FEATURE ARTICLE

Wednesday, January 15, 2020
priyet@hotmail.com
Miami, Florida, USA
THE 2023 PRESIDENTIAL CHOICE: A REBUTTAL TO ALHAJI YERIMA SHETTIMA

lhaji Yerima Shettima, the National President of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, insists emphatically that the presidency must remain in the North after the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari's second term in 2023. As a result, he advised Nigerian political parties to "zone their presidential tickets to the North" ("2023 presidency divides northern leaders", New Telegraph, December 12, 2019). He also advised the Southeast zone to wait until 2027, after the North might have completed the 2023 term to make up for the "15" years in which the South ruled the country. The need for a northern presidency in 2023 is also supported by Alhaji Musa Liman Kwande, the Acting Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (Linus Oota, "We'll back northern candidate for president - ACF Chairman", Sun News, October 19, 2019) and the former Senate Chief Whip, Roland Owie.

The necessity of the North to continue to rule after the end of President Buhari's second term in 2023 is based on the view by Alhaji Shettima that the South had controlled the presidency for "15" years while the North had only been in control for "nine" years since 1999. Accordingly, for purpose of equity, the North must continue to be in control of the presidency come 2023 to make up for the difference between the South and the North. He strongly believes that the gentleman's agreement on presidential rotation between the North and the South was jettisoned when former President Goodluck Jonathan contested and won the presidency in 2011. Former Senator Owie agrees with Alhaji Shettima by saying "When there is no justice, there can't be peace. So, the slot for 2023 is for the North' (Sola Shittu, "Presidency: North still has one more term. Punch. January 6, 2020).

While Alhaji Shettima's position concerning the "15" to "9" years ratio clearly showed that the presidency was indeed led by Southerners for about 15 years, starting from May 29, 1999 when the democratic system was put in place after the military era, nonetheless, the imbalance should not be given undue consideration to justify the North's retaining the presidency after the expiration of President Buhari's second term. The following provide reasons why the argument for a Northern presidency in 2023 is not convincing and neither does it serves the national interest of Nigeria:

First, it is necessary to examine Nigeria's political and military history holistically or comprehensively in order to draw a more appropriate picture of which region has politically and militarily dominated the country's leadership. It is not sufficient to say that since Southerners had ruled for about "15" years, Northerners too must rule for a similar amount of time in order to ensure equity.

Second, no Southerner has been able to rule the country due to his or her own free-will or choice. Likewise, no Southerner has ever been allowed to ascend the leadership throne of the country through a clear electoral victory of his or her own effort. It is essential to briefly identify the individuals who have ruled Nigeria since 1960 when Nigerian gained independence in order to buttress the point being made. The first substantive prime minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafewa Balewa, (October 1960 - January 1966) was a Northerner. Maj. Gen. Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi (January 1966 - July 1966), a Southerner, was compelled by an accident of history to become the first military head of state of Nigeria. He ruled for six months after the first military coup but died in the countercoup of July 29, 1966 and was replaced by Gen. Yakubu Gowon (August 1966 - July 1975). Gen. Gowon was overthrown in a military coup led by Gen. Murtala Mohammed (July 1975 to February 1976), a Northerner, who ruled for about six months before he was killed in an abortive military coup led by Lt. Col. Bukar Dimka. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo (February 1976 - October 1979), a Southerner, became military head of state not by choice because he was compelled by the sudden death of Gen. Murtala Mohammed to become the military head of state. If the attempted coup by Lt. Col. Dimka had not taken place, Gen. Mohammed would have continued to rule. Gen. Obasanjo handed over power in 1979 to Alhaji Shehu Shagari (October 1979 - December 1983), a Northerner, who became the president of Nigeria in the Second Republic.

President Shagari was overthrown by Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (December 1983 - August 1985), a Northerner. In a palace coup, Gen. Buhari was overthrown by another Northerner, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (August 1985 - August 1993) in 1985. Gen. Babangida's era is sometimes referred to as the Third Republic. Chief Ernest Shonekan (August 1993 - November 1993), a Southerner, took over as the head of a caretaker government, following the abrogation of June 12, 1993 presidential election, leading to the sudden departure of Gen. Babangida. It should be noted that the only Southerner who consciously decided to become the president of Nigeria and had a great chance to do so was the late Chief M. K. O. Abiola. Due to the fact that he was a Southerner, he was not allowed to become president even though he was leading in the polls during the June 12, 1993 presidential election. President Shonekan was overthrown in a palace coup staged by Gen. Sani Abacha (November 1993 - June 1998), a Northerner. Gen. Abacha died suddenly in 1998 and was replaced by Lt. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (June 1998 - May 1999), a Northerner.

Prior to the presidential election of 1999, the Southwest actually preferred the candidacy of Chief Olu Falae for the presidency but the North preferred the candidacy of Chief/Gen. Obasanjo. Apparently, Gen. Obasanjo emerged victorious and became a civilian president of Nigeria (May 1999 - May 2007). To ensure rotation of the presidency after Chief//Gen Obasanjo had completed his 8-year term, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua (May 2007 - May 2010), a Northerner, became president. Again, due to circumstances, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a Southerner, became president in 2010 (May 2010 -May 2015), following the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua. President Jonathan won the election of 2011 to continue as the president of the country. He lost the presidential election of March 28, 2015 to Maj. Gen. Buhari (rtd). President Buhari won reelection in February 2019 to continue his second term (May 2015 to the present). It should be noted that the period starting in May 1999 and continuing today is referred to as the Fourth Republic.

Following the principle of rotation, it is obvious that after President Buhari's second term expires, the presidency should rotate back to the South, preferably the Southeast zone. The reason is that the Southeastern zone has not produced a Nigerian leader, apart from Maj. Gen. Ironsi who ruled as a military head of state for six months. Chief/Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was merely a ceremonial/symbolic president under the parliamentary system of government that existed in the First Republic.

Third, based on the total numbers of years in which Southern and Northern individuals have ruled Nigeria, it is very clear that Northerners have led Nigeria for about 41 years while Southerners have done so for about 18 years, including both military and civilian administrations.

Fourth, Northern military officers (Gen. Gowon, Gen. Murtala Mohammed, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Gen. Sani Abacha and Lt. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar) ruled Nigeria for about 24 years as military heads of state. On the other hand, two Southern military officers (Maj. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi and Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo) ruled Nigeria for about 4.4 years. Brig. Gen. Babafemi Ogunidpe, a Southerner, who was the most senior military officer, was not allowed to succeed the late Maj. Gen. Ironsi.

Fifth, Northern politicians (Abubakar Balewa, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua and President Buhari) have ruled Nigeria for about 17.8 years. On the other hand, southern politicians (Chief Ernest Shonekan, Chief/Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan have ruled Nigeria for about 14 years. Dr. Jonathan's period of rule is counted from the day he ascended the throne as the president in 2010.

Sixth, the unfortunate situation is that no Southern Nigerian has ruled Nigeria based on his or her own free-will or desire, as indicated above. Those who have served as the leaders of the country did so through accidental circumstances. Maj. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi was forced by circumstances of the abortive first military coup of January 1966 to become a military head of state. Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo was forced by the death of Gen. Murtala Mohammed to become a military head of state. As a civilian, he was favored by the Northern political and military leadership to become president in 1999. Chief Ernest Shonekan was forced by the political crisis generated by the abrogation of the presidential election of June 12, 1993 to become head of a caretaker government. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was compelled to become the president of the country following the death of President Umaru Yar'Adua. On the other hand, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Chief M. O. Abiola who decided on their own free will, like their northern counterparts, to become the presidents of Nigeria never had a chance.

Seventh, Based on #6 above, it is obvious that the North and the South are not equal partners in the Nigerian project because Southerners rarely have an opportunity on their own volition to rule Nigeria. Indeed, it is much easier to find a pin in a haystack than for a Southern politician to succeed in ruling Nigeria. On the other hand, it is much easier for a Northern Nigerian (Upper North) to rule the country due to the overwhelming influence of the North on the country's political and military veins since the July 29, 1966 second military coup.

Eighth. The fact that the North has an advantage over the South was made very clear when twelve Northern states adopted Sharia law without going through the constitutional process while President Obasanjo, a Southerner, was in power. If Southern states had taken such an extra-constitutional measure to Christianize some elements of their legal system, Nigerian security forces would have been deployed to stop them from violating the constitution and threatening the national security. When Chief Shonekan became president, the North was restless, hence, he was kicked out of power in a palace coup staged by Gen. Abacha. Again, when another Southerner was in power, the "doctrine of ungovernability" was enunciated by some very powerful individuals in the North to punish President Jonathan for running and winning the presidential election of 2011. If a Southerner had articulated the "doctrine of ungovernability" while a Northerner was the head of state, it is very likely that the individual would have been arrested and detained for threatening the national security of Nigeria. The experiences of Mr. Omoyele Sowore serve as a typical example of what could happen to a Southerner if a Northerner is in power.

Ninth, as indicated in #8 above, the Upper North always seems restless whenever a Southerner becomes the leader of Nigeria. The religious, political and military leaders of the region tend to assume that only the North has the right to rule and the South can only rule through the largesse of the North. By implication, it means that the South is not an equal partner in Nigeria. Obviously, the insistence that the North must match the years that the South had ruled Nigeria since 1999 is simply another way to say that Nigeria must always bend to the will of the North, regardless of the circumstances.

Tenth, if someone decides to make the same argument that Alhaji Yerima Shettima, Alhaji Musa Liman Kwande and Sen. Ronald Owie are making, it would show that the North is actually owing the South more than fifteen years of military rule because during the military era, Southern military officers (Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi and Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo) only ruled for about 4.4 years. Based on the assertion of the three individuals, is it out of place to propose that the South needed to rule Nigeria for additional fifteen years to make up for the more than 20 years of Northern military rule? Of course, it is very doubtful whether the North would ever concede to such a proposal. Apparently, the South realizes that the North will never accept a Southern demand for equity to counterbalance the years of northern military rule. If the South is willing to let-go, then the North too must be willing to let-go in order to usher in a new phase in Nigeria's politics of governance.

Why the North must concede the presidency to the Southeast zone come 2023.

It is necessary for the North to allow for a new beginning to take place as the country strives to plant, germinate and perpetuate democracy. It is important to move forward because the North actually owed the South much more than the South is owing the North. The following provide reasons why it is much preferable for Nigerians to move forward, rather than attempt to heat up the polity:

First, using the same logic as Alhaji Shettima when he said "If Nigerians truly believe in equity, then, it is the turn of the North to produce the next president after Buhari must have completed his turn in 2023", equity is also needed to ensure a regional balance in the placement of educational institutions associated with the armed and police forces. Currently, all the major educational institutions are located in the North. It might be necessary to list some of them here to show the lopsided advantage that the North has over the South.

The Nigerian Army (NA) has the Nigeria Military School in Zaria, the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) in Kaduna, the Nigerian Army University in Biu, Nigerian Army School of Military Engineers and the Army Institute of Technology and Environment in Benue State and the Command and Staff College in Jaji. All of these educational facilities are located in the North.

The Nigerian Airforce (NAF) has the Airforce Institute of Technology in Kaduna, the Airforce Military School in Jos and the proposed Nigerian Airforce University in Bauchi. The Airforce has little or no major educational facility in the South.

The Nigerian Police Force has the Mobile Police Force Training School in Guzao, the Nigerian Police Academy (NPA) in Kano and the Staff College in Jos. There is also a police college in Kaduna, just as in Ikeja in Lagos.

On the other hand, the Nigeria Army has few highly specialized training centers in the South. In particular, there is the Nigerian Army College of Logistics and the Nigerian Army School of Public Relations and Information in Lagos. The Navy has the Directorate of Naval Education in Lagos. The Airforce is almost totally lacking in locating educational facilities in the South. The Nigerian Police Force has two or three specialized training centers in Lagos and Enugu.

In overall, it is obvious that all the major military and police facilities and resources are located in the North. The South is treated as a foreign land, hence, the lack of national will in siting major military facilities there. For purpose of equity, as Alhaji Shettima and Sen. Owie insist, it is hoped that in the near future, a Nigerian Navy University will be located in the South.

Second, apart from the military and police educational facilities, specialized national universities are all intended for establishment in the North. In particular, the National Petroleum College is located in Kaduna while the Transportation University is tentatively located in Daura. It should be noted that the Petroleum Institute which is located in Effurun in Warri is not being elevated in academic status while the one in Kaduna is. It is ironic that until the recent discovery of oil in the North, the South has been the oil belt of the country for five decades, yet, a petroleum university is located in the North and not in the South.

Third, equity demands that the national financial burden be shared proportionally between the North and the South. The fact is that since the end of the Nigerian civil war, the South, particularly the oil region, has borne the burden of generating the national income. Thus, the Federal Government and the entire 36 states of the federation have depended upon the wealth generated in the oil region in the South to sustain the economy and well-being of the nation. It is hoped that when the recently discovered oil resource in the North is fully explored, the wealth generated would be shared in the same manner as the oil wealth in the Southern oil region.

Fourth, while the oil region in the South bear the greatest burden in contributing to the national income, most of the oil blocks are given to those who are not from the oil region. Where is the equity, justice and fairness as Alhaji Shettima and Sen. Owie demanded? Therefore, to equalize the playing field, it is hoped that the oil blocks in the North would be shared to benefit the Southern region too.

Fifth, the need for equity demands that Nigeria spends massively to clean the pollution that has devastated the Southern oil region due to five decades of oil and gas exploration. The people in the oil region are deprived, poverty-stricken and afflicted by all kinds of maladies generated by oil and gas exploration. So far, Nigeria has not demonstrated good faith in paying back in kind for the generosity of the people in the Southern oil region. Those who make decisions for Nigeria are not keen on spending some of the oil wealth to clean the oil region despite decades of environmental pollution and destruction. Even the Ogoni clean-up seems to be done half-heartedly. What a way to pay back for Southern generosity. Therefore, for purpose of equity, justice and fairness, it is not inappropriate to demand that one third of the wealth generated through oil and gas exploration be allocated for cleaning the environmental pollution that has devastated the oil region.

Sixth, as Alhaji Shettima insists upon the need for justice, equity and fairness, the South demands an equal distribution of the landmass between the North and South. Geographically, it is absurd to have a North and South breakdown of the landmass in which the North is disproportionally bigger than the South. It is evident that the political geography of the country is lopsidedly in favor of the North. One way to solve the unequal distribution of the landmass is for the Middle Belt or Central Nigeria to be treated as a separate region and not as part of the North.

Seventh, Nigeria cannot move forward politically, economically and technologically if the criteria for consideration as a political leader of the country is based on the narrow view that a presidential candidate must be favorable to the North, at all times, rather than to Nigeria. Thus, if an individual is made a president because he or she is favorable to a particular region, then, the national interest is sacrificed. Nigeria needs a leader who is capable of moving the country forward for all Nigerians and not for just one region. Therefore, it is not encouraging when Alhaji Kwande declared that "Northerners would vote for only a presidential candidate of Northern origin in 2023" (New Express, December 14, 2019). If that were to take place in 2023, the country could fall apart.

These are only a few of the circumstances which create a sense of unequal balance of power between the North and the South. Thus, it is necessary for the North to understand that the South has repeatedly bent backward to accommodate Northern demands while the North has not been eager to reciprocate, apart from asking for more. Indeed, to ask for Northern presidency in 2023 is tantamount to asking for more when it is a known fact that since 1960 the North has produced the largest number of leaders in Nigeria.

Suggestions

Since Nigerians have suffered enough, it is preferable to ignore the past, in terms of which region had more years in presiding over the leadership of the country. A fresh start requires that 2023 goes back to the South with the Southeast zone having the right to rule. After the Southeast, the rotation would shift the presidency to the Northeast. Thereafter, the Middle Belt (Central Nigeria) should have the right to rule. After the Middle Belt, the presidency should shift to the Southwest. As soon as the Southwest completes its rotation, the presidency rotates to the South-South. After the South-South, the presidency should be rotated to the Northwest zone again.

To facilitate the rotation of the presidency, it might be necessary to amend the 1999 Constitution to embed the principle of rotation to take place. It might also be necessary to amend the Constitution by replacing the two 4-year maximum term limit with a one 6-year term. Likewise, as Sen. Owie suggested, it might be necessary to adopt the mechanism suggested in Gen. Sani Abacha's constitutional reform effort to resolve the issue of when an elected leader passes away in mid-term of his or her presidency.

However, if the North insists, as Alhaji Shettima, Alhaji Kwande and Sen. Owie have done to ask for additional four years for the North, starting in 2023, to counterbalance the years that Southern civilians ruled Nigeria since 1999, then the South too would be justified in asking for at least fifteen years to make up for northern military rule.

Indeed, it is encouraging that the Arewa Youth Consultative Movement supports the view that the presidency should shift to the South (Godwin Isenyo, Punch, January 3, 2020). However, equity demands that the presidency should be zoned to the Southeast zone and not to the South-South or Southwest zone.

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