Perspectives On Succession

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Perspectives On Succession
 

By

 

Akin Osuntokun

 

 

culled from GUARDIAN, July 4, 2005

 

Universally, political leadership succession is inherently problematic. Primarily this is because of the power it reposes on the incumbent leader over the allocation of scarce and limited resources. As such, political leadership succession is a struggle for power-the capacity to change the probability of actions. The contemporary and universally acceptable agency through which this power is exercised is the state and the dominant framework through which the contestation for power takes place is the electoral and political party system in its varying degrees and manifestations.

Within the context of the liberal democratic order the greater the degree of the institutionalisation of this framework the less problematic political leadership succession tends to be. In this regard the difference between the United States of America, and Nigeria is the gap in the acceptance and institutionalisation of this norm in the two countries. Thus while the stalemate and dispute that attended the American presidential elections in year 2000 is an affirmation of the inherently problematic nature of political leadership succession the successful and expeditious management of the attendant crisis underscores the highly developed capacity of the political system to respond effectively to the challenges of succession politics.

Conversely, the breakdowns of the first and second republics in Nigeria indicates an underdeveloped capacity of Nigeria for the sustenance and management of leadership recruitment and succession framework. A recognition of this limitation and the manifest disposition for subversive military intervention explain the Nigerian public ( and the international community) anxiety at the approach of periodic succession contests.

In the political experience of Nigeria, the anticipated succession engagement of Year 2007 is unique. It is the first time that three successive elections, howsoever flawed, will take place and it is coming against the background of a successful civilian to civilian transition. Equally, it's the first time that an elected incumbent President ( chief executive) will not stand for election. How then might the successor emerge? According to the theory of social reproduction, an incumbent power elite tends to reproduce itself( mainly in general terms).

It was in such general terms that the British colonial elite ( believed to have preference for the 'Northern' political establishment) was thought to have maneuvered the dominant conservative wing of this establishment which had coalesced in the Northern Peoples Congress, NPC, to inherit central political authority in 1960. So to say, the decisive factor in this instance was the will of a departing imperial power and it's vision for a country in which it has a vested neo colonial interest. More or less, the circumstances of the military to civil democratic rule transition of 1979 was, similarly, an instance of power succession that was predicated on the will of an imperial autocracy with an enlightened self interest in the normalization of political succession. The military mentors were, of course, more favorably disposed towards the eventual winner of the succession race than the other contestants. And perhaps, it was also more politically correct and somewhat anticipatory of the contemporary North/ South power rotational prescription that a candidate from the other side of the divide should succeed a Southern incumbent.

In 1999 the succession to power of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was a product of the crisis that followed the annulment of the 1993 Presidential elections. The crisis was characterized by the following dimensions. One was the deprofessionalization and intense politicization of the military which had crystallized in a marked and widespread reluctance of the military to disengage from power. Two was a denatured and confused political environment resulting from protracted military rule and political over experimentation.

Three and undoubtedly the most consequential was the acute political alienation and victimization of the South West which ensued from the annulment and gathered apace through the virulent military regime of the late General Sani Abacha. The questions that were posed by the three dimensions were twofold. One was the question of how to secure a very problematic military disengagement and the other was how to contrive an effective conciliatory response to the deep sense of political alienation and victimization of the South West. Enters Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Between 1970 and 1999 Obasanjo had acquired an aura and developed a personality of a military and Nigerian patriarch. Within the measure of this three decades he had emerged at critical moments as the antithesis of untoward political tendencies in Nigeria.

Be it as the Nigerian commander who took the surrender of Biafran secessionists in 1970; the military head of state who against the African norm voluntarily disengaged from power and restored civil democratic rule in 1979 and as a martyr for democracy in the political crisis of 1993 to 1998. As a former military ruler who had sufficiently demonstrated the attribute of political correctness he seemed adequately prepared to provide a solution to the question of securing a problematic military disengagement and as a Nigerian patriarch of Yoruba extraction he was the ready and easy answer to the concessionary quest for a President of South West origin. And in terms of the theory of social reproduction in which every status quo power elite reproduces itself, there is a valid sense in which Obasanjo was a status quo candidate ,at least more than his other real contestant- Chief Olu Falae.

As we approach the year 2007, the inevitable question is what are the predisposing eligibility factors for the successor President? What are the factors that will shape the emergence of a successor? First there is the implicit and explicit assumption of zoning and rotational formula in which, at the minimum, the South West is disqualified and at most, only candidates from the North are eligible. Second is the comprehensive dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party,PDP, and the inherent meaning of monopoly claim to the Presidency. The likelihood of course is that the Party cannot avoid the occurrence of a degree of implosion which will stem from the politics of its Presidential primaries. Because the incumbent President will, however, remain in the Party, it is difficult to envisage a complete loss of dominance of the PDP regardless of any attenuating crisis.

Third is the existence of an active and consecrating military faction of the ruling political elite. Indeed President Obasanjo himself will have to make a self-conscious effort of distancing not to be seen as a Godfather of this potent faction. The reality of this faction is a unique product of post independence political history of Nigeria in which the military had for the better part usurped the political leadership of Nigeria. Fourth is a tradition( albeit not a stable feature of unsettled and young democracies ) whereby likeminded running mates succeed their principals. Fifth is the international community and globalization especially in this age of intense international scrutiny; Nigeria's aspirations for continental and regional leadership and a weak dependent economy.

Last and of great consequence is the incumbency factor. It is necessary to clarify that incumbency factor goes beyond personality preferences to include the sustenance of regime attributes or what is commonly known as legacy. More than any other Nigerian administration the subsisting Obasanjo Presidency is characterised by the introduction and implementation of radical reform measures and policies no less than the Nigerian situation requires if it was not to bottom out. The measures are for the most part theoretically prescribed and its application has sought no compromise with populism and the comfort of the status quo. It lays a relentless siege on the status quo equilibrium and has been unable to discriminate between victims and villains and has thus exposed itself, inevitable, to the intermittent eruptions of popular disaffection and alienation.

The truth is it has to be so, at least, in the short run until it all evens out in recovery, stability and a new equilibrium. Having borne the heavy burden and brunt of the sacrifice it is understandable if Nigeria forswears a relapse. Echoing his refrain at the concerns of the visiting world bank chief executive, President Obasanjo recently remarked in Holland " Let me quickly address an issue that I have found necessary to touch upon at every forum of this nature... It is on what happens after 2007 when I would have ....returned to my farm. Let me assure you that the reforms will last well into the distant future. Nigerians are beginning to own and defend the reform programmes".

If as I agree and as President Obasanjo wills 'Nigerians are beginning to own and defend the programme' then the first significant act of faith towards securing this future will be the predetermination of a reform programme made to measure successor. Borrowing the parlance of a signal reform policy initiative of this administration i.e. 'Due process' I conclude as follows: eligibility factors First to Fourth as earlier mentioned will pre qualify succession aspirants while the tender for successful successor candidature will be predicated on the last two eligibility factors.

 

bulletOsuntokun is Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

 

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