By Ochereome Nnanna
With two years to the end of Muhammadu Buhari’s regime, the usual debate of which section should produce the next president is in play.
The governors of Southern Nigeria in their recent Enugu meeting cautioned against plots by some northern interests to keep the coveted office in their region, insisting it is their turn in line with the North/South rotation mechanism.
The North’s governors countered them, arguing that rotation is not in the Constitution.
The same northern leaders who, in 2011, argued that former President Goodluck Jonathan should step down because it was still their turn to produce the president, have abandoned their “turn-by-turn” argument in favour of “constitutionalism”, the same ground on which Jonathan’s supporters stood to get him elected.
Both sides argue from both sides of their mouths, depending how it favours them.
The quest to end sectional domination and encourage Nigerians to build a united nation is as old as Nigeria.
The defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, had adopted the zoning formula in response to that.
It would have ended the Igbo post-Civil War isolation by 1987 when President Shehu Shagari’s Deputy, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, was billed to replace him as President.
But the coup that brought Buhari to power in 1984 was executed to keep power in the North.
The injustice against the South continued when Chief Moshood Abiola’s election as President was brazenly annulled by the Ibrahim Babangida junta with full northern support.
The ensuing crisis made the Sani Abacha regime to convene the Constitutional Conference of 1994 to 1996, where issues like the rotational president/zoning as well as the Federal Character principle were canvassed.
While the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime eventually enshrined the Federal Character in the 1999 Constitution, Abacha’s Provisional Ruling Council, PRC, had approved the rotational presidency between North and South.
So, we have a political arrangement that gives us the constitutional right to aspire to the presidency.
But at the same time, to prevent the domination of one side of the country over the others, or the marginalisation of any section, the rotational principle has become part of our political culture over the past 23 years of our renascent democracy.
The challenge before us is to choose between constitutionalism at all costs (North’s position) and equity/nation-building (South’s stand).
If the North and South are asked to go and duke it out, the North will produce the next president, but not because they “have the population” as the Northern Elders’ Forum Scribe, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, recently argued.
Even if the 12 Arewa Sharia states add to their voting population those of child voters and aliens as usual, they cannot produce the president both in terms of simple majority and the 25 per cent of votes in 24 of the 36 states. They need Southern assistance.
Despite his fabled “12 million” Arewa votes, Buhari could not have emerged president in 2015 without Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s South West money, electoral labour and votes, as well as Chibuike Amaechi’s money and labours.
What will work in the North’s favour is that there is never a dearth of southern politicians willing to sell their mothers for a North-sponsored presidential candidate.
Because of boundless chicanery among southern politicians, any strong northern candidate can rest assured of southern support.
That was exactly what happened in 2015 when Tinubu joined Buhari to supplant a fellow southerner, Jonathan, and produced the first ever defeat of an incumbent president in Nigeria.
Tinubu went into the pact with Buhari to gratify his own presidential ambition.
Despite the fact that the South West had taken their eight-year turn under Olusegun Obasanjo, Tinubu is unbothered by the injustice his own ambition will impose on the Igbo nation which have not yet produced the president under the rotational principle.
Therefore, southern political power brokers who have repeatedly perpetrated injustice against fellow southerners, will make themselves readily available to any strong northern candidate in 2023.
But that does not defeat the argument for the equity principle and its impact on nation-building.
If this seemingly harmless equity principle is overridden by political expediency, there will be consequences. Let us discuss further next week.
Fond thoughts for Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu
It is so sad to discuss Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu, one of Nigeria’s historic figures, in the past tense! An easygoing man, full of life, and simple to a fault, succumbed on January 13, 2021, to the coronavirus pandemic. I heard the news a day after I was also diagnosed COVID-19 positive.
It is only through the mercies of God that I still breathe today. In December 2020, the Admiral had promised to grace my mother’s burial in Abiriba. But he had to attend a number of burials before Christmas in the East where he unfortunately caught the bug.
I remember this man with great fondness because when I was in big trouble, he was the first among the many that jumped to my side.
He brought out his time, energy and contacts to help quench a raging fire. May God continue to bless your soul, Admiral! Kanu, in his youth, was an exceptional sea warrior.
His exploits as a Biafran naval officer commanding an improvised attack boat against an advancing federal frigate verged on lunatic bravery.
When he came back to the Nigerian Navy, he and Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe and Admiral Allison Madueke shone like a million stars in spite of all odds through their military and political ranks.
Kanu took his fearlessness and dependability into the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, such that even when those who brought him in pulled out, he stayed with the struggle till his last day! An “Igbo man to the core”, he was intelligent, fearless and dependable. That was Admiral G. N. Kanu!