For some people in Nigeria, next year’s general elections portend troubles. Actually, expectations of doom during such elections which occur every four years have now become normal. This is because politicians have become fortune-seekers who, in their desperation to secure public offices, are ready to do almost anything to succeed. In fact, winning elections is now a “do-or-die affair” for many politicians. And with many more people now joining politics from the huge pool of unemployed youths and retrenched workers looking for how to make ends meet, what you get is hundreds of desperados engaged in lawless struggles not minding who gets hurt.
With such calibre of politicians at the helm of our affairs, no wonder Nigeria is beset with tribulations. The country has been in a sorry state and people usually blame it on bad leadership. The politicians who fought for our independence from Britain in 1960 seem to have started well. Unfortunately, they were booted out by the military by 1966.
The series of military interregnums that followed up till 1999 ultimately produced the crop of politicians mentioned above, who unwittingly promote disunity and conflicts by appealing to our ethno-religious sentiments. It’s an old divide-and-rule tactic that politicians use as means of getting our votes to sustain their grip on power.
However, the system of government evolved by the military by changing the constitution is alien to us. A borrowed robe, they say, can’t suit all persons because it would be either under- or over-size for some. Proper modifications of the presidential system we borrowed from the US to suit our cultural norms and values would have produced better results.
As the election season approaches the politicians that we blame for our woes under a system that we consider unsuitable, are once again putting themselves forward to govern us. Even though we believe they care more about their pockets than our stomachs, they’re enticing us by making promises to make our lives better. Out of 18 presidential aspirants only four are considered promising: Atiku Abubakar of PDP, Bola Tinubu of APC, Peter Obi of LP, and Rabiu Kwankwaso of NNPP. Out of these, the candidates of PDP and APC are generally viewed as the serious contenders. So I won’t bother myself to discuss the rest.
Recall that to usher in the Fourth Republic in 1999, leading politicians had tried to consolidate on the gentleman’s agreement reached in the Second Republic on zoning of power between North and South and equitable sharing of party and political offices. There was consensus among them that the zoning formula would allay the fears of one section of the country dominating the political space.
Despite a few hitches, it was maintained with relative success to date. In fact, with the exception of the first military regime which lasted only six months under Maj-Gen. Johnson Oguiyi-Ironsi, only two military governments had two people of the same religion occupying the top positions in the federal government. Gen. Yakubu Gowon, a Christian, who served as military Head of State from 1966-75, had Vice Admiral Edet Akinwale Wey, also a Christian, as his Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, making him the de facto Vice President of Nigeria.
Similarly, Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, served as Head of State from 1984-85 and appointed Brig-Gen. Tunde Idiagbon, also a Muslim, as Chief of Staff and de facto Vice President. In the first case it was two Christians from the North and South, but in the second both were Muslims from the North.
While no dust was raised under Gowon, a fierce controversy was stirred by the press when Buhari had Idiagbon as second in command. The zoning of political offices under President Shehu Shagari (1979-83) had even at that time opened the eyes of many Nigerians who no longer accepted a situation whereby a president and his vice came from same region or religion.
Thus the problem we have today is that the two main presidential contenders, Atiku and Tinubu, have disregarded the said unwritten agreement in different ways. Atiku from the North insists on contesting even though a northerner is the incumbent president. Tinubu, on the other hand, insists on having a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Having reached this stage, the question now is: What are the implications of Atiku or Tinubu emerging as the next President? If either of them wins a section of the country will be disenchanted. There may be cacophonous wailing over sectionalism or religion. And with vocal secessionists on the prowl in the East and West, it would seriously threaten Nigeria’s corporate existence.
In other climes, issues of ethnicity and religion are insignificant; they don’t even warrant heated debates. In Nigeria, people could be at daggers drawn over them. Why? The Presidency is highly coveted. It is a power instrument used under our system, though not ideal, by cliques to get maximum benefits for their people at the expense of other people – as we have seen under this and the previous governments.
With a few weeks to the elections, we shouldn’t despair about the forecast of doom – it’s just a probability. Nigeria has surmounted more daunting obstacles in the past. Nonetheless, we pray that nothing untoward happens as only the unsuspecting voters will suffer the consequences.
Muhammad wrote from Kano and can be reached via email@example.com