By Babatunde Obele
The presidential primary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have come and gone, but the outcome of that political event will go down in the history of our nation as one of the greatest affronts to our national unity.
For a heterogeneous country like Nigeria, fostering national cohesion remains the greatest challenge of leadership whether at national or at sub-national level. Thus, one would expect that all our national structures will ever be conscious of the need to create a balance and give national cohesion a place of primacy in all their choices.
However, recent decision by the leading opposition party to choose a northerner as its presidential candidate even when the current president is from that axis has proven that it places its self-serving interest ahead of national interest.
Just to situate PDP’s insensitivity in correct perspective, just consider that Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups, about 521 languages and over 1150 dialects. We have numerous Christian, Islamic and traditional religious denominations.
The variety of customs and traditions among these heterogeneous entities gives our nation great cultural diversity. Diversity can be a blessing if it is properly harnessed but can easily transform into a burden if it is not well managed.
The beauty of diversity is derived from the inclusiveness of everyone in the running of affairs of the nation which enables everyone to contribute their best for the common good. Heterogeneity becomes problematic therefore, when certain groups begin to a feel a sense of alienation and marginalization by some dominant tendencies thus, giving rise to pessimism and despondency.
The 30 months long civil war in Nigeria between July 1967 and January 1970 was fought mainly because of the fear of domination by a certain ethnic group, which decided to pull out when there was a feeling that its security, inclusion and prosperity were no longer guaranteed within the Nigerian federation. Recent manifestations from some sections of the country further buttress these hard facts.
Again, Nigeria is currently bedeviled by multifarious various degrees of crises ranging from socio-political, religious to ethnic tensions. The above, more than anything else, has continued to threaten the foundations of our democratic experience while weakening the cords of national cohesion and it is largely attributable to the fact that our nation has not been able to detach itself completely from the travails and polarizing influence of ethnocentrism.
That is why informed minds believe that creating a sense of balance between the North and South will make it possible for all our citizens to have a sense of belonging, a feeling that we are all engaged in a common mission of solidifying Nigeria. It is from this philosophy that phrases like; One Nation, One Destiny, came forth from late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
It was also that need to create a sense of balance that influenced the decision of the Federal government to introduce the Federal Character Principle into the 1979 constitution. The essence of that principle was to ensure equitable representation and prevent the dominance of persons from a few states, religion or a particular ethnic or religious groups in the governance of the nation and the public sector.
That spirit of Federal Character has also influenced the conducts of our political parties in this fourth republic, especially in choosing presidential candidates. So it has been from Obasanjo, Christian South, to Yar’Adua, Muslim North; from Yar’Adua, Muslim North, to Jonathan, Christian South; from Jonathan, Christian South, to Buhari, Muslim North; and now, it should be from Buhari, Muslim North, to a Christian South.
The flow should be that simple and straight forward, but the PDP and Atiku, largely for political gains, will not let it be. The truth is that anybody who is genuinely interested in the unity and progress of our nation should not be opposed to rotational presidency and power shift. That is why key stakeholders within our nation have come to a consensus that the office of the President of Nigeria should rotate between the North and the South to promote unity, a sense of belonging and balance.
Since it is clear that the PDP has chosen to betray our national trust by jettisoning rotational presidency, all eyes are now focused on the All Progressives Congress (APC) to see if it will convert PDP’s blunder into a golden opportunity during the presidential primaries. PDP’s unabashed disregard for equity and fairness is an affront to national cohesion and thus, makes the job easier for the APC, which only has to present a Christian Southerner and sweep Southern and Northern votes, especially when majority of our compatriots today genuinely believe in our national unity.
President Buhari seems to understand what the spirit of the times is saying and has given a hint to the fact that he favours continuity and national stability. Speaking during a meeting with APC Governors on the May 31, 2022, he categorically said “as we approach the Convention, I appeal to all of you to allow our interests to converge, our focus to remain on the changing dynamics of our environment, the expectations of our citizens and the global community. Our objective must be the victory of our party and our choice of candidate must be someone who would give the Nigerian masses a sense of victory and confidence even before the elections.” This statement clearly shows that Buhari favours Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s candidacy, a worthy deputy he has consciously prepared to consolidate on the gain of his administration.
It is evident that Osinbajo’s seven years of unwavering sense of loyalty and dedication has made him an easy choice for Buhari and no one can deny his rigorous erudition, professionalism, stern discipline and proven integrity. With no moral, ethical or legal baggage hanging on his shoulder, Osinbajo possesses the competence, experience and political clout required to bring the victory home for the APC. With a widely acceptable and cerebral Northern Muslim as running mate, little effort is needed to convert PDP’s blunder to APC golden opportunity.
Obele, a sociologist, writes from Abuja