As a fast-approaching election year, 2023 expectedly holds some lofty promises for the country, which is the reason for the scramble among the various political stake-holder groups for a relevance in the on-going alignments and re-alignments that will eventually define the whole political process. All the arguments between the southern political elite and its northern counterpart over the issue of power mobility are part of the of the struggle, by the contending groups , to influence the course of events.
Although it is not a fresh one, the demand for the return of the country’s presidency to the south as expressed by the governors of the southern states after their recent meeting and the almost swift reaction of a lot of key northern individuals and groups have practically elevated the controversy over the matter to a higher level. If not because it has happened now, most people would probably not have imagined that governors of the 17 southern states who are not all members of just one political party would take a unanimous decision on an issue that is exclusively for the political parties to handle.
In other words, it shows an uncommon unity for the Southern States Governors to put aside their political differences and, apparently without recourse to the respective parties, demand for the emergence of the next president from the south. Apart from the usurpation of the parties’ powers and responsibilities, this stance has also further weakened the national political structure that, supposedly, serves as a foundation of the noticeable relative cohesion within the political class.
The Southern States Governors who also declared support for the collection of the Value Added Tax [VAT] by the states governments and the abolition of open grazing must have expected the kind of reactions they are getting now. All the three—power rotation, VAT collection and open grazing—border on the most fundamental issues of politics and governance, economic survival and viability as well as social harmony among the various communities in Nigeria.
Power rotation in particular is a familiar idea to which a lot of the citizens have fully subscribed, mainly because of the realization that it guarantees equity in the distribution of political positions to the various sections of the country and therefore helps in the creation of a sense of belonging in the diverse communities. At several points in the past, successive governments contended and, in some cases, even yielded to the demand for a shift of power from one part of the country to another.
The crisis that followed the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential election by the military administration under General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida which was interpreted in some political quarters as an attempt to avert the emergence of late Chief Moshood Abiola from the south-west as president not only staggered for six years but also resulted in the kind of scenario that, upon the restoration of democracy to the country, produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from the same south-west. It was, in fact, by a clear design that the General AbdulSalami Abubakar government implemented a transition-to-civil rule programme that favoured the emergence of Chiefs Obasanjo and Olu Falae of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP] and the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party [ANPP] respectively, both from the south-west, as the only two presidential candidates at the time.
There was also a heightened agitation for the shift of the presidency to the north during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan that was almost akin to the popular June 12 controversy. The insistence of Jonathan to continue in power beyond not only 2011 but even 2015 was seen as a clear disregard for the legitimate demand of the north for compensation for its lost years that was caused by the death of late President Umaru Musa YarAdua in 2010, just three years after he assumed power.
The current clamour being spearheaded by the governors of the southern states is therefore a continuation of the trend as inherently disadvantageous or even inimical to the democratic process as it is being seen to be by a lot of Nigerians. The indulgence of states governors in acts that are arguably subversive to a system of which they should be true champions is what has constituted a source of concern for many people as evident in the varying reactions it continues to generate.
The governors’ agitation at this time that old divisions are being re-enforced and new ones being created by certain nefarious and unpatriotic acts of some individuals and groups definitely result in the further deterioration of inter-relationships amongst the major sections of the polity and segments of the society. Now that the governors of the southern states have spoken in the language of the separatists, those on the other side can claim the right to behave in the same manner, which explains the harsh reactions of groups like the Northern Elders Forum [NEF] to the power shift demand.
What the position of NEF and some other northern groups has indicated is not only an absolute opposition to the clamour of the southern states governors but also some kind of resolve to sensitize northerners against the election of a southerner as a president. In a way, this controversy as triggered by a section of the southern political elite is a potential cause of a hubbub that can permeate the entire political arena, which can adversely affect the quality of the political and democratic processes in the country.
One other extremely disturbing issue about all the arguments over the power rotation or, more precisely, the demand for the shift of the presidency to the south is the failure of the political parties to develop their own robust campaign plans. As organizations that are formed for the purpose of power acquisition through proper election by the people, political parties reserve the right to design strategies that they may consider most effective for campaigns.
Certainly, the zoning or allocation of political offices or slots to the various sections of a country is an idea that works perfectly for growing democracies which should however not be imposed on any political party. A party worth its name is expected to have a full mechanism for the assessment of political situations at any given time and should therefore be allowed to determine and define, as far as campaign challenges are concerned, what truly is political expediency and what is not.
It is not known how, between now and 2023, the ruling All Progressives Congress [APC] and the PDP as the two mega parties in which there is sharp disagreement over where the next president should come from can appropriately assert themselves and take over the full control of their respective affairs. The parties’ organs are duly required to realize the need to collaborate with a view to developing the necessary capacity for the effective management of the internal affairs of the parties so that all those opportunistic elements within and outside of them will have no opportunity to manipulate sentiments of the people in order to satisfy some selfish desires.