Nigeria is often regarded as a pioneer and exemplar in Africa in the use of power-sharing mechanisms and practices to promote inter-ethnic inclusiveness or discourage sectional imbalance and bias in decision-making processes.
The ‘federal character’ principle, the allocation and rotation of political party positions among geo-ethnic zones (’zoning’) and the establishment of inter-party coalition governments, represent some of the ways by which Nigeria’s political elites have sought to institutionalise power-sharing strategies in the Nigerian context.
Nevertheless, these strategies have often been distorted or frustrated by the hegemonic ambitions of the majority nationalities, the pervasiveness of the winner-takes-all syndrome in the Nigerian political landscape, the imperfections and contradictions in the constitutional provisions on power-sharing and the underlying anomalies in the territorial configuration of the federation.
Zoning arrangements in political parties have, for instance, sometimes operated merely to legitimize or reproduce the hegemony of the majority groups. This was particularly so in the Second Republic, when the ruling National Party of Nigeria ‘zoned’ the three leading positions of presidential candidate, vice-presidential candidate and party chairman to the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba, respectively.
The ethno-political obstacle to the effective implementation of proportionality, accommodative or power-sharing principles, has been compounded by the constitutional and structural contradictions that are built into the operation of the Nigerian federal system.
What is the possible way forward?
The rotation of the presidency between the North and South, or among the six key geo-political zones in the country, namely, the North-East, North-West, Middle-Belt, South-East, South-West and South-Central (or Southern Minorities), is a possible way forward.
The reduction of the president’s tenure to a total of five years or denial of the right to self-succession to an incumbent president could also be the way forward.
Another solution probably lies in the introduction of a multiple vice-presidential system in order to ensure that more than just three ethnic majority groups would be represented at the apex of the federal executive.
Also the introduction of a French-style presidential-parliamentary model to help balance and expand the ethno-regional base of federal executive power may be the answer.
Furthermore, the institution of a collegiate presidential system on the Swiss model, with the presidency rotated annually among the members of a presidential council, made up of representatives of each of the six or more geo-political zones in the country.
Such a cohesive ethnic minority advocacy infrastructure could provide a powerful sociological impetus for the establishment and effective functioning of a federal ministry of minority affairs, which could serve as an important institutional resource for coordinating and consummating redressive reforms in state-ethnic minority relations in Nigeria.
•Jomo Iroha can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org