YEAR 2023 AND BEYOND: A CASE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND GUIDED DEMOCRACY IN NIGERIA -why the next president should be Igbo Nigerian from the South East zone (1), By John Abhuere



The year 2023 is of great significance to Nigeria today because the next General Elections will be held in that year. Free and fair elections, freedom of choice, voting according to one’s conscience and preference are some of the cherished values of democracy. But as that year beckons on us, there are myopic calculations for short term game and other frightening signs that suggest imminent doom for the country. Like in the past, there is deep seated fear that democratic values would be violated by the political elite. For instance with 2023 obviously in mind, they are busy telling lies, upholding untruth and behaving in frantic and funny way in self deceit, public denial of well known facts and promotion of deliberate falsehood. Their body language and even words betray loads of insincerity that portend troubles for the country and much danger for democracy in Nigeria.Truth, justice, fairness, rule of law, respect for convention and tested tradition, good governance which are the foundation of any stable society are low on their scale of values. The elite’s present dangerous moves and ill-motivated calculation for short term gains at the expense national harmony and unity could burst to unleash many more troubles and difficulties for the nation with calamitous effect on us all. Everywhere one turns one social and political injustices stirring one in the face.

It should be clear by now that Nigeria needs positive intervention today in order to be saved from power- gluttons– the political elite. Our observation is that Nigeria has been ridden with inequitable justice or social injustice and no nation can thrive in unity and love under such filthy values and oppressive and depressing environment. It is important to address issues of injustice because of its debilitating effect on society. Justice is good on it own and has much salutary effect on society. Without equitable justice, human society will be doomed. It will degenerates into animal kingdom and citizens will be subjected to jungle justice. Injustice unaddressed can be infectious: it affects one, then two, three and many more until it degenerates into anarchy or destruction of community.

Social injustice can kill a nation by instigating perpetual insecurity and instability as the Nigerian experience for the past fifteen years can show.Today many Nigerians are crying for justice and we can only ignore their cries at our peril. For sure, without justice the country can never no peace.This is why we are calling for justice to all those who had suffered political and social injustice in our country. The Igbo – a major ethnic group belong here. This is the main reason for calling for the zoning of the presidency to the South East geopolitical zone. This is so because doing so simply the just, fair and right thing to do as we prepare for 2023 and life beyond.

With mountains of injustice with us and forms of elite’s ineptitude and self deceit, the troubles ahead are too frightening and difficult to predict or interpret here. Just suffice to say it is scary and capable of threatening our collective existence. Among other things, it has already led to large scale discontent–insecurity, instability and perhaps above all what has been described as “many agitations for secession from different states, groups of people and even individuals across the country more than before”(Thisdaylive October 1st 2021). The alienating and frustrating effect of a feeling of exclusion and marginalization of some ethnic groups including the Igbo the third largest ethnic group is of great concern. No nation survives under severe political and social injustice.

The main purpose of this occasional essay is to call for equitable justice, guided democracy good governance, effective management, sound leadership and elite’s respect for rule of law, conventions such as power shift other conventions and existing understanding that had done more good for democracy and the unity of the country than harm by sustaining hope and and deepening faith in our system. It is to argue too that the next president should be Igbo Nigerian from the South East Zone and show why it should be so. It is observed that social injustice including unfair and unequal treatment of some individuals, ethnic groups and lack of access to opportunity had been at the roots of most agitations for change, self determination and secession in the country.

Democracy the preferred creed of many nations today was resorted to or invented to promote inclusiveness, participation, people’s power, say and action on decision-freedom justice, equality and check tyranny but the political elite only pay lip service here.Thus at the national level we hear rocking and aching cries of exclusion and marginalization by individuals and ethnic groups such as the Igbo of the South East geo-graphical zone. At the state level, the major ethnic group had held on to the governorship position in some states since their creation to the annoying and frustrating exclusion of other tribes. Such political acts of injustice based on the idea of majority rule is unfair and unreasonable and cannot guarantee peace, harmony and unity that are so vital to the survival of democracy in any society.

Then there are acts of deliberate falsehood, denials and distrust by the elite. For instance, not long, the National Assembly voted against the use of electronic’s transmission of the results of elections in 2023. In the age of IT, the political elite want Nigeria to be glued to the cave man’s method of operation. This is in spite of the fact IT had been experimented by INEC-the Election Umpire and was found very promising. The action of the National Assembly was seen to be against public interest, will and expectation. It was generally believed to be a dishonest ambush driven by narrow group’s political interest against 2023. While it raises doubt about true intention of the elite and the integrity of the 2023 general elections without the aid of information technology, it is helpful to note that the public condemned the action and called the National Assembly to reverse itself in the overall national interest of efficiency in electoral process.

While it is hoped that the Assembly members will have the courage and wisdom to correct themselves in the national interest before the 2023 elections, the rejection of of the demand by the South Governors forum for power shift from the north to the south at the end of President Buhari’s administration in 2023 by the Northern Governors Forum because according to the forum power shift is “contradictory and unconstitutional” is another source of great concern. It is a serious sign of the dark clouds in the sky and the nature of the troubles ahead- a mighty clash between between the north and south perhaps on more regular basis and in many areas that could lead to crash of the nation – if things are not properly handled now. The rejection blurs vision and raises doubt about sincerity of our political leaders, the oneness of the country, the fate of democracy now and in future and the destiny of Nigeria as one indivisible country.

For many reasons the position of the northern governors forum today is worrisome because the idea of power shift is not new to the country. It has has been part of the unwritten law of our democratic practice over time especially since 1999 when the military handed political power over to civilian politicians. Its rejection today is thus unhealthy and unhelpful to the cause of democracy because it amounts to dangerous attempt aimed at turning back the hands of the clock. It is a deep stab on reality and bold denial of a conventional practice that has been visibly with the country at least since 1999 when democracy returned to the country. In reality the idea of power shift and rotation of power has been afloat in the country since independence and had been found useful.

By the existing understanding, political power should shift from the north to the south and precisely the next president should come from the south eastern geo- political zone. Historical records of the the sequence of presidential succession since 1999 should make this clear. Take a quick look: Beginning with 1999 Major General Abubakar Abdulsallam – a military head of state carefully handed power over to Chief Obasanjo – Yoruba Southerner who in turn handed power to Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua a Hausa- Fulani from katsina, a northerner. Sadly he died on active service was succeeded by Dr Good Luck Jonathan a southerner from Bayelsa state. He handed over over to President Buhari a northerner from Daura in 2015. He will hand over power in 2023- expectedly by established convention to a southerner.

From this sequence of presidential succession, it is clear that even though it is not written in the constitution which however recognizes the principle of federal character in appointments to public offices, a tradition of power shift from south to north and vice versa exists today in the country- at least established since 1999. Even in the first republic though not very pronounced, there was respect for power sharing between the north and south. Thus while Sir Tafawa Balewa – a northerner was the Prime Minister, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the Governor in 1960. In 1978/79 or so, the military government of Obasanjo a southerner and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua a northerner handed power over to President Alhaji Shehu Shagari a northerner and Dr Alex Ekwueme a southerner. In a word, there is a heathy tradition of power shift already trending in the country and it will serve no useful purpose stopping it now. In fact it will amount to gross injustice, unfairness and a travesty of justice of serious proportion to truncate the process abruptly.

Against the historical development of the country, it is clear that there are written and unwritten laws to observe and on going race or historical cycle to complete in Nigeria. One of the unwritten laws and uncompleted cycles is the need for power shift from the north to south and rotation around the zones come 2023 which has been part of our political culture and on our political stage since 1999. In this connection, it should be observed that the Southern Governors Forum’s demand for power shift to the south is even too broad or omni- bus and thus capable of cloaking injustice .There is the need for specificity here.

For purpose of equitable justice in Nigeria, the historical development of Nigeria since 1999 supports power shift to the south and reason and fair- play demand that within the south, the next president should be an Igbo from the South East Zone of Nigeria. In other words, going by the existing understanding, the next president of Nigeria should come from the south. More specifically, within the Southern region, the president should come from the South Eastern Zone since South West and South -South had previously produced president as represented by General Olusegun Obasanjo ( SW) and Dr Goodluck Jonathan(SS). Thus it will amount to gross injustice, unfairness, self denial and a travesty of justice of serious proportion to truncate the process.

It is needless to say that anyone familiar with the history of Nigeria and relevant literature on democracy- origin, purpose, development, types and trend and democratic practice will not accept argument against zoning, rotation of power in Nigeria. This is so largely because of the ameliorating and reassuring effect of power shift , zoning etc as well as the dynamic nature of democracy that makes it easily adaptable to the peculiar needs of countries. We must show creativity in matters of nation building. While social injustice has been rife,Democratic practice has been less than satisfactory in Nigeria. And it is the duty of man to make it work to to achieve our purpose. Constitutional democracy is made for man.

Some people have dismissed the demand for power as undemocratic. They are wrong. While such view was partly the reason the Northern Governors Forum rejected power shift, Professor Umar refers to the demand as “nonsense and undemocratic”. To Daura, rather than power shift or zoning, the succession to President Buhari should be based on merit and competence and not the zones from. We shall discuss Daura and Umar’s view in greater detail below. For now let me quickly say that they are wrong and also observe that to the extent that power shift, zoning are aimed at promoting inclusiveness, harmony and stability and to avoid political crisis in the country , they prominent place in the democratic culture.

Clearly understood and appreciated, it should be observed that there is nothing undemocratic about power shift, zoning, etc. It should be recognized that Power shift, zoning, quota system etc are some of the unifying measures to promote inclusiveness, participation, unity and development. They have been tested and found good for a multi- cultural, plural state such as Nigeria.These and other affirmative actions are arrangements made out of necessity to build national unity and save the country from disintegration and so advance democracy. Some of them such as power shift or rotation of power are informal strategy that had lowered anger and anxiety among politicians and promoted hope and faith in the system and assurances of all in one Nigeria.

Broadly speaking these local arrangements have a respectable place in democracy and are important part of our democratic practice in Nigeria. And we thus live in self denial and unhelpful state of falsehood to disregard this aspect of our social and political reality based on gentlemanly understanding. We must learn to respect convention, resist the temptation of shifting the goal post just because we have the power to do so.There is crudity in doing so for selfish reasons. Not only written documents are legal and binding. Oral agreement! traditions and convention are binding too.

As the relevant literature shows, democracy is often most endangered during periods of deep crisis,as it offers excuses for some leaders to resort to martial laws or emergency rule.

Democracy has shown great dynamism over the centuries since the 5th c. Empirical evidences show that democracy has been evolving and adapting and has witnessed a “sweeping transformation from direct voting in 5th century in Greece, to representative democracy in the 18th century with the advent of the nation state say France, USA till date. As Wikipedia notes “democracy has taken a number of forms both in theory and practice. Some varieties of democracy provide better representation and more freedoms for their citizens than others”. Thus it is important to put the best suitable one in place to promote inclusiveness, equity and other democratic values, and to guide it accordingly because ” if any democracy is not structured to prohibit the government from excluding the people from legislative process or any branch from altering the separation of power in its favor, then a branch of the system (or a section of the country) can accumulate too much power and destroy the democracy” in practice http//

It is needless to to say that many individuals and ethnic groups have been excluded from politics at the highest level of the polity and allegedly marginalized in the distribution of political appointments. Generally, social injustice, historical errors, regional hegemony, misrule have given rise to mass discontent as exemplified by endless agitations for secession, insecurity, instability across the country. As President Buhari acknowledged in his speech to mark the nation’s 61st Independence anniversary these problems are real and acute and they made life to be exceptionally difficult Nigeria in the more recent years. They threaten our collective existence.For sure to borrow Achebe’s words as we approach 2023, the nation is “no longer at ease” because rapidly “things (are) falling apart”.

Given the ameliorating and reassuring effect of the idea of power shift on the psyche of the average Nigerian and the high sense of togetherness it engenders, the recent attempt to reject it today serves no useful purpose. It is an assault on social justice, shared cherished value and tradition and thus a disservice to the country. It is probably the most recent reminder of our perpetual senseless bitter division for selfish political reasons, a painful demonstration of the height of elite’s uncaring and unfeeling attitude to national unity and development and unrelenting commitment to primordial values such as ethnicity, religiosity, and regionalism even after sixty one years of togetherness as an independent country. It is a good measure of the dearth or near erosion of the spirits of patriotism, nationalism and altruism from the Nigerian political elite. While the motive of the political elites’ action is largely the 2023 General Elections, our worry is that in their myopic view or calculations, they tend to ignore the looming troubles ahead us because of their insensitivity to truth and negative attitude to nation building and to forget that we need to have a country first before scheming or aspiring to lead or rule over it. Without Nigeria, there can be no need for a president .

(End of part 1)

▪︎Being Occasional Essay By John Abhuere Founder/Chairman Centre for Childcare and Youth Development Abuja)

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