When a fêted scholar like Dr. Anthony Akinola says something, it is merely instinctive that the rest of us pay attention and respect. To embellish or remove from the recommendations of such an intellectual is something I will not advise anybody to do just for the heck of it; however, from time to time, one feels compelled to engage in a dialogue even with the best and the brightest.
On April 22, the Guardian newspaper published Dr. Akinola’s article titled “Still on rotational presidency.” In the article, Dr. Akinola continued his advocacy of many years for rotational presidency as the only way to stabilize Nigeria’s distressed political waters.
Perhaps, it is about time someone obliged him in a serious dialogue, not just for academic reasons, but because the dialogue about Nigeria’s political model is an effort to identify a workable solution that will calm Nigeria’s political waters and lead Nigeria in the right direction to development.Like Dr. Akinola, those who support rotational presidency give one main reason for doing so. They argue that the power struggle in Nigeria will become an issue of the past if power is rotated between the South and the North. Supporters of rotational presidency claim that it offers the only possibility for peaceful existence in Nigeria. Indeed, in one of Dr. Akinola’s articles, he stated that only a fool will not resort to sharing when two brothers are fighting. Let me ignore the fact that “sharing of power” is a phrase that has never been historically associated with democracy. Instead, I will address pertinent questions and the premises of Dr. Akinola’s argument.
What is the reason for the power struggle in Nigeria?The reason for the repulsive and unwholesome struggle for power in Nigeria is the perceived benefit of the powerful. This is a standard characteristic of underdevelopment.
When a society suffers the kind of underdevelopment Nigeria demonstrates, if no real opportunities exist for citizens to succeed in individual endeavors except in government, the destiny of citizens becomes directly tied to the role they play in government. Hence, Nigerians do whatever it takes to obtain power.
Rotational presidency will not change the general idea that government is a place to acquire personal wealth. Dr. Akinola advocates for rotational presidency, yet, a better future for Nigeria depends on changing our idea of government. If we continue to see government as an avenue for acquiring personal wealth, the power struggle will persist, and rotational presidency will only scratch the surface of the problem.
As I discussed, the destiny of many Nigerians is determined by the role they play in government. In developed countries like United States and Britain citizens thrive independently from the government as much as possible and their potential has comparatively remained the same regardless of who occupies the seat of government. Hence, citizens of developed countries make political decision based on principles and ideologies and not based on perceived personal gains.
In drawing a comparison between Nigeria and the United States, Dr. Akinola mentioned President Obama in his article but I think the direction he was leading with the mention was inconclusive. Dr. Akinola mentiond that “there was once a time when the black person in America had his or her mouth padlocked so that he or she could only eat, drink or speak when the owner permitted it”. However, he did not tell his reader what this line of argument has to do with rotational presidency.
So, let me continue on that track and make a direct comparison to the issue at hand. Since Obama won the election, blacks in America have not lined the corridors of the White House looking for contracts and handouts. Even the lives of Obama’s close relatives have not changed dramatically.
For example, Obama’s Aunt Zeituni, whom he (Obama) referred to in his memoir Dreams from my Father, lives in the same public housing estate in Boston that she occupied prior to Obama’s tenure as President of the United States. Aunt Zeituni’s life has not changed because Obama became President. Just like many black people did, Aunt Zeituni supported Obama in his campaign by donating $265. She did so in the belief that Obama is good for America not because she will receive a major part of the national cake if Obama wins the election.
It is clear that what drives the power struggle in Nigeria is greed. Rotational presidency will do nothing but create ethnic heroes who will take pride in taking the larger part of the national loot back to their regions. Thus, rotational presidency only makes sense if one believes that Nigeria is broken and cannot be fixed; so we might as well share the loot.How about the argument that rotational presidency breeds mediocrity?
Dr. Akinola also discarded that idea. His argument was once again inconclusive as he stated that every region has capable people that can lead Nigeria. He is right, but people who argue that rotational presidency will breed mediocrity do not base their argument just on the office of the presidency. They base their argument on what they know about government appointments: each president will be biased towards specific ethnic groups in giving key appointments. Dr. Akinola pretended that he is not aware of our winner-takes-all approach to politics. In a society with such a mentality, the risk of breeding mediocrity is increased.
When advocates of rotational presidency cite Switzerland as a model example that has thrived within the confines of democracy, they completely ignore the fact that there are basic structures that make rotational presidency thrive in Switzerland. Would the fundamental checks and balances that make rotational presidency work for Switzerland be successfully implemented in Nigeria? Nigeria’s prevalent idea that government offers an opportunity to amass wealth is not a commonly held idea in Switzerland.
Nigerians care more about good leadership than they care about rotational presidency. An average Nigerian is more sophisticated than Dr. Akinola and supporters of rotational presidency give them credit for. What Nigerians are looking for is democratic, consistent and knowledgeable leadership.
For any form of democracy to thrive in Nigeria our basic idea about government has to change.
Since, I have started following Dr. Akinola’s argument in favor of rotational presidency; I have struggled to understand how rotational presidency will bring about good governance, given the current political paradigm in Nigeria. Rotational presidency will not stabilize Nigeria. What will stabilize Nigeria is what has always stabilized great nations: responsible and accountable government, a strong infrastructural base, and good education for the citizenry.
At a time when Nigerians are denied the benefits of good governance even as a democracy, one wonders for whom Dr. Akinola is advocating when he argues for rotational presidency.
Hamilton Odunze is Co-editor African Analystwww.africananalyst.net