Nigeria is about two years away from the next presidential election, that is, the next precipice. Of course, with the epidemic of kidnappings, ransoming and ethnic-tinged killings, the country seems to be continually on the precipice. Even then, nothing gets us closer to it than a presidential election. And what a pivotal year Nigeria will have in 2023 if the powers that be reach a consensus on a zonal candidate. And there can’t be a more logical decision than to zone the presidency to the South East.
Beyond political morality (contradiction in terms, perhaps), there is also a mathematical imperative. Sure, the arithmetic is rather simplistic. And as the late Professor Ebere Onwudiwe would have chided me, it ignores realpolitik. Even then, numbers have a way of shedding light where sentiments and biases otherwise prevail.
Notice, by the way, that I am specifying the South-East, which is very much synonymous with the Igbo. In so doing, I am excluding other people of Igbo origin in states such as Delta and Rivers. I begin with a process of elimination, by explaining why no other geopolitical region has a stronger claim to the presidency than the South-East. Let’s begin with the South-West for obvious reasons. Along with the North-West, it has logged the most years in the presidency since the return to democracy in 1999. Before then, General Obasanjo was the head of state for about four years. Cumulatively, that is about 12 years.
Alas, the presumed 2023 aspirant with the most compelling national profile also happens to be from the South-West. I am talking, of course, of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. You could say he has earned that status. Dating back to his governorship of Lagos State, he has created a formidable following among the Yoruba. In fact, he may have surpassed Olusegun Obasanjo, who wasn’t the favourite of the Yoruba when he first became president in 1999.
Moreover, as a quintessential politician, Tinubu has bided his time. Though he was central to the formation of the All Progressives Congress, he ceded the presidential candidacy to Muhammadu Buhari. And even after Buhari virtually embarrassed him by loading federal appointments in favour of Northerners and with disregard for the South-West, Tinubu soldiered on. He reportedly considered bolting from the APC, but Buhari dissuaded him. Tinubu was assuaged — reportedly — by promises by Buhari that he would throw his political weight behind him in 2023.
Having thus paid his dues, Tinubu seems now to be gearing to cash in. Being elected will, of course, fulfill Tinubu’s seeming presidential ambition, just as 2015 fulfilled Buhari’s.
Of the remaining two Southern geopolitical zones, the South-South just occupied the presidency for about fuve years. Though political morality would have suggested that Goodluck Jonathan be allowed to serve two complete terms, realpolitik took its course. The messianic Buhari convinced a majority of Nigerians — especially in the North and the South-West — that he would be Nigeria’s saviour. Nigerians now know better, of course. Even then the South-South has to queue back in the rotational line.
That leaves the Northern zones for consideration. The case against the North West is self-evident. By 2023 its son would have occupied Aso Rock for eight consecutive years. He has readily been the most divisive president in our history and his tenure the most violent and bloody since the civil war. But I digress, as that’s not part of the mathematical equation. More pertinent is that Buhari also served as a military head of state for 1.6 years between January 1984 and August 1985. That’s for a total of 9.6 years.
And that’s not it for the North-West. Since independence, the region has additionally logged about 20 years in the executive office either as military or elected heads of state. That’s for a total of more than 29 years. Shehu Shagari (from Sokoto) was president for 4.2 years. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (from Minna, Niger State) was a military head of state for eight years. His successor, Gen. Sani Abacha (from Kano) was a head of state for 4.5 years. Then Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was president for about three years. He most likely would have served for an additional five years had he not died in office at the young age of about 59.
So, the North-West has dominated Nigerian leadership for so long that both political morality and zonal mathematics would preclude another president from that zone for a very long time. That leaves the North-East and the North-Central as the only northern zones in contention. They both have a strong case for the presidency. It is just that they are both in the North and after eight years, there is a case for rotating back to the South.
Moreover, both regions have at least held the executive office for extended periods in the early years of the republic. Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, was from Bauchi State (North-East) and he was in office from December 1959 to January 1966 (6.3 years). As for the North-Central, it provided us with General Yakubu Gowon, who was the military head of state from August 1966 to July 1975 (nine years).
That leaves the South-East as the only zone that has not had someone in the executive office. Sure, an Igbo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, was the president during the First Republic, but it was largely a ceremonial position with limited veto powers. And another Igbo, General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was briefly the military head of state in 1966. But to simplify this excursion into electoral mathematics, I have excluded tenures that lasted less than one year. That’s why I have also omitted the transitory governments of Ernest Shonekan (South-West) and Abdulsalami Abubakar (North-West).
If then mathematical logic is the basis for zonal rotation, the case for a South-East Igbo president in 2023 is ironclad. Alas, realpolitik is a different story.