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Editorial: Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 23



The other day, the Nigerian discursive space was further enlarged with the intervention of Retired General Yakubu Gowon in the restructuring debate and the quest for balance of power in the country. Precisely on March 21 in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, the former head of state, made his intervention on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Barewa Old Boys Association (BOBA).

In a three-prong approach, he argued first for the rotation of the presidency among the 19 Northern states. Second, the presidency should be rotated among the six geopolitical zones in the country, and with two vice presidents to boot. Of the two vice presidents, one of them should come from the zone producing the President and the other elected into power during the presidential election. Third, within states, the rotation principle should apply to the production of the governor, which should rotate among the three senatorial zones in each state of the federation.


In his words, “Presidency should be zoned and rotated among the six geo-political zones of the country. This is key to peace, tranquillity, and development of our country…Also, among the 19 northern states, the Nigerian presidential position should be rotated.” In his wisdom, this will address the question of marginalisation, and perhaps restore stability to a polity that has long lost its goodwill due to its mismanagement by a tiny ethnic cabal from the north. The elder statesman who spoke to the topic: “Barewa College at centenary: Past, present, and future,” noted for the effect that no ethnic group was better outside the nation than being inside as one united entity.

What is no longer in doubt is the concurrence among many Nigerians that the country can no longer muddle on with a badly skewed state structure, if it desires to endure as one sovereign state. But the question is how can the recipe of a rotational presidency address the deepening contradictions of the Nigerian state today? Between 1993 and 1998, this issue loomed large in the constitutional arrangement that General Sani Abacha’s dictatorship wanted to be imposed on Nigeria. The entrails of the Nigerian state have been mangled beyond what a simplistic prescription of the rotation of leadership in the country can address. The times call for a fundamental restructuring of the polity. We dare say we cannot carry on as of old. The faulty foundation that is the Nigerian state must be destroyed and rebuilt according to the dictates of objective realities.

Thus, we argue here that rotational presidency is not the issue now but how to run the country well through methodical and painstaking restructuring. The elder statesman seems to be fixated on contemporary manifestations of the contradictions of the Nigerian state. Nigeria has since gone beyond the thoughts and ideas of the decade of the 1970s and now tottering in a new millennium. Therefore, a proper understanding of the country is imperative to solve its numerous problems. We make bold to say that there are competencies to be deployed to address the problems afflicting the country. Beyond that, meritocracy should rank first in the order of criteria for the choice of leadership to the country before other considerations otherwise we will continue to entrench mediocrity that is prevalent in the country, accounting for leadership irresponsibility and stunted development, and a harvest of instability.
The people of Nigeria the actual repository of sovereignty requires today a reconstitution of the country in ways that do not emasculate their sovereignty but allow for self-actualisation. As we noted in a previous editorial in this serial, the debate so far has thrown up many options, which leave a window for a federal covenant where the actual business of governance will fall on the laps of the federating units. The country needs to be run well and it desires a good leader. But given the political economy of domination and looting of the commonwealth, nothing short of a new bargain can rescue the country from the brink and put it on the development path. That bargain will include the imputation of the federal tools of governability, namely, subsidiarity and fiscal autonomy into the institutional arrangement that will emerge from such bargain that we insist must be process-led.  
For too long, we have resorted to shortcuts for resolving the country’s problems. Unfortunately, many of those short-cut approaches have only resulted in the reinforcement of the internal colonisation prevalent in the country by atomising the autonomy of the federating units to the Nigerian federation. This eventuality is all too obvious for everyone to see—a federation without federalism. In the main, let’s not get it twisted, the rotational presidency recipe by General Gowon belongs to the short-cut menu, and can only buy time for those who have made the country look big for nothing and allows the black man to be the butt of degrading insinuations in the international circle. It is time to embrace federalism, and we must make haste before it becomes too late.

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