Crowded Altar: A review of Magnus Onyibe’s “Becoming President Of Nigeria” — Chidi Amuta
Becoming President Of Nigeria: A Citizens Guide by Magnus Onyibe is a most timely book and most worthy contribution to the literature on Nigeria’s political history. In an election season still gathering storm, the publication comes in handy for both serious political practitioners and the curious public and scholars who seek a deeper understanding of the dynamics of apex leadership selection in Nigeria. The book is coming right in the midst of a political season in which Nigeria is witnessing an unprecedented avalanche of presidential
aspirants . We are right in the vortex
of what may end up being the most crowded political dais and most keenly contested presidential election in the history of Nigeria’s young democracy.
A book of this nature is a most timely and long awaited guide. But it goes beyond being just a coffee table guidebook or a beginners pathway. It is instead an incisive excursion into the history and key trends in successive contests for Nigeria’s apex political job. Most importantly, the book can be seen as a much needed national service in a time of grave political need.
In this regard, Onyibe’s book is not what the title tempts us into expecting. It is not an everyday Everyman’s guide for political sophomores and untested gladiators seeking an easy pathway into assuming the power and glory of Nigeria’s presidency. Nor is it an instant handbook for apprentice politicians to jump into the fray for presidential power and supremacy.
This is rather a careful and fairly detailed study of the history of Nigeria’s young presidential institution, the major trends and currents in successive contests and the dominant issues that have come to the fore in the contest for Africa’s most powerful and consequential political office. These are issues of geo politics, ethnicity, religion, zoning and balance of power as considerations that guide and determine who becomes Nigeria’s number one citizen in each electoral season.
In its 12 odd chapters, the book delves into the origins of the Nigerian state especially the inbuilt leadership tussles in the amalgamation of a predominantly Muslim northern region and mostly Christian and animist southern protectorate in a difficult colonial enterprise.
The broad polarity of religious and cultural extremes as well as the merger of disparate ethnicities are features of Nigeria’s nationhood that make leadership contests desperate battles for supremacy among ethnic and regional chieftains. These factors have persisted and deepened with decades of independent nationhood.L
In the book’s purview, some features of a prescriptive model and requirements for a successful presidential race are outlined. These include nationwide acceptability, name recognition, national philanthropic outreach and perceivable experience in managing things either in the private or public spheres.
All in all, it seems that being of considerable means counts for much in the quest for political pre -eminence in Nigeria. Only the well off are well placed to be thrown up by the system. This seems to fit into the familiar African ‘Big Man ‘ presidential model that the world has come to associate with a good number of African nations for so long.
Of particular interest to Mr. Onyibe in this book are the topical issues dominating the current presidential parade towards 2023. In particular, the topicality of the quest for an Igbo as the next president. This of course is a lingering aftermath of the 1967-1970 civil war. In the 50 odd years after that war, the Igbo are yet to be fully psychologically integrated into the power calculus of the Nigerian federation. The political drive for that integration has emerged as a major issue in the run up to the 2023 presidential election. It is a proposition that has become both a moral and political imperative which is unlikely to go away any time soon.
The debate around the subject of power zoning and rotation is therefore central to the theme and preoccupation of the book. A good 30% and more of the book is devoted to the issue of Igbo president and the disputation around it. The author highlights the major voices in this discourse and the moves in the two dominant parties that could aid power rotation and facilitate the emergence of an Igbo president of Nigeria in the near future.
The book features the main strands in the various arguments for and against a president from among the Igbo.
Quite significantly, the prominent role of what used to be called the ‘Kaduna Mafia’ in sustaining a northern Muslim power hegemony in Nigeria comes into focus in this important book. Now variously referred to as ‘the Cabal’ or the ‘oligarchy’, this northern Muslim power collective is still seen as a potent force in determining who becomes Nigeria’s president in each contest.
The principal weakness of the book is that it predicates its understanding of the Nigerian presidency on the arguments around the current 2023 campaign and the media disputations around it. This may starve readers who want a systematic and chronological account of the evolution of the Nigerian presidency as an institution even under military dictatorships.
The beneficial value of this book is not so much in the timing of its publication as in the expanse of its research on an all important subject of persistent public interest and engagement. Whether now or in the future, the subject of who becomes Nigeria’s president with each electoral season is bound to remain an engaging subject with vast consequences for the survival and progress of the Nigerian nation.
—Amuta is an academic, literary critic, columnist, essayist, intellectual and public policy consultant