• Friday, July 19, 2024
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The imperative of zoning and rotational presidency in Nigeria


What a better way to end the tumultuous 2020 than on a political note, and what better issue to end it with than talks about the 2023 presidential election! And on this, probably of greatest interest is the question of whether to zone or not zone the presidency. Key proponents of both sides of the argument are already firing their opening salvos.

In July this year, Mallam Mamman Daura, a prominent Northern leader, and influential nephew of President Muhammadu Buhari, told the BBC that competence, not geography, should determine Nigeria’s next president in 2023. According to Daura: “This turn-by-turn, it was done once, it was done twice, and it was done thrice. It should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere.”

A few months later, on December 18, Senator Pius Anyim, former Senate President, and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, made the opposite argument. In a speech at the 6th World Igbo Summit, held at the Gregory University in Uturu, Abia State, Anyim said: “For such critical national office as the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not to be rotated among the zones can only breed discontent and disharmony.”

Take the Federal Character. The North supports it because, without the Quota System, they cannot compete with the better-educated and better-qualified South for jobs in the Federal Government and its agencies

So, who is right: Daura or Anyim? Well, both have a point, but the political imperative and moral force of zoning and power rotation in Nigeria favour Anyim’s stance, and not Daura’s!

For a start, those advocating the end of zoning or rotational presidency cannot credibly justify their position on grounds of meritocracy or competence. Truth is, even if zoning and power rotation were abolished, there is no guarantee that the most competent person will emerge as president of this country. Nigeria simply doesn’t have a meritocratic political system in which the most talented candidate can emerge from relative obscurity to become president without a godfather as Barack Obama did in America and Emmanuel Macron did in France! So, opponents of zoning can’t use meritocracy or competence as weapons.

That said, the main argument against zoning is that it undermines the principle of political competition and choice, which is at the heart of representative democracies. The idea is that democracy is strengthened when there is real contestation for power and when voters can choose among several candidates. By zoning the presidency to one part of the country at a particular time, that contestation is limited, and that choice is constrained.

The reality, however, is that zoning or power rotation is a political imperative in a multi-ethnic country, where there is a recurrent inter-ethnic conflict over power, and where the fear of ethnic domination is rife. As Professors Paul Collier and Tim Besley pointed out in their report on state fragility, “The purpose of power-sharing is primarily to allay mutual fears.” Without power sharing, tension-prone multi-ethnic countries will experience more political instability. Senator Anyim was, therefore, right when he said that failure to rotate the Presidency of Nigeria “can only breed discontent and disharmony.”

But it is ironic – isn’t it? – that those who oppose zoning and power rotation on the grounds that it undermines meritocracy and competence in the selection of Nigeria’s presidents are strong defenders of the Federal Character Principle. For instance, would Mallam Daura support abolishing the Federal Character Principle so that jobs in the Federal Civil Service “should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere”? Surely, the Federal Character Principle set out in Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, is not designed to ensure the emergence of the most competent person for jobs.

Section 14(3) states: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies.”

Truth is, meritocracy or competence is not the rationale behind the Federal Character Principle. Its aim is to prevent ethnic domination in the public service and to “promote national unity.” But isn’t that the aim of zoning and rotational presidency: to prevent ethnic domination and promote national unity? Why is what is good for public service jobs not good for political offices?

Northern politicians who oppose zoning, on the one hand, but support Federal Character, on the other, are deliberately being Janus-faced because Federal Character favours the North, and zoning or power rotation doesn’t!

Take the Federal Character. The North supports it because, without the Quota System, they cannot compete with the better-educated and better-qualified South for jobs in the Federal Government and its agencies. Which was why Northern leaders disliked the then Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, when he lamented the state of education in the North and warned that the Quota System “must have a sunset clause”!

But the same Northern leaders, who defend the Federal Character Principle or Quota System, are opposed to zoning because it doesn’t favour them. Why? Well, because zoning or power rotation erodes the political dominance that the North enjoys in this country.

Let’s face it, the political structure of Nigeria is such that, if there were no zoning or power rotation, the North could rule Nigeria in perpetuity, if they choose to, or have effective veto on who can become president from the South.

Consider the arithmetic. According to the Constitution, to become president, a candidate must have the highest number of votes cast at the election and also have one-quarter of the votes cast in two-thirds of all the states in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory. That means one-quarter of votes cast in 24 out of 36 states, plus the FCT, Abuja!

But a Northern candidate is better placed to meet that requirement. Here is why. The North has 19 states against the South’s 17. All the North needs to gain power is to speak with one voice and vote the same way, as they usually do when it serves their interests – for instance, in 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan marginally won only three of the 19 Northern states: Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba. Once the North consolidates and secures its massive ethnic votes, it then only needs just one willing ally from the South’s three geopolitical zones.

That’s what President Muhammadu Buhari did in 2015 and 2019, by capturing the Northern votes and then forming an alliance with the South West. That formula will work anytime: The North and one geopolitical zone in the South! In 2015, Buhari secured miniscule votes in the South East (just over 200,000) and in the South-South (less than 500,000) and yet won by amassing huge votes in the North and winning sizeable votes in the South West.

By contrast, no candidate from the South West or South East or South-South can guarantee winning most of the votes in the South, which doesn’t speak with one voice or vote the same way, let alone winning massively across the North. Especially if that South-West or South-East or South-South candidate is facing a Northern candidate and the North decides to speak with one voice as it did in 2015 in the contest between Buhari and Jonathan! So, the North has a structural advantage over the South.

But, in a multi-ethnic country, such structural imbalance will cause recurrent conflicts. Which is why zoning and power rotation are imperative and inevitable in Nigeria. And it’s why the Presidency must return to the South in 2023 and, for fairness, go to the South East!

Wishing everyone the compliments of the season!