African business, politics and lifestyle
Nigeria’s political merry go round
Nigeria’s ruling party made clear this week it wanted to see another northerner as the candidate for the 2011 presidential election, according to its principle of rotating power. That makes it harder (if not impossible) to see how Acting President Goodluck Jonathan might ever contest the ballot since he is from the Niger Delta in the south.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s unwritten rule of rotating power through Nigeria’s regions every two presidential terms – for these purposes there are six regions – was thought up on the return to civilian rule in 1999 because until then power had largely rotated among northerners, most of them in uniform.
The ethnic mosaic in a country created as a colonial convenience presented a similar challenge to that across many other African states and it seemed as though this would be a fair way to ensure that everyone eventually got a ‘turn to eat’ - in the words of Michela Wrong’s book on Kenyan corruption.
But new questions, and some old ones, have been raised over the idea since Vice-President Jonathan had to step up as Nigeria’s leader because President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner, fell ill and became unable to rule Africa’s most populous nation before the end of his first term in office.
If a northerner is elected to replace Yar’Adua, then will this be someone who will serve only the one term allotted under the rules of the Peoples’ Democratic Party rather than someone who would seek the two permitted by the constitution? Why does rotation have to follow after two terms? Why not one, or in this case perhaps three?
If it is assumed that talent is spread evenly through Nigeria’s six zones, then does that mean that five times out of six there is likely to be a more talented individual from another part of the country who cannot contest simply because he or she is from the wrong place?
If the party keeps winning elections – and there is no absolute guarantee of that – it means either the South-South zone, home to most of Nigeria’s oil reserves, or the South-East, where some have felt marginalised since a failed separatist civil war in the 1960s, will not have the chance to elect a president before 2031. Is that fair?
Perhaps most of all, what does it say for Nigeria’s long term future if Nigerian identity is not important enough compared to regional loyalties that Nigerians could happily elect someone from another part of the country even without the understanding that their region’s turn would come round again before long?