2023 Road to Aso Rock: A review of Magnus Onyibe’s “Becoming President of Nigeria: A Citizen’s Guide” — Olusegun Adeniyi
My friend and brother, Magnus Onyibe could not have picked a better time to publish this book, ‘Becoming President of Nigeria: A Citizen’s Guide’. But I doubt if politicians and private sector titans who have already invested forty or one hundred million Naira just to secure the nomination forms of their parties would be looking for strategies to actualise their ambition in a book. It is therefore just as well that the focus of Onyibe’s intervention is not on how to procure enough delegates at the presidential primaries of the political parties scheduled to hold by month end. However, as an intellectual contribution to a better understanding of Nigerian politics and power dynamics, this book is both educative and fascinating and I gladly recommend it, even to those who are now being ‘begged’ to contest for the number one office in the country.
Divided into 12 chapters and spanning 357 pages, Onyibe’s book is a useful resource material, especially at a time like this when diverse forces interplay as we inch towards the crucial 2023 general election. But let me begin by stating that, like the author, I subscribe to the notion of equity in the distribution of opportunities in a plural society like ours. And like him, I also believe it would be most ideal for the next president of Nigeria to come from the Southeast. But some of the statements in the book are too simplistic for me and I disagree with a few of the sweeping assumptions. However, I believe that Onyibe has done a fairly good job and readers can then make up their minds about some of contentious issues and the way they were framed by the author.
Right from the opening chapter, the book highlights the fireworks that typically trail every election season in Nigeria as elite political gladiators jostle for the number one job in any country. According to the author, some of the requirements for a successful presidential run include national name recognition, building bridges of friendship across the nation, a deep pocket, and perceived competence in managing human and material resources, either in the public or private sector. These attributes, one can argue, apply to those who seek the presidency in other countries, as well. But the book’s scope goes beyond being a regular guide for those who seek to capture power essentially for its sake.
The author takes a deep dive into Nigeria’s political history and examines key trends in successive contests for the highest office in the land. In the process, Onyibe examines the Nigerian presidential institution in the broader context of the nation’s history since independence but, most importantly, within the framework of our democratic excursion since 1999. The author highlights the dominant issues that are thrown up during each presidential contest. These include issues of geopolitical affiliations, ethnicity, religion, and power rotation otherwise called zoning.
The author traces the origin of Nigeria and dwells on the inherent leadership tussles arising from the divergence in the cultural and religious backgrounds of different peoples across the country. Reflecting on the past, Onyibe says that it was in a bid to reduce the administrative inconvenience of governing the northern and southern protectorates that the British colonialists opted for amalgamation. That they made the decision without much concern about the potential fractious relationship that the peoples of the two protectorates were likely to experience is the result of what obtains in Nigeria today.
Since attaining independence in 1960, the broad differences between the various peoples of Nigeria have deepened, the author argues. This polarity has elicited considerable level of schisms and mutual suspicions among and between the different ethnic nationalities that make up the country. Consequently, each election season becomes acrimonious, according to the author.
As we prepare for the 2023 general election, Onyibe shows particular interest in the aspirations of the Igbo to produce the next president. Four of the book’s twelve chapters focus in this direction. Ordinarily, according to Onyibe, with the proper checks and balances in place in a mature political system, it does not matter from which part of the country the president comes. Nevertheless, he argues that for unity and to give the Igbos a sense of belonging, the political class should cede the presidency to the Southeast. Contending that Nigeria’s politics is tripodal as in WaZoBia, and given that both the Yoruba and Hausa ethnic nationalities have produced president from among kinsmen, it is only fair that the Igbo, the third leg of that tripod, be allowed to also produce the next president.
Arguing further, Onyibe noted that since the end of the civil war more than 50 years ago, the Igbo have not been fully psychologically integrated into the power equation of the Nigerian state. Therefore, ceding the presidency to the Southeast in 2023 on “compassionate ground” would help in resolving that problem. After making his case, the author posed a question that may not sit well with some readers, even though he was clever in the follow-up: Assuming the political system in honour of the rotation principle cede the presidency to the lgbo: are there presidential ‘materials’ from the Southeast?
A curious feature of this book is that the author marries his opinion with that of others. The central argument is that the quest for an Igbo to become president of Nigeria has become a moral and political imperative that critical stakeholders must address. To buttress his point, the author captures the voices of some prominent leaders in the two dominant parties who could aid the aspiration of the Igbo to have one of their ethnic members as the next president of Nigeria.
The author also highlights the need for appropriate constitutional amendments to make it easier and more likely for a Nigerian president with the right pedigree to emerge, no matter where he comes from or the faith the person professes. Such an ideal president, according to Onyibe, would possess the wherewithal to frontally tackle the numerous but solvable challenges that have kept the country in a state of underdevelopment for more than six decades after independence.
Meanwhile, the book features a review of the various constitutions that Nigeria has adopted, starting in 1963 through the 1999 constitution. The author projects the necessary provisions that should be enshrined in the constitution to facilitate the emergence of a competent president. Going further, Onyibe zeroed in on recent efforts by the National Assembly which resulted in the amendment to the Nigerian Electoral Act 2022.
The author expresses hope that as the jostle for the presidency of Nigeria gets into high gear, there will be a political rebirth that would transform the country’s fortunes. Such a rebirth, he believes, would see politicians placing the country’s best interest and that of the people of Nigeria over their own parochial and narrow interests. Since the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have established committees to make proposals regarding the structural changes that would help improve the political system, the author contends that both parties would be doing themselves and the nation a world of good if they implement the recommendations of their respective committees.
Overall, the practical value of this book cannot be over-emphasised. It addresses a topic of ongoing public interest at a period when Nigerians are desirous of having a president who will tackle the myriads of challenges that now confront us.
I commend Onyibe for lending his voice to a dissection of such an important topic. Whether in the 2023 election circle or in subsequent ones, who becomes the president of Nigeria will remain an engaging question, generating much enthusiasm from citizens from Lagos to Kano to Maiduguri to Jos to Enugu and Port Harcourt. At the end, Onyibe invites an honest confrontation with our stark reality as a nation.
However, the book comes with the flaw generally associated with collections of essays written over a period and on sundry issues. But it is nonetheless a fascinating collection that reminds us about where we are coming from as a people, some of the mistakes that have been made by principal actors, as well as the lessons we have refused to learn, and the consequences of the choices being made by those who preside over our affairs.
In ‘Becoming President of Nigeria: A Citizen’s Guide’, what the author says most clearly is that despite the challenges ahead, if we embrace a more productive and cooperative form of politics and we do the right things in 2023, we can secure the future of our country for peace and prosperity. I share that optimism.
—A review of the book, ‘Becoming President of Nigeria: A Citizen’s Guide’ by Magnus Onyibe at the public presentation in Abuja on 10th May 2022