I remember my first day in Secondary School when we had to appoint a class monitor. My secondary school – St. James’ Minor Seminary – is located in a predominantly Tiv town (Yandev) in a predominantly Tiv Local Government Area (Gboko) and in a predominantly Tiv state (Benue State). But for less than ten boys, all of us were Tiv.
There was no rule that the class monitor had to be Tiv. Nobody even mentioned that the class monitor had to be Tiv, but, somehow, only Tiv boys nominated themselves for the post. It could be possible that the boys of other tribes just did not want the post. But it could also be possible that they invariably believed themselves unfit for the post because of their ethnicity.
I think the latter makes sense. It makes sense because even I am not sure that I will have any interest in the post of class monitor in an environment and locale that is predominantly another tribe that is not my own. In a place were I am, in many socio-cultural respects, an alien.
The post of Headboy, however, had that unwritten rule. The Headboy of a school had to come from the predominant tribe. We all conceded to that unwritten rule. It was simply the way things were supposed to be done.
And in university, when we were voting for our course representative, a class mate of mine stood up and emphasised that since the Course Representative was Tiv and male, the Assistant Course Representative must be Idoma and female. You can guess what tribe he belongs to. The class which comprises of students from over ten different ethnic groups invariably voted for an Igede female to be Assistant Course Representative.
From the lowest to the highest positions in this country, there seem to exist these unwritten rules about who we perceive as worthy of governance and political power. There is always a leaning: usually the tribe, and within a certain tribe, the region, and within a certain region, the kindred. The requirement that power should always only reside with the majority in a given power-tussle is almost as glaring as day.
So you find that the Councillor of a certain ward usually comes from the dominant group in that ward. The Local Government Chairman usually comes from the dominant group in that Local Government Area. The State Governor usually comes from the dominant ethnic group in that state. And the President of the nation usually comes from the dominant ethnic group(s) in the country.
Some would argue that this is democracy because it is in fact majority rule. This could be correct. It is only logical that the dominant group will produce the leader in a democratic situation. It is a numbers game.
But to what end? Why does it always have to be about the majority? Why does it always have to be about the group the individual is from and not the individual herself?
If the purpose of democracy is to create a government for the people, to better their lives and provide them with the amenities and resources they need to excel, the dream leader would have to be the most competent, innovative and charismatic person available. These traits are not confined to any group at all. Anybody from any ethnic group, or social strata, or age, or gender could possess these invaluable traits. Why then do we encourage a culture that prioritises the prospective leader’s group over her personal attributes and capability?
This is not just about the majority always wanting to lead. It is also about the minority always insisting that power shifts to their group. When you hear many minorities talk of power, they speak of it in terms of ‘zoning’. In terms of ‘Why can’t a minority lead too?’ Like a young person saying, ‘Young people should lead’ or an Igbo man (insert any tribe that has never tasted the Presidency) say, ‘An Igbo man (insert any tribe that has never tasted the Presidency) should lead’.
Such a tone isn’t the tone of someone who wants good leaders. It is the tone of someone who wants leaders that share the same group as them. It is the tone of someone who is only angry at the majority monopolising power because his group is not the one monopolising power. It is the tone of someone who is blind to the privilege his group has, to the many political positions his group is monopolising over other groups.
Leadership should always only be about one thing: ABILITY. It shouldn’t matter what group someone is from, what god they worship, what language they speak, what genitalia they carry. What should always take centre stage when talking about leadership should be ability. The question should be “Does she have what it takes to take us to where we need to be?” and not “Where is she from?” or “Is it her turn to lead?”
Zoning is a mask for incompetent leadership. It is the embodiment of division, a constant reminder that after all these years, we still cannot trust ourselves. When we emphasise that power should come from a certain region or group, we are giving room for incompetent leaders to ride on such waves and assume power. We fuel incompetence when, for any reason whatsoever, we make power about anything else but competence.
The idea of having a government that reflects the people is addressed by the Federal Structure where every council ward has its Councillor, every Local Government has its Chairman, every state has its legislature and Governor and representatives in the National Assembly.
If we focused on ability and competence when deciding which candidates to vote for at every tier of government, we will, without a shadow of doubt, have a better country. We must learn to see beyond the little biases that we have internalised. We must teach the younger generation about the things that actually matter when electing leaders.
It really is about that time.
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