SIMON KOLAWOLE SIMONKOLAWOLELIVE!
Is Nigerian politics getting better? Are Nigerian politicians getting more mature and politically savvy as we move from one phase to the other in democratisation and nation-building? From my balcony, I have been observing quietly the mini-crisis that has broken out in the All Progressives Congress (APC) over the sharing of positions in the 10th National Assembly. With the offices of president and vice-president already settled via the ballot in the general election, we are left with the parliamentary leadership positions which are not usually as simple as the presidency because of the complicated factors that are always at play. Still, I am left to wonder how tone-deaf many of our politicians can be.
I agreed that Nigeria, being multi-religious and multi-ethnic, will often be caught in a web of intrigues on how to share political offices in such a way that will accommodate as many interests as possible, particularly the major ones. There will always be multiple and conflicting interests at play and we cannot avoid the fierce contestation for now. There is the regional interest: northern and southern. There is the religious one: Muslim and Christian. There is the ethnic: the Hausa/Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba being the ones on which the “tripod” of Nigeria was founded. Then, there are the ethnic and religious minorities across regions and geo-political zones, some of which are fluid or subsumed.
But as atomisation goes, the more you divide, the more you magnify the latent differences. If you divide the north, you will see the Muslim majority and the Christian minorities. If you divide further, you will see north-west, north-east and north-central. Because religion is the biggest identifier in the north, it really does not matter if you are a Muslim Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, or of any other ethnic group when it comes to sharing national positions. It begins to matter only if the competition for the national position is internal. You will then start hearing about what northern geo-political zone should get it. The northern Christian minorities are, understandably, a distinct group as well.
In the south, ethnicity — and not religion — is the major marker. The tussle is traditionally between the Igbo and the Yoruba, the two biggest ethnic groups. When Yorubas get something at the national level, it is most likely at the expense of Igbos, except it is shared on the basis of geo-political zones. It also means when Igbos get it, Yoruba will be left out. But over the years, the southern minorities have also asserted themselves on the account of the oil wealth which is produced in their land. If you divide the south-west, where the Yoruba are in the majority, you will find religious interests somewhere, notably in the last few decades. It never used to be so but things have changed.
By and large, it is practically impossible to please every interest at the same time. Some will have to settle for the short end of the stick per time. If you achieve religious balancing, you may upset regional setup. If you please regional interests, you may be unable to sort out zonal complications. All these are political interests — and as political beings, we will always discover that something has to give at every point. Meanwhile, we are not even discussing gender interests or social inclusion in a society where you are automatically disadvantaged because you are a woman or because you are living with one disability or the other. It takes a conscious effort to build an all-inclusive society.
At the dawn of this democracy in 1999, we achieved political balancing almost flawlessly. President Olusegun Obasanjo was a Christian and Vice-President Atiku Abubakar a Muslim. That is religious balancing. Obasanjo was a southerner and Atiku a northerner. That was regional balancing. The No 1 position went to a Yoruba, No 2 to a Fulani and No 3 to an Igbo. That was the tripodal interest well satisfied. The No 4 position went to the north-west, meaning the biggest zone got a fair deal. The No 6 position — the deputy senate presidency — went to the north-central, but not to a Christian, as would be expected, since the senate president was a Christian too. Southern minorities got No 7.
This arrangement, which now looks like the golden era for political accommodation in Nigeria, lasted for eight years. Although it didn’t solve all our political problems, or end agitations, or turn Nigeria into a developed country, there was some emotional satisfaction that came with balancing the national power metrics. When you compare 1999-2007 with what we have today and what we are likely to have with the imminent inauguration of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, it would appear we are now living in a different country entirely. Some of our political leaders have been carrying on as if the aspirations and expectations of some parts of the country should be brazenly discarded and ignored.
I admit that some of the developments that have upset the political arrangement were not pre-planned. It was inadvertent in 2007, for instance. Naturally, presidency would go to the north and vice-presidency to the south, which was what happened. However, a leg of the tripod was replaced with another, as the Igbo gave way to the south-south in the choice of vice-presidential candidate. The south-south had become a political force with the campaign for resource control by the Niger Delta militants. While one problem was solved, another was created. The Igbo lost their place in the top three — relegated, as it were, to No 6 for eight years before falling out completely since 2019.
From 2007 to 2010, under President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the Christian north — a major bloc since Independence — claimed No 3. Yorubas settled for No 4, having been No 1 for eight years. South-east got No 6 (deputy senate president) while the north-east got No 7 (deputy speaker). Although Igbos would have preferred a higher position since Yorubas, their fierce rivals, had held the No 1 spot too, No 6 was still better than nothing. Yar’Adua’s death in 2010 disrupted the system and we are yet to recover from that. Dr Goodluck Jonathan, his deputy from the south-south, took over and sent the entire metrics into a spin. What appeared to be an emerging power arrangement was torpedoed.
But some of the disruptions were engineered as well. When Jonathan was elected in 2011, the zoning arrangement was recalibrated. The north, specifically the north-west, got the No 2 and the north-central retained No 3. Though an Ogbia minority from Bayelsa, Jonathan had played up his “Azikiwe” name and appointed an Igbo general as chief of army staff — the first since before the Civil War — as soon as he got power in 2010. The south-east embraced him. The core north rejected him because of the short span of Yar’Adua’s tenure. Jonathan had been asked to not run so that the north could finish its eight years, although that was complicated because of a lack of legal guarantees.
The Jonathan era witnessed a bastardisation of the power arrangement. The speakership that was zoned to the south-west was usurped by Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who plotted a coup with PDP renegades and Tinubu’s Action Congress (now part of APC). Hon Emeka Ihedioha, from the south-east, became his deputy. The vice-president and the speaker, No 2 and No 4 respectively, were now both from the north-west. Effectively, the Yoruba were completely out of the topmost national power arrangement for four years. Jonathan and the PDP were accused of having marginalised the Yoruba even though it was clear to all that it was Tambuwal that was pursuing a selfish agenda.
The disruption continued under President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. The senate president came from the north-central and the speaker from north-east, meaning the No 1, No 3 and No 4 positions were all in the north. Ironically, this settled some questions. One, the senate president was a Muslim from the north-central. Even though he has Fulani roots, he was socialised as a Yoruba. The speaker was a Christian from the north-east. This went against the norm of picking Christians from the north-central and Muslims from the north-east for legislative positions. It gave the northern minorities a sense of belonging again as it was under Sir Ahmadu Bello, the former premier of the north.
Buhari’s second term witnessed another upset of the system. The senate president and speaker in his first term were not his choices in any case, and they were adequately curtailed and not allowed to retain their positions. We now had the No 1 and No 3 from the north and No 2 and No 4 from the south-west. There was no room at the Inn for the south-east. Muslims headed both chambers of the National Assembly. In fact, the speaker and his deputy were both Muslims. This was in absolute contrast to where we started from in 1999. The APC under Buhari did not make any conscious effort to balance the power metrics in a way to assuage feelings of marginalisation and exclusion.
But if we think the Buhari era was a departure from the norm, it appears things may even go farther under Tinubu. With No 1 and No 2 Muslims, I would expect No 3 and No 4 to be Christians as we seek to heal national wounds so that we can focus on the serious tasks of national development ahead. But I was naïve. Senator Barau Jibrin, from the north-west, soon declared his intention to be senate president (he was later persuaded to settle for deputy). Hon Idris Wase (north-central) and Hon Ahmed Betera (north-east) also declared for speakership. That would have meant Muslims holding No 1, No 2, No 3 and No 4. And the No 5, the Chief of Justice of Nigeria, is also a Muslim.
While I agree that we have to outgrow regional and religious balancing at some point, I don’t think we have reached that stage yet — after 24 years of democracy. More importantly, though, inclusion must not be limited to region and religion alone. We need to accommodate gender, age and disability considerations. Women are about half of the population but they occupy less than 5 percent of elected positions. Nigerians below 35 years constitute about 75 percent of the population. How much space do we give them in political offices? There are 30 million Nigerians living with disabilities. Do they matter in our political calculations? We have a very long way to go in diversity management.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
When the Association for Better Nigeria (ABN) went to court in 1993 to stop the June 12 presidential election, we laughed it off. It was an inconsequential association, we said, especially as the law under which the election was conducted ousted the jurisdiction of courts. We all know what happened next. Well, five people calling themselves “FCT residents” have gone to court to stop the inauguration of a new president. They are also asking for President Buhari’s tenure to be extended. The “25%” case is already before the election tribunal at a higher court and, ordinarily, no judge should entertain it. I smell a rat but I believe the process will ultimately take care of itself. Mischief.
Ahead of the inauguration of a new administration, President Buhari and his wife have moved into the Glass House, a transitional home at the presidential villa for outgoing presidents and their spouses. I think we need to be thankful that democratic rule has endured in Nigeria despite all the challenges. At least, we are assured that presidents will come and go at predictable intervals after President Obasanjo failed to sneak third term into the constitution in 2007. In many African countries, they are stuck with one president for decades, mostly after the laws have been amended midway for selfish reasons. It took us long to get here but we are not doing badly. Progress.
On Wednesday, Justice James Omotosho of a federal high court sitting in Abuja restrained the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) from imposing fines on broadcast organisations. He also set aside the previous fines imposed on 45 stations by the NBC. The judge said the commission does not have “judicial powers” to impose fines, ruling that its action was “against the doctrine of separation of powers”. In its response, NBC hinted it would file an appeal after studying the judgment. If NBC appeals and the judgment is upheld, it would have far-reaching implications for other regulators and the power to impose fines. It would also be a major deviation from global practices. Remarkable.
NYSC AT 50
The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was set up in 1973 as part of post-civil war efforts to foster national integration. Corps members are usually posted to parts of the country other than where they are come from. Many have questioned if the scheme has not outlived its usefulness. I would not say it has. But the time has come to take a comprehensive look at its enabling law so that we can finetune it in line with contemporary realities. There is a para military training whose value I honestly don’t know. I also don’t know if it must be headed by a military officer. For national service to be more productive and attractive, we need to make far-reaching modifications to the NYSC. Change.