Gowon on Rotational Presidency: the Pressing Logic of Power Sharing

Even as the clamour for the presidency in 2023 thickens, there have equally been calls for a rotational presidency to be adopted as part of Nigeria’s political system. The recent proponent of this power rotation is the former military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon.

While speaking in Abuja at the 100th Anniversary of Barewa Old Boys’ Association (BOBA) on 21, March 2020, the former military head of state noted that “the presidency should be zoned and rotated among the six geopolitical zones of the country”. In the words of Yakubu Gowon, “This is key to peace, tranquillity, and development of our country.”

According to the former Head of State, no ethnic group is better outside than inside as One Nigeria. Positing that the presidential position should be rotated among the 19 northern states, Yakubu Gowon suggested that the gubernatorial position in all states of the federation should be rotated among the three senatorial districts. It was with strong conviction that the former head of state noted that it would help address the crisis of marginalisation.

This is particularly expedient in view of the growing ethnic cum religious tensions rocking the country. But far from being a douser, the logic of power rotation appears founded. The same calls for power rotation have informed the clamour for restructuring over the years. It is important to mention that the bone of contention in the restructuring campaign has always been representation. This is against the backdrop of Nigeria’s immense diversities.

Unquestionably, Nigeria is a country with a plethora of diversities in ethnicity and religion. Historians put the number of ethnic groups in Nigeria at well over 250 with over 500 languages. Although Islam and Christianity are the two dominant religions in the country, there are no proofs that there aren’t as many other religions as the ethnic groups.

Successful countries in the world make their constitutions and forms of government congruent with their cultural, ethnic, religious, and historical background and diversities. Switzerland for instance adopted the rotational presidency following her ethnic diversities. The figure of Germans puts it at 62%, followed by French at 22.9%, and then Italian at 8.2%, as well as English at 5.4%. Others include Portuguese 3.7%, Albanian 3.2%, Serbo-Croatian 2.5%, Spanish 2.4%, and Romansh (official) 0.5%.

The UK for example in spite of several decades has retained her monarchial system. As for France, it is the parliamentary system. In the United States, they have convoluted systems of running primaries and Electoral College.

Besides, the question of national unity has always been a bone of contention in Nigeria, and it is important to see that the grievance and agitations that stem from it walk along the lines of perceived marginalisation and underrepresentation.

The problem is compounded by the vacuum created by a lack of a seemingly working constitutional framework and structure that acknowledges these complexities. This is equally boggling especially when the Federal Character Commission (FCC) that is supposed to uphold the tenets of the Federal Character as enshrined in the constitution remains plagued by administrative bottlenecks and political dependence.

Moreover, Nigeria’s federal structure is quintessentially unique. In other climes, one major ethnic group form about 65%-75% of the total population of the country, while the others constitute the remainder of about 25%-35%. In the U.K., the English is the major ethnic group. Scottish, Irish, Welsh are not much more than 30% or 35% of the population. In the U.S.A, Blacks, Hispanics, Indians do not account for more than 35% of the population or even less. So the Whites may determine the leadership. The point however is that the black population alone could not have made Barack Obama the US President.

In the former Soviet Union, the Russian ethnic group is the largest group, they constitute up to 70% of the population. In India, the Hindu group are the vast majority. But in Nigeria’s case, no single ethnic group constitutes more than 30%-40% of the total population.

Even so, none of the three major ethnic groups can hold the country to ransom. Total population of the minority groups in the North and South may be equal or even more than any of the three major ethnic groups in population. Ergo, the Nigerian federation is unique because none of the three major ethnic groups or all the minority ethnic groups on their own can determine the leadership or anything to the exclusion of the other two major ethnic groups. This is why analysts aver that rotational presidency is necessary to ensure permanent political stability.

Rotational presidency also came up during the 1994/1995 constitutional conference where it was approved by the Abacha administration. The importance of representation in any political domain cannot be overempahised. The quest for representation has engendered and equally informed the finest of political concepts that has transformed our world today. Such globally political concepts as democracy is one that pursues true representation where everybody is adequately represented irrespective of class, age, and race. That is, a type of political system that engenders political harmony, especially within an overarching polity.

History has shown that once people are adequately represented in a political structure, it removes all sense of bitterness and feelings of one-sidedness which can impede growth, stability, and development. Even in our individual lives, we realise the importance of representation when our reality, existence, or interests are acknowledged or included in the all-inclusive or overall interests. Altogether, it raises the bar of fairness, equity, and justice.

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But while the clamour for rotational presidency has been rescinded by some as playing to emotions, others reason that from the deepest of emotions come the template for logical innovations. In the words of Jodi Picoult in his book, “Small Great Thing”, he noted that equality is treating everyone the same, but equity is taking differences into account, so everyone has a chance to succeed. It is only exigent for the country to adopt rotational presidency to ensure political stability, peace, unity, security, progress, and prosperity.

Those who have raised concern noted that it can be subjective and can be tilted in the favour of a particular ethnic group. But that is where the issue of Federal Character comes in to ensure equity. Without a strong Federal Character, the seamless possibilities of power rotation stemming the tide of Nigeria’s recurring crises, is one that defeats itself.

Nelson Okoh

Categories: Features, Politics

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