2023: Akeredolu rattles north on southern presidency
Akeredolu

By OLUSESAN LAOYE

Since the Southern Governors forum declared their position of the presidency coming from the southern part of Nigeria in the maiden meeting almost a year ago in Asaba, Delta state, Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state, has remained resolute and unwavering in his commitment to the southern presidency project in 2023.

As chairman of the SGF, Akeredolu has remained the only governor among the lot who still upholds the Asaba Declaration which ruffled northern feathers and sent them back to the drawing board. Many northern had criticized their position alleging that it threatened the unity and peace coexistence of the country.

But the governors had argued that after eight years of President Buhari in power, it is only fair and just to shift power to the south, insisting that the political balance in the country is historically founded on this premise.

However, the north showed it’s deft hand in national politics during the primaries by almost clinching the two presidential tickets in the two main parties until the intervention of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose open protest stampeded the northwest to capitulate.

Before then, the North had outwitted the south in the PDP, where there was a strong push for the South East to have a shot at the presidency with Atiku Abubakar and Gov. Nyeson Wike, slugging it out as the main contenders. The alleged betrayal by Gov. Aminu Tambuwal, who stepped down for Atiku turned the table against Wike and the south.

The emergence of Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) seemed to rekindle the resolve if the south to make a fight for it, but this also presents it’s own challenges. For many pundits, the fight remains between the two big parties, APC and PDP.

Of the three, two of them, Tinubu and Obi are from the southern parts of Nigeria. While Tinubu is from the South West, Obi is from the South East. This outcome from the primaries poses a potential ethnically divisive election which may threaten national unity, which could have been avoided had people followed it rules of zoning, which has become an albatross going into the polls.

Apart from the fact that it would be a battle between the South East and the South West, it would also open a new dimension into the history of presidential race in Nigeria, as it would reflect the original composition of Nigeria at Independence with three major regions, the North, the East and the West, contending for power and the soul of Nigeria.
What this means in essence is that it would be an election where the three major regions in Nigeria would be slugging it out with themselves.

Akeredolu, who doubles as the Chairman of the South West Governors forum and the entire Southern Governor forum, has not for once hidden his resolve for power shift to the South.
His recent outburst, that he would not mind if Obi from the South East or Tinubu from the South West, win the win, as all he cares about is that it must be in the South, has been generating comments and again positioned him as a true leader and fighter for southern interest based on equity and justice.

Although Akeredolu is a member of the All Progressives Congress where Tinubu from the South West, where he, Akeredolu, come from, is contesting as the presidential candidate, he has transcended ethnic and party differences to uphold higher southern objectives and interests.

While many of his colleagues have turned coat and sought petty and short term personal advantages at the expense of collective interests, he has remained steadfast. Perhaps, it was insinuated that the insecurity challenge in his state is direct fallout of his uncompromising stance on the issue of power rotation and political domination in the country.
On numerous occasions, Akeredolu had insisted that the presidency must go to the south, since President Muhammadu Buhari, whose tenure will be completed in 2023, is from the North.

Even the issue of a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket of his party, the APC, did not bother him as he believed that it should not be an issue that should dominate the 2023 elections if it will deliver the presidency to the south. He argued that even if he were in the opposition, he would still maintain his stand on where the presidency should go.

“I would have said the same thing. If you had listened to my lecture, I was very clear. I said that religion is not the issue now”.

Akeredolu who is unrepentant about power shift, pointed out that there were other issues that should be on the front burner today in Nigeria such as, issues of restructuring, rotational presidency, security, tackling of the economy, wealth creation and empowerment of the citizenry among others.

To also back up his stand on rotation of power at the centre, he said, since 1999 there had been an understanding that “we will move from North to South, rotate the presidency’.

“And if today, we have people who want to deploy what I call manipulation of our people on religious basis to think that they can change this (call for southern presidency), then we should not accept it.”

“For me, it is not because of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. If you listened to my lecture, I said if Obi is elected as president, for me, that will be all right. If Bola Tinubu is elected, that will be all right. For me, it must come to the south; that is the position.”

Since the lecture, there had been divergent views among the political class and the people at large. While some people believed that being from the South west, he should have dogmatically be in support of Tinubu his kinsman; others saw his statement as “patriotism” and regards him as a man who stands for the truth and equity.

In some quarters, it was believed to be a very big plus for both Obi and Tinubu from the South, as it was argued that both of them should use the position of Akeredolu to work hard to outwit Atiku, the only presidential candidate from the North, since the the presidency is not what to be obtained on a platter of Gold.

Before the primaries of the political parties, many southerners were obsessed to be in power and that was why from the two major political parties, the APC and the PDP, they dominated numbers of the aspirants. In PDP there were 11 of them who jostled for the ticket of the party out of the 15 aspirants screened while in APC they were 14.

This in itself, created big problems in both parties and gave room for divided loyalty. It was said that if the Southern aspirants had come together especially in PDP and that if the governors in the party did not betrayed the collective decisions made at different occasions during the Southern governors meeting, an aspirant from the zone, stood a better chance of emerging the candidate of the PDP.

In case of the APC, it was said that but for the sagacity and resilience and the way Tinubu muzzled his way, insisting that the South must get the ticket, the same would have happened in APC.

Obi on his own part had to abandoned the PDP, where he was the vice presidential candidate of Atiku in the 2019 race, for the Labour Party where he got the ticket to run, after he was sidelined.

Political observers believe that the strong stand on southern presidency and the North grabbing the ticket is still unsettling the PDP, as the Wike’s group is still unhappy with of the primaries, especially, himself who came second, alleging sell out.

In anger, Wike as well accused his Southern counterparts of not abiding by the resolutions reached that the presidency must come to the south, cursing them that they would be perpetual slaves in their own land.

With Wike in court and the likes of the former govermor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose in the PDP strongly canvassing for a southern presidency in 2023, it shows all is not well in the party.

Also with the Southern socio-cultural leaders in Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, South South Forum and even the Middle Belt Forum still insisting that the president after Buhari must be from the south, the question now is what happens should Atiku wins the election in 2023?

The leader of Afenifere Pa Ayo Adenanjo who is advocating for an Igbo presidency after Buhari had said that the only way for the country to stay together is for the South to become the next president preferably, an Igbo, a position also held by Chief Edwin Clark of PANDEF.

The leader of the Middle Belt Forum Dr. Pogu Bitrus said too, that for fair play, power must shift to the South.

Prof. George Obozor of the Ohanaeze
Ndigbo maintained that those in the South backing candidates from other parts and not those from the South are doing a great disservice to their fatherland which negates what the Southern leaders collectively stand for.

Also, as some of the Northern leaders like Senator Kabiru Gaya would want the unity of Nigeria after 2023, saying that the centre should go to the South, for justice and to give other areas confidence in Nigeria and sense of belonging.

But others in the North like Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the spokes- person of the Northern Elders Forum, who believes that where the presidency goes to does not matter since democracy is a game of numbers. He was of the opinion that Northerners should not be forced to vote for the South, arguing that any southerner who wants the votes of the North should work hard to deserve them.

The 2023 polls may potentially take Nigeria back to the years of ethnic and regional agitations especially in the south if it fails to emerge victorious. How the north will govern with agitations may be problematic given the insecurity in the region. Akeredolu may after all be seeing the future now.

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