November 23, 2022

No negotiating the Presidency

By Ochereome Nnanna

THE Afenifere leader, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, has said it as it is, as usual. At a public lecture in Lagos on Monday, he chided the North for insisting that the South East must “negotiate” with it for support to produce the president of Nigeria next year.

Saying that Afenifere is a principled organisation that believes in equity, justice, and fair play, Pa Adebanjo affirmed correctly that it is the turn of the South East to produce the next president of Nigeria, contrary to the false assertion of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu that it is his turn. 

He chided the North for claiming to have a superior population that is able to decide who gets to be president of Nigeria, as there is no credible evidence to prove such an assumption. As I have observed in earlier articles, our fathers and leaders, like Pa Adebanjo and Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, are beacons of hope that Nigeria may still survive. 

These are the real nationalists. Adebanjo and Clark are saying: our ethnic groups have been favoured by the rotation and power-sharing principles, even when we were at great disadvantage. The Igbo nation supported us with their votes, they also supported the North. It is unfair and antithetical to the national spirit to deny them of their right, or place impossible hurdles in their way now that it is their turn to lead. You cannot beat the message and the logic driving it.

The word: “negotiation” has become a football that some of us play the way we want, to satisfy our selfish desires. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “negotiate” as: “to confer with another to arrive at the settlement of some matter.” There is no doubt, this word is relevant in a diverse Nigeria that has not achieved harmony like other great ethno-religious diversities such as the United States of America, India, Brazil and others.

The Bible says two cannot walk together unless they agree. Nigerians have not agreed. That is why the country is crisis-riddled. That is why the system is not working. The South calls for a re-negotiation of Nigeria. Nigeria was negotiated before independence, but the departing British colonialists used the sudden delimitation of constituencies just before the federal elections of 1958 and 1959 to give unmerited constituency advantages to the North.

Similarly, the North-controlled military political class also split Nigeria into 36 states and Abuja in a manner that gave the North 19 or 20 states and the South 17. The number of federal electoral constituencies was also configured to give the North a commanding edge over the South. Successive population censuses have been used to justify an incredible claim of a northern majority over the South. All these were concocted to empower the North and enable its tiny oligarchy and its crumbs-collecting janissaries in the South to parasite on the wealth of the South.

The South’s calls for a renegotiation are greeted with the refrain, “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable.” They kick against any move to reform our federalism and make it more equitable. But on the other hand, the same North is fond of insisting that any part of the South billed to produce the president must come and “negotiate” with it. The question is, what dividend came out when the North and South negotiated for president?

The defunct Northern People’s Congress, NPC, in 1959 negotiated with the National Council for Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, yet their government ended in a bloody, revolutionary coup that produced the Civil War. Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria, NPN, negotiated with the Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigerian People’s Party, NPP, in 1979 to share power in an accord government. It ended in a coup in 1983.

 In addition, retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari negotiated with Alhaji Bola Tinubu in 2013 and produced the incumbent government in 2015, which is ending in disaster. On the other hand, General Abdulsalami Abubakar not only barred Northern politicians from contesting for the presidency in 1999, he also virtually imposed General Olusegun Obasanjo on Nigerians.

Yet, Obasanjo emerged as the most successful president since 1999. I am not saying that the negotiation of the presidency is bad per se, or that it, on its own, was responsible for government failures. I am saying that even the negotiated governments still failed. The reason for that was simple. The elite negotiated to share political posts and loot our commonwealth. They did not negotiate for development. Even if they did, they jettisoned it once in power because it was not really their move for negotiating.

Secondly, all negotiated governments favoured the North, because their southern counterparts were more willing to share. Those governments still failed because the North’s “dominative tendencies” later always showed up due to their disdain for equity. The North never kept to the pacts. What guarantees do you have that the North will abide by the terms of the negotiations if the South East agrees to negotiate the presidency?

Thirdly, the issue of the North’s perceived game-changing population remains a ruse. It has been proven, time and time again, that no section of the country can produce a president to the exclusion of another. The North’s “majority” which is padded with millions of child voters and foreigners, still failed to give Buhari the presidency until the South (Tinubu, Chibuike Amaechi, Rochas Okorocha and others) supported him. The North alone cannot produce 25 percent of voters in 24 states, since it has only 19 states.

If there is to be a negotiation, it should be for mutual purposes, not one-sided. It must also be people-centred, and the pacts must be implemented to the letter. It should not be for elite consumption. What we really need is a renegotiation of our federalism. Meanwhile, let’s give the candidates a free hand to campaign. Let’s not use ethno-religious and regional platforms to harass or blackmail them for selfish gain.