Those who support a rotational presidency rely on the old argument that because Nigeria is a mosaic a rotational presidency offers the only possibility for peaceful existence. Indeed, Mr. Anthony Akinola uses this argument in his article, “Rotational presidency can stabilize Nigeria,” published in The Guardian on December 31, 2009. To take the position that only a rotational presidency can bring peace to Nigeria, suggests that Mr. Akinola does not understand the implications of basing his argument on the linguistic, geographical and cultural composition of Nigeria. Mr. Akinola wrote in his article that “the arrangement by the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) to rotate the presidency between the South and North is an acknowledgement of the existence of a most disturbing national problem, and an effort to provide a practical solution to it”. However, to suggest that Nigerians care more for clan, tribe, or ethnic group than good leadership implies that Nigerians are not sophisticated enough to engage in democracy. And if Nigerians are not sophisticated enough to practice democracy in its truest form, I would suggest that they are not sophisticated enough to practice any form of government that is based on free elections.
But one need only look around the country to see that this is not the case, and Mr. Akinola and other advocates of a rotational presidency have not only misdiagnosed the problem, but also misunderstood the wants and needs of the average Nigerian. There is an old Igbo saying that reflects the thinking of most Nigerians: “I could not care less whom my mother’s boyfriend is, all I want is what belongs to me”. We are at a time in our existence when we do not actually care, or care less than Mr. Akinola would have us believe, about cultural or tribal affiliation. What Nigerians are looking for is democratic, consistent, and knowledgeable leadership.
Simply put, advocates for a rotational presidency want power for themselves. In other countries in the world, such as the United States which Mr. Akinola uses as an example in his article, presidential power must be used for the greater good of all citizens. Those who hold power rely on the people’s trust, and the people have the right and the power to withhold that trust from a negligent or corrupt leader in the form of elections. We have not been so lucky in Nigeria. Those whom we “elect” to office have been demagogues who have seen Nigeria from the prism of their ethnic inclination; they feel no responsibility for the citizens of Nigeria as a whole, and the citizens feel helpless.
Mr. Akinola and people like him have clouded the judgment of Nigerians by endlessly reminding us of our differences. The public is not challenged to evaluate the contenders and debate the political issues, but to rely upon ethnic bias in electing their leaders.
The real question that Mr. Akinola should be asking is why Nigerians continue to be denied basic infrastructures available to citizens of other nations. Mr. Akinola does not explain how a rotational presidency would translate into the provision of these basic infrastructures. Neither does he explain how a rotational presidency would translate into a strong economy or better opportunities for Nigerian youths who have resorted to kidnapping and armed robbery as a means of survival.
A rotational presidency will not stabilize Nigeria. What will stabilize Nigeria is what has always stabilized nations: a responsive and accountable government, a strong infrastructure, and better education for all citizens. Nigeria does not need a rotational presidency; it does not need more division. It needs to be strong as one nation, a nation of which one can be proud to be a citizen. Many progressive nations in the world celebrate diversity, and Nigeria should as well, but political candidates should be evaluated on their ability and vision, not their cultural or ethnic ties. It would seem that Mr. Akinola, by supporting the idea of a rotational presidency supports the divide-and-conquer policies that began with the colonialists to weaken the foundation of Nigeria as a nation.
Nigeria does not need a rotational presidency. Its problem is not whether the president comes from the north or the south. Nigeria struggles with issues of self-discipline, accountability, individual conviction, and a sense of responsibility to one’s fellow citizens. If we do not address these issues, no matter where you rotate the presidency you we will continue to see the same corrupt Nigeria.
Hamilton Odunze is Co-editor African Analyst