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No laughing matter: Buhari and Tinubu. The latter is allegedly expecting to run for president in 2023

Nigeria’s emerging reality

Posit: if you’re from certain states in today’s Nigeria, you cannot aspire to the highest office in the land.

There are stories making the rounds among various politically aware groups that the former governor of Lagos state, and APC chieftain, Bola Tinubu is considering a presidential run in 2023, and will as a result is open to supporting the second term ambitions of the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari.

It is Mr. Tinubu’s right to run for office at any time of his choosing, if his health will permit him. But will he be able to make such a run?

When the PDP came to power in 1999, they had an informal zoning arrangement, where power was meant to alternate every eight years between the North and South of the country. Somehow this zoning thing has become the defacto political arrangement in Nigeria, and in pretty much every state, positions are rotated amongst the “zones”. Where one “zone” feels shortchanged, it leads to agitations as I saw on a recent trip to Owerri in Imo state.

Billboard outside the Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, demanding for “equity” in Imo state’s zoning arrangement.

Demands such as this, have cropped up in various states, and have in a manner of speaking, upset the polity. In some cases, such as in Akwa Ibom state, this rotation has gone on with relative smoothness, while in others such as Imo as shown above, some groups have felt left out.

The idea of “zoning” has actually proven quite popular with Nigeria’s political class, as it has made it easier for them to plan for their “turn” to share the spoils of office.

But, almost unnoticed by most, a new “zoning” arrangement has crept into the discourse at the national level, and that is the religious arrangement. This has been aided by the fact that for a while now, Nigerians have watched, and acquiesced, as first foreign media, then increasingly local media, bought into the argument that our country was made up of a Christian South and a Muslim North. Various religious issues, improperly handled, have helped to calcify those positions, such that mistrust between the two great imported religions in Nigeria is now at an all time high.

What does this mean — it simply means that in the race for the top position in the country, what happened in 1993, where Moshood Abiola, a Muslim from the South, and Babagana Kingibe, a Muslim from the North, were on the same ticket, is nigh on impossible in today’s Nigeria. Heck in “liberal” Lagos, it is almost impossible to imagine a gubernatorial pairing similar to 1979’s Lateef Jakande and Rafiu Jafojo, both Muslims. We have become that divided.

What does this mean nationally?

If Tinubu, a Muslim from the South, attempts to run for the highest office in the land in 2023, does the Christian exist in today’s Northern Nigeria that will be acceptable to the power elite in the North? I can only think of Yakubu Dogara, but therein lies another problem — will the Christian powerblocks accept a Muslim being PFRON for potentially sixteen years?

If Christians cannot accept sixteen years of “Islamic rule”, and shut out a potential Tinubu run, or if Muslims in the North cannot accept a Christian from their region being President or Vice, then we risk automatically shutting people from certain states permanently from the highest office in the land.

Thus, it will become very difficult for a person from Christian majority Benue, or Muslim majority Osun, to aspire to the highest office in the land. Is this fair?

A potential solution to this long term problem — weaken the power in the presidency, and make it less attractive to our political gladiators. But dem go gree hear?

By Cheta Nwanze.  This piece first appeared in The Medium.

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