February 17, 2022

Balance of Power: Southern unity is crucial to Nigeria’s stability

Bola Tinubu

IN a speech in 1967, General Yakubu Gowon, then head of state, cited “the fear of domination” for his decision to create 12 states from the then four regions. Gowon said: “The main obstacle to future stability in this country is the present structural imbalance in the Nigerian Federation”.

By “structural imbalance”, he was referring to the fact that Northern Nigeria, one of the two protectorates that were merged to create Nigeria in 1914, remained a monolithic entity, while Southern Nigeria, the other protectorate, was divided into Eastern, Western and Mid-Western regions. Thus, of the 12 new states that Gowon created, six were from the North.

But splitting the North into six states and, over the years, the present 36 states hasn’t ended the fear of Northern domination in the power struggle among Nigeria’s ethnic groups; rather, fear of domination continues to undermine Nigeria’s unity, stability and progress.

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Of course, with an over-powerful president and a dominant Federal Government, political hegemony has greater salience. Reduce the powers of the president and the Federal Government and make the regions centres of political and economic powers, the centre will lose its allure, the inter-ethnic struggle to produce president will lose its existentiality and the fear of Northern domination will lose its intensity.

But where does the North get its hegemonic power from? Well, first, from Britain. Lord Lugard described the South as the “rich wife”and the North the “poor husband,” implying the latter’s superiority. What’s more, because the South fought vehemently for Nigeria’s independence, while the North opposed self-rule, the British treated the North as an ally and the South as an enemy. As a result, Britain deliberately enabled the North and deviously handed it political control over Nigeria at independence.

Second,the North’s hegemonic power came from its head start in the military. While other Nigerians were pursuing non-military careers, young Northerners joined the military, urged on by Northern emirs. The logic was simple: power flows from the barrel of the gun. It’s not a coincidence that, apart from the first military coup in January 1966, led by the young Southern majors, all other coups in Nigeria were led by Northern soldiers, who then ruled the country for nearly 30 years under different military regimes.

But while the leg-up from the British and the barrel of the gun gave the North absolute advantage in the past, they are no longer relevant today. So, what’s the current source of the North’s political hegemony? Well, it stems from its large population and its ability to “weaponise” the population for its political advantage. If politics is a game of numbers, the North plays it well, and even brags about it.

Yet, population alone cannot and must not be the basis for securing political power in a multi-ethnic, federal state. As the Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it, in a genuine federal system, no part of the federation should be “so dominant that others have little opportunity to provide national leadership”.

The American founding fathers knew that if population determined who became president, America could become a one-party state. For instance, Democrats, who traditionally control large states like California and New York, would always produce the president. So, under US Constitution, it’s Electoral College vote, not popular vote, that matters,forcing candidates to woo smaller states. Al Gore and Hilary Clinton won the popular votes but lost the Electoral College votes and, thus,didn’t become president!

In Nigeria, the Constitution requires a candidate to have, a) the majority of votes cast at the election and b) “not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja”.To become president, a candidate must have one-quarter of votes cast in two-thirds of 36 states and the FCT, meaning in 25 states.

Now, despite having 19 states, the North cannot produce president without the South. It’s candidate may have the majority of the vote cast in a presidential election and win one-quarter of the votes cast in all its 19 states, but that won’t be enough to become president. The Northern candidate needs to win at least one-quarter of the votes cast in at least six Southern states.

So, why, then,does the North behave as if it could produce president without the South? Why do some Northern leaders insist on running for president in 2023 when President Muhammadu Buhari, another Northerner, would, by then, have ruled Nigeria for eight years? Do they not worry about the South? Well, the North’s calculations have never been about the whole South. The North doesn’t need most of the South to produce president. If they can speak with one voice, they only need one of the three Southern geopolitical zones.

In 1979, Shehu Shagari won by aligning with part of today’s South-South. In 2015 and 2019, Buhari won by aligning with the South-West. So, the North often produces president by dividing the South, knowing that the South doesn’t speak with one voice.

Which brings us to the concepts of Southern unity and balance of power. Recently, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum, speaking for the Southern governors, warned that the South would not vote for a Northern presidential candidate in 2023, adding: “Only a party that is determined to lose will field a Northern candidate”.

The Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, and Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, huffed and puffed. But the North knows that if the South truly unites and speaks with one voice, and gets the support of the Middle Belt, which is spearheading the “Power Rotation Movement”, no Northern candidate will become president in 2023.

Moreover, the South’s unity and solid alliance with the Middle Belt will have a seminal effect,creating a balance of power that will inject an equilibrium into Nigeria’s political-power equation, and engender Nigeria’s stability. But can the South ever unite?

Vanguard News