Why should there be so much preoccupation with Nigeria’s 2023 presidential elections when the newly elected administration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) is just over three months in office and the freshly inaugurated ministers are just settling down? It is not an inappropriate concern.
Electioneering cannot be a continuous unbroken affair if meaningful governance is to take place in between electoral cycles. But this is a predicament even in mature democracies.
President Barack Obama had barely settled down in office in 2009 when some top white Republican Party hierarchs reportedly met to strategize on obstructing his administration at every turn and ensuring its defeat at the next polls.
Incumbent President Donald Trump made clear from the onset in 2017 that his tenure would be an eight-year and two-term affair and his fierce Democratic Party adversaries have been fighting him inch by inch all the way.
It has thus been non-stop, cut and thrust, politicking in the USA ever since although that country has the institutional and economic resilience to withstand any negative developmental impacts.
Ironically, it is a member of President Buhari’s inner caucus, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State who has helped to bring to the forefront of national consciousness the fact that 2023 is so far yet so near.
His widely publicized views on the current informal zoning arrangement for choosing the occupant of Nigeria’s presidency has re-ignited intense debate on which part of the country the next president of Nigeria should come from after Buhari. Had such a controversy at this time been instigated by someone not perceived as being very close to the president, he would have been accused of deliberately trying to distract the administration.
In his contribution to a recently published book on politics and power in Nigeria, el-Rufai had argued that the zoning or rotating of the presidency between the two major zones of the country as has been the practice at least among the dominant political parties since 1999 should be discarded. Describing zoning as a barrier to political equality, el-Rufai stressed that the emphasis should shift from the region of origin of the president to considerations of qualification, competence and character.
True, el-Rufai had expressed his views generally with regard to the zoning of political offices particularly those of the president and state governors. But informal zoning arrangements exist down the line encompassing even local government and legislative elections. Yet, el-Rufai’s critics contend that it is the presidency he has in mind since he reportedly habours a little-disguised presidential ambition himself.
Others accused the Kaduna State governor of flying a kite aimed at ultimately ensuring the continuity of another northerner as President after Buhari.
But then, to question the motives of the proponent of an argument is not necessarily to credibly debunk the validity of his reasoning or the plausibility of his logic. Let us forget whatever misgivings we have about el-Rufai the messenger. Let us consider the merits or demerits of the message.
The central question is: Considering the prostrate state of Nigeria in virtually every sector of the country today, her inexorable continuous decline and slide to anarchy and near disintegration, the deepening misery and impoverishment of the vast majority of her people and the disproportionate gap between her potentials and attainments, can Nigeria afford to sustain her current leadership recruitment culture particularly at the apex of the political system – the presidency? I do not think so and I think that is el-Rufai’s point.
As from 2023, the qualities of competence, character, qualification; emotional intelligence, sense of compassion, personal national network, cosmopolitan outlook, stable temperament, and capacity for hard work must trump the consideration of place of origin in choosing the helmsman of Nigeria’s ship of state.
One of the most interesting reactions to el-Rufai was from the radical human rights and pro-democracy activist, Senator Shehu Sani. He argued that the APC ‘s dumping of its zoning policy with the possibility of a northerner emerging as President on the platform of the party after Buhari would amount to an act of ingratitude to the Southwest in particular, which played a critical supportive role in Buhari’s electoral victories both in 2015 and 2019.
Sani contended that “…what we need to put into perspective is the fact that it will be a serious threat to unity and peace of our country if one part of the country will continue to dominate the political space of the country due to its demographic majority and land size. I’m a socialist and I believe that the one who should preside over the affairs of the country should be competent, but is it competence that brought the ruling party to power in 2015?”
But if it was not competence that brought the APC to power in 2015 and its victory was more of a function of the manifest incompetence and incomparable venality of the PDP, should that stop us from striving ceaselessly to bring competence to the forefront in our choice of leaders for the country from henceforth? I am not sure that the Southwest is looking for gratitude for the support it lent to Buhari’s emergence as President in 2015 and his re-election in 2019.
Neither is the region, at least as represented by its political class within the APC, fearful of competing for the presidency with any other region on the basis of merit to the best of my knowledge.
In the run up to the 2019 elections, I was surprised that a number of political office holders of Southwest extraction at the federal level urged the electorate in the Southwest to vote for Buhari to enhance the possibility of the presidency returning to the region in 2023.
The great Chief Obafemi Awolowo would have found such an assertion coming from Yoruba politicians most embarrassing and unacceptable. The great sage never sought Nigeria’s presidency on the basis of the fact that he was a Yoruba man.
Rather, he studied the country’s problems rigorously and proffered well thought out solutions to them, which he then vigorously canvassed to the country on the platform of his political parties in the first and second republics. He would have considered it an insult for the presidency to be conceded to him simply on the basis of where he came from.
In the same vein, Chief MKO Abiola never canvassed for the presidency in 1993 selling his ethnic credentials as a Yoruba man. Rather, he sold his ‘Farewell to Poverty’ manifesto to the public and leveraged on his business success, stupendous wealth, record of pan-Nigerian philanthropy and strategic relations with key power groups, especially the military, to coast home to a nationwide victory that was later annulled.
Indeed, when a cunning IBB named Chief Earnest Shonekan, an Egba man like Abiola, as Head of the Interim National Government (ING) to permanently nail the coffin of MKO’s June 12 victory, the Yoruba roundly rejected the arrangement. They were desirous not just of a Yoruba President for the sake of it.
They were more concerned with the principles of democracy as exemplified by the June 12 election as well as justice as embodied in the struggle against its unjust annulment.
The truth is that it is impossible to contest for the office of Nigeria’s presidency on a purely ethno-regional platform and realistically expect to win. Indeed, Shehu Sani, in self-contradiction, notes this point when he avers that “We have not forgotten that President Buhari had contested three times without becoming President and on the fourth time, with the support of people from the South, he emerged the President…” The dynamics of Nigeria’s politics is too complex for any ethnic group to brazenly impose a President on the rest of the country no matter its population. This is why Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, an ethnic minority, defeated Buhari in the 2011 election.
Given the number of political parties that contest elections and which are free to choose candidates from any part of the country, the question of zoning is largely theoretical and of any effect only within political parties. But given the country’s current political configuration, the APC and PDP are the only parties that can realistically contest meaningfully for the presidency come 2023 unless something dramatic happens.
It is the responsibility of the two parties with the requisite organization, structure and resources to win nationwide elections, to accord merit greater priority in choosing their presidential candidates.
If this is not done, the country’s current hydra-headed crises will deepen and the mass uprising that currently seems unfeasible will most likely become an unplanned and spontaneous future reality, with diverse ethno-regional, religious and other sectional implications, that will grievously endanger the country’s stability, cohesion, and very existence. It is an avoidable fate.
Culled from The Nation