• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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2023: Akeredolu’s call for Southern presidency is myopic, morally flawed

Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State is the most vociferous among the Southern governors on rotational presidency. For him, having a president from the South next year, after eight years in the North under President Muhammadu Buhari, is a personal mission.

Recently, in a lecture titled ‘Nigeria: The politics of religion in a transitional society,’ Akeredolu vowed: “We are ready to give it whatever it takes to make sure power returns to the South in 2023.” Indeed, so passionate is he on the issue that he prefers a Muslim-Muslim presidency to another Northern president.

Akeredolu’s argument rests on three 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 interest of equity, fairness and justice, power must shift to the South.” Third, on Muslim-Muslim ticket, he argued that knowledge and competence, not religion, should determine joint presidential tickets in Nigeria.

The premises of Akeredolu’s argument are so deeply flawed or lack internal consistency that they rob his argument of validity

Well, here’s the problem. The premises of Akeredolu’s argument are so deeply flawed or lack internal consistency that they rob his argument of validity. Put simply, Akeredolu’s argument has no legs to stand on, or stands on wobbly legs! Let’s examine his reasonings.

First, take the North-South construct. Akeredolu argues that Nigeria is divided into North and South, and that power rotation is conventionally between them. He 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 Goerge Goldie came to the territories later called Nigeria in the late 1880s, 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 the British government as protectorates in 1900. Of course, as we know, Britain, under Fredrick Lugard, later amalgamated the Southern and Northern protectorates into Nigeria in 1914.

Now, 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 in the country.

What, then, am I saying? Well, 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 undermine that political desideratum.

Surely, without a doubt, Governor Akeredolu is right that the presidency should return to the South in 2023. Of course, it should. But the moral question he avoids is: Where in the South should the presidency go? 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 deliberately ignores that moral question. He pretends as if it doesn’t exist!

This brings us to the second premise of his argument for power shift to the South. He invokes the principles of equity, fairness and justice. As a radical lawyer, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Akeredolu is certainly not a stranger to these moral principles. But how does he apply the principles in this case? If he says equity, fairness and justice justify power shift to the South, doesn’t he think that the same principles justify power shift to the South-East, the only Southern geo-political zone that hasn’t produced a president since 1999?

Read also: 2023 presidential election: Can we get it right?

In 1999, a national consensus emerged that the South-West should produce the president, resulting in a contest between two Yoruba candidates. Akeredolu said that was because of an understanding that power should shift to the South. No, it was a specific concession to the South-West, based on a strong moral imperative to address the injustice felt by the Yoruba over the annulment of the 1993 presidential election won by MKO Abiola.

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?

Sadly, 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 a 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 perpetuating what Achebe called “the national resentment of the Igbo” good for Nigeria’s unity? Well, that’s not something Akeredolu worries about!

Which, finally, brings us to his view on his party’s Muslim-Muslim ticket. Recently, the respected Bishop Matthew Kukah said: “As a Christian, the Muslim-Muslim ticket is totally reprehensible and unacceptable to me.” Akeredolu disagrees. For him, it’s competence, not religion, that matters, as if both are mutually exclusive.

Hear him: “You don’t say I want to ride in a car and because it’s a blind Christian, he must drive me, and I have a Muslim that is seeing well.” Sound logic! But here’s a question for the governor: Would you ask a blind Yoruba to drive you when there’s a Hausa or a Fulani who is seeing well? Why should competence trump religion, but not ethnicity? Both are identities, and it defies logic to say that ethnicity matters, but religion doesn’t.

So, let’s face it. Akeredolu’s views on power shift and same-faith ticket are deeply flawed. He can’t call for a power shift to the South on the grounds of equity, fairness and justice, and deny those principles to the South-East. Equally, he can’t call for a power shift on grounds of ethnic or regional identities and reject balancing on grounds of religious identities. Sadly, Akeredolu’s views on the issues are myopic and morally hollow.