By Abu Haneef
It is true that the North and South have rotated the presidency from the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999 until Jonathan truncated it in 2011 after the demise of Umaru Musa Yar’adua. Many have argued that it was practically challenging to stop an acting president from contesting just because of an unconstitutional gentleman agreement, which was put in place by not-so-gentle politicians to rotate the presidency between the North and the South. Although not a valid justification to scrap that agreement, the argument is not entirely incorrect; who could have stopped Jonathan if he wasn’t patriotic enough to put the country ahead of himself? No one.
All that is now history. But what isn’t history is how all the proponents of the rotational presidency during Jonathan are now speaking against rotation; in the very same manner, those that argued against the rotational presidency during Jonathan are now suddenly making a case for rotation. The way both sides exchanged arguments with the change of personalities proves that those arguments were never in favour of the reasons given in the first place.
While there are some good arguments for and against the rotational presidency in Nigeria, there will never be a good argument for scrapping it when that benefits you, only to turn around and demand rotation when it does not. This double double-standard is against fair play.
Now let us analyse the case. While the argument for the rotational presidency is valid on the grounds of national security and stability, there are many things wrong about how we are understanding and approaching the rotation—from its premises to our assumptions thereof and many things in between.
Anyone who understands Nigeria’s politics knows that religion, rather than ethnogeography, is the biggest faultline, albeit with a bit of ethnogeographic connotations here and there. This explains why since 1999, almost all Northern Christians voted for Southern Christians (except where both contenders were Muslims, and even then, they preferred PDP simply for being “more Christian”), despite sharing the same geopolitical threats and opportunities with the Northern Muslims they rejected. Yet, notwithstanding this apparent reality, we chose to premise our rotation on ethnogeographical consideration rather than religion (I’m not making a case for religion here, I’m only analysing our presidential rotation).
Now let us ask ourselves, what happens if we rotate the presidency to the South and a Muslim, backed by Northern voters, emerges as the president? He would have been a Southern president who would not give the South a sense of belonging. The same will have been the case if a Northern Christian emerges as president. So our current premise for rotation is faulty, and those responsible for it know this; they are only ashamed to premise our rotational presidency on religion because of the global stigma religion faces today.
Another critical question we haven’t convincingly answered in Nigeria is population spread across Nigeria’s ethnogeographical constituents and religions. Doing this would have removed the heat generated on the polity by the many unrealistic demands currently put forward by all sections of the country. However, we have so many issues to solve, and the best way to start is to answer all the critical demographical questions we haven’t. Only then will every section understand its proper place in the scheme of things, as there are currently huge delusions by many country sections.
Another problem with this rotation is our constitution, which does not recognise it. This is problematic because people at the opposite faultline can only surrender power based on trust. There is no guarantee that the other region will yield power according to agreed terms. We had seen that in 2011 when Jonathan contested against PDP’s zoning arrangement. Therefore, the question of constitutionality in rotating the presidency must be answered to address the current distrust in the polity.
Another valid question to answer on presidential rotation is that of fairness, particularly with the way and manner we have seen many agitations for resource control, which led to the creation of 13% Derivation, Ministry of Niger Delta and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Suppose we agree that they deserve more resources only because God planted those resources in their land. In that case, the North can also argue that they deserve to retain political power because the same God that chose to bless Niger Delta with hydrocarbon decided to bless the North with a larger population. Suppose it is fair for Niger Delta to demand resource control. In that case, it is certainly reasonable for the North to require strict adherence to the democratic principle of majority retaining power at all times. That is one consistency of truth we must not skip in our national discourse.
Conclusively, I submit that the only thing correct about the rotational presidency we argue for or against is the idea of having or not having it, but everything else has either been misunderstood, refused to be understood or deliberately misrepresented. And in these tiny details and questions we repeatedly miss lies most of the solutions we seek elsewhere.
Abu Haneef can be reached via email@example.com.