Victory in democracy is not just about numbers, it’s about cohesion. Assuming the North has eight hundred thousand votes and is divided into two for the post of the President, while the South has nine hundred thousand votes for the President, but is divided into three, It conforms to simple logic that the North can muster four hundred thousand votes to vote for a candidate, while the South can only muster three hundred thousand votes to vote for a candidate. The North wins despite the apparent majority of the South. The power of unity in a democracy is superior to the power of numbers. The secret of victory in a democratic contest will remain cohesion among your people and collaboration with other people. If the rotation formula for the President is between North and South, it then implies that if it is the turn of the South to produce the President, their democratic victory can only come if they cohere among themselves and collaborate with the North.
We have to note that the opposite of North is South not South-East or South-West or South-South. It signifies that despite the obvious advantages the constitutional duty of federal character bestows on the Southern part of Nigeria, in the issue of the President, come 2023, they can still miss it on the altar of disunity amongst them. The current President from the North is about to complete his second term and the post of the President has been agreed to rotate between North and South, after two terms. There are three Geo-Political Zones in Nigeria that have not produced a President since 1999. They are South-East, North-Central and North-East. There are two Geo-Political Zones in Nigeria that have not produced even Vice-President since 1999. They are South-East and North-Central. There are two Geo-Political Zones that do not have representative Heads of State in the Council of State in Nigeria. They are South-East and North-East, while North-Central has three living Heads of State. In all the indices of measurement, South-East is completely marginalised and essentially unrepresented. If equity, justice and fairness is the consideration for the next President, South-East should be given automatic ticket.
Unfortunately, South-East cannot go it alone and indeed should not go it alone. Since 1999, South-East had supported a President from the South-West, North-West and South-South. Is it anything difficult for these Zones to reciprocate the love and dedication to Nigeria and its unity from the South-East? However, since it’s agreed that it’s the turn of the South, the prospect of a President from the South-East will depend on the cooperation of the South-West and South-South. How would a politician from the South-West convince politicians from the North-Central and the North-East that they should cede the post of the President to the South-West in the interest of equity when such a concession will make the South-West have two Presidents since 1999, when North-Central and North-East have not gotten any. How can a politician from the South-South convince politicians from North-Central and North-East to drop their presidential ambitions for them in the interest of justice when granting that request will convocate two Presidents on the South-South when they have none. What if these two Geo-Political Zones in the North remind South-West and South-South that he that must plead equity must first of all do equity? What if they insist that he that must come to equity must come with clean hands, what will be the response of these two Southern Geo-Political Zones? The truth is that if the post of the President is not zoned to South-East, the possibility of a northern candidate winning the post of the President in 2023 is still there because the principal basis for the rotation of the post of President based on equity and fairness would have been questionable. Equity demands that every section or Zone should be treated equally for equity means equality.
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Moreover, the sharing of Federal elective positions is based on Zones within the northern and sounthern rotational political divide. As the political parties came into existence, they gave themselves Constitutions that ensured the rotation and zoning of all party and public elective posts. PDP vowed in Section 7(3)(c) of its Constitution to adhere “to the policy of the rotation and zoning of Party and Public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness”. APC was even more elaborate when it mandated its National Working Committee, subject to the approval of the National Executive Committee, in Article 20(v), to make Rules and Regulations for the nomination of candidates for primary elections and “All such Rules, Regulations and Guidelines shall take into consideration and uphold the principle of federal Character, gender balance, geo-political spread and rotation of offices, to as much as possible ensure balance within the constituency covered”. Geo-Political spread and balancing means that the post of the President should be spread and balanced among the three Geo-Political Zones in the South.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo recently decried the emphasis of some politicians on zoning of political offices rather than basing the election of politicians on merit. He insisted that merit should be the consideration for political offices. I must confess that I have great admiration for the Vice-President. I went out together with him on some occasions during the 2019 presidential election to campaign. He is strong, charismatic, intelligent, humble, Godly, friendly and so on. He is qualified to be Vice-President and President if God wills it at the right time. When I first saw his curriculum vitae, I said this is not a cv, it’s a term paper, because of the volume of it.
However, it is important to observe that despite the apparent qualification of Yemi Osinbajo for the position of the President and Vice-President, it was zoning and federal character that gave him the Vice-President not his qualification. When President Buhari emerged to be the presidential candidate of APC at the Lagos APC primary election in 2014, the only reason he didn’t choose a man from Daura, his native land, to be his Vice, was not because there was no qualified candidate from there, it was because of zoning. He didn’t choose any person from his State, Katsina, or his Geo-Political Zone, North-West, or his section, North, to be his Vice because of zoning. He chose a man from the South to be his running mate to ensure that his choice reflected the federal character. Prof Osinbajo also became Vice-President because he is a Christian. To my knowledge, the Jagaban would have been Vice-President but for his Islamic faith. President Muhammadu Buhari and his supporters were uncomfortable with a Muslim-Muslim ticket especially as the opposition parties were poised to paint him as an Islamic fundamentalist. He subtly insisted that Tinubu should provide him a Christian to be his Vice. Osinbajo became the beneficiary of that arrangement as Tinubu unilaterally chose him.
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The case of Prof Osinbajo is intriguing because it has shown that zoning, rotation, federal character and merit are not mutually exclusive. We can have qualified candidates from across the Geo-Political Zones to take up the leadership of the country in the interest of equity and justice. If we can get a qualified Vice-President from the South-West in the person of Prof Yemi Osinbajo to reflect the federal character of Nigeria, we can equally get a qualified President of Nigeria from the South-East to satisfy the social justice needs of the nation which will guarantee the national unity, loyalty of the people of the South-East to the Federation and give them a sense of belonging in accordance with Section 14(3)(4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Anything short of maintaining justice within the South will only open a possible channel for some power grabbers in the North to take advantage of the disunity in the South to grab the post of the President. Make no mistake about this, we have experienced such scenario in the past. During Goodluck Jonathan’s regime, the post of the Speaker of the House of Representatives was zoned to the South-West but the Zone’s political godfathers were not comfortable with the choice of Goodluck Jonathan for the post. President Jonathan picked a woman, Mulikat Adeola Akande, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) representing Ogbomosho North, South and Orire Constituency in the House of Representatives to be the Speaker. Aminu Tambuwal of the North-West, in complete defiance of President Jonathan and the zoning formula of his Party, PDP, ran against his Party’s choice and won. He capitalised on the disunity in the South-West over the choice of Mulikat and won. South-West was predominantly in the hands of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) which for reasons best known to them decided to support a candidate from North-West against their own sister and she lost. The North-West had the position of the Vice-President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, while the South-West had none.
This action by the South-West had unsavoury consequences for the stability of the polity. It eliminated two Geo-Political Zones of North-East and South-West from the first six principal elective positions in the country in 2011 and gave the impression that some power grabbers can wilfully desecrate the zoning formula of their Party and get away with it. The South-West was to pay another huge prize in 2015 when Femi Gbajabiamila was stopped from being Speaker by the same powers they helped to defeat their own sister. They had to wait for another four years to attain the same position. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is Martin Lurther’s answer to such self destructive tendencies. Nigeria has not recovered from that alteration of the zoning formula as today witnesses the absence of the South-East from the six most powerful political offices in Nigeria.
We should not be naive to think that such forces cannot repeat the same scenario in the 2023 presidential election. The same forces that truncated the zoning formula in the PDP in 2011 have made it explicitly clear that they do not support zoning the post of the President to the South. They have even boasted that they had done it before and will do it again. Truth is that they had done it before and can do it again if the South and Nigeria is not united against their antics. It is common knowledge that whenever the zoning formula favours a zone, there’s always a preponderance of candidates from that zone. They can divide their votes and give room for such power grabber who maybe the only defiant candidate from their Zone to emerge as the candidate of the party. The South has to guard against this and rally round the Zone with the most equitable right to contest the position of President, which is the South-East, and ensure that the best candidate from the Zone is elected President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of Nigeria