By Law Mefor
Once was it said and more often should it be repeated in political calculus in Nigeria, Men of the future must not only understand their past but also the forces that forge the present. Nigeria has become a workshop of democracy and the forces that forge the nation are holding firm. And with wimpy, ineffectual and unchallenging political class, these forces do not have to yield an inch.
This is the dense political climate in which recently, Igbo Leadership Development Foundation (ILDF) and its allies unveiled the plan to organize the Great Debate for national unity centered on Restructuring and Rotation of Presidential Power in Nigeria. The main aim however veiled, is making a case for Nigeria president of Igbo extraction in 2023. How far the group and other similar groups can go and how readily their message would be received by the rest of the country remain to be seen.
Nonetheless, one thing is clear: the President of Nigeria is decided at pre-election level and not at the ballot, and by the said forces that propel the country, mostly driven by the military establishment from their reserve ranks. Since the constitution barred Olusegun Obasanjo from continuing in office as President after eight years, and his failure to secure a 3rd term, as alleged, the invisible hands of the forces still continued to move the country and take charge of the selection process of the leadership of the country and its strategic positions.
Call it a scorched-earth policy if you like… a military policy. A scorched-earth policy is a military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy when retreating from a position. Any assets that could be used by the enemy may be targeted. This usually includes obvious weapons, transport vehicles, communication sites, and industrial resources.
In Nigeria, one thing the military took with them after the war is the nation’s political leadership. The military fought the Nigeria Civil war that imposed unity of the country and also bequeathed the current democratic dispensation whereupon they installed one of their own as the caretaker.
Since Nigerian military took over civil rule in 1966, control of the apex leadership is a priced trophy that they have refused to let go. When not directly in charge they control the nation by proxy and run it by puppeteering. Will they favour an Igbo man as Muhammadu Buhari’s successor? It is very possible. After all, there is evidence that the military actually discussed with Dr. Alex Ekwueme but later settled for Olusegun Obasanjo for the swaying need to placate the South West over MKO Abiola’s truncated June 12 Presidential victory and for, as one learned, how Ekwueme handled the overture.
Lamentably, our dear country Nigeria is still facing challenges of national unity, integration and development. These challenges are borne out of the fact that the structures of the country and mode of governance have remained too dysfunctional, forcing most indices of development to stubbornly persist on the negative side. For example, Nigeria is unitary system in a clearly federal environment.
Beyond the dysfunctional structures, there is the greater overhang of the nation’s civil war. When the old Eastern Region under Emeka Ojukwu capitulated after the declaration of the Biafra Republic, the victorious Yakubu Gowon regime instituted the 3Rs – Reconstruction, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation. The most important R – Reintegration – was however inadvertently left out.
Consequently, since the end of the war, reintegration of the Ndigbo into the mainstreams of the nation’s power politics is yet to take place. Ndigbo, possibly the biggest single ethnic group in Nigeria, going by population projections based on the nation’s census figures in the colonial era, have continued to grudgingly play from the fringes despite being one of the tripods upon which the Nigerian nation was negotiated and constructed.
The other side of the same coin is the knotty issue of presidential power in Nigeria. The proponents of Igbo Nigerian President are attempting to convince the forces that forge the Nigerian nation that the time for the Igbos is now, saying that though shooting battles may have ended 50 years ago, the Nigerian civil war still seems to be raging in other forms and needs to end if the nation will move forward. The war has to end with the two sides genuinely forgiven each and moving on. These canvassers believe that one single masterstroke that would end the war and bind and heal the nation’s wounds is the emergence of a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction.
Banking on the understanding struck when the nation returned to democratic governance in 1999, the convention struck on rotation of power between North and South Nigeria and between the zones within them, may be the catcher. This has actually led to the production of two Presidents from the North West of the country and one apiece from South West and South South, leaving out the South East, Middle Belt and the North East in the power equation.
Also in order is banking on the same spirit of rotation. Surely it is justiciable for presidential power to return to South in 2023 and particularly to the South East since it is the only zone yet produce a President for the country in the present dispensation from the Southern divide.
Come to think of it, didn’t President Muhammadu Buhari, in his maiden media chat, challenged the South East people to organize and assert their rights within an indivisible, indissoluble Nigeria?
Reaching out to the rest of the country is inevitable, given that the 5 States in the South East will not make one of their own the Nigerian President. In fact, the Constitution requires a spread of at least 25% in at least in 24 States and majority vote to produce a Nigeria President.
This makes the Great Debate on Restructuring and Rotation of Presidential powers in Nigeria being convened by the Igbo Leadership development Foundation first quarter in Abuja very apt. Such national conversations to engender unity and equity have become quite inevitable and need to be supported by all well-meaning Nigerians.
Yes, let key Nigerian leaders, groups and critical stakeholders, irrespective of their persuasions and leanings bring their best and finest arguments to the table. Even God Almighty once told man as recorded in the Holy Book, Come, let us reason together. And like wartime Prime Minister of Britain Winston Churchill once said: Let’s jaw jaw than war war.
Though the leadership of Nigeria by an Igbo man or woman may not be a silver bullet or a cure- all for the leadership deficits of the country, it will certainly engender unity and healing in the land, and therefore a win-win for all.
The task of building a united, progressive nation is such an arduous one that it must involve all patriotic citizens and would be impossible if any part of the country is alienated or excluded. Make no mistake about it.
Together, let us build the Nigeria of our dreams without leaving any section of our country behind. We can!
• Dr. Law Mefor, a forensic and Social Psychologist, Journalist and author, writes from Abuja.