By Olu Fasan
A FEW weeks ago, Dr. Femi Aribisala, wrote a provocative but logically unassailable article in this newspaper, entitled “No Yoruba president in Nigeria for another 20 years” (Vanguard, May 21, 2019). He argued that when it’s the South’s turn to produce the president in 2023, it must go to Ndigbo, not the Yoruba. He posited that, having produced Nigeria’s president for eight years and vice president for another eight years, since the return to civil rule in 1999, the Yoruba shouldn’t expect to govern Nigeria again until 2038!
Well, Dr Aribisala is right. I expressed the same view in this column. In a piece entitled, “Southwest APC’s betrayal of Yoruba cause” (Vanguard, January 24, 2019), I said: “Given that, since 1999, the Southwest has produced the president for eight years and the South-South for six years, the Southeast should provide national leadership in 2023 when power returns to the South”.
But some Yoruba leaders self-interestedly disagree. Last week, a Southwest APC leader, Adeseye Ogunlewe, a former minister, said that Bola Tinubu, APC’s national leader, “is a natural successor to Buhari”, adding that “to shut out the Yoruba is undemocratic”. The idea of the Yoruba producing the president again in 2023, when the Igbo, another major ethnic group in the South, hasn’t produced any for, by then, 24 years, doesn’t strike such people as risking further endangering Nigeria’s fragile unity.
Sadly, those who should rise above such ethnic jingoism also fuel it. Earlier this year, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who repeatedly said “Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable”, put ethnic sentiments above that presumed unity by urging the Yoruba to re-elect President Muhammadu Buhari in order to clinch the presidency in 2023. “We are not looking at the 2019 but 2023,” he said, adding: “If we get it in 2019, Yoruba will get it in 2023”. Of course, what he meant was that if the Yoruba help re-elect Buhari, the North would, as a quid pro quo, help the Yoruba secure the presidency in 2023. It was difficult to reconcile Osinbajo’s preachiness on Nigeria’s unity with his failure to recognise that any ganging up by the Hausa/Fulani and the Yoruba to exclude the Igbo from providing national leadership would severely undermine that unity!
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in a true federal system, “no part of the federation should be so dominant that others have little opportunity to provide national leadership”. In other words, a true federalism doesn’t only guarantee equal opportunities and fair material treatment for all constituent polities, it ensures balance among them.
But there is no balance among Nigeria’s constituent nationalities. The North is so politically dominant that it will always provide national leadership or determine which of the three Southern geo-political zones does. Given ethnic bloc voting in Nigeria, all the North needs is to speak with one voice and then align with one Southern geopolitical zone. For instance, in 1979, Shehu Shagari became President without the votes of the Southeast or the Southwest; in 2015 and, indeed, this year, Buhari won without the Southeast and the South-South. So, if, for instance, the core North continues to align with the Southwest, the Southeast may never produce the president. But that will fan the flames of disintegration.
For instance, the agitation for Scottish independence in the UK stemmed largely from the fact that the Scottish people felt their votes didn’t count because, for nearly 20 years, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Conservative Party won successive general elections and controlled Westminster by relying only on English and Welsh votes, without winning a single seat in Scotland. This was seen as an affront to Scottish sensibilities and led to a feeling of alienation and then agitation for independence. Truth is, in a multi-ethnic nation, concerns about how power is shared and exercised can create real tensions and schisms.
Nigeria’s sensible solution to that problem is an informal power-sharing arrangement to rotate the presidency between the North and the South. It was in recognition that the presidency must return to the South in 2023 that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, PDP’s presidential candidate in this year’s election, vowed to serve for only one term, if elected. So strongly did Atiku feel he must reassure the South of his intention that he said: “If there is an iron-clad legal document that binds me, I am willing to publicly commit to it”.
Some questioned whether Atiku would have kept the vow. But that’s hypothetical; the fact is that he recognised the imperative. In the same spirit of the politically imperative power-sharing, no one, except the self-interested ethnic jingoist, would say that once the presidency returns to the South in 2023, it shouldn’t go to the Southeast; it should!
But where does that leave the Yoruba? Well, their future lies in a properly restructured and decentralised Nigeria. Think of it: if the presidency is rotated among the six geopolitical zones and each does eight years, it means that it would take 40 years before a zone gets the presidency again! Forty years? Well, that’s partly why Nigeria must be restructured along regional lines, so that each region can develop at its own pace.
That has long been the priority of the Yoruba: to develop at their own pace. Which is why they must fight for a properly restructured Nigeria and not a divisive contest for a symbolic presidency in 2023!