‘Ping Pong democracy’ and solution for Nigeria’s unity

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The inability of Nigerian leaders to create a comprehensive home-grown system of government has created several challenges in Africa’s most populous nation. Chief among those challenges are political crises, corruption and insecurity. I am suggesting that a ‘Ping Pong democracy’ be introduced into the Nigerian Constitution, as it is the only way peace and unity can be guaranteed in Nigeria. “Ping pong” is known as table tennis in Nigeria; it is a back-and-forth game between two or more players and a ping pong ball.  Analogically, I am referring to a democratic system of government, where power is rotated between the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, and not just between the North and South. Although some might argue that a Ping Pong rotation is a restriction on eligible Nigerians or an undemocratic approach, others might refer to ‘Ping Pong democracy’ as restructuring of the county. Sharing power within the six geopolitical zones is the only way peace and unity can reign within and among Nigerians. A system of government does not have to be practised in the same manner that it was adopted. What matters most is the functionality, not the ism.

Nigeria’s first official adoption of an alien system of government began in the first republic, with the British parliamentary system of government. This foreign-adopted system was rocked by Nigerian home challenges, such as the numerous amounts of tribes and ethnicities, religious beliefs, values, cultures and historical backgrounds, often absent in complexity in the more homogenous systems of government of the Western world. Western systems of governments couldn’t withstand Nigeria’s home challenges, as the British parliamentary system failed in Nigeria. The Nigerian military then used the opportunity to intervene in Nigerian politics and seized power. In a similar manner, the American presidential system of government was introduced into Nigeria by the military through the 1979 Constitution. It is also crystal clear that it does not address the issues in Nigeria. This motivated Afe Babalola, a lawyer, to state that “the application of the American presidential system in Nigeria has been nothing but a huge failure. We simply cannot afford 36 Houses of Assembly, 36 cabinets of commissioners, large number of state legislators, National Assembly of more than 400 legislators, thousands of staff for all these offices, over 40 federal ministers and numberless staff and assistants.” A homegrown political system of government will address the Nigerian political challenges because it would encapsulate Nigeria’s historical challenges.

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Without the establishment of a ‘Ping Pong democracy’ between the six geopolitical zones, the waning sense of belonging often felt in underrepresented geopolitical zones will continue to fuel political unrest and insecurity within the country. Such examples include the continuous agitations for the Biafra secession and the creation of militant groups, such as the Indigenous People of Biafra in Eastern Nigeria, Niger-Delta and other parts of the country, where they have felt marginalised. It is easy to infer that President Jonathan Goodluck’s emergence as the president of Nigeria from the South-South geopolitical zone reduced tensions of agitations and militancy. Political parties in Nigeria already acknowledge the importance of geopolitical zoning to some degree, with diverse political appointments at the federal level.

A negative effect of not having a homegrown system of government, such as a ‘Ping Pong democracy’, is the institutional corruption that was created before Nigerian independence and is still in existence today. The history of the modern Nigerian army dates back to 1863 when Lt. John Hawley Glover of the Royal Navy selected 18 indigenes from the Northern parts of the country and organised them into a local force known as the “Glover Hausa.” By 1865, they became a regular force, named the “Hausa Constabulary.” They performed both police and military duties for the Lagos colonial government and later became the “Lagos Constabulary,” where both the Northern and Southern Army was amalgamated, and the Nigerian Army was created. These institutions were set up for exploitation and imperialism by the British government. After Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the Nigerian government adopted both institutions and all others, forgetting that they were set up for the purpose of exploitation by the British government during the colonial era. We must not forget that long before having contact with the Europeans, African societies already had both homegrown community policing and military structures that had the interest of their people at heart. Using strategies that are specifically designed for the Nigerian modern institutional system is paramount in addressing current challenges in the country.

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The current system of government in Nigeria is not homegrown. For Nigeria to experience unity and peace, Nigeria’s government must reflect the history, culture, values and structures of its origin. The solution to these challenges in Nigeria is what I term a ‘Ping Pong democracy’— rotations of government among all the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria.

  • Abiodun Oseni, a US Service member, writes from America

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