Thursday, September 30, 2021 7:33 am
By Ike Okonta
The Federal Character Commission which came into existence following the enactment of the 1979 Constitution, was a child of neccessity. It states explicitly that positions in government should be distributed in such a manner that no region of the country should dominate another. The Federal Character Commission was born out of bitter experience. I shall explain.
The Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) had dominated the politics of the First Republic (1960-1966) on behalf of the Hausa-Fulani, leading to anger and bitterness among the political class in other parts of the country. So bitter were the latter that they were determined to oust the NPC from power during the 1964 general election. Northern politicians, desperate to hang on to power, rigged the 1964 election leading to uproar and a breakdown of law and order in the Western Region. The incompetence and heavy-handedness with which the NPC government under Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa handled the Western Region crisis drew the Army into the controversy and Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and the other young majors struck in the morning of January 15 1966.
The January 1966 coup triggered a chain of events culminating in the 30-month bloody civil war and the starving to death of an estimated three million Biafran children by the Federal forces commanded by General Yakubu Gowon.
When civilian government returned in 1979, a chastised political class was determined not to repeat the mistake of the First Republic whereby the Northern Peoples Congress dominated the politics of the country with impunity. The National Party of Nigeria (NPN) which won power in 1979 enshrined rotation of party offices in its constitution. Had the military not intervened again in December 1983 power would have moved from Shehu Shagari to a southerner in 1987.
When the Fourth Republic dawned in 1999 the presidency was explicitly zoned to the Yoruba because their son Moshood Abiola had been denied the presidency in 1993. In 2007 power moved back to the north in the person of UMaru Yar’Adua. Had Yar’Adua not died in 2010 power would have remained in the north till 2015 after which it would have returned to the south.
The Northern Governors are therefore being disingenuous when they claimed last week that presidential power rotation is not in the constitution and that the person with the majority votes irrespective of where he or she comes from has always been president.
Since the advent of the Second Republic in 1979 the principle of power rotation has always informed politicking in the country and it should do so again in 2023.
Power rotation along ethnic lines is not ideal; however it is a temporary expediency untill such a time Nigerians have outgrown their penchant for bitter ethnic politics. And that day will come when a new generation of Nigerian political actors displace the present crop of corrupt and indolent politicians and quickly industrialise the economy, encourage the free movement of Nigerians wherever economic opportunity calls and make residence, not ethnicity the basis of Nigerian citizenship.
Until that bright and beautiful day comes let us continue to rotate the presidency between the north and the south.
*Dr Ike Okonta, journalist, former Editor in TheNEWS and public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja