The Patriots and the Fallacy of Rotational Presidency
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
This page has maintained an important prophesy over the past six months regarding the return bid of Obasanjo in 2003. We still insist that there will be a national consensus that Obasanjo should not run for a second term. This is a fact that his team must come into terms with, and the earlier the better because it is getting late for them. That consensus is quickly building up, as we approach the primaries of the two most contending parties, the PDP and the ANPP.
As a recap, we have seen how he lost the largest part of his supporters by the time he was halfway through the first term. Now he has lost almost all, except of course those who are still lurking around him for the material benefits that the remaining days of his tenure could afford them. His party is ‘bed-evilled’ with his insistence to re-contest, in spite of his monumental unpopularity. The national assembly has resolved to impeach him, after realizing that he is an ‘evil’ lying on the PDP ‘bed’, raping the party of its popularity among the masses. PDP governors are regaining their freedom; their vociferous support for Obasanjo’s second bid has given way to silence, especially as the interest of Atiku in the presidency becomes increasingly clear. At least Kwankwaso and Makarfi are silent. Gari ya yi tsit, wai ruwa ya ci makadi.
All zones, except the southwest, have become victims of Obasanjo’s vendatta. Politicians from the southwest, however, have since the inception of the administration identified with Obasanjo and worked hard to reap the best, or say all, benefits of his administration. As a result, they pledged to support him in 2003. We then replied that their pledge is a clear sign that Obasanjo will be defeated since they have never elected a winning president.
But there are sufficient indications to prove that the southwest too has changed its mind about 2003. They have dumped Obasanjo after knowing that there is no way he can win the election this time. The most recent indication of this shift is the call by The Patriots, a conglomeration of ethnic intellectuals and politicians largely from the south. Last week they called on Obasanjo to retreat from his 2003 battlefront. In their press statement they said,
“It is our considered view that in order to promote the objective of ensuring that no cultural, ethnic or linguistic group is accorded preferential treatment, we ought to develop a convention of ensuring that the top and most important political office in this nation goes round in a way that manifest our conviction that no particular ethnic, cultural or linguistic group is accorded preferential treatment over others. On this ground alone, the rotation of the office of the President every five years among the geopolitical zones is likely to be a more effective demonstration of the equality of the nationalities in each zone if no one person from a particular geopolitical group stays in the office for more than one term. This is why we consider that in the interest of peace and unity in Nigeria, Mr. President ought to reconsider his decision to stand for a second term. We very strongly suggest to him to make this gesture in the interest of national unity.”
The press briefing by The Patriots was headed by Chief Rotimi Williams and in attendance were other members of the group, according to list provided by Thisday, including the leader of Afenifere, Pa Abraham Adesanya; Secretary-General of Ohaneze, Prof. Ben Nwabueze; and Chieftain of Union of Niger Delta, Chief M. T. Mbu. The fifth, Dan Suleiman, representative of the Middle Belt Forum, was absent because he was overseas, according to Williams. There were many other distinguished senior citizens, mostly in their seventies and eighties, few in their late sixties, who blessed the occasion.
Let us right away mention that we welcome The Patriots to the club of those who believe that Obasanjo must not continue. We only differ on the ground for the appeal. While they based their own on ethnic considerations, we based ours on universal rules of democracy, human right, rule of law and reason. Mr. President, they said, should not run in 2003 because he is from the southwest; he has done their turn within the paradigm of the single five-year term rotational presidency they purport to support.
On our part, we said, no, the President should not contest 2003, though he has every constitutional right to do so, not because of the colour of his skin or the diameter of his nostrils and the width of his nose, but on proven facts of the colossal failure of his administration. In other words, while The Patriots based their conception of national unity on what they call “cultural, ethnic or linguistic” considerations, we based ours on merit of the individual irrespective of his “culture, ethnic or linguistic” identity. Their conception of the presidency is parochial, ours universal. They are persuaded by sentiments; we are compelled by reason.
One really has every reason to wonder whether these patriots are really what they call themselves. First of all, their identity is not national in outlook. We must admit that the members, except Dan Suleiman and Abraham Adesanya (who I cannot recall excelling in anything positive), have excelled in their areas of specialization. Professors Nwabueze and Sagay have written extensively on various aspects of law and democracy. They are leading authors in Nigerian Law. Chief Rotimi Williams is even called ‘Timi the Law’ for the successful carrier he had in practice. He led the 1977 Constituent Assembly that saw the formulation of the best constitution ever documented in the history of our democracy.
However, we wonder how these scholars failed to live up to the esteem we, their students, hold them at. They are supposed to abandon the sewage of every parochial tendency and drink from the pure and natural spring of nationhood. For in a nation with over 250 ethnic groups, no intellectual worth his salt will resort to configuring the unity of the country on sentiments of culture, ethnicity or language. They should adopt the nationalistic stand of northern intellectuals like Dr. Ibrahim Tahir who even before an imminent threats and actions of ethnic cleansing and other injustices, they continued to remain within the waveband of nationalist politics. But here were The Patriots, the cream of southern scholarship, profession and politics, hinging national unity on the delicate joint of cultural, ethnic and linguistic identity.
This point is clear from the membershi. Williams, the Thisday report concluded, said at the conference: “So we make it clear to you gentlemen of the press that The Patriots comprise four principal groups – Afenifere, Ohaneze, the Union of Niger Delta and the Middle Belt Forum.” Why are the Northeast, Northwest and North Central zones not represented in the organization? Is it that the Patriots have surveyed the two regions and they could not find the Ibrahim Tahirs and Bala Usmans to join them?
The answer really is that if their organization were truly concerned with the unity of the country, not promotion of any sectional interest or holding a disdain against the zones it chose to exclude, it would have found, on first request, thousands of people ready to join them in their objective. But it appears that The Patriots at the final days of their lives have yielded to gravity; it has pulled them down from the lofty position of universal values and ideals to the lowly positions of ethnic parochialism. They have gone full cycle.
This is the danger of gerontocracy. People at old age lose their intellectual balance and bearing and start a return journey to the positions they once held at youth or childhood. Gerontocracy is certainly one of the present problems of Nigeria. We have people who have been in the limelight of politics since pre-independence, growing and returning to the same positions they held at independence. Recycling in nature is good, in politics bad. They have disallowed the nation the liberty to grow out of the parochial politics of ethnicity and blossom with the clover of universal value of merit. In aging and death, there is certainly some relief for families and nations alike. But a further danger is posed where the aged lives to pass the same sentiments as gospel truth to their children and grandchildren. It is left to the children to revolt, at a stage, and tell these grandparents that our age is a global with no space at all for primordial sentiments to hold sway.
The surprising contradiction is how the southern elite, typified by The Patriots, are the most vehement proponents of merit in positions other than the presidency, because it serves as a convenient tool to maintain their hegemony over the civil service and the economy, including the service sector. We have once argued on this page that we will accept rotational presidency if other parts of the country will also rotate their fortunes. Let us rotate bank managers, managing directors, access to loans and other facilities, every position in the civil service, contracts, consultancy and even dealership in spare parts, export of prostitutes to Italy, and so on.
Our argument for merit is not, on the other hand, based on the advantage of one ethnic group – the so called Hausa-Fulani – having two and a half zones and a fourth traditional ally, the south-south. Whatever political fortune the northerners have is due to merit in many ways. One, by the rules of democracy itself, they are blessed with the population, something that make them the most important variable in any political computation in the country.
Two, they have worked hard to reach out to other regions and they have succeeded in so doing better than others. We recall the efforts and achievements of the NPN, of Yaradua, Ciroma, Shinkafi during the third republic, and of Buhari currently.
Three, they have shown the greatest degree of political tolerance, pragmatism and support for merit. They were ready to vote for Abiola over their own, Tofa. They have also supported the candidature of Obasanjo when it was clear that, within the waveband of the choice given them and for the sake of national reconciliation, he was the lesser evil.
Even today, in their open preference for Muhammadu Buhari over Obasanjo or Babangida, the majority of northerners, especially the masses, have shown that they would favour merit over any other thing. Otherwise, Buhari does not have the offices that Obasanjo could promise their sons; nor does he have the money that Babangida would spend on every vote if he were to be given the chance.
Northerners today reject Obasanjo for no reason other than his inability to play fairly and execute his job as the president with the credibility and achievements expected by Nigerians. He has allowed lawlessness to go unpunished, as exemplified in the OPC and other ethnic crises each of which has left the Hausa-Fulani the most brutalized. He has failed to fight corruption; failed to rehabilitate or expand our infrastructure; failed to initiate reforms that would make the economy vibrant once more, in spite of our unimagined high foreign earnings since he assumed office; he has failed to operate within the ambit of the law, committing over thirty already verified impeachment offences; and finally he has failed even to meet the basic requirements of nurturing the democratic process that brought him to power. He cannot even allow his party to run its elections impartially; nor could he finance the national electoral commission or register voters, things that previous military and civilian regimes did successfully without any headache. How then do we expect him to conduct elections? There is every indication that as we are having local government caretaker councils, we will also have a federal caretaker government. INEC is still unable to release voters register as it promised because, according to it, it has discovered monumental discrepancies that it cannot reconcile.
These are the reasons why majority of people in the North decided not to support Obasanjo anymore to the extent that his campaign coordinators cannot even show their faces. In his place, we are ready to support anyone who will do exactly what he failed to do. In Buhari we have found one such person. Now, is it after The Patriots and their supporters in Ohaneze and Afenifere have discovered that there is no way Obasanjo could win even his party primaries that they are reintroducing the issue of rotational presidency, saying it is a “gesture in the interest of national unity?”
Nigerians must stand up and reject the issue of rotational presidency for many reasons. One, it does not allow the nation the best leader at any given moment. Once the presidency is restricted to a zone, we may never have the best president. Instead of each of the six zones having at least a presidential candidate each, we are confined to only the two or more who are presented by a single zone. At best the probability that we can have the best president has shifted from a whole as guaranteed by the constitution to only one-sixth if rotational presidency is adopted. Why should a nation of 120 million people descend to this level of mediocrity?
Two, rotational presidency is undemocratic and unconstitutional as it disenfranchises people of the right to contest any position or vote for a candidate of their choice, rights enshrined in the constitution.
Three, rotational presidency will subvert national security and promote nepotism since every zone will interpret its chance as a golden opportunity to maximize its benefits to the detriment of others. At every time therefore five of the six zones, or say 83.33%, of the country will be living under perpetual subjugation and retrogression. There will be no end to civil unrests like the ones happening under the present administration. This is the correct interpretation of what is happening under the present administration. We have had enough.
Four, rotational presidency will lead to the dangerous inculcation and accentuation of our differences rather than promote their dissolution. It will reach a level where every ethnic group among the over 250 in the country will cry for a turn. The northerner and indeed any other Nigerian, for example, should be allowed to vote an Abiola or a Tunde Idiagbon or support an Alex Ekwueme if at any given moment he is convinced that Nigeria needs a man of such calibre. Likewise now, he should be allowed to vote for Buhari if he believes that in this moment of corruption and dishonesty in the country, Buhari will enthrone rule of law, transparency and fairness to all.
There are many reasons we can proffer against rotational presidency but we think the above are enough for a short discourse like this. We have at least proved, albeit briefly, that, contrary to what The Patriots claim, rotational presidency will only promote ethnic chauvinism rather than foster national unity.
It is surprising how even some intellectuals, largely in the Babangida camp, are ready to be lured into eating the poisonous fruit of rotational presidency. They are busy trying, at every forum, with little success though, to make northerners buy the idea of an Igbo president. Along this line, Alex Ekwueme was featured in Thisday of last Sunday as one of the beneficiaries of this skewed political thought. Others are Ike Nwachukwu and John Nwodo. People are saying, ha, that was the trick used to bring Obasanjo to power in 1999 and he has not lived to our expectations. We would not like to taste another forbidden fruit. Kan mage ya waye. The Igbo should believe in their ability, cross over the Niger and try their luck based on merit. I pity people who repeatedly allow others to deceive them.
Lest we be misconstrued, we are not against the candidature of an Igbo, or anybody for that matter. What we are against is democracy by unconstitutional “conventions” based on false propaganda like that of The Patriots or the one rooted in the psyche of some of us since during the failed transitions of the Babangida era and when, in 1999, the nation was only allowed to choose between two candidates, both of them by no coincidence coming from the same zone. We are free; democracy has promised us freedom; so let us be allowed to express that freedom. If anybody wants to contest in 2007 he should allow others do so today, free of any egocentric calculation portrayed in the name of national unity.
As for The Patriots they should own up and say categorically that Obasanjo has failed. They should exhibit readiness to accept that no single ethnic group has monopoly over failure and, as it will be abundantly proved after 2003, looting the treasury. The presidency must remain at any election period open to every Nigerian who is willing to contest. Nigerians must be allowed to vote for him on the basis of merit, irrespective to his “cultural, ethnic or linguistic” background. This is the best guarantee to national unity. Nothing else.
As for northerners, they should know that the greatest enemy against the realization of their political rights is the enemy within, people who would continue to trade off their political rights for their selfish ends. We must check them. Da dan gari akan ci gari.