Why Zoning-Rotational Presidency Should Be In the Constitution

Inside-Aso-VillaIn the last few months,   I have followed   the debate and power struggle centred on the issue of rotational presidency or zoning.  The intensity of the debate and the many intrigues it has generated is at best laughable.  The only reason there is such a debate is because Nigeria is a nation where we love to thrive in chaos. Musa Yar’adua came into power as a very sick man whose demise remained   a real possibility. He had on many occasions been hospitalised and on one of those occasions, the intrigues surrounding his hospitalisation and rumours of death had led to the sacking of the erstwhile secretary to the federal government,   Alhaji  Babagana  Kingibe  on his  return from the hospital.

The intrigues of Yar’Adua’s hospitalisation had therefore given sufficient indications that his demise would   lead to a protracted power struggle in the absence of a clear constitutional method of succession under the zoning arrangement. But because Nigeria is a nation in love of chaos, the members  of  the national assembly, house of representatives and other opinion leaders  rather than seek a constitutional  solution to the impending predicament  choose to ignore it. The result of that negligence and irresponsibility remains with us today, as the power struggle rages on. In a September 2009 article titled “If   Yar’adua dies: how to avert a power struggle” see link: . I   predicted quite accurately, the power struggle saga that is presently unfolding and made proposals to avert it.

The present quagmire has at best, guaranteed that whatever the outcome of the 2011 elections, there will be groups that will continue to feel aggrieved as a result of  the  lacuna that existed in the constitution.  If  the national assembly had urgently resolved the  zoning and succession issue by enshrining it in the constitution, we would have avoided the current brick-bats  from different parts of the divide which has overtaken the needed debate on key issues such as unemployment, infrastructure, security, education, healthcare and  social protection.  It is quite unfortunate that Nigeria’s so called leaders are yet to learn how to do things properly.

As I have said previously, Nigeria’s peculiar post-independence  history of  long years of Northern domination, marginalisation and injustice requires a  rotational system based on the subsisting six zones that would serve as a strategy for nation building. A quick look at Nigeria’s history would  reveal  that minorities  and Southerners with the exception of  Olusegun Obasanjo’s 2nd coming have only ruled Nigeria by accident. General  Aguiyi  Ironsi from the East became the first to emerge through such a system after the assassination of the then prime minister Tafawa Balewa in the Jan 1966 coup.  General Yakubu Gowon a Northern minority from  the middle belt became the 2nd beneficiary after the assassination of General Aguiyi Ironsi in the July 1966 counter-coup. General Olusegun Obasanjo from the West also became a military head of state after the assassination of General Murtala Muhammed in 1976 and lastly President Goodluck Jonathan who ascended the throne in 2010 after Yar’adua’s death.  

Indeed, it is also noteworthy that Olusegun Obasanjo’s 2nd coming in 1999 as a civilian president, which is the only exception was nonetheless facilitated  by the accident of General Sanni  Abacha’s sudden death. Nigeria’s chequered history thus lends credence to the fact that political power has overwhelmingly concentrated in the Muslim North and only moved to minorities or non-Northerners by accident. A   heterogeneous nation with such a peculiar history rightly deserves to have a specially designated and structured rotational system that would be a strategy for nation building and inter-ethnic cohesion.

The rotational system itself is not a new concept as many diverse nations and institutions around the world already practice variants derived from it. In Switzerland, the presidency rotates among the various ethnic groups and in the European Union; the presidency rotates among the member states. The rotational system is quite remarkable in Switzerland where the German ethnic group with 65% of  the population constitute an absolute majority capable of perpetual political dominance, but yet subscribed to the rotational system in order to accommodate  the minority ethnic groups. Switzerland is consequently one of the world’s most stable, democratic, harmonious and prosperous nations just as the European Union is one of the most functional and prosperous institutions in the world. Together, Switzerland and the European Union are notable examples in the successful application of  the principle of rotation along ethnic and national lines, all designed to suit the peculiarities of their geo-political realities.

Moving forward, the national assembly should convene an urgent constitutional review to midwife a well structured and successful rotational system which could in time be a model for other heterogeneous nations in Africa and around the globe struggling with the challenges of nationhood.  I hereby propose 2 options as listed hereunder that can be applied in resolving the rotation and succession issue.

Constitutional Review Options Of Power Rotation And Succession
(1) The present structure of six zones with three each in the North and South presents a perfect match for the purposes of rotation. In a practical and common sense way, the presidency could be rotated in alternation between the North/South and among the zones in alphabetical order preferably for a 6 year single term or alternatively for an 8 year double term as the case maybe. In the case of an 8 year double term, all political parties will also be obliged to field candidates only from the designated zone for the subsequent election of  the remaining 4 year tenure. In the event of another political party and candidate winning the subsequent election, he or she can only serve the remaining 4 year tenure for the designated zone. The introduction of rotation in alphabetical order will remove every confusion, make it possible for all existing political parties to field candidates from the same zone and prevent acrimonious power struggles between different zones.

In case of death and succession, there is the option of a constitutional review to introduce the office of a deputy president in addition to the already existing office of the vice president. The vice president should continue to be from other zones as is presently the case, but the new office of the deputy president should be occupied by someone from the same zone as the president for the sole purpose of  completing  the presidents tenure in case of  incapacitation, impeachment,  resignation or death.

(2) Another option is to have a constitutional provision that stipulates the organization of another election within three months in case of incapacitation, resignation, impeachment or death to elect someone from the same zone as the president to complete the constitutional tenure of the exited president.

The national assembly should endeavour to leave a lasting legacy by urgently engaging in common sense provisions like this and ultimately enshrining it in the constitution. As has been the case in Switzerland and elsewhere, a well structured rotational system amongst a cocktail of other measures will prevent protracted and acrimonious power struggles in future  and potentially usher in a more harmonious, stable, democratic and prosperous nation.

Lawrence Chinedu  Nwobu

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