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2015: Nigerian presidential election and the North-South political divide

| February 5, 2013 More

THERE is a lot of evidence to prove that politicians are already preparing for the 2015 presidential election, therefore, the need to mobilise support for personal and regional interests is taking toll on the performance of the government. This is because of the critical nature of this election in consolidating Nigeria’s unity in diversity or possibly opening up old wounds and further set apart the different geo-political zones.

The critical place of the 2015 presidential election will also be seen from a North-South political perspective arising from the struggle for power between the North and the South in Nigerian politics. I shall go memory lane to unravel the reason 2015 is so important to the unity or disunity of Nigeria.

Before the introduction of the six geo-political zones by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida administration, the political equation in Nigeria in respect to power sharing and rotation had been between the North (North-West, North-East and North-Central) as a single political unite, and the South (South-West, South-East and South-South), also as a single political unit. This was why the power sharing deal was between the North and the South in both the first and the second republics.

In the first republic (1960-1966), it was between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Alhaji Tafewa Balewa, as President and Prime Minister respectively, for a North-South political equation. This was also the case in the second republic (1979-1983) when Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Dr. Alex Ekwueme were president and vice president respectively.

The North-South political equation was maintained in the short-lived third republic (1993), when Moshood Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe won the presidential election. This continued in the fourth republic (1999-2007), when Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar were president and vice- president respectively.

The Umaru Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan presidency was also in line with the North-South political equation. However, the demise of Yar’Adua in 2010 distorted the equation, as the North lost the opportunity to serve out its required term. The emergence of President Jonathan in 2011 for a four-year tenure then redefined the North-South political configuration in Nigeria.

As would be noted, from the first republic to the second transition in the fourth republic, the consensus of a North-South political balance was never a problem to the political elite in Nigeria. The North was seen as a single political unit, and even though the South lacked the capacity to be so considered, there was harmony in the polity.

This was visible in the way the running mates were chosen since the first republic. The South-East produced the first President (Azikiwe, Anambra State) while the North-East produced the Prime Minister (Balewa, Bauchi State) in the first republic. Power shifted to the North-West (Shagari, Sokoto State) in the second republic while the South-East (Ekwueme, Anambra State) was vice president. And had the winners of the annulled presidential election of the third republic been sworn in, the president would have come from the South-West (Abiola, Ogun State) and the vice-president from the North-East (Kingibe, Borno State).

When democracy was restored in 1999, the South-West was compensated with the presidency (Obasanjo, Ogun State) while the North-East (Atiku, Adamawa State) was vice president from 1999-2007 for the first and second dispensations. For the third dispensation (2007-2011), the North-West (Yar’Adua Katsina State) produced the president while the South-South (Jonathan, Bayelsa State) produced the vice president.

This North-South political unity was expected to continue had Yar’Adua not died on May 5, 2010. His death brought about a big political challenge, a time bomb, which is expected to explode in 2015 because, with his death, President Jonathan (South-South) served out Yar’Adua’s remaining term (2010-2011) and was elected for his first term of four years (2011-2015) with North-West (Sambo, Kaduna State) producing the vice-president, with a constitutional right for a re-election (2015-2019).

Judging from the North-South gentleman’s unity-oriented political agreement, the North would have been allowed to complete an eight-year term of the Yar’Adua Presidency (2007-2015) as argued by some northern elite and some concerned Nigerians, who understand the need for unity through political harmony. Unfortunately, the equation changed with Jonathan’s Presidency.

The call for a Northern president or president of Nigeria of northern extraction would have been illogical and meaningless had the equation been maintained and the North allowed to serve out its second term. The argument that an elected Northern president in 2011 would not vacate seat for a Southern slot in 2015 after one term has actually justified the consensus in the North and among its sympathisers that a president of Northern extraction to maintain the North-South divide will not only consolidate the country’s nascent democracy but sustain its unity in diversity in 2015.

Again, the argument that an incumbent president with constitutional rights for re-election should not leave office just to please an unconstitutional North-South political equation, even when a commitment was made in that respect by the incumbent, calls to question the power legitimacy and morality in politics. If we all agree that there should not be legitimacy and morality in government and that we should not be judged by our words, just to please the present, the future will not forgive us if this leads to disunity in the very near future.

This is premised on the fact that without a North-South political equation in Nigeria, there would be no way our unity can be maintained and sustained. I am very much aware of the call for a geo-political arrangement and cries of marginalisation by some geo-political zones. If you go memory lane, you would discover that the presidency of this country has been democratically occupied by the South-East (Azikiwe, 1960-1966) and North-East (Prime Minister Balewa, 1960-1966), North-West (Shagari, 1979-1983), South-West (Obasanjo, 1999-2007), North-West (Yar’Adua, 2003-2010) and South-South (Jonathan, 2010-2015).

If you want to choose a president in 2015 on the bases of marginalisation, do you want to start with North-Central, South-East and North-East in that order? If by occupying the office of vice-president by South-East (Ekwueme, 1979-1983), North-East (Atiku, 1999-2007), South-South (Jonathan, 2007-2010) and North-West (2010-2015) is no justification for inclusive geo-political zones in the North-South political divide, where would the next vice-president come from – North-Central or South-West?

There are those who want to base their argument of marginalisation and exclusivity of their geo-political zones on the years of military rule. This period that saw the heads-of-state coming from South-East (Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi, January-July, 1966, Abia State), North-Central (Gen. Yakubu Gowon, 1966- 1975, Plateau State), North-West (Gen. Murtala Mohammed, 1975-1976, Kano), South-West (Gen. Obasanjo, 1976-1979, Ogun State), North-West (Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, 1984-1985, Katsina State), North-Central (Gen. Babangida, 1985-1993, Niger State), South-West (Ernest Shonekan, 1993, Lagos), North-West (Gen. Sanni Abacha, 1993-1998) and North-Central (Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, 1998-1999, Niger State).

To include these wasted years in our democratic calculation is to justify military rule in Nigeria and call those whose regions produced these military leaders as collaborators in these years of military rule. There is no justification for such argument, either in respect to marginalisation or on regional representation. There cannot be democratic compensation for military rule except one is saying that his/her geo-political zone be given opportunity under military rule to govern the country.

Looking at the six geo-political restructuring of Nigeria as against the hitherto four regions of the first republic, you will agree with me that the South has never been one political unit. Unlike the North with Northern Region as a political unit, the South-East and South-Western regions were different political units. The Mid-Western Region, carved out of then South-Western Region, was the same political unit like the South-West.

The North-South political divide helped to strengthen the South as a political unit with the North. This created harmony in the polity and ensured unity in diversity in the existence of the Nigerian state. An eight-year North-South power rotation was aimed at stability and unity of democratic harmony. The three regions of the South will work together to ensure that all the regions, in turn, produce the president even in a four-year change of baton bases. This is also applicable to the North.

For those who insist that democracy cannot be practiced with power sharing and rotation, even with our peculiarity, it will be a disservice to future generations that their quest to consolidate power by all means may create greater opportunity for our disunity and disintegration. In order to avoid this, there is the need to restore the North-South political divide to ensure democratic consolidation, continuity and unity. Self-ambitions can be sacrificed for national cohesion and integration for greater unity in diversity.

It wasn’t our fault that the military wasted many years of our national existence with grave socio-economic and political consequences. We must learn to let go of the many years of military rule in all our democratic calculations and forge ahead as if we are starting afresh. The point I am making is that our country is much more important than few individuals and should not be mortgaged. There is the need to restore the North-South political equation to ensure a balanced political unity in the country. This can be possible if our political elite reach a consensus on whether the North or the South should restart the equation.

Since the North had the presidency from 2007-2010 and the South from 2010-2015, it will be wise, based on equity and fairness, to allow the North start a full eight years mandate from 2015-2023 and back to the South (possibly the South-East) from 2023-2031. The choice of who becomes president is our collective bargain, whether the candidate is from North or South. The credibility of the candidates will determine the choice to be made. The geo-political zones in a given region can as well ensure that the candidates they present are credible and marketable since we cannot go against the constitution to stop anybody who may wish to exercise his constitutional rights.

Again, justifying the fact that we should start this equation all over again with the North since the incumbent told us in 2011 that he would not run for re-election in 2015, even when he was aware of his constitutional right to do so, we would look at which zone has been shortchanged since Independence in 1960.

The first republic was shared by both the North and the South (Azikiwe and Balewa, 1960-1966), the second by the North through Shagari for four years (1979-1983), the fourth by the South through Obasanjo for eight years (1999-2007), then the North through Yar’Adua for three years (2007-2010) and the South through Jonathan for five years (2010-2015). With this calculation, the North has governed for seven years, and with three years from the six years of Azikiwe/Balewa administration, the North has got 10 years.

The South would have governed for 13 years by 2015, and with three years from the six years of Azikwe/Balewa administration, would have got 16 years by 2015. By 2015, the South would have occupied the presidency for a record 16 years as against the North’s 10 years. This means that the South would be six years ahead of the North by 2015 if we all agree not to compute the wasted years of military rule and not include it to any region’s advantage.

In order to consolidate our nascent democracy and promote our unity in diversity for political harmony and socio-economic development and transformation, it will just be fair to allow the North a slot at the presidency by 2015 and ensure our collective unity, oneness and belongingness. It will also help to consolidate our nationhood and remove obstacles that make for national disintegration, since both the North and South complement each other in our nation-state in the overall harnessing of our rich human and material resources for our collective wellbeing and development. I hope our political elite understand and reason in this direction to avoid the bombs exploding in 2015.

• Ebenezer Leo the Great is of the School of Graduate Studies, University of Port-Harcourt

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