By OBINNA EZUGWU
It’s still a whole year and seven months before the 2023 presidential election billed for February 23, 2023, but agitation over which region should produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor, is already causing a squabble between the country’s two geopolitical regions – North and South – a pointer, perhaps, to what is to come in 2023.
Incumbent President Buhari, had emerged president in 2015, largely on the back massive support from his Northern constituency and the Southwest geopolitical zone, based on the belief that it was indeed, the North’s turn to rule. Goodluck Jonathan, who became acting president and later president following the death of Umaru Musa Ya’Adua, was staunchly opposed by the North when he attempted to go for a second term in 2015, with the region arguing that he was taking their turn.
Ya’Adua became president in 2007, after the Olusegun Obasanjo, from the Southwest, completed his eight years in office, on the back of intense agitation from the North. However, his reign was cut short by death, paving the way for Jonathan.
The latest round of disagreement between the two regions, started when Southern governors, rising from their meeting in Lagos on June 5, issued a communique, asking, among other things, that in the interest of equity and fairness, power should return to the South.
“The Forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern Region,” chairman of the Southern governor’s forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, read in the communique.
The Southern governors’ position was backed by Benue State’s Governor Samuel Ortom, from the North Central Region, who also expressed support for their decision to ban open grazing in the region.
Ortom who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Terver Akase last week, “Your decision to enact laws to ban open grazing of livestock in the region is a bold and patriotic move that will bring an end to the lingering crisis caused by armed herdsmen in the region.”
“The resolution conforms to the global best practice of animal husbandry, and Nigeria should not be left an exception.
“The Governor also said he believes that only equity, fairness and justice can strengthen the unity of Nigeria, adding that all citizens should be given a sense of belonging so as to reduce tensions across the country.
The governors’ position, however, soon drew sharp rebuke from the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), which, through its spokesman, Dr. Hakim Baba-Ahmed, argued that Northerners will not allow their right to choose who they want to govern, to be constrained by anyone.
Baba-Ahmed said Southern governors should realise that political offices are not given or acquired by force, but can only attained through negotiations democratic process.
According to him, Northerners will only vote for the right candidate, having seen from Buhari’s inability to tackle insecurity, poverty and other challenges in the North, that regional president is not the answer to its challenges.
“Governors or those occupying constitutional offices should understand that politics is about persuasion, not seeking shortcuts to power without working for them. North is the target of the Southern governors and they should create a conducive atmosphere for it,” he said.
“Nothing should infringe on the right of Northerners and Northern voters to vote for who they want in 2023. We will not condone anything that will limit Northerners in terms of the democratic right to vote who they want.
But rejecting NEF’s position, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), rose from a meeting in Abuja last week demanding that 2023 presidential slot be zoned to the South in the interest of united Nigeria, saying without that there is no Nigeria.
In its communique signed by Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Afenifere; Prof George Obiozor, President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide; Dr Pogu Bitrus, National President, Middle Belt Forum and Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, National Chairman, Pan Niger Delta Forum, (PANDEF), the forum stated that “the Northern part of the country would have fully enjoyed the Office of the Presidency, for the full statutory period of eight years by 2023, hence, should yield to the South.
“The All Progressives Congress, APC, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and other political parties to zone the Presidency in 2023 to the South, at the next election.”
The group further “enjoined political stakeholders from the South not to be lured into the unpatriotic step of seeking such other positions as national chairmen and Vice President of the main political parties, but join forces to demand and ensure that the Presidency moves to the South in 2023.”
Not to be outdone, however, more Northerners came out to oppose the position of Southern and Middle belt forum, arguing that there was no level of threat or intimidation that would make the political power to return to the South.
In a reaction to the Southern and Middle belt leaders, elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, argued that no region in Nigeria can win power without the support of others.
He noted, however, that politicians and tribal leaders resort to threats because of the defects in Nigeria’s democratic process, which makes vote seems not to count. Yakassai blamed the failure of leadership, especially at the centre, for the decline of nationalism and embrace of parochialism among the people.
“I am a Nigerian to the core, and so, our brothers and sisters all over the country are welcome to air their views, because we are in a democracy. However, the collective aim should be to build our country. Yes, we are practising democracy and we acknowledge that there are fault lines in it, because votes appear not to count. That in itself creates frustration,” he said.
“So, the demand by the Southern and Middle belt leaders which was capped with a threat may not be far from the frustration that votes do not count in this country. However, it is laughable that politicians and tribal leaders should be making such threats in the 21st century.
“Even the presidency has said the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable but we say everything is negotiable. But if our brothers in the South and Middle belt regions rather than negotiating are threatening secession, then their demands won’t work. No doubts, there are daunting challenges in the country.
Because the government appears not to be working, citizens are going micro day-by-day and embracing parochialism. Leadership is responsible for the decline of nationalism in the country today. However, all leaders must note that dividing Nigeria is much more difficult than keeping the country united.”
In his own response, former secretary general of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Anthony Sani argued that there is no justification for insistence on Southern presidency, as according to him, zoning is only party affair, and not provided for in the constitution.
“There is no national consensus on politics of identity symbolized by rotation of the Presidency which is binding on political parties,” he said. “Politics of zoning is still at the level of political parties which use it to design their winning game plans.
“Even within political parties, we still have party members who insist on their constitutional right to contest and refuse to pander to directives by their political parties and go ahead to contest during party primaries. Multi-party democracy thrives on majority votes and contest of ideas and reasons…
“As far as I know, multiparty democracy is expected to unite the country precisely because political parties crisscross the country through campaigns by breaking barriers and building bridges across ethnic, religious and regional aisles. These processes have greater capacity to bring about lasting unity of the nation than politics of fiat zoning.”
On Friday, Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, who has since declared his interest to run for president, argued that zoning is unconstitutional and the best candidate become president in 2023
The governor who spoke at a media briefing in Abuja, said though it is okay if Nigeria agrees to zone the presidency, but noted that it should be based on equity and fairness.
“Zoning is not recognised in the 1999 Constitution; it’s absolutely unconstitutional. If we must continue with the sentiment of rotational presidency, it’s okay. But let’s do it right in the interest of equity, fairness and justice,” he said.
“Let us not take it from 1999. Let’s go back to 1960. From Independence, all the leaders we had, you will discover that all other geo-political zones, as they exist today, at one time had a position of leadership.
Southeast/Southwest likely to disagree
While the argument in the Southern divide at the moment is that power should return to the South, the region is not one political entity, and the question of which zone is to produce president, is like to divide the region.
The Southwest, which, though has held power for eight years since 1999, and by 2023, would have completed another eight years as vice president, was instrumental to the emergence of Buhari as president in 2015, and has been agitating that in line with the APC arrangement, it should take power in 2023.
Former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo; Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, among others, have been positioning to contest.
However, the Southeast, which has not produced president or vice president since the return of democracy in 1999, is arguing it should do so in the interest of justice and fairness.
“We are talking about the exclusion of a particular geopolitical region of the country. We are talking about a political zone that has been excluded from leadership for more than 50 years,” said Okey Okoroji, chieftain of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA).
“If you look at the political zones of Nigeria, it is only a Southeast that is yet to produce the president of the country, be it civilian or military, since the days of Aguiyi Ironsi. So, it is in the interest of justice and equity to support the Southeast in 2023.”