By Olu Fasan
ROTIMI Akeredolu, the Ondo State governor, is the most vociferous among the Southern governors on rotational presidency. For him, having a president from the South next year, after the North’s eight years under President Muhammadu Buhari, is a personal mission. Indeed, in a public lecture last week, Akeredolu vowed: “We’re ready to give it whatever it takes to make sure power returns to the South in 2023.”
GovernorAkeredolu’s argument rests on two premises. First, he reduced Nigeria to North and South, and said there’s “an unwritten agreement” that power must rotate between them. Second, he justified his call for power rotation on moral grounds, saying: “In the interests of equity, fairness and justice, power must shift to the South.”
But these reasonings are either deeply flawed or lack internal consistency, which denies his argument a sense of validity. Put simply, his argument has no legs to stand on, or stands on wobbly legs!
First, take the North-South construct. Akeredolu argues that Nigeria is divided into North and South, and refers to “an unwritten agreement since the return to civil rule in 1999” to rotate power between the North and the South as if Nigeria’s history started in 1999. But Nigeria’s history did not start in 1999, and it’s utterly misguided to talk about Nigeria’s inherent problems without considering the country’s origins.
Lest we forget. When, in the late 1880s, George Goldie came to the territories later called Nigeria, he didn’t meet a Southern Nigeria or a Northern Nigeria on the ground. Rather, as Chinua Achebe put it in his book, THERE WAS A COUNTRY, Goldie met “ancient kingdoms” and “sophisticated civilisations”, such as the Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Tiv and Ijaw nations, which were “ancient nation-states in their own right”.
But with the lethal force of the Maxim gun, Goldie defeated the ancient kingdoms and cobbled them together into Southern and Northern entities before transferring them to Britain as protectorates in 1900. Of course, as we know, Britain, under Fredrick Lugard, later amalgamated the Southern and Northern protectorates into Nigeria in 1914.
Here’s my point. The creation of the Southern and Northern protectorates and their amalgamation into Nigeria did not obliterate the core nations that constituted them, nor did the artificial constructs eliminate the inbuilt power struggle among the proud nations.
Indeed, after amalgamating the Southern and Northern protectorates, the British recognised the imperative of not running Nigeria as “North” and “South”. Rather, they divided the country into Northern, Eastern and Western Regions in 1951, and granted self-rule to the East and West in 1956, the North in 1959. A fourth region, Mid-West, was created in 1963. Even today, despite the 36-state structure,Nigeria is divided, politically, into six geo-political zones – three in the South, three in the North – which have acquired a moral force as the basis for power sharing.
So, what am I saying? It’s wrong to talk about an omnibus North-South structure at the expense of the zonal or regional arrangements that agglomerate the ethnic nations that formed Nigeria. Yes, power must rotate between the South and the North, but it must also rotate among the geo-political zones within the South and the North. No one should hide behind the artificial North-South construct to underminethat political imperative.
Thus, Governor Akeredolu is right to say that the presidency should return to the South in 2023. But the moral question he avoids is: Where in the South? Surely, given that, since 1999, the South-West has governed Nigeria for eight years, leaving aside Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s eight years as vice president, and given that the South-South has governed Nigeria for five years, doesn’t it follow that the presidency should go to the South-East, which hasn’t governed Nigeria since 1999? Well, Akeredolu ignores that moral question.
Which brings us to the second premise of his argument for powershift to the South. He invokes the principles of equity, fairness and justice. As a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Akeredolu is certainly not a stranger to these moral principles. But how does he apply them in this case? If equity, fairness and justice justify power shift to the South, don’t the same principles justify power shift to the South-East, the only Southern geo-political zone that hasn’t produced president since 1999?
In 1999, a national consensus emerged that the South-West should produce the president, resulting in a contest between two Yoruba candidates. It was based on a strong moral imperative to address the injustice felt by the South-West over the annulment of the 1993 presidential election won by MKO Abiola, a Yoruba.
In THERE WAS A COUNTRY, Professor Achebe said: “Nigerians will probably achieve consensus on no other matter than their common resentment of the Igbo.” Isn’t it time, in the interest of equity, fairness, justice and, of course, national unity, to prove Achebe wrong and unite nationally behind a president of Igbo extraction in 2023?
But Akeredolu’s idea of equity, fairness and justice doesn’t go that far. Feigning indifference, he said in a Channels TV interview: “If Peter Obi is elected as president, that would be alright; if Bola Ahmed Tinubu is elected, that would be alright,” adding: “For me, it must come to the South.” But that’s false equivalence. It smacks of moral turpitude to say that a Tinubu presidency satisfies the demand for power shift to the South; no, it doesn’t. A just and equitable power shift to the South must be to the South-East.
Think about it. A Tinubu presidency next year would deny the South-East a credible route to the presidency for another 16 years, thereby condemning the Igbo to political wilderness for 40 years since 1999. Is that Akeredolu’s way of promoting national unity?
Truth be told, Akeredolu’s stance on power shift to the South is morally hollow. If he can’t apply the principles of equity, fairness and justice rightly, he should stop being sanctimonious on the issue.