The latest contentious issue is 2023 and where the President will come from. The battle lines are crudely drawn between the northern and southern divide without any consideration to political affiliation. It is a high stake poker game where either side believes it has more aces than the other. The southern Governors’ position is that the Presidency must be zoned to the south for the sake of equity and inclusion. The same search for equity and inclusiveness which has led to the promotion of ‘Federal Character’ and ‘Quota System’ in the country with its attendant abuses. The same reason political positions within the States are also zoned. The northern Governors’ forum characteristically counters with its own position. Democracy is a game of numbers it says and the north has the numbers. Besides, zoning is not in the constitution of the country. Both are right on the face of it. But both are playing the expediency game. The south has never been comfortable with the quota system while the north has never been comfortable with ceding the Presidency. But statesmanship entails giving and taking especially in a plural society. Unfortunately, these people have proved to be more of gamblers playing with high stakes than statesmen.
I can understand why those who are pushing for former President Goodluck Jonathan to throw his hat into the ring see him as a sort of solution to the seeming impasse. Jonathan, the Ijaw man with an Igbo middle name, ticks a few boxes. He is a national figure whose antecedent is already known. He is not expected to upset the applecart; meaning the status quo will not change much. He should satisfy those who clamour for a southern Christian while assuaging with its brevity of tenure, the few northern Muslims who find the idea of a southern Christian President insufferable. It will make the south-south, the goose that is laying the golden eggs to be less restive. It will satisfy those who are uncomfortable with the idea of an Igbo President while the Igbos who remember the Jonathan years when the Igbos virtually held sway, will feel it is the next best thing to having their own man in the saddle.
But really, beyond the need for inclusion and fairness, why should a President’s place of birth cause so much furore? It is not as if any zone has been transformed by any incumbent President. In fact, the reverse seemed to have been the case if you look at what has happened to the north in the several years of northern Presidency. Nigeria is 61. Almost 45 of those years have been with a northern Head of State. Yet the north with its three zones, is behind the south in almost all the indices of human development.
What the south should insist on is the removal of the stranglehold of the centre. The key to development is in the hands of those who control the States and Local Governments. But they need the tools to do their job properly. Any President, north or south, who can unleash the states from the stable of federal allocations to which they are tied, would write his name in gold. But that would mean reducing his own access to power and money. And therefore influence. Obasanjo didn’t do it. Jonathan didn’t do it. In fact, I don’t know of any African leader who did it. So there is nothing to say that the next Southern President will do it. Yet unless that is done, the clamour for a Southern President is a clamour by the elite for the elite. It is of little benefit to the rank and file.
•Muyiwa Adetiba is a veteran journalist and publisher. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org