Zulum, Power Shift and Nigeria’s Leadership Question, By Dakuku Peterside

Nigeria’s extant political realities have made it reasonable to consider the unity and cohesion that power shift entails, even though Zulum argued that competence must not be compromised. In his words, competence and character should be given greater consideration over loyalty.

Last week, at a lecture, to commemorate my 50th birthday and the public presentation of my  book titled: ‘Strategic Turnaround: the story of a government agency’, the Borno State governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, raised the bar of discourse on a number of national issues. As would be expected, the news media made a feast of the position of the cerebral but frank professor turned governor. Speaking on the topic, “Security and Economic Growth: Leadership in Challenging Times”, the Professor Zulum aligned himself with the calls by a growing list of the political elite who are insisting that power should shift to the South at the end of the Buhari presidency. In his words: “Power rotation is a covenant between us, hence, the need to shift the power to South.”

The governor’s statement is tallies with the recent views of prominent Northerners, such as Katsina State Governor Bello Masari; Kaduna’s Governor Nasir El Rufai; his Kano counterpart, Abdullahi Ganduje; and former mlitary head of state, General Yakubu Gowon. They have all stated that for national unity and greater cohesion in an imperfect federal system, the highest office in the land should be zoned to the Southern part of the country, come 2023.

The notion of power shift has been a dominant factor in Nigerian politics. This is due to the fact that the various regions and ethnic groups that make up the country routinely engage in a perennial struggle for power at the federal level. It is all about presidential power, as constituent parts want the presidency, which confers enormous powers and perceived benefits.

Historically, power shift had gained great prominence after the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election in Nigeria, which a Southerner, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, had won. The election was invalidated by the then military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, who incidentally comes from the Northern part of the country. The agitation against the annulment of the election led to a novel situation in Nigeria, having the two major political parties in the 1999 general elections fielding Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae, both of the Yoruba ethnic stock in southern Nigeria, the same ethnic group of M.K.O Abiola, the denied winner of the election.

Since then, political discourse in the country has been about people asking for power shift, either to one part of Nigeria or the other, towards the presumed guise of equity and justice. For 2023, the current soundbites are that while some Southern politicians claim that it is their turn to produce the president, other northern  elements are insisting that the contest should be thrown open for all to compete in equally.

The notion of power shift gained traction in Nigeria as some Southerners accused the North of perpetual dominance of federal power, particularly the presidency. It is undeniable that the  perceived fear of domination by the North is one of the factors behind the growing enterprise of ethnic agitation threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria. In most cases, the other ethnic groups in Nigeria, failing to find themselves within the mainstream of power at the centre, especially at the presidency, resort to unpatriotic acts and pursue the interests of their region or ethnic group to the detriment of our national aspirations.

It is a fact that some agitators for secession in the South exploit these fears and some perceived marginalisation by the North for political and personal gains. Therefore, we hope that a power shift in a multi-ethnic society with an evolving democratic culture, as suggested by Governor Zulum, will douse these tensions, and give people a sense of belonging and fairness.

…to some who may argue that competence should trump the need for stability and peace that a power shift may bring, I have a few pertinent questions: Of what need is having the most competent leader when he is bogged down by persistent and secessionist agitations from sections of the country who feel denied of access to the proverbial ‘national cake’? 

However, the issue of power shift will not have been necessary in Nigeria if we practised true federalism. The country is supposed to run a federal system of government, whereby the federating units exert meaningful control over their territories and resources, which would make or mar the destiny of their states. However, we have a centralised federalism, with a quasi-imperial president who virtually wields the powers of life and death over all Nigerians. The reality and enormity of these presidential powers make every part of the country want to produce the president.

Ideally, power shift should be an anathema in politics. No one disputes that it breeds mediocrity, as the best candidates for president may be shut out of the office because of where they originate from. It also undoubtedly impedes good governance, national integration, and democracy. It is most likely that the same leaders to emerge through a power shift are still those who have already been participating in the Nigeria enterprise right from independence and who are responsible for most of the country’s political problems today.

However, Nigeria’s extant political realities have made it reasonable to consider the unity and cohesion that power shift entails, even though Zulum argued that competence must not be compromised. In his words, competence and character should be given greater consideration over loyalty.

Reacting to some who may argue that competence should trump the need for stability and peace that a power shift may bring, I have a few pertinent questions: Of what need is having the most competent leader when he is bogged down by persistent and secessionist agitations from sections of the country who feel denied of access to the proverbial ‘national cake’? Would it not probably take superhuman qualities for the ‘competent’ leader to achieve sustainable development in the absence of national unity, security, and peace, especially when some of the country’s constituent units openly display their discontent with the Nigerian project?

As such, as we recognise the need for power shift, we should also look at what must be done to ensure that  democratic culture is deepened and governance is enhanced.

One constant thing in Nigeria is that we seem to clutch tenaciously to a concept that is peddled as a panacea to our problems at each point of our national life. There was a time most Nigerians believed that the country would be a better place if power moved from the North to the South. Then the Obasanjo presidency happened, and the fundamental national problems remained .

Governor Zulum, during his presentation, made a further illuminating contribution to the issues facing Nigeria. On the survival of the country, the governor opined that security, unity, and peace are needed, whether Nigeria is splitting or staying together. He further argued that most times, we appraise the country’s security situation by the actions or inactions of the Federal Government and, specifically, the presidency. This does not seem right in his estimation.

…the governor made the point that Nigeria’s problem remains a leadership problem. There have been insinuations here and there that Nigerians are challenging people to govern. This notion strives to move our problem away from political leaders to the masses, who are portrayed as evil followers.

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