By Prof. Femi Olufunmilade
2023 Presidency? I find the fixation to this in some quarters quite sickening.
What will happen if a southerner becomes the president? Was Obasanjo not a southerner? Was Jonathan not a southerner?
So, what material benefits accrued to the South when both were presidents? And what are those things a southern president would achieve going forward from 2023 if one happens to emerge from the South again?
These are the critical questions begging for answers. Those leading the agitation for a southern president are the southern politicians with presidential ambition and their supporters.
Some narrow it down to Igbo presidency. Their argument is simple and elementary. Igboland is the only zone yet to produce president. I have no problem with that aspiration, but, again, I want to know what we are to expect from the Igbo president beyond his Igboness.
The whole cry about southern presidency or its northern option is crass opportunism. The political elites on each side of the divide are hoping to get more patronage by virtue of the president coming from their ambience.
The issue at stake for them is presidential power and the benefits it directly brings to them. It’s not about the transformative potential of the power for the good of all. Otherwise, the emphasis would be on the competence and qualifications of those aspiring to be president.
This is why we get so unfortunate in terms of the caliber of president our prebendal politics throw up in each dispensation. Invariably, we get a character amenable to the acquisitive schemes of political elites from different parts of the country. Never would you find the schemers arguing over the ideological orientation of a presidential aspirant or his plan for the country. For them, a dunce who would turn a blind eye while they empty our treasury is an ideal material for their kind of president. And how often they succeed!
A more important issue that bothers me is this: Why should we run a political system where the zone or ethnic origin of the president is by far more critical than every other consideration known to be the focus of leadership recruitment in sane climes? Why?
The answer is telling us that what we need is not a winner-takes-all presidential system of government. We need a system shorn of a president with the power of life and death over everyone, more or less. A sort of human god with a shrine by a rock called Aso in Abuja, where everybody goes to worship. And people are ready to do anything fair or foul to play that god!
We are not ever going to succeed as a people for as long as the kind of power invested in the Nigerian president remains. Lord Acton says, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The Nigerian president wields absolute power and he’s, inevitably, corrupt. Corruption isn’t only about stealing public money. When you rob Peter to pay Paul by making lopsided appointments in favour of your kinsmen in a multiethnic, multicultural, multi-regional, and multi-religion country like Nigeria, with the multiplier effect of governmental patronage flowing preponderantly towards your kinsmen, you are the god of corruption! You stink!
This is why any conversation about saving this country from tilting over from the precipice – apologies to my friend, Ambassador John Campbell – must begin with a discussion of the type of union we want. And that conversation must be all-inclusive. The indigenous nationalities that constitute the building blocks with which the British overlords erected the Nigerian contraption must all be at the table – each expressing what they want as far as being part of the Nigerian union is concerned. Nobody else can do that for another!
We need a national dialogue that is no-holds-barred and whose decisions would be final. If the Igbo wants to leave Nigeria, let them go! If the Yoruba wants to leave Nigeria, let them go! If Bornu or Sokoto or Kano wants an Islamic Caliphate, I would beg you in the name of Almighty Allah, the most merciful and beneficent, to let them go!
And if the deal is to stick together, then we should spell out the terms of our sticking together. Nobody on the wrong side of a dubious population census would like to be told to be a good boy if his zone would be done the favour of producing the president. That’s for a Banana Republic. Bananas, as we know, don’t last long. They get messy too soon. That’s what’s happening to Nigeria now.
Let’s try to get this point that 2023 presidential election will not solve any problem. Depending on who gets the position of president, we may even be in for harder times. Our problem is with that very presidency. We must tinker with its power. We must devolve powers therein. And we must all sit down to decide how to go about that and more. For now, shout at whosoever is haranguing you with talk of 2023 politics, Ole! Barawo! He’s a common thief after his own pocket.
Is anybody listening?
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