Tribalism and the Illusion Of Who Really Benefits from the Presidency, By Moses Ochonu

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If I were advising the political elites of the various political zones of Nigeria, I would expose to them how meaningless occupying the presidency has become in the broader scheme of interest-based political calculations.

It is not the control of the presidency but in making yourself politically indispensable (or at least creating that impression) to the person/region that controls it that represents the best, most rewarding political investment.

From 1999 to date that has proven true. Let me demonstrate this thesis.

Because Obasanjo was brought to power by Northern political power brokers against the wishes and designs of the Southwestern political elite, which supported AD candidate Olu Falae, he spent his first term, some might say his entire eight-year tenure, appeasing and rewarding the North.

He was tough on his Southwestern kinsmen. By contrast, he tried at every turn to mollify his Northern backers even when, during his second term, he constructed a PDP Southwestern base and lost some of his Northern political elite supporters. Look at his projects and see how skewed they were in favor of the North.

So, without controlling the presidency, the North benefitted from it more than the Southwest which did.

When Yar’Adua came, he had no northern base, although he represented the North. What did he do for his natal North? Not much. Instead, he spent much of his time appeasing the South-South, the restive, oil-producing base of his PDP. He calculated that the situation in the South-South could threaten his administration and erode his legitimacy. Again, look at his projects. Yar’Adua gave them Amnesty and the Niger Delta Ministry. The North, which controlled the presidency during Yar’Adua’s tenure, benefited little from it except in the area of appointments.

Jonathan, despite (or perhaps because of) not getting any northern support in the 2011 election, spent his entire presidency mollifying the North and trying, futilely, to win acceptance there. Apart from Boko Haram, which he was late to respond to, he did much more for Northern Nigeria than he did for the South. He funded Al-Majiri education, started the Kaduna-Abuja rail line, began the Maiduguri-Kano road project, established new federal universities, most of which were in the north, among several other projects because he believed that he needed to win over the North in order to secure his legitimacy and possibly win reelection. This same man could not even build the East-West road, potentially the most important project for his people in the South-South region.

So, here again, a region that did not control the presidency and in fact rejected the person who did, benefitted more from it than the regions/zones that occupied it. This is the origin of the grievance against Jonathan in the Southwest. The feeling was that support from the Southwest gave him the presidency but that instead of rewarding the region he was busy pleasing the North and cultivating the Southeast. It was the reason he lost Tinubu’s support, which had given him the presidency in 2011. It should be noted that, beyond appointments, Jonathan did not even do much in terms of projects for the Igbo, who are often posited as being the primary beneficiary of his presidency.

Enter Buhari. Apart from appointments, what has Buhari really done for the North in his almost four-year-old presidency? Not much. By contrast, a region that does not control the presidency, the Southwest, is the biggest beneficiary of this presidency. Tinubu’s men control the heights of the Nigerian economy. 70 percent of the capital projects in the last two budgets are in the Southwest! 70 percent! While the Southwest gets meaningful, economically impactful projects, the northwest, which gave Buhari his biggest vote margin, gets a prison (Kano). This is because Buhari feels the need to reward and keep Tinubu/Southwest happy.

The Southwest is getting much more when it does not control the presidency (at least not directly) than it got when it did during Obasanjo’s time.

Once again, as in other presidencies, the region benefitting from the current presidency is not the one that purportedly controls it. It’s not the one from which the president hails. Rather, it’s the one that the president feels he needs to reward, mollify, and cultivate for his electoral/political survival. It’s the region that the president feels–rightly or wrongly–that he cannot afford to alienate. That’s the region that’s benefitting.

During Obasanjo’s presidency, that favored region was the North; during Yar’Adua’s, it was the Niger Delta/South South; during Jonathan’s, it was the North; and during Buhari’s, it’s the Southwest, where he thinks his reelection will be won or lost.

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