Imagine if Acting President Yemi Osinbajo were from the same zone as President Muhammadu Buhari. The implications would have been as follows:
There would be no tension in the land. The North would not be scared of “losing” the Presidency. Buhari could even resign honourably or his kinsmen would ask that he be impeached. There would not be any accusation that the South-West was scheming to take the Presidency from the North. Nigeria would be running more smoothly than it is currently doing as a result of uncertainty.
Nnewi city in Anambra State had a power-sharing crisis that threatened to tear the community apart some years back. It arrived at the following decisions:
All political and social positions rotate among the four parts of Nnewi.
All elected officers hold office only for one term.
When it is the turn of a part of the city to hold the chairmanship position, that same part of Nnewi will also hold the vice-chairmanship position. If the chairman dies or resigns or is no longer fit to continue, the vice chairman completes the tenure. If a Member of the House of Assembly resigns or dies, an election is conducted for fresh candidates from that part of Nnewi to complete the tenure.
This arrangement solved the accusations of domination and marginalisation. If Nnewi could solve her power problems, why can’t Nigeria?
What played out between late 2009 and early 2010 during the uncertainties over the illness of the then President Umaru Yar’Adua is playing out today in Nigeria. The only difference is that Yar’Adua was suddenly flown out of Nigeria without handing over power to the then vice-president Goodluck Jonathan, while President Muhammadu Buhari properly handed over to his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, before going to London for treatment. This second time, Buhari has been away for over 60 days with no update on his health or being seen in a video by the nation.
Just like in Yar’Adua’s case, where he was said to be recovering fast and doing well, even though no picture was shown to the nation, Buhari has been said to be doing well and would soon return. His wife, Mrs Aisha Buhari; Acting President Osinbajo, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, and Governor Rochas Okorocha said so.
Governor Ayo Fayose added another dimension to the matter by claiming that Buhari is not in a state in which he can talk or recognise people. He claimed to have photographs to prove this and threatened to release the photographs if the falsehood about Buhari’s health continued.
The nation is left in the dark about the true state of the health of the President. Even though the full powers of the President have been temporarily transferred to Osinbajo, there are indications that he is not using those powers fully, because of the ethnic configuration of the nation. He is from the same party as Buhari, but in Nigeria the ethnicity and religion of who controls the Presidency matter a lot.
In the case of Yar’Adua, his true state of health was hidden from even his deputy, Jonathan, because he was not from the same ethnic zone. According to Nigeria’s constitution, when the President is incapacitated to act, he will cease to be the President and his deputy will take over. But because the vice president is usually taken from a zone different from that of the president, it means that the zone of the president will lose the Presidency to another zone. This was resisted in Yar’Adua’s case until he eventually died. That fear is real today.
But a different power-sharing arrangement would eliminate such fears. If power is made to rotate among the six geopolitical zones like the Nnewi model, the fear and complaints about domination and marginalisation will evaporate. The President and the Vice President would come from a zone; the President of Senate and Deputy President of Senate would come from a different zone; the Speaker and his deputy would come from another zone; the Chief Justice of the Nigeria would come from a different zone, and so on.
In the event that the president, for example, dies, the zone whose turn it is to produce the president will not lose it. The vice president will become the president, while another vice president from that same zone is appointed or elected. When the president is seriously ill, his zone will not panic, neither will there be any tension in the nation. If it becomes obvious that he can no longer continue, he will be replaced smoothly.
To ensure that each zone does not wait forever to have a chance to produce the president, each zone will be allowed one term. To also ensure that there is a mid ground between the brevity of the four years of a single term and the longevity of the eight years of two tenures, the tenure can be made to last for six years. Six years is enough for an achiever to make a mark.
Between 1999 and 2003, the Peoples Democratic Party zoned the Presidency of the Senate to the South-East and the Speakership of the House of Representatives to the North-West. Five people from the South-East held the office of the Senate President, while three people from the North-West held the office of the Speaker. The South-East has been ridiculed for that, but many people miss the point that the reason the senators from the South-East were not bothered about the frequent change of the Senate President was because they knew that whatever happened, that position would be occupied by a senator from the South-East. If impeaching the Senate President would have cost the South-East that position, it would have been hard to remove the Senate President, just as it is almost impossible today to remove Dr Bukola Saraki as the Senate President.
Similarly, in 1999, when it was alleged that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, had falsified his age and university certificate, one strong voice against him was Senator Idris Kuta from the North too. Buhari was eventually disgraced out of office and was replaced by Alhaji Ghali Na’Abba as Speaker. If that office had not been zoned to the North-West, anybody revealing the age and certificate forgery done by Salisu Buhari would have been seen as an enemy of the North by the entire North. Northern members of the House would have done everything possible to ensure that Buhari was not removed even if it was obvious that he had breached the constitution and committed a crime.
Power means a lot to Nigerian ethnic groups. Most Nigerians who try to use what obtains in Europe and North America to prove to us that the ethnicity of those in power does not matter are not realists. The biggest challenge that faced Nigeria in the First Republic was not corruption but power sharing among the ethnic groups. It was what led to the first coup, the counter-coup and the Civil War. With the Unification Decree of 1966, Nigeria’s problem doubled to become power sharing and resource sharing.
Even with the recent religious fundamentalism in Europe, Europe still remains the most stable and most prosperous part of the world because of the homogeneity of most of the countries. Germany is occupied mainly by Germans; France is occupied mainly by the French; Italy is occupied mainly by Italians, and so on. It is easier to manage a country when the citizens are of one ethnic group and one religion, or when one ethnic group and one religion are in a clear majority. But European countries like Switzerland that have diverse languages had to devise a power-sharing formula that makes all the different groups feel at home.
Nigeria has been running away from developing a system that will solve its power-sharing and resource-sharing problems. This has continued to destabilise the nation and pull it back. But if we hope to make any headway as a nation, we need to devise a working system. The earlier, the better.