By Ayodeji Olatubora
Nigeria is a peculiar country; Good People, Great Nation. Nigeria is a country of many nations, that have come to become one country; either by fate, an act of God or by conspiracy. The peoples are peculiar, so is the politics and its undercurrents. Nigeria operates a Presidential Federalism, where the Constitution mandates the conduct of presidential elections by the Electoral commission, every four years, to usher in another dispensation.
The Presidential system of Government was introduced to the Nigerian political atmosphere in 1979 (the 2nd Republic). Prior to that, we operated the Parliamentary system of Government, where there was the Head of State; performing real executive functions and the day to day administration of government, and the Head of Government; performing ceremonial functions. In the Parliamentary, the Prime Minister would emerge from the leadership of the party with the most seats in Parliament. In effect, the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament, becomes the Prime Minister. In the 1st Republic, Late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister (the Head of Government) and the Late Nnamdi Azikwe was the President (the Head of State).
It is noteworthy that from the advent of the 2nd Republic where the Presidential system was adopted, the manner in which the Nation’s Presidents emerged, seem to have followed nearly the same pattern. It’s been an admixture of fate, coincidences and may be, “conspiracies”. In 1979, the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari had the intention of running for the Senate, before the Presidential fortune caught up with him and he gained the support of then General Olusegun Obasanjo and was returned elected as President. The highly revered late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN had long nursed the Presidential ambition, but lost the election to Late Shagari. The said election was even challenged at the Federal Court of Appeal and that challenge was eventually dismissed at the Supreme Court.
Infact, the litigation that followed that election, as instituted by the late sage and statesman, was fraught on the non-satisfaction of Section 34 A(i)(c)(ii) of the then Electoral Decree of 1977. Chief Awolowo argued that Alhaji Shagari did not win up to one quarter of the votes cast in two thirds of all the States of the Federation. The late Chief Richard Akinjide,SAN,(Shagari’s counsel), deployed his legal industry and dexterity and was of the view that once an issue has been submitted to the court, it becomes an issue for legal interpretation and that “two-third was no longer an issue of Mathematics, but an issue of Law”. The Supreme Court dismissed the challenge to that election and that terminated that electoral contest.
Shagari was overthrown by then General Muhammadu Buhari in December, 1983 and the next time we had a Presidential election was in 1993.
“MKO, Kingibe, SDP, Action; Abiola, Abiola, Abiola, Progress!!!… I tire for this country; I tire for life oh”. Only the 90’s babies would remember this. Those were the lyrics of the Late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola and SDP campaign song for the 1993 Presidential contest. The then Military Government had lifted the ban on political activities and a Presidential election was to hold in 1993 (the 3rd Republic). The Late MKO Abiola was a household name and was very popular and widely accepted by Nigerians across ethnic nationalities. Infact, he beat his main rival, the Late Alhaji Bashir Tofa even in Kano, his home state which is a rare feat, considering how Nigerians typically vote. MKO is widely believed to have won that election which was eventually annulled by then General Ibrahim Babangida-Led Military Government and an interim Head of State, Late Ernest Shonekan (a successful business man who became the Chairman/Managing Director of UAC, having risen through the ranks to become the number one man of the largest African controlled company in Sub-Saharan Africa) was appointed. He served for about 4 months before Late General Sani Abacha took the reins of power as Military Head of State up until his demise in 1998.
His successor, Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar, conceived the idea of a transition to democracy, which was successful at the election of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999; ushering in the 4th Republic.
Following the post 1993 struggle, it became a national consensus that the Presidency of Nigeria be zoned to the South Western Yoruba speaking part of the country. The then General Olusegun Obasanjo, had been a political prisoner of the Abacha military junta. The Presidential fortune once again came to play in favour of Obasanjo. He was not only released by Gen Abubakar, he was also granted a state pardon and massively supported to win the 1999 Presidential elections. Towards the end of the Obasanjo Presidency, he threw his weight behind the then Governor Umaru Musa Yar’Adua of Katsina state, who never really nursed that ambition.
Unfortunately, our dear nation lost a civil and civilized democrat and a refined gentleman to the cold hands of death in May, 2010. This led to the accidental emergence of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who served and was also returned elected in 2011 General Elections. He was already an incumbent. As a matter of fact, the ascension of Former President Jonathan has been described to have been “against the run of play”.
It is noteworthy that in all the Presidential Elections from 2003-2011, General Buhari had consistently contested and sought the exalted office, under different political platforms and he kept losing. In fact, after the 2011 round of elections, he made up his mind not to run again. However, life had other plans for him. Buhari’s quest for the Presidency which was reduced to a mirage, turned out a miracle. The grand plot of this success was facilitated by the highly revered political master strategist, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who was referred to by the Financial Times, sometime in 2015, as the Machiavelli of Nigerian politics. He had been the leader of the opposition movement in Nigeria from the days of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) struggle, up until 2015 when he was able to facilitate a handshake across the “Niger Area”, to ensure the first victory for the opposition in a Presidential election after a successful merger of the legacy political parties that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC). This merger threw up General Muhammadu Buhari as the candidate of the party, at a convention held in Lagos in December, 2014. The victory of Buhari at the polls would not have been possible, but for the political astuteness and doggedness of the likes of Asiwaju.
President Muhammadu Buhari would be rounding up his 2nd term as President in 2023 and Nigerians would have the privilege of electing another President in the same year. One thing that is clear is that the emergence of the democratically elected Presidents that have held sway since 1979, could not necessarily be said to have been taken for granted, that those individuals would emerge. This is not to say that those individuals were neophytes in the political firmament, however, their emergence, has been largely laced with some moisture of fate or coincidences. The historian in me tells me that history could find a way of repeating itself in 2023, and that it’s too early to call, who becomes the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Could there be a dark horse? Are we in for a surprise? Would there be a renaissance of fate? “Question wey no get answer”
Ayodeji Olatubora is a legal practitioner and a public affairs analyst, and can be reached via [email protected]