July 1, 2021

Nigeria united on Yoruba president in 1999, it should back Igbo in 2023

Bola Tinubu

By Olu Fasan

IN his book, There was a country, Chinua Achebe wrote: “The structure of Nigeria was such that there was an in-built power struggle among the ethnic groups”, adding: “and, of course, those who were in power wanted to stay in power”.  He was right. Structural imbalance and self-interested behaviours drive power politics in Nigeria.

Indeed, Nigeria’s structure is such that, without affirmative action, some ethnic groups will never produce president. But such action is only possible when there’s a strong sense of fairness, equity and justice; an understanding that, in a multi-ethnic country, true unity comes when every ethnic group feels a sense of equal status.

But truth is, left to many Northerners, the North should rule Nigeria almost indefinitely. And, despite calling themselves Omoluabi, implying having a sense of fairness and equity, some Yoruba would want power to rotate mainly between the North and the South-West!

Recently, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, said that anyone could seek the party’s 2023 presidential ticket, suggesting that another Northerner could succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. Those South-West APC politicians actively campaigning for a Yoruba president in 2023 believe the South-West should produce the next president.

But neither a president from the North nor from the South-West is acceptable in 2023, not on constitutional grounds, but because either would be inequitable and deepen disunity and instability in Nigeria.

Last year, on my 60th birthday, I said in an interview with this great newspaper that the South-East should produce president in 2023. Nearly a year later, I’m returning to the issue because, like restructuring, the Igbo Question won’t go away until it’s properly tackled.

Truth is, you cannot describe the Igbo as a “dot in a circle”, as President Buhari did recently, who cannot leave Nigeria, and yet reduce them to second-class citizens who cannot produce president. That would be morally unjust and fuel unimaginable discontent.

In a speech last year, Pius Anyim, former Senate President, urged the Igbo to pursue the presidency in 2023, saying: “The time has come, and the time is now.” But in an interview in 2013, Dr Alex Ekwueme, former vice president, said: “It appears that there is a concerted effort to prevent a particular zone (the South-East) from achieving the highest office of the land”, adding: “And it is not going to be a very healthy development for the country.” We must wish that Dr Ekwueme, now late, was wrong. But the omens are not good!

In my Vanguard interview, I analysed the situation thus: By the next election in 2023, Nigeria would have had uninterrupted democracy for 24 years. In those 24 years, the North would have ruled for 11 years, South-West eight years and South-South five years. If the South-West gets the presidency in 2023, they will, presumably, do two terms of eight years. Power will then return to the North, which will do its own two terms of eight years. So, by 2039, the Igbo would have been kept out of power for 40 years!

Does anyone think it’s fair, indeed, sustainable for the Igbo to be on the sidelines, unable to producepresident for 40 years?Isn’t that a recipe for discontentor, as Dr Ekwueme put it, “a very unhealthy development for this country”?


To be clear, I do not, intellectually, believe in rotational presidency. But, in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria, power rotation is a pragmatic solution to the fears of ethnic domination. Which is why there’s an informal arrangement to rotate power in Nigeria.

But power cannot just rotate between the North and the South; it should also rotate among the geo-political zones. Thus, when the presidency returns to the South in 2023, it should go to the South-East, which hasn’t produced president since 1999.

In his 2013 interview with Premium Times, Dr Ekwueme put it pungently: “I don’t think any Nigerian will be happy if his regional or ethnic block is seen to be excluded from attaining the highest office in the land for whatever reason.”

Some would say that politics is a game of numbers. Indeed, it is. But it can also be a product of normative consensus. In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo didn’t become president primarily because of numbers; he became president, first and foremost,because of a national consensus that the Yoruba should produce the president to assuage their feeling of injustice over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by MKO Abiola.

As we know, Abiola would have won even without the entire South-West votes. But the Yoruba weaponised the annulment, treating it as an ethnic attack. They set up the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO; they formed militant groups like Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, and Oodua Liberation Movement, OLM. Their militants seized weapons from the police and bombed military targets. Many of the Yoruba leaders, who now preach unity because they are in power, questioned Nigeria’s unity in those days.

Well, to avert further destabilisation of Nigeria or to assuage the injustice felt by the Yoruba, presumably both, Nigeria’s military and political establishments decided thatthe next presidentshould be Yoruba. As a result, the two main parties, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and Alliance for Democracy, AD, fielded Yoruba presidential candidates, Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae, respectively.

The potential injustice of denying Igbo the presidency for 40 years, due to realpolitik and structural barriers, certainly necessitates a national consensus, an affirmative action, like in 1999. In this scenario, both APC and PDP will field Igbo presidential candidates. But here’s the snag. Why would APC give its presidential ticket to the South-East, where it’s weak, at the expense of the South-West, which gave it power twice?

Well, here’s a neater alternative: APC fields a Yoruba candidate, PDP an Igbo. The North becomes the king maker. If the South-Eastpresents its best–an utter imperative – we would appeal to the North’s nobler motives to support the Igbo candidate. I, too, would!

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