The quest for rotational leadership has been a burning issue in Nigeria right from the inception of the 4th Republic when the country returned to democracy in 1999.

Nigeria is made up of six geo-political zones, namely, South South, South West, South East, North West, North East, and North Central. Also, each of the 36 states in Nigeria has three senatorial zones.

Since 1999, the presidency of the country has been rotated between the North and the South, with three geo-political zones of South West, North West and South South having the opportunity to produce the president.

There is now a renewed agitation for the remaining three geo-political zones to produce a president of Nigeria, with a bill seeking an amendment to the constitution that will ban the North West, South West and South South from producing president come 2027.

The North-West, South-West and South-South geo-political zones of the country may not field a presidential candidate in the 2027 general election if ongoing moves to alter relevant provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) scale through.

Recently, the Punch reported that a bill “for an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to make provisions for rotation of power among the geo-political zones, senatorial zones and federal constituencies in presidential, governorship and senatorial elections in Nigeria” was before the House of Representatives Committee on Constitution Review.

If passed into law, the bill being sponsored by the member representing Apa/Agatu Federal Constituency of Benue State in the House of Reps, Ojema Ojetu, will bar zones that have produced the President of Nigeria since the return to democratic governance in 1999 from fielding candidates in 2027.

The bill seeks to alter Section 133 of the constitution by inserting sub-sections 2, 3 and 4 to the nation’s extant laws.

The bill indicates that sub-section 2 should read thus, “The Office of the President of Nigeria shall revolve round the six geo-political zones, with each state holding the office for a maximum of two terms of four years each, to give every section and state in Nigeria a sense of inclusion, participation and representation in Nigeria’s democracy.”

Sub-section 3 of the bill provides that “Any zone in Nigeria which has produced a President of the Federal Republic shall not be eligible to produce another President until the other zones take their turns”, while (4) says, “The effective date for consideration in the rotation of power shall be 29th of May, 1999 when the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) became effective.”

The bill, according to Ojetu, who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also seeks alteration to the 1999 Constitution with the insertion of sub-sections 6 and 7.

In (6), the proposed law provides that “The office of the governor of a state in Nigeria shall revolve round all the three senatorial zones in the state, to give every indigene of the state a sense of inclusion, participation and representation in the development of the state; while (7) states that “Every senatorial zone in a state which has produced governor of that state in a democratically conducted election shall not be eligible to produce a governor, unless and until other senatorial zones produce governors of the state.”

That is not all as Ojetu’s proposed legislation also seeks an alteration of Section 48 of the Constitution with the introduction of sub-sections 1 (a) and (b).

1(a) provides that “Senatorial election shall rotate round all the federal constituencies in the Senatorial zone to give a sense of inclusion, participation and representation in the constituencies to engineer social progress and development”, and (b) says that “Every federal constituency in a Senatorial district which has produced a Senator shall not be eligible to produce a Senator, unless and until all other Federal Constituencies produce a Senator.”

The North Central has only produced military Heads of State but never an elected president since the attainment of political independence in 1960.

Following the return to democracy, Nigerians elected Olusegun Obasanjo from Ogun State, South-West Nigeria, in 1999, even as he went on to win re-election in 2003 and stayed on till May 29, 2007.

Obasanjo was succeeded by the late Umaru Yar’Adua from Katsina State, North West Nigeria in 2007.

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Yar’Adua died in office in 2010 and was succeeded by the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, from South-South, who upon the expiration of that tenure, secured the ticket of the PDP and won the 2011 presidential election.

Jonathan lost his second-tenure bid for the presidential seat to Muhammadu Buhari, who hails from Katsina State, North West, in 2015 and led the country till 2023, before he handed the baton to the incumbent President, Bola Tinubu, from Lagos State, South-West.

History of coalition in Nigeria

Coalition is the coming together of groups or union of organizations usually formed for a particular advantage.

In politics, coalition is formed either to win election and get into power or to form a government.

For instance, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was formed in February 2013 as a coalition of different political parties that came together to wrestle power from then ruling party, PDP. The political parties that came together in the coalition that led to the APC are Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), All Nigerians Peoples Party (ANPP), and part of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

In the 2015 general election, the APC and its then candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, created an upset in Nigeria’s political history whereby, for the first time ever, an opposition party defeated a ruling party.

Since then, the APC has gone on to retain power, also winning the 2023 presidential election although under controversial circumstances.

However, coalition in Nigerian politics dates back to the First Republic alliance to form government after the pre-independence election.

In preparation for the independence of Nigeria, election into the Federal House of Representatives was conducted on December 12, 1959. The election was significant as it featured the participation of key regional leaders of the East and West, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, respectively. The duo of Nigeria’s political triumvirate of the era, attracted by the prospects of being the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria, left their posts as Premiers of their respective regions. The remainder of the triumvirate, Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, sent his trusted disciple, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to the Lagos politics while he remained in his comfort zone as the Premier of the Northern region. The election largely reflected the ethnic configuration of Nigeria. The National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC) controlled the East, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) bestrode the North, and Action Group (AG) dominated the West. There were, however, coalitions by NCNC and AG with Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC), respectively.

After the election, there was need to form a coalition in order to control the government because none of the political parties had absolute majority to form a government. Absolute majority entails winning more than half of the seats in the House. The final result showed that the NPC won 134 seats, the NCNC 89, and the AG 73, with independent candidates winning the remaining 16 seats. It should be noted that the legislature had 312 seats, out of the one representative to 100,000 people representational ratio. It means that a party could have won an absolute majority by winning 157 seats, but that did not happen. Hence, there arose the need for a political marriage between either of the three parties since the sum of the number of seats won by any two of the three parties could have amounted to 157 seats or more. NPC/NCNC later entered into coalition and formed a government for the independent Nigeria. Dr. Azikiwe was the Governor-General while Alhaji Balewa became the Prime Minister.

One major factor that led to having a coalition in the First Republic was the interest of unity of the country. The North won simple majority in the election, and when they were faced with the fact that NCNC and AG could as well form government with their number of seats, leaving them in opposition, they threatened secession. The NPC leader, Sir Ahmadu Bello, had stated in his autobiography that should polarization ever occur between the North and South (i.e.,, NCNC/AG Coalition) and the North found itself in the opposition, the North might have to reconsider its whole position in the federation. Then, no one wanted a united Nigeria more than Azikiwe. His NCNC entered into alliance with NPC.

However, coalitions in Nigeria have not translated to good governance because most of the political parties that have come together to form coalitions were not really prepared for governance, other than to capture power and form a government.

Since 2015 when the APC came into power, for instance, the Nigerian economy has continued to witness downturn and decline. The local currency, the naira, has depreciated woefully against the dollar and other international currencies, hardship and hunger are the order of the day, headline inflation has hit 29.99 per cent and food inflation is over 35 per cent.

Coalition, not ban

The 1999 Constitution in chapter four guarantees fundamental human rights such as freedom of association, right of expression, right to vote and be voted for. So, how constitutional is it to ban any geo-political zone from contesting for president in the name of rotational leadership?

Some political analysts reckon that rather than seek for an amendment to ban the three geo-political zones of South South, North West and South West from contesting presidential election in 2027, the three remaining geo-political zones of North Central, South East and North East can come together to form a coalition or alliance with other zones to win election and get into power.