The 2015 Presidential election was a watershed in the democratic history of Nigeria for the reason that it scored a number of firsts, among them – first time an incumbent President was defeated in an election; first time a sitting President conceded defeat in an election; first time the outcome of a Presidential election was not challenged in court etc.
Thus President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015, having been cleared on all fronts – a clear and unchallenged victory at the polls. The expectation then was for an all-inclusive government to be put in place to propel Nigeria on a path to true national development, deepen the nation’s nascent democracy, and reinforce our state building enterprise. In 2015 however, for the first time since 1999, the geo-political zoning formula, which seeks to create political balance in the allocation of major political offices among the major ethnic groups in Nigeria to achieve fairness and equity, failed to activate for the people of South- East Nigeria – Ndigbo.
With the President from North-West and the Vice President from South-West, it was logical for the position of Senate President to be zoned to the South-East, to complete the political tripod on which the Nigeria nation state stands. This was not done and the reason given then was that, there was no APC Senator elected from the South-East. Evidently, the past four years have witnessed political upheavals of huge magnitude that saw the country almost tilting to breaking point, with overbearing centrifugal forces pulling on the nation’s polity from regional socio-cultural and political centres of power.
This period saw political leaders champion ethnic and regional causes as opposed to national patriotic values. Demands for secession almost drowned the political airwaves; accusations and counter accusations dominated political discourse. Watchers of Nigerian politics began to wonder if the prophesy of ultimate collapse of the Nigerian State which named 2015 as its activation date, only had a margin of error of a few years. At the root of all these was the issue of alleged and perceived marginalization by some sections of the country.
President Buhari has just won reelection to lead the country for another four years beginning from 29th May, 2019. Political discussions and commentaries have begun to heat up over the issue of which zone will produce the Senate President for the next four years. With President Buhari coming from the North and Vice President Yemi Osibanjo from the South-West, there ought to be no discussion or contention as to where the Senate President should come from.
The South- East should, in line with the principle of fairness and equity, produce the next Senate President! This time around, there are APC Senators elected from the South- East zone, and who, by the Senate Standing Orders 2015(As amended), qualify for the position of Senate President. However, there are emerging narratives on why this zoning formula may not be maintained by the APC. One of them is the low votes scored by President Buhari in the South-East, where he could not win any state. The second refers to whispering accusations that Ndigbo cannot be trusted by the North.
The aim of this piece is to dispassionately and logically address these issues by first providing the clear dialectics in party politics and presidential governance, and second, to deconstruct the above narratives with facts and logic. For the avoidance of doubt, presidential politics is clearly distinct from parliamentary governance in application, and should not be misunderstood or mixed up.
The former is an all-inclusive system, which recognizes the whole country as a collective political unit of governance irrespective of party affiliation; while the latter is a strongly walled system of governance exclusively by the majority party. Once a President is elected, in a presidential system of government, a government has been formed; and the whole country becomes the President’s constituency irrespective of party inclinations or how anybody voted.
The Nigerian Presidential system of government is copied from that of the United States of America. The reason why the United States chose the Presidential system as against the parliamentary system of its former colony, Britain, was because the leaders of the American revolution, at independence, did not like the idea of parties for the reasons that parties were seen as divisive rather than unifying, and therefore not attractive for a new nation of complex diversities like America which needed a unifying band. Americans needed a strong central government banded together to bring their policies to bear on the new nation; hence the first two American Presidents were Federalists. Therefore, it is almost selfcontradictory for a presidential system that resists ethnic and regional pulls, to begin to place emphasis on party politics and affiliation.
That, by itself, is a strong driver and a precursor to regionalism, rather than federalism. The argument of number or percentage of votes scored by the President in the South-East, as the basis for determining the application or otherwise of the geopolitical zoning formula, would either amount to the introduction of a completely germane element in our polity, or a negation of history and facts. First, the geopolitical zoning formula is structured to give “all sections” of Nigeria, and not “those that voted” a sense of national belonging. Second, evidences abound that in the past, this equitable formula was never jettisoned on the altar of number of votes cast for the President by any section.
In 1999, at the beginning of the present Fourth Republic, the Presidency was zoned to the South-West. Olusegun Obasanjo, the eventual winner of that election, did not receive up to 25 per cent votes in any of the states in his own geopolitical zone – South-West; but was elected President with the majority votes of other geo-political zones. Obasanjo did not reject the presidency on the account of this, neither was anything due to South-West, as a geopolitical zone, denied them. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP did not win any of the core Northern States, as all of them were won by President Buhari of the CPC then; that didn’t stop the North-West (a zone that did not vote for PDP) from producing the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the person of Rt. Hon Aminu Tambuwal. I could go on and on. One then wonders why the very fact that President Buhari did not win a majority in any of the South-East states should be used to deny the people of South- East what is equitably due to them, even when Buhari performed better in the zone this time around compared to 2015. Concerning the filtering allegations that the North cannot trust Ndigbo, I make bold to ask, in what? Who have Ndigbo betrayed before and when? Ndigbo merely exercised their constitutional rights of choice in voting for the candidate or party that gave them the highest promise or hope in their expectations as a people; that fact should not be used to vilify them. Rather than continue the narrative that Ndigbo cannot be trusted, the North should be careful so as not to be seen as the partner that cannot be trusted.
The reason is that it is the North that brought the zoning formula and Ndigbo have always respected and abided by it. So if the same North orchestrates or plays any role in violating it, then they risk being seen as the partner that cannot be trusted, not Ndigbo. One of the very critical elements of democracy is the existence of purposeful and viable opposition, without which the State could drift into excesses.
Therefore, the South-East and indeed South-South zones should rather be commended for being the only sections of the country that presently provide that very important element in our democracy. Can anyone imagine what our democracy would look like if APC produced 36 governors in addition to the President, Vice President, Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives? That would unarguably amount to a one-party state! In conclusion, the victory of APC offers the opportunity to address the political imbalance that existed in the past four years. President Buhari has set the ball rolling in his statement that he will run an all-inclusive government in the next four years. Nigerians and the international community have received the President’s statement positively; this is an indication of how much everyone desires to see this happen.
I therefore call on the APC to match the President’s words with action by zoning the Senate Presidency to the South-East, in line with equity and fairness. This will go a long way in providing the building block for a government of inclusiveness, and prevent an error of political judgement that may hunt the country in the future.
•Akubueze (PhD) is an international elections expert/ consultant.