October 23, 2021

Will a Southern president truly benefit the South?


By Muyiwa Adetiba

It is fast becoming a cliché to say Nigeria has never been this polarised. But everyday and every action of our political leaders prove the truism of that statement. The last two years have witnessed deeper cleavages along the fault lines that exist in the country.

In some instances, it has been the core north against the rest of the country in a manner that reminds one of the Orkar coup. In many instances, it has been the age-old north versus south palava.

So polarised is the country today that party affiliations now take a secondary position to geo-political considerations. So polarised is the country that when the southern Governor’s forum takes a position on an issue, its northern counterpart almost automatically counters the position without pausing to weigh the long term import of that position.

A case in point is that of State Police or Community Police. It took a while and a lot of unnecessary deaths for some of them to come around. It really makes no sense to police a country as vast and as populous as Nigeria from Abuja.

Another case is that of open grazing. Again, it took a while and a lot of unnecessary deaths for some of them to realise that open grazing just doesn’t cut it anymore in a country where hitherto open spaces are rapidly being taken up by a fast growing populace. Other contentious issues abound that might unfortunately take more socio-political upheavals before common sense gives way to common grounds given the myopic grandstanding of our leaders.

The latest contentious issue is 2023 and where the President will come from. The battle lines are crudely drawn between the northern and southern divide without any consideration to political affiliation. It is a high stake poker game where either side believes it has more aces than the other.

The southern Governors’ position is that the Presidency must be zoned to the south for the sake of equity and inclusion. The same search for equity and inclusiveness which has led to the promotion of ‘Federal Character’ and ‘Quota System’ in the country with its attendant abuses. The same reason political positions within the States are also zoned.

The northern Governors’ forum characteristically counters with its own position. Democracy is a game of numbers it says and the north has the numbers. Besides, zoning is not in the constitution of the country. Both are right on the face of it. But both are playing the expediency game. The south has never been comfortable with the quota system while the north has never been comfortable with ceding the Presidency.

But statesmanship entails giving and taking especially in a plural society. Unfortunately, these people have proved to be more of gamblers playing with high stakes than statesmen. But then gamblers according to Kenny Rogers in his evergreen song, ‘The Gambler’ know when to hold on and when to walk away. It is the key to survival. Contrary to the popular sentiments in some places, I believe both sides will lose should the country break up. Let both sides examine the cards in their hands and let them pull back and negotiate. The longer people hold a hard line, the deeper the cleavages.

I can understand why those who are pushing for former President Goodluck Jonathan to throw his hat into the ring see him as a sort of solution to the seeming impasse. Jonathan, the Ijaw man with an Igbo middle name, ticks a few boxes. He is a national figure whose antecedent is already known. He is not expected to upset the applecart; meaning the status quo will not change much. He should satisfy those who clamour for a southern Christian while assuaging with its brevity of tenure, the few northern Muslims who find the idea of a southern Christian President insufferable. It will make the south-south, the goose that is laying the golden eggs to be less restive.

 It will satisfy those who are uncomfortable with the idea of an Igbo President while the Igbos who remember the Jonathan years when the Igbos virtually held sway, will feel it is the next best thing to having their own man in the saddle. More importantly, he will shorten the time the presidency will return to the north. But they forget one thing.

A man in power is unpredictable. A man in power who knows his days are short, doubly so. Jonathan is an older, wiser, more confident man now who might want to right some wrongs. Should he bite the bait to mount the soapbox, he could shock those who are dangling the hook.

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But really, beyond the need for inclusion and fairness, why should a President’s place of birth cause so much furore? It is not as if any zone has been transformed by any incumbent President. In fact, the reverse seemed to have been the case if you look at what has happened to the north in the several years of northern Presidency. Nigeria is 61. Almost 45 of those years have been with a northern Head of State. Yet the north with its three zones, is behind the south in almost all the indices of human development.

Meanwhile, the south-east which hardly sat on the coveted throne, is ahead in almost all of those indices. Oil spills were not cleaned up during the years of Jonathan presidency. Gas flares were not successfully capped. Employment did not soar. In fact the needle of development in the south-south barely moved in those six years. Some of his friends and associates got stupendously rich during those six years just as some of the friends and associates of his predecessors. But not the people. Never the people.

What the south should insist on is the removal of the stranglehold of the centre. The key to development is in the hands of those who control the States and Local Governments. But they need the tools to do their job properly. Any President, north or south, who can unleash the states from the stable of federal allocations to which they are tied, would write his name in gold. But that would mean reducing his own access to power and money.

And therefore influence. Obasanjo didn’t do it. Jonathan didn’t do it. In fact, I don’t know of any African leader who did it. So there is nothing to say that the next Southern President will do it. Yet unless that is done, the clamour for a Southern President is a clamour by the elite for the elite. It is of little benefit to the rank and file.

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