Formalising rotational presidency
The major feuds in the Nigerian polity since independence in 1960 have been mainly over leadership. Be it the Civil War of 1967-70, or the Gideon Orkar-led attempted coup of April 1990, or the crisis we now simply refer to as “June 12,” it has been demonstrated in the course of our existence as an independent nation that the leadership question is indeed one question we cannot take for granted. To the credit of Nigerians, the enormity of the leadership question appears to have been appreciated.
The arrangement by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to rotate the presidency between the South and North is an acknowledgement of the existence of a most disturbing national problem and an effort to provide a practical solution to it. The PDP approach would appear to have reasonably stabilised Nigerian democracy in the last 20 years, and the fear of “ethnic hegemony” would appear not to have been as pronounced as it once was. However, we do not have “rotational presidency” yet. The principle is yet to be accommodated in the national constitution where its “nitty gritty” can be spelt out.
Nevertheless, the significance of rotating the presidency can hardly be underestimated. The PDP is yet to recover from the backlash it suffered when it reneged on its important arrangement in the prelude to the presidential election of 2015. One reason the party lost that election was the withdrawal of support from the North whose voters had felt the presidential candidacy of the party should have come from their region.
A Constitution or political arrangement must accommodate the emotions and sentiments of those it is designed to serve if its usefulness is to survive the test of time. One has said it before and one is repeating it here, that the success of the American constitution is the acknowledgement by America’s founding fathers that the problem of cleavage can only be resolved by addressing it. Their pragmatic decision to introduce a bicameral legislature was one “scientific” approach to addressing the fears of smaller states about the dominance of larger ones. Hence the American states, irrespective of their sizes and populations, were accorded equal representation in the Senate.
Today, no American state expresses the fear of being dominated by another. Cleavages, be they those of ethnicity and religion, do not disappear by wishing them away. The sad prediction here is that our cleavages may eventually destroy our aspirations of one Nigerian nation if we do not learn how to manage them effectively. We sadly do not appear to be an innovative people. We chop for solutions that have been applied to the problems of other nations, while lacking the courage or patience to innovate homegrown solutions.
Critics of rotational presidency talk of having the “best candidate” for the job, even when they know that such a so-called best candidate always comes from a dominant regional grouping. There are “best candidates” in every region of the Nigerian federation, seeking an opportunity to bring their leadership qualities to bear on all of us. A nation can design a democratic structure that accommodates its realities. There is no universal structure of democracy, what is universal about democracy are the basic principles that governs it.
The way the Americans elect their President is not the same way the British elect or select their Prime Minister. Rotational Presidency is the appropriate leadership structure for Nigeria, based on ethnological realities and the temperaments of its peoples. This writer submitted a detailed memorandum of this subject to the Political Bureau instituted by the government of General Ibrahim Babangida in 1986. Interestingly, a committee of intelligent, experienced and well-meaning Nigerians – The Patriots – articulated a similar proposal in the year 2000. The fact that we have ever since remained loyal to our viewpoint suggests honesty and conviction on our part. We sadly have too many so-called opinion leaders in our society who say one thing today and another tomorrow.
Sadly, because these so-called opinion leaders have been “former this” or “former that,” they get the attention they hardly deserve. Some pretend to be speaking for all of us, even when what they seek to protect is their own selfish or group interests. Rotational presidency, in this writer’s view, complements and enhances the principle of federalism. Now that President Muhammadu Buhari has affirmed or re-affirmed his belief in true federalism, the time is now to embark on improving our Constitution.
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