At a July 9, 2021 seminar for news correspondents in the crime and politics space, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State reiterated his stance that the outcry surrounding rotational presidency in Nigeria has no constitutional basis or foundation. He stated that all Nigerians should be allowed to use the ballot to determine the best candidate for the job. In a statement responding to the governor, the National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, a socio-cultural organization in the South-East, Chief Alex Ogbonnia retorted by saying that Nigerian statesmen agreed on rotational presidency at a meeting in 1998.
An excerpt from the statement reads: “The meeting was held at the National University Commission Conference Centre, Abuja in 1998. Dr. Chuba Okadigbo spoke on behalf of the South while Alhaji Abubakar Rimi spoke for the North. The likes of Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief Solomon Lar, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, etc. were at the meeting. The Nigerian statesmen examined the merits and demerits of zoning and rotation of power between the composite zones in Nigeria. At the end, it was resolved that the presidency be conceded to the South and that it would rotate between the South and the North in the interest of equity, unity and corporate existence of Nigeria.”
To the uninterested and detached observer, the position of Governor Yahaya Bello is objective, ideological and devoid of sentiments. Respectfully, the position of Ohanaeze on this matter is delusional and laughable, however well-intentioned. This is what happens when a group of people arrogate regional relevance to themselves and claim to speak for millions of people. The temerity and egomania to even imply (much less expressly state so) that a few self-serving individuals speak for their respective multi-ethnic, multi-cultural regions is deeply offensive. Are we to believe that Rimi spoke for the poor Northerner who is unable to feed and earn an income? Are we to accept that Ekwueme spoke for the poor Igbo mother struggling to raise four children as a widow?
The presidency may be the most powerful office, but it is still occupied by one man. One man. That the Northern and Southern regions continuously bicker over “rotational” presidency every election cycle clearly means that something serious is wrong when too much power is concentrated at the centre. While it may seem that this rotation has been respected since 1999 – Obasanjo (South), Yar’Adua (North), Jonathan (South), Buhari (North) – the question that needs asking and answering is this: Are these regions better off because “one of their own” occupied the most powerful office at one time? When you evaluate all human development and progress indices, the answer is a sorrowful No.
In line with 21st century governance, what Nigeria needs now is not a rotational presidency that only takes care of a few people and creates regional overlords every four years. The country needs a fair and just president who will tackle the injustice that happens when all parts of the country do not have a sense of belonging in the affairs of state. If our corporate existence is such a big deal, why have the Middle Belt and South-Eastern regions, for example, suffered so much marginalization since 1999? After all, doesn’t the principle of Federal Character exist to ensure the equitable distribution of bureaucratic and political roles in the public service at federal, state and local government levels?
At best, a rotational presidency is just a makeshift political solution clobbered together by self-serving politicians. It can only temporarily quieten raging tensions. Like the volcano that appears dormant for a long time, only to spill forth lava when least expected, a time will come when such political arrangements are no longer enough to solve our deep-seated national issues. Region be damned. Nigeria needs a president that will be measured and balanced when filling political offices. This is what fosters mutual understanding, promotes inclusion and strengthens the bond of our curious existence.