolitical groups always crusading for power to shift to their zones which is only tokenistic, a more sustainable option could be to attach developmental, constitutional and institutional reforms as a barter for their support.