In choosing Nigerian leaders, there must be compliance with the principles of power rotation and federal character, among others designed to make the country strong and united.
That was the counsel of former President Olusegun Obasanjo at an international symposium in Abeokuta, Ogun State to mark his 85th birthday.
In the buildup to next year’s general elections, diverse opinions have been canvassed on where the President should come from. President Muhammadu Buhari is not constitutionally qualified to run for office again, which throws the field open.
Going by convention, the South is favoured to produce his successor. But the North is also clamouring for it.
When Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, Obasanjo served two terms as President and was succeeded by Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who died shortly before his third anniversary in office.
His then deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan completed his tenure and his own another full term. His bid for another tenure in 2015 fell flat as Buhari won.
For some agitators, the North was shortchanged by the death of Yar’Adua, and should be given a consideration in 2023.
But in the clamour for power shift to the South is a strong case for the southeast. While their counterparts in the South have produced the President in the Fourth Republic, the southeast last led Nigeria in 1966 through a military intervention that produced the then Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi as Head of State. That regime last only six months.
Obasanjo told guests at his birthday symposium that no region or zone in the country should claim to have monopoly of leaders.
According to the former President, the federal character, rotation and ‘such other measures are meant to help our nation-building process and more sure-footedly move Nigeria forward’.
He said: ‘Riding over these measures rudely, shoddily and roughly cannot augur well for our nation-building process and progress’.
He added: ‘From personal experience and clinical observation, there is no substitute for steady and uncompromised process of nation-building as we have had in some notable examples in the past that have stood us in good stead’.
Going down the history lane, he said that the emergence of the Alhaji Shehu Shagari as President in 1979 with Dr Alex Ekwueme as Vice President less than 10 years after attempted secession by ‘Biafra’ was part of the process of nation-building.
He defended the 1979 presidential election results which raised so much storm during his term as military ruler. ‘Sustaining the declaration of the victory of Shagari by the National Electoral Commission when Shagari had majority of votes and clear one-third of votes cast in 12 states as against six states by Obafemi Awolowo, which was also sustained and certified by the court and endorsed for implementation by our military administration, was also part of the process of our nation-building’.
Shagari was from the Northwest, while Ekwueme was from the Southeast. Both have since died.
‘Voting for me by other Nigerians in 1999, when Afenifere and the Yoruba substantially voted against me strengthened our nation-building process,’ Obasanjo continued.
He said all hands must be on deck to rescue Nigeria from going under, adding: ‘If in 2015 Nigeria was 75 per cent a country and 50 per cent a nation, today, Nigeria will not be more than 40 per cent a country and 25 per cent a nation.
‘The task of reversing the trend is beyond one personality, one political party or all political parties; it is beyond professional and commercial politicians alone. It demands and requires all hands on deck’.
Obasanjo said if the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had done their jobs properly and supported adequately by the judiciary, most of those canvassing to be president in 2023 would be in jail.
He denied speculations that he has endorsed some people for the 2023 presidential race.
Tributes poured in for Obasanjo from President Buhari, governors, All Progressives Congress National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the President, African Development Bank, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, among others.