By Donu Kogbara
Whenever Nigerians talk about zoning in particular or politics in general, they talk as if they are totally wedded to the idea that a Southern President must have a Northern Vice-President; and vice versa. There is also a tendency to regard each geopolitical zone as a united interest group…AND a widespread assumption that it’s OK for every Head of State to have two four-year terms.

I regard the above attitudes as deeply flawed and think that we need to adopt a more imaginative, flexible and objective attitude towards leadership issues.

There are six geopolitical zones in this federation. Each zone contains several states and ethnic groups. And the relationships between these states and ethnic groups are sometimes undermined or poisoned by simmering tensions or outright war that originated in boundary disputes, religious differences, etc.

Even within ethnic groups, cohesion can be elusive because people who speak the same language and have identical customs often choose to overlook the things they have in common and discriminate against their fellow tribesmen simply because they happen to come from another village or local government area.

I am always encountering North-Eastern Northerners who claim that North-Western Northerners are overbearing and have unjustly monopolised political power. I frequently encounter “core” Northerners who think that North-Central Northerners are not “real” Northerners. I know many Christian natives of the North-Central zone who share this view and feel closer to Southerners.

It’s a similar story in the South, where Yorubas, Igbos and a plethora of Niger Deltan minorities co-exist – uneasily a lot of the time. Since Dr Jonathan — an Ijaw — became President, many non-Ijaw Southerners (including Niger Deltans who are Ogoni, Ibibio, Tsekiri or whatever) have felt marginalised.

It is also worth remembering that when Yar’Adua — a Katsina man — was the boss, many non-Katsina Northerners bitterly accused him of neglecting them.

I recently visited a community in my own state — Rivers — with a government delegation. This community is not up to one hour’s drive from my village and its inhabitants are from my ethnic group. But they didn’t regard me as a sister or representative. They complained about the fact that nobody from their community was part of the delegation. I was treated like a stranger.

The point I’m making is this: Because Nigeria is riddled with divisions, geographical proximity does not necessarily lead to genuine brotherliness.

Given the above realities, there is no reason to cling to the notions  that two men can adequately represent the entire South and entire North;  that every regime must be headed by a Northern/Southern duo and  that incumbents must, under normal circumstances, be allowed to contest for second terms.

As far as I’m concerned, we should mix things up, abandon that rigidly conservative collective mindset at the earliest opportunity and experiment with alternative scenarios when Jonathan and Sambo finish their tenures.

Will there be anything wrong with having an Efik/Igbo or Kaduna/Adamawa or Kwara/Plateau or Christian/Christian or Muslim/Muslim ticket in future?

If Nigeria was the kind of place where the average politician went into public life for idealistic reasons and was detribalised and passionately committed to development, it probably wouldn’t matter a jot where the President hailed from.

But this is a Turn-By-Turn country in which it’s normal — acceptable almost — for people to enter politics for dubious reasons…and for office-holders to use government resources to enrich their closest brethren. And there are SO MANY constituencies that have not yet had a turn and have had to settle for lukewarm or hostile representatives who don’t come from their backyards.

Nothing will spoil if we restrict each President and his running mate to one four-year term, to maximize the number of presidents and running mates who can be crammed into the limited space that is the average human lifespan.

People will be more likely to graciously accept irrelevance and poverty if they think that the hard times they are going through are temporary and that their own turn will soon arrive!

Many Nigerians are sick and tired of never being members of the winning team and would welcome an albeit cynical but nevertheless gratifying next-next-next set-up whereby as many groups as possible get to ride on the gravy/candy train and get to decide who the Minister of Petroleum and GMD of NNPC will be!!!

I favour a rapid turnover of senior personnel, both at the presidential and state levels, until we evolve to the point where tribe and tongue won’t matter.

As one demoralised architect from Taraba put it to me recently: “If someone from my state becomes President tomorrow, he may not favour me personally and I may not become rich and influential while he is in charge. But I will have a sense of hope, for a while at least.

I will feel, for the first time since I was born, as if my relatives and I have a good chance of fulfilling our ambitions”.
May we all eventually get the opportunity to experience this sense of hope!

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