What Next? After Northern & Southern Governors butting of heads
Hakeem Baba Ahmed , the petulant spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum , NEF , literally threw gasoline into the fire already ignited by the southern governors Enugu declaration that the presidency must return to the south in 2023 based on the gentleman’s agreement entered into between northern and southern politicians during 1994/5 national conference.
It is not surprising that an incendiary statement that he made at an event held in Zaria, Kaduna State would literarily set the already combustible political atmosphere alight .
“We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before, whether we are President or Vice President, we will lead Nigeria. We have the majority of the votes and the democracy says vote whom you want.”
Baba-Ahmed was actually reacting to the demand by the southern states governors that the pendulum of the presidency of Nigeria must swing to the south in 2023 in consonance with the agreement which had been in operation since the return of multi party democracy in 1999.
Due to the fact that the political space was already charged with negative energy and the embers of hate were still flying between northerners and southerners , his speech was misinterpreted as the following critical component of it was ignored:
“… we will lead Nigeria whether we are president or Vice President…”
An unbiased reading of the statement does not imply that Baba Ahmed was suggesting that northerners are born to rule as some commentators have concluded. With emphasis on the phrase “…or Vice President”, it is clear that he admitted that the north may produce the Vice President as was the case with Namadi Sambo who was Vice President to Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015)
But given the present toxicity of the political atmosphere, the un-curated comment by Baba-Ahmed heated up the polity. And it did not help when the northern governors in concert with their traditional rulers met and released the following statement in a communique which seemed to have endorsed Baba-Ahmed’s unguarded utterance and hell was literarily let loose.
The communique reads thus :“Some Northern States Governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to the three geo-political zones in the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the nation.”
The statement read by Plateaus state governor, Simon Lalong on behalf of his colleagues rejected the demand of the southern governors with the following assertion:
“Notwithstanding their comments, the forum unanimously condemns the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the Presidency must go to the South.
“The statement is quite contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended that the elected President shall: score the majority votes; score at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in 2/3 states of the federation. In the case of run-up, simple majority wins the election.”
Again, reading the statement without prejudice, it would be apparent that the northern governors are not against power shift per se. But their gripe is with the autocratic word “must” which is deemed to be undemocratic. Either the word “must” was unwittingly employed by the southern governors in their communique or the northern governors were nitpicking or politicking by latching onto such a democracy technicality to engage in filibustering.
Whatever the case may be , it is relieving to know that there is really no conspiracy from the northerners against presidential power shift from their zone to the south in 2023.
An aspect of the development on which most commentators have not expressed any opinion, is that while the south has continued to speak as governors , the north has been speaking as governors and elders. That is because they have been carrying their traditional rulers along by holding joint meetings with them. And that is always reflected in their communiques ?
Does this suggest that the northern governors accord their traditional rulers and elders more respect and recognition than their southern counterparts who appear to be solo in their deliberations and negotiations? Another unique pattern that l have noticed is that all the northern governors seem to be in sync with their common objective and purpose. This is evidenced by the fact that they are all often fully represented at the meetings organized by the forum . Contrarily, Southern governors meetings have not had in attendance the full compliment of governors . Cross Rivers and Anambra states governors who have absented themselves the most, are the main culprits. And they appear to be rebellious and therefore represent a weak link in the group which is quite appalling as the aforementioned duo pose existential threat to the unity of southern governors.
By and large , by issuing a communique alleging that the southern governors were undemocratic in their approach, the northern governors can be said to be equally guilty of the offense that they had earlier berated their southern counterparts for committing. Applying the same standard that they have set, the ideal thing for the northern governors and elders to have done would have been to quietly engage with their southern counterparts with a view to pointing out that they were out of order by toeing the autocratic path in using the offending word “must”in their communique.
Instead , they went public and literarily threw the book , and if you like, kitchen sink at the southern governors by reprimanding them openly.
In any case, the impasse is a classical manifestation of the dictum, ‘two wrongs can not make a right’
Meanwhile , the decisions made by both sides to engage in public war of words fit into the play book of politicians. Typically , they like to raise the stakes via dramas and melodramas. Since it is a critical part of politicking, it is no surprise to most political aficionados.
In a widely publicized opinion piece entitled : “How To Become The president Of Nigeria, 2023”, where l dwelt on the face-off between the politicians on both sides of the divide about presidential power shift , l had predicted an amicable resolution. Here is how l had put it.“Ordinarily, the Southern governors could be said to be re-affirming an existing agreement. But their northern counterparts do not see it as such. Instead ,they deem the decision of the southern governors as an imposition. Apparently , the northern governors are affronted by the fact that what should have been negotiated was turned into a grandstanding affair. Hopefully, after the initial filibustering which is a major part of politics, both the southern governors who needed to show their constituents that they are not Lily-livered, but posses some spunk, and the northern governors who may be intent on getting something in return for the likely impending concession of the presidency to the south in 2023, which is typical of politicians who often get a kick from horse-trading, would settle their differences.”
A typical example of the on going political brick brats in Nigeria is the contest of political interests that is currently playing out between the progressives in the US House of Representatives and moderates in the senate. Although they are both members of the ruling Democratic Party under president Joe Biden, the passage of the party’s strategic development proposal has been held up or suspended in congress a couple of times because the law makers in both the progressive and moderate camps are yet to find common grounds or balance in their group interests.
For instance, following the grandstanding by the caucuses led by the likes of senator Joe Manchin of Virginia and representative Pramila Jayapal -of Washington , the infrastructure bill which is a defining policy of Biden’s regime, already passed in the senate is currently suspended.
But it would eventually be passed by the House of Representatives after being put through the crucible via the fiery resistance by the progressives who want their interests in the jobs support and social services proposal, accommodated .
The political wrangling which has so far resulted in stalemating the passage of $1.5 trillion and $3.5 trillion bills that would positively impact the lives of millions of Americans may be equated to passing raw gold through the furnace prior to its becoming a refined gem. The situation is not different in the United Kingdom, Uk where prime minister , Boris Johnson is facing internal resistance within his party. The rebellion stems from the fear of higher tax arising from the proposed reform that involves injection of funds into the UK health system, NHS . As expected, the echoes of the impending tax burden is threatening to overshadow events in Manchester where the Tories are holding their annual conference.
And typical of political actors , 50 members of parliament from his party broke ranks with Boris Johnson.
But after all said and done, the politicians would iron out their differences and leave the conference with the leadership of the Conservative Party being on the same page.
As to be expected , the opposition Labor Party had in the previous week in a similar conference held in Brighton accused the ruling party of wrecking the lives of Britons with Brexit and it is now saddling the working class with huge burden tax which they intend to revolt against .
Their stance is a counterpoise to the Tories proposed £500b jobs support fund and funding for the NHS reform which would be extracted as tax from the workers.
Given the above narrative of how multi party presidential and parliamentary systems of government are playing out in both the USA and the Uk, the situation in our country , which acquired its former parliamentary and present presidential systems of government from those two countries, can not be an exception. Hence , the face-off between northern and southern politicians can not just be ephemeral as evidenced by the cases in the USA and UK where after engaging in intensive dialogues, the countries always move forward stronger and better .
That simply implies that political squabbles often lead to significant positive changes in the policies of government and by extension impart the society in salutary ways.
Bearing that in mind , l regard the clash between the northern and southern governors in Nigeria as putting the gentleman agreement on rotation of presidential power through a furnace. The contest of wits would also facilitate the fine-tuning of the controversial Value Added Tax, VAT now in the front burner of political discus even as it should compel the devolution of power to the states via the movement of some functions currently captured in the Exclusive to the Concurrent list.
If those propositions can come into reality, they would make states more nimble and the federal government not as powerful as it is currently, which is also known as restructuring.
It is expected that after the envisaged intensive politicking which would hopefully whittle the power of government in the centre and strengthen the capacity of the states, it may be easier to determine whether the rotation of presidential power between the former northern and southern protectorates of the British empire that merged in 1914 should be sustained beyond 2023.
My guess is that at the end of the anticipated joint deliberations which should be vigorous and no holds barred , and the presidency of Nigeria becomes not as powerful and therefore equally unattractive to deserve the current ethno-religious energy and financial resources invested in acquiring it, our country would be a better nation.
Afterwards, there would be no more reasons for the current north-south divide to fester , as it would be replaced with the political zeal for mutually beneficial co-operation.
That is assuming for the sake of morality , it is accepted that the third member of the Nigerian triumvirate that is yet to benefit from the presidential zoning arrangement-the lgbos would be given the opportunity to take their turn in calling the shots in Aso Rock Villa , so that as they say in local parlance, the equation may be balanced before discontinuing the practice.
While not denying that the informal presidential power sharing arrangement has played a critical role in sustaining Nigeria’s unity since 1999 , l am of the conviction that, it is probably responsible for the zero-sum politics that is currently hobbling the efforts of successive administrations to build up infrastructure that would engender prosperity and deepen democracy in our beloved country.
It is astonishing how events in the past 6 years have proven that the presidential zoning arrangement which had been deemed to be an efficacious political balancing mechanism between northern and southern ethnic nationalities can be susceptible to abuse. Arising from that reality , there is urgent need for a robust and sustainable solution to the issues that threw up the zoning of presidential power between the north and south which is the mutual suspicion about the dominance of a group over the others . The criticality of the matter of fixing the broken political system is such that politicians can not afford to continue to doodle over that assignment by literarily ‘ kicking the can down the road ’ as Americans like to term it.