May 08, (THEWILL) – Most countries operating a form of representative government codify their fundamental political principles into a Constitution. It is through this document they operate their governments with regular amendments making it relevant and modern, for whichever age it finds itself.
In Nigeria, for instance, we have the 1999 Constitution enacted in May 1999. It also inaugurated the Fourth Republic. Foisted on Nigerians by the military with all its attendant flaws, it is the law of the land and is referenced copiously when necessary to clarify infractions and litigate cases accordingly. Yet, as with most countries in the world, there are several operational agreements that are unwritten but binding on the parties involved, though not with as much force as a written document itself. These unwritten laws between vested interests are sometimes referred to as gentleman’s agreements and they are hinged on the integrity of both parties to actually abide by its terms of reference.
In Nigerian politics, one such agreement that is crucial to the country’s survival and unity is on the verge of collapse: zoning and rotational presidency. It threatens to take down with it the last thread holding the fragile country together.
And the major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are on the verge of reneging on that gentleman’s agreement. For me, the blame lies squarely with the PDP for sowing this distasteful seed because they have been playing games since last year over emphatically zoning their presidential ticket to the South though the party’s constitution is explicitly clear on the matter.
Nigeria is one of the most diverse countries in the world today with more than 250 ethnic groups spread across the 36 states of the federation and the six geo-political zones. Political leaders have always placed a premium on the country’s unity and given all tribes and regions a sense of belonging in the Nigerian project. They have done this by entrenching zoning and rotation in electing officers into political office, as well as candidates during elections.
As a believer in the positive strides that Nigeria can make at home, continentally and internationally, I believe it is in my responsibility to draw the national consciousness to this subject while intimating the APC and PDP of their duty to the preservation of the country’s unity and existence, all of which are under threat due to actions by some of their top ranking members. To do this unambiguously, let us take a brief look at how we came about the unwritten agreement of zoning and rotational presidency.
When the G34, a group of prominent Nigerians, led by late Chief Alex Ekwueme, brokered the return to civilian rule with the General Abdulsalami Abubakar-led military government in 1998/1999, most of the politicians in the group became founding members of the PDP. One of the core principles of the party was an agreement that the presidency of Nigeria would rotate between the North and the South after the constitutional two-term limits. To pacify the South west after MKO Abiola, a Yoruba, was denied an election he won on June 12, 1993, another Yoruba, Olusegun Obasanjo was elected in 1999.
The opposition followed suit and picked another South-West opponent, Chief Olu Falae, to run against Obasanjo. Chief Obasanjo won. After eight years (2007), with former Governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, ahead of the class of candidates vying for the presidential ticket of the PDP, the zoning and rotational agreement returned to the table of discourse.
It must have been a difficult pill for Odili to swallow. The consummate politician had organised an extensive pre-convention campaign that had taken him across the country and saw him meet delegates from all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. However, the party’s hierarchy intervened, with the insistence that with the South having controlled power for the two terms of Obasanjo’s presidency, it was only fair that power should go back to the North.
They prevailed upon Odili to sacrifice his ambition, while the party propped up the perennially sickly governor of Katsina State, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He was just on the cusp of finishing his second term in office. Needless to say the integrity of the agreement was maintained and Yar’Adua became president until his unfortunate death in office in May 2009. The constitutional crisis that almost resulted from a power vacuum created by Yar’Adua’s demise was hinged on the argument that the North had not fully served out its share of the two-term rotational presidency. It took the National Assembly’s application of the “Doctrine of Necessity” to see the then Vice President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan succeed Yar’Adua and finish their first term.
When the time came for elections in 2011, Jonathan’s candidacy was troubling for the rotational agreement all over again. There was a vehement streak of oppositional forces that were insistent on the terms of the agreement, which were not fulfilled with Yar’Adua’s untimely demise. Party stalwarts from the North vehemently opposed handing over the party’s ticket to Jonathan to the point of fanning threats of violence in the Niger Delta, the region of the country’s mainstay of oil wealth. Therefore, with the groundswell of popular support in Jonathan’s candidature around the country particularly in the South and with the need to also appease the neglected people of the oil-producing region with one of their own, the PDP settled for Jonathan as a compromise candidate to keep the peace.
The mollified segment of the party from the North that accepted this compromise, settled with the office of Vice President going to Mohammed Namadi Sambo while waiting for the next roll of the dice, when the top position will undoubtedly return to a northerner. The deal was that Jonathan would serve a single term and support a northerner to succeed him. However in 2015 when Jonathan went against the zoning arrangement and forced himself on the party as presidential candidate, the party lost key stakeholders in droves. They decamped to the APC. APC’s candidate, Muhammadu Buhari won decisively, defeating the incumbent in the process. The rest is now history.
With Buhari’s two-term presidency next year, attention has once again turned to debate on the zoning system of the presidential flag-bearers of the major parties. The crux of the current issue relates to the aspirations of some presidential wannabes from the North in the PDP, who believe that their party’s fidelity to the unwritten agreement of zoning will be anticlimactic for their chances.
It will be partial and insulting to southerners for these major parties to apply political expediency and calculations as a ruse to scheme for the emergence of two northerners as flag-bearers and jettison the gentleman’s agreement of zoning and power rotation. Already, aspirants of northern extraction in the PDP are angling to force the hand of the party to refrain from zoning. Their argument is that the party itself could miss out on another eight-year period if it blocks northern aspirants. For one, elections anywhere in the world except in dictatorial regimes, depends on numbers. The north has it.
The PDP’s calculation has also lately forced the APC, which had previously stated its decision on zoning to rethink its plan, and it is seriously considering choosing a northern candidate as presidential flag-bearer, a move capable of heating up the country and throwing it into a needless crisis and threatening its fragile unity.
This politicking with the destiny of the entire country is irresponsible and self-serving and cannot be allowed to stand. The same political compromise through zoning that made Obasanjo, Jonathan and Buhari victorious in 1999, 2011 and 2015, respectively, must be retained for Nigeria’s political and economic stability.
This compromise must be extended to the Igbo, whose origin is in Delta, Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi and Rivers States in the 2023 presidential election because it is the only major tribe that has not governed the county since the end of the Nigerian Civil War.
It is true that Nigeria could have suffered dismemberment, were the Yoruba not placated and compensated for the unlawful and unjust cancellation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. The renewed agitations for their own Republic of Biafra by the South-easterners is gaining traction because of an understandable sense of alienation in their own country, making it seem as if they are still been punished for sins post-civil war.
Today, the core South-East is a hotbed of agitation for tribal self-actualisation and this has placed the gunpowder-laced area on the tenterhooks. Any inflammable situation, like a political miscalculation of abandoning zoning by the two main political parties and choosing two Fulanis from the North will support the belief that there is a calculated plan to Islamise Nigeria. This could push the country to the brink of crisis and a breakup.
All state governors from the South, who were mainly elected on the platform of the PDP and APC, have unanimously called for the two leading parties to zone their presidential tickets to the South in the interest of the country’s unity, stability and prosperity.
To ignore this and set up another election that would foist another Fulani on the country for another potential eight-year presidency could damage the country’s unity and oneness beyond repair. A house or country divided against itself cannot stand. Success and progressive growth comes from uniting together in trust and equity. To do the contrary will only foster anarchy, hatred and disintegration of the country.
A word is enough for the wise.