I was once invited to the African Centre in London to give a talk on the concept of rotational presidency in Nigeria. It was a well-advertised lecture, so quite a number of Nigerians were aware of it. I did my best and got a standing ovation from the informed audience. However, an unpalatable incident occurred soon after the talk, as a compatriot from one of the northern states sought to engage me in a physical combat. It was the intervention of a Ghanaian friend that saved the day.
I am a Nigerian patriot, not one that would engage in ethnic profiling. I must, however, say that opposition to the idea of rotating the presidency has been rather opportunistic. Those who say the election or selection of the president should be based on competence only hide under the assumption of perceived regional advantage in population. If one must be brutally honest, it is in the comparatively more educated South, not the North, that an argument of so-called competence should be rending the air. We do not have a national population of voters that can take an objective look at a competition and side against ethnic or religious interests. Were the next two or three presidents to come from a regional grouping, there will not be a few who will be moaning and groaning about an hegemonic situation.
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 Peoples Democratic Party 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. Any scholar wanting to write on the relative stability of our democracy from 1999 to date must appreciate the fact of an informal rotation of leadership between the South and North as a factor.
However, we do not have “rotational presidency” yet. The principle has 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 has yet to recover from the backlash it suffered when it reneged on its important arrangement in the prelude to the 2015 presidential election. 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.
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