Rotation of power in the Nigerian federation

By Sola Ebiseni

LAST week, we argued that the precedent of rotational presidency enacted since 1999 has become an indisputable national consensus. We also cited the 2014 National Conference, part of which Resolutions endorsed the zoning of the office of the President on North/South basis, a resolution also recently endorsed by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum and the Southern Governors Forum, among other such national platforms.

In tandem with this national consensus, political parties have ensured that party and government positions are zoned or arranged in that realisation. Of all political parties in Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is the most enduring.

It was formed by consensus for national integration based on justice and equity among the people of Nigeria. Its understanding of the political sentiments and striving to give it positive expression was responsible for its clinging to power for 16 out of the 22 year’s of Nigeria’s return to democratic governance.

It is, therefore, very shocking and no less embarrassing that the zoning committee of the PDP, as reported, would seek to zone its National Chairman to the South, with a view to undermining a national political concession that has ensured equity and peaceful transfer of power which has hitherto eluded the nation and engendered political instability.

Rather than seeking to shoot itself in the feet, with more grievous debilitating political injury, the PDP should look inwards and examine the cause of its momentary loss of power. It should simply admit that it lost power to the hurriedly but strategically assembled All Progressives Congress, APC, mainly because of the transgression of PDP against the national expectation then that the President of the country should come from its Northern region.

It must be emphasised that the enduring character and ideology with which a political power is identified is the aggregate consistent integrity of its practitioners, particularly its founding fathers, within the given political environment.

To those who seek justification on the grounds that the zoning agreement is not written in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria nor of the parties, let them be reminded that the British political practices, which have become their articles of faith and conventions, and from whence our modern democratic endeavours were birthed, are not written in any constitution. All of our cultural practices for which we pay voluntary obeisance to our traditional rulers are also not written.

Nelson Mandela, at the time of his release as political prisoner in 1990, was already a world phenomenon who could cling to power perpetually and seek to justify it by his unequalled contribution to the emancipation of his people. Yet, in line with his promise to his comrades in the African National Congress, and the new nation, he found himself bound in the integrity of his words that he would only serve one term in office as President.

So noble was he that he was celebrated by the world in life and death. At his death at the age of 95 on December 5, 2013, Mandela was described by the New York Times as an “international emblem of dignity and forbearance”.

Now to members of the PDP of South West extraction, to which the zoning committee has purportedly zoned the position of the national chairman, I wish to sound a note of warning, reminding us of the historical duty which time, circumstances and our sense of pride and nobility have imposed on the Yoruba in Nigeria, and particularly its politics. From the inception, the Yoruba is known for its stabilising roles at the times of great crisis in the territorial space later known as Nigeria and its political development.

When, in the 19th century, the Nigerian territorial space was ravaged by destabilising political revolution, exemplified in the Jihad, the Yoruba did not only stoutly defend its territory, but also defeated and halted the jihadist movements, thereby saving what might have been the fate of other nationalities if the Yoruba extensive space had capitulated.

Even the British colonialists, in spite of the Yoruba territory being, for long, their first port of call, found the Yoruba too sophisticated to cage. Our territory provided the fertile grounds for fervent nationalism which hastened the demise of colonialism.

Among the nationalists, Awolowo came subsequent to the likes of Kitoyi Ajasa, Ernest Ikoli, Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe and many other later nationalists who felt Nigeria should better be governed as a unitary state. It was to the credit of Awo and his writings, for which he was ignorantly labelled a tribalist and separatist, that Nigerians ultimately settled for federalism as the enduring governance module of the emergent polyglot state.

At the time of monumental national anxieties of the coup and counter-coups of 1966, the Yoruba were virtually not involved. Yet the vengeful coup of Northern officers met General Aguyi Ironsi, the Head of State, in Ibadan, as guest of Colonel AdekunleFajuyi, the Governor of the West.

Rather than accept the offer of the mutineers for his personal safety, Governor Fajuyi surrendered his own life too if his commander-in-chief and guest would not be spared. The crisis would have otherwise been most complex because the Igbo would not have been appeased that it wasn’t Fajuyi or Yoruba people that lured Ironsi as prey for the coupists.

It was also not an act of cowardice but the need for national compromise that Brigadier-General Babafemi Ogundipe, who was the de facto second-in-command and Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, to Aguiyi-Ironsi, had to step down for Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon, the next in rank of Northern extraction, to assuage the justifiable burning hue and cry of Northerners over the assassination of their topmost leaders, particularly Sir Ahmadu Bello, the colourful Premier of the North and Tafawa Balewa the Nigerian Prime Minister, by officers of Southern origin. Major Adewale Ademoyega was the only Yoruba in the coup that also claimed the lives of several Yoruba leaders, including Premier Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun.

Even in the unfortunate civil war that ensued, Yoruba boys were on top of the task to keep Nigeria one. In fact, it was Obasanjo to whom Phillip Effiong, Deputy to Odimegwu Ojukwu, presented the instrument of surrender. Talking of Obasanjo, he was the first military ruler to have handed over to an elected leader.

He handed over to Shehu Shagari at the expense of Awolowo for which many Yoruba might not have forgiven him either. M.K .O Abiola paid the supreme sacrifice in the defence of democracy. We can go on ad infinitum on the unparalleled heroic acts of the Yoruba individuals and people in the defence of Nigeria’s corporate existence and its national integrity.

There is no doubt that Nigeria is currently in crisis of monumental dimension, perhaps only comparable to the period of the unfortunate civil war. We cannot afford to complicate the situation with the avoidable problem of where the President will come from. The sweetness of power is enough temptation for the minds bereft of nobility to commit themselves to the betrayal of this national agreement.

I was a witness and participant at the December 10, 2017 National Convention of the PDP at the Eagles Square. Having agreed that the North should produce the President and the National Chairman thus from the South, all reasonable expectations was that the slot would go to the South West, which has never occupied the office in the party. First class Nigerian statesmen of Yoruba extraction presented themselves for the election.

They included Chief Bode George, former Military Governor of Ondo State and former Deputy National Chairman of the party and Professor Tunde Adeniran, former Minister of Education. Our region was derided and said to be of no electoral value to the party despite glaring evidence to the contrary. Uche Secondus of the South-South, from where Jonathan just served as President of the nation, was given the ticket.

It is thus laughable that some people now feel called upon to give the Yoruba the national chairman of PDP, even on a platter of gold, when it is only up for traitors and betrayers of the resolve of the South to produce the next President of Nigeria. God forbid! Only minds bereft of nobility will be lured by the sweetness of power to commit themselves to the betrayal of this national agreement.

When the North, in 1999, felt favoured by the zoning arrangement, they left no one in doubt about it. Their governors, leaders from all walks of life, were involved and made incendiary statements, including that killing Boko Haram insurgents was targeted at reducing the alleged population advantage of the North for political reasons.

Jonathan’s government and Nigeria by extension, were thereby destabilised. Now that the governors of the South merely declared the resolutions of the people, they are accused of heating up the polity, thereby being cheekily advised that the issue is only attainable by lobbying.

The Yoruba people, nay people of the South, across political parties, cannot afford to make ourselves available for ignoble political roles. For those bitten by the bug of occupying any office, even against good conscience, let them hearken to the Lord Jesus’ warning that “temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come; it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea”.

Those who believe in the availability of some low hanging 12 million Northern votes as their only sure winning strategy, have ruled out any vote that may be attracted by any other office. Let them, therefore, fully satisfy such magical voters by also giving them the position of the national chairman, even the vice president. Kaka kiKiniuns’akapo Ekun, olukaluku a s’ode e lototo.

Ebiseni is Secretary General, Afenifere

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