The denial by the presidency that in his recent BBC interview Mallam Mamman Daura BBC interview spoke for it was gratuitous. Daura made it clear to his interviewers that he was not speaking for the president or the presidency in suggesting that zoning should yield to competence in the election of our presidents. But, of course, he is in an invidious position. He is President Buhari’s nephew and perhaps his closest adviser. It is natural, but not necessarily correct, to assume that he either spoke for the president or he flew a kite for the president’s new thinking about zoning. It instantly put the president in the panic mode lest his critics lay him by the heels.
Reactions to Daura’s statement were fuelled almost entirely by this suspicion. Given his weight as presidential adviser it would be unfair to blame those who see Daura’s suggestion as evidence that sinister northern forces must be busy making unholy calculations to prevent a southerner from succeeding Buhari in 2023 and thus kill power shift. As one of my friends told me, ‘na so e dey start.’
We are, have always been, and will always be sensitive to the locus of the ultimate political power in our country. Nigeria, like other nations, may want competent men and women in positions of political leadership but we must never forget that this great nation of 350 tribes is yet to emerge from being a mere geographical expression into a nation with one destiny. Certain basic demands for leadership recruitment such as proven competence, fairness, honesty and a heart with a room for all tribes, are still held hostage by ethnic interests. Who occupies Aso Rock matters to us because everyone who makes it to that hallowed political ground is a tribal representative taking a turn at the feeding trough. And it means that to rely on competence to the exclusion of other considerations would foul the fairness doctrine represented by zoning, that in theory, at least promises the tribes that their turn would surely come – someday, all political calculations being equal.
Zoning began its round of our political education as power rotation, moved to power shift before the political parties settled for the six geo-political zones created during the General Sani Abacha regime. NPN mooted the idea of power rotation between the north and the south in the second republic to create a sense of political power balance. It was a sensible political formula because it recognised that in a nation such as ours, if you allocate power entirely on the basis of number, you stoke the fires of discontent. We never had a chance to test the sincerity of the party formula in the 1987 general elections that never were because Buhari and his colleagues returned to podium in 1984. The politicians scrambled away from the stage, obeying the first law in nature.
Zoning is neither constitutional nor legal. It is still a tentative political formula for the allocation of political offices by the political parties. Its breach is not justiciable and so the party leaders choose when to respect it, and when to ignore it. This political formula actually dances the makosa in the wind for want of legal backing.
If the anger and the suspicion thrown up by Daura’s suggestion have run their course, then I wish to suggest that we use it to engage in a national dialogue on our leadership recruitment process. It is what has hobbled our national development and denied us of thinkers who think before they do. Now, we have political leaders who do what is not grounded in serious thinking. They are performers on the political stage. A nation that has no room for thinkers at the top are cursed with mediocrity and mediocre leaders.
The challenge is not a choice between competence and zoning but a choice between what is and what ought to be. It may sound strange, but come to think of it, zoning and competence are not mutually exclusive. There are men and women with proven records of competence in every geo-political zone in the country. We are, therefore, not where we are because of zoning but because our leadership recruitment process is badly flawed. Competent people do not have a chance in this sort of leadership recruitment process in which the choice of our leaders at all levels, from the president to the local government councillor, is the exclusive right of the party leaders, also known as godfathers and also known as stake holders.
The most sensible approach to a leadership recruitment process that should help the electorate develop an informed view of the competence of the men and women who seek to lead them was the party primaries introduced by President Ibrahim Babangida during his transition to civil rule programme. It is unique to the United States of America. Babangida borrowed it because he believed that so long as there was no system by which the people could judge their potential leaders, so long would our leadership recruitment process remain flawed and be criminally manipulated by the venerable stake holders whose whims and caprices are accepted as political wisdom. He made no secret of his holy ambition to rid our political system of godfatherism. Godfatherism had developed into a well-oiled system in our leadership recruitment process and continues to pose grave dangers to the emergence of men and women with proven competence as leaders but who have no chance because they have no godfathers to anoint them. This flawed leadership recruitment process serves the godfathers and their godsons but it ill serves our nation and its people.
The great pity is that we are not making progress by creating a political party system that is fair and just and serves our needs as a people. It is why our elections are the most flawed in Africa. It is why the courts have stepped in to do what the people are not allowed to do: judicially elect our political leaders. To begin with, see what the party leaders have done to the party primaries. It is a travesty of the leadership recruitment process. Competent leadership is an ideal and nations make efforts to see that it becomes both the culture and the tradition of the political party system by evolving and respecting a system that serves that purpose.
While it is good to emphasise competence, we must not forget that nothing really guarantees anything. Individual competence could be assumed and consequently over-rated and over-marketed. We have seen such instances, even now, of political leaders who got into their high offices only to find themselves overwhelmed by their offices and just settle down to enjoy the protocols of power. People who offer themselves to lead us at all levels must be seen to have paid their dues and proven themselves as capable men and women with the right temperament to lead our multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation.
Whatever we do, zoning or power rotation by whatever name it is called, will not go away. It is a sensible formula for ensuring that numbers alone do not determine the locus of power because that would lead to a permanent right to rule conferred on one section of the country and a permanent right to be ruled conferred on another part of the country or state to the detriment of other parts and other tribes.
As part of the national dialogue on leadership recruitment process, we must do two things. One, we must destroy godfatherism and take away from the stake holders the right to conduct party primaries in their bedrooms and offer us men and women with two left hands with zero competence. Power seekers must offer themselves to the people in the market place through free and fair party primaries so their suitability or competence for the high political office they seek could be judged by the people.
Two, we must agree on a suitable formula for power rotation – should it between north and south or among the six geo-political zones? Whichever option we agree on must then be cast in stone in either the constitution or the electoral act and be binding on the centre and all the states. We can only make progress by committing to a system less corrupt and a leadership recruitment process that is fair and transparent.
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