Legitimacy and the Incoming Government
IRRESPECTIVE of who eventually becomes the President, the person will face a huge legitimacy crisis from a big swathe of the country. For instance if the courts affirm Tinubu as the President, he will have to deal with the fact that there is a substantial population of people from the North who believe that since the South is assumed to control the country’s economy, political power should be ceded to the North permanently to serve as a lever.
Though they may not admit it, neither Tinubu nor the North trusts each other despite media shows of a strong alliance. In fact, there is a suspicion that one of the reasons for the clamour by the North-West to produce the Senate President is so for the North to have a lever to control Tinubu if the courts eventually affirm him as the President. On the other hand Tinubu and his strategists will want their core loyalists to lead the National Assembly – just in case the tribunal annuls the election and the Senate president has to hold forte while a new election is organised.
The truth is that no one part of the country fully trusts any other because the sense of national identity (nation-building) has either stalled or is in a reverse gear. Any ethnic group which thinks it is trusted more than others has probably not made an audacious bid for national power or its population is so insignificant that it is not seen as a threat to any group.
Virtually every part of the country has an institutionalised memory of hurt and a feeling of being marginalised or unfairly treated in the national scheme of things. This has triggered a process of what I elsewhere called a ‘de-Nigerianisation’ process – several Nigerians – individually and as groups- delinking from the state and constructing meanings in some primordial identities, often with the Nigerian state as an enemy. There is simply very little attachment to the state such that we can talk of Nigeria without Nigerians.
A Tinubu presidency will also face a legitimacy challenge from the Igbos not only because he has been linked at the profiling and suppression of the votes of the Igbos in Lagos during every election cycle since 1999, but also because in the recent elections in the state he was believed to have surreptitiously encouraged the violence, ethnic profiling and voter suppression in the state because he lost the presidential election to Peter Obi’s Labour Party.
A Tinubu presidency is equally likely to face a serious challenge from the Christian community because of his Muslim-Muslim ticket. People who believe that the Muslim-Muslim ticket worked because it facilitated Tinubu winning the election (or being declared as such by INEC), may be jumping the gun. That ticket has not been tested.
If the courts accept Atiku’s arguments that he won the election, he will face substantial challenge from the Southern part of the country who will not only resurrect the battle cry of Northern domination but also of Fulanisation and Islamisation. This will fuel separatist agitations in the South and will especially oxygenate the demand for a Yoruba nation. Though Atiku is generally regarded as a cosmopolitan and liberal Muslim, the nature of Nigerian politics is such that his ethnic and religious bases will seek to capture his presidency – both as a protection for him amid expected media attacks and for ensuring their disproportionate access to state privileges.
Despite his avowed liberalism, Atiku was the ‘Northern consensus candidate’ in the run-up to the PDP’s presidential primary in 2010. Again during the campaigns for the 2023 presidential elections, Atiku urged the North to vote for its own –indicating that he will not be averse to becoming a willing captive of Northern Muslim interests for self-preservation.
If Peter Obi is declared winner of the election by the courts, he will face gargantuan nation- building challenges – from both the Muslim North which substantially distanced itself from his candidacy and from a majority of the Yoruba who will feel he has pushed away the breasts from the mouth of their son, Tinubu, especially given the ethnic rivalry between the Igbo and the Yoruba. In particular an Obi presidency through the courts may be considered an affront by the core Muslim North which seems to believe that no one from the South can be President without its say-so.
An Obi presidency will also face a substantial challenge from the Muslim community in general not just because he has been defined as a Christian candidate but also because the two Christian Presidents that the country has had since 1999- Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan – were all accused of playing the religious card.
This is because of the suspicion and rivalry between Islam and Christianity and what appears to be special sensitivity to a Christian Presidency in the core North. Additionally, an Obi presidency will likely be wrapped with the flags of Biafra and IPOB, both of which are bugaboos in many parts of the country, especially the core North. Igbophobia may even increase under an Obi presidency.
Given the above scenario one can surmise that whoever becomes the president will have a major legitimacy challenge that is rooted in the failure of our nation-building process. While optics has a role to play in the nation-building process, the politics of distributing political offices is essentially an elite game and mere tokenism that cannot sustainably address the crisis in our nation-building process. It should be borne in mind that most ethnic groups in the country do not depend on the government for the success of their members so disadvantaging any group in political appointments and distribution of privileges will have little or no impact on that group’s progress.
Besides, there is a spark of the divine in all of us which makes many people to protest against injustice even when they are primed to be the main beneficiaries of such. For instance, the North led the condemnation of Buhari for his nepotism and favouritism of Northern Muslims in appointments in the early years of his presidency. Similarly, many Yoruba chose to support Peter Obi during the last presidential election because they believe that the Yoruba have had their turn and that for ‘equity, fairness and justice’, it should be the turn of the Igbos in 2023.
In the same vein, when the 1993 election won by MKO Abiola was annulled, people from different parts of the country teamed up with their Yoruba brethren in NADECO to fight for the revalidation of that mandate. Additionally, every ethnic group in the country will always outlive a nepotistic and vengeful leader because the leader has a maximum of eight years in office.
Again in the age of social media, there is a limit to what a narrow-minded leader can do because if the leader says never, several people and groups in the cyberspace will intensify their own nevertheless and give him hell. Given the scenarios painted above amid an economy that is nearly comatose, it is obvious it is not going to be a tea party for whoever the Supreme Court declares as the President of the country.