The debate over where the Presidency should be zoned to after President Muhammadu Buhari must have left the position in 2023 and which Nigerians thought had been settled after the conventions of the political parties, especially, in the two leading groupings, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has reared its head again.
Before now, it was believed that based on the gentleman agreement by these two major political parties to share positions and with the North occupying their Chairmanships, the concomitant position of the Southern part having the Presidency must have been sealed signed and delivered.
But the events and utterances coming from Northern leaders and politicians after the conventions, and as the parties are billed to go for their primaries, appears to have changed the narratives and arrangements.
Already, the south has been dwelling in the euphoria that the Presidency must have been conceded to it but it is now clear to them that the North is not willing to let go.
The South which is already parading an arrays of contestants with lots of fanfare has realised that the Jamboree they have gone into may not last with their counterparts from the North showing interest too.
According to a political analyst. Elder Moses Olorode who had served as Press Secretary to former Governor, Omololu Olunloyo in Oyo State during the second Republic, the present development particularly from the North is a pointer to the fact that the the hues and cries of the South over power shift and the positions of the southern governors on this, must have gone astray with what the North is now coming up with.
He argued that the only way out is for the entire South to stand firm and let the North realise that they can’t continue to hold the entire Nigerian state to ransom and continue as well to dictate how the country should be governed, since coming together as a nation is the collective responsibility of all the stakeholders, who come from different ethnic nationalities that are capable of standing as nations on their own.
He further argued that if care isn’t taken, there may not be elections in 2023 and the position of Chief Afe Babalola on Interim government which was condemned, may be the last resort to settle the impasse over power shift.
Although there had been constant agitations from the South over zoning, the outburst and the position of the Northern Elders Forum which Professor Ango Abdulahi leads has not helped matters.
Professor Ango Abdulahi has never hidden his disdain on power shift with his continuous advocacy that zoning means nothing and that whoever would rule Nigeria could come from any part while the North will continue to contest for the position of president.
He even argued that there was no way other zones could emerge because they don’t have the numbers since the highest numbers wins the game and that it is the North which has the numbers to win.
This position means that no matter what the South does, if the North fails to let go, they will continue to dominate other Regions.
That was why the latest outburst of the Professor and the outcome of the meeting of the forum came under severe attacks by different groups in the the south and even from the Middle Belt which is part of the north
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) kicked against zoning of the presidency as advocated by some political parties, claiming that it is anti-democracy.
The group stated this after its recent meeting with other Northern Leaders of Thought.
The Forum, then, advised that the 2023 presidential contest should be left open to every region of the country, and for the best candidate to emerge.
According to the resolution of the group, signed by the Chairman, Communiqué Drafting Committee, and former Vice Chancellor, Plateau State University, Prof Doknan Danjuma Shenni, “the fundamental rights of all political parties to field candidates of their choice, and the right of voters to freely exercise choices over who leads them cannot be compromised.
“Northerners have equal rights to aspire to all offices, but they must raise competence, evidence of personal integrity and commitments to the rule of law above all other considerations. Northerners should ignore provocative statements from groups in the South of Nigeria who appear to believe that command democracy in which threats and hate campaigns are their hallmark or defining elements will work in Nigeria. North should vote for the best leader.”
But without wasting time, leaders in the South have made them to realise the danger which the country could go into should the north insist on jettisoning the zoning of the Presidency out of their Region.
One of the vocal leaders in the South and governor of Ondo State who doubles as the chairman of the , Southern Governors Forum, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, alongside other key stakeholders in the Nigeria projected warned the All Progressives Congress (APC) over the plot to zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the North.
It is not Akeredolu alone that has come hard on the North, as other prominent Nigerians against the plot, of the North are Senator Ali Ndume and a fire brand labour leader, Comrade Frank Kokori, who was one of the activists along with Chief Anthony Enahoro who fought for the ongoing democratic dispensation after the annulment of Chief MKO Abiola’s election, due to the arrogance of the North. According to Kokori, the plot constitutes a threat to the delicate balance of the country.
What also informs the outcry of the leaders in the South has been the attitude of the two major political parties, the PDP and the APC, as they are evidently not willing to keep to the earlier agreements as regards the sharing of political offices.
For instance, the likes of Akerodolu and others were not pleased with the declaration by the national chairman of the APC, Senator Abdullahi Adamu that the party had not zoned its ticket to the South as the presidential convention of the party is expected to hold on May 30.
Adamu had hinted in Abuja that no geopolitical zone would be precluded from the race for the APC ticket.
Adamu, from the North-Central, said no decision had been taken on zoning of the APC presidential ticket.
Akeredolu angered by the APC’s Chairman’s statement personally signed a statement too, saying that power should be zoned to the South in 2023 because “it is the turn of the southern part of the country to produce the next president.”
Akeredolu said his party, the APC, should be bold enough to come out on the issue by zoning its presidential ticket to the South for equity, justice and fairness. He said the APC leadership should not keep party members waiting on where the next president would come from but to act decisively on the matter without delay, stressing that the principle of Federal Character is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Akeredolu warned that it would be disingenuous for anyone to argue against rotation at this period, adding that just as the party fixed various fees for the purchase of forms, it should not have difficulty making pronouncement on the issue which is important to the coexistence of the people of Nigeria.
“No statement must suggest, even remotely, that the party harbours certain sentiments which may predispose it to consider throwing the contest open. This is certainly not the time for equivocation. Equity dictates that we take a stand,” he affirmed.
Akeredolu, who noted that the APC leadership ensured the spirit of rotational representation in its just concluded convention, demanded that the same be extended towards the spirit of zoning power to the South, by making a categorical statement, devoid of equivocation, on the pattern of succession.
“The current democratic dispensation is anchored on the unwritten convention driven by a principle of equity.
“Political expediency dictates, more appealingly, that while adhering to the spirit and letters of the laws guiding conduct of elections and succession to political offices, we must do nothing which is capable of tilting the delicate balance against the established arrangement which guarantees peace and promotes trust.
“Our party just elected officers on the established principle of giving every part of the country an important stake in the political calculus. The focus has now shifted to the process which will culminate in the participation of our party in the general election scheduled for next year
“All lovers of peace and freedom must do everything to eschew tendencies which may predispose them to taking decisions which promote distrust and lead to a crisis, the end of which nobody may be able to predict.”
“We have been able to hold the party’s convention successfully. New officers of the party have emerged in a process that is widely acknowledged as rancour-free.
“The level of understanding and maturity displayed by all and sundry has been commendable. Known adversaries have been forced to accept the emerging fact that our party is formidable and ready for the next general election.
Also, Kokori, a former secretary-general of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), warned that any attempt by the leadership of APC to zone its presidency to the North would be suicidal.
He said “Nigeria of today is not the same as that of yesteryears when tribalism was not the order of the day, and when people cared less about marginalisation but the best for Nigeria. But today things have changed and it won’t be easy anymore for a particular section to keep dominating the rest. But now, people talk about ethnicity and and their fundamental rights”
He pointed out that things should not have gotten to this stage and level of agitations if the present government has not been ethnically inclined.
“Obviously, by equity and justice, the Presidency should come to the South. I believe it should be in the South. It will be suicidal if it goes to the North again.
Kokori therefore called on the Southern governors to remain resolute in their quest for a southern presidency in 2023.
In his own reaction Senator Ali Ndume representing Borno South, expressed concern over the the move to throw open the Presidential ticket of the ruling party.
Ndume, the director general of the Rotimi Amaechi campaign organisation, said it would amount to betrayal for the North to join the APC presidential race or produce a candidate for the party.
He disclosed that there was an understanding that the North should produce a candidate in 2015, which informed the predominance of aspirants for the APC ticket from the three zones in the North.
He said: “That will be unfair, unjust and almost a betrayal of trust and the existing gentleman’s agreement. We had an agreement in 2015, though not written, that the North should produce the president. That was why almost all the presidential aspirants were from the North: Atiku Abubakar; Nda Isaiah; Rabiu Kwankwaso; Muhammadu Buhari, all contested.
“I believe in justice; I am not against anybody from the North contesting; it is their constitutional right. If APC fields a northern candidate, that will be tantamount to a third term.”
Southerners are Nigerians who should be given equal rights. What is due to Caesar should be given to Caesar.”
But Elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, is with the North thinking that that power shift is undemocratic.
He believes that “Zoning, power rotation should not be sacrosanct In politics, but should be through negotiation for all to agree.’ But he is also quick to add that if negotiations fail and can’t be reached, everybody should then be given opportunity. ‘All aspirants will be allowed to go to the field. That’s one of the tenet of democracy which is free choice.”
Meanwhile National chairman of the Association of Middle Belt Nationalities (ASOMBEN), Mr Sule Kwasau, said dumping zoning would further aggravate the lack of equity and inclusiveness, adding that any attempt to jettison it would not augur well for Nigeri as it is dangerous and would also heighten tension.
“So, for us to move ahead as a nation, we must create an atmosphere of inclusivity where other sections of the country will feel a sense of belonging.”
He argued that Nigeria belongs to all of us, “no one is more Nigerian than the other. No single ethnic group or religion can claim ownership of this country, so people of goodwill must resist this,” he said.
Also one of the leaders of the APC in Ekiti State, who is also the Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele has said zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket to the South is legitimate and constitutional.
He described the rotation of presidency between the North and the South as a legal and constitutional agitation recognised by Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, calling on the APC leadership to respect the mood of the nation.
Speaking in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, during an empowerment programme for his constituents across the five councils in the zone, Bamidele, who represents Ekiti Central, described agitation for presidency from politicians of southern extraction as a legitimate request.
In his own contribution the leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Edwin Clark, insisted that the next president should come from the Southeast extraction.
He alleged that Southerners are treated as second-class citizens in the country, adding that there may be no Nigeria without zoning in 2023.
According to him, there is a monopoly of leadership by the North.
He said: “My idea of zoning the Presidency to the South-East is well-known. No Nigerian will like to live in a country where certain people believe that they have the only right to lead.
“Nigeria stood on three legs, and it has never been steady since one of the legs was destroyed during the Civil War.
“If zoning which will heal the wounds is not done, there will be no Nigeria. Nobody will remain in this country as a second class citizen.
“The North believes their population can be used to oppress other Nigerians. This is not acceptable. The era of that has gone. There are many good Northerners but the Fulani-oriented ones want to dominate everywhere.”