By OLUSESAN LAOYE
With 2023 round the corner and Nigerians itching for a new government, the major problem being faced is the issue of power shift between the North and the South.
After eight years of two terms in power Many People believe that power should return to the South notwithstanding the party. While there is reasonable indication that the ruling APC will shift power to the South, the same cannot be said of the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
With the high level of ethnic and religious sensibilities unleashed by this government as a result of its parochial and nepotistic, many people say any attempt to retain power in the north may threaten national unity. The issue is compounded by the agitation for Igbo presidency, which has gained prominence following the campaign of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) led by Nnamdi Kanu, for equity and justice. The Igbo have not led the country bin a democracy.
Nigeria has operated a convention of power rotation between the north and south since 1999. As already stated although the APC may have settled the matter unofficially, it is the PDP, which is seen as the next government in waiting that a new challenge has emerged.
After holding it’s convention in October 2021, with the chairman zoned to the north, probably with the expectation that the south will produce the president as one region cannot produce both offices, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, has remained resolute in his quest for the top job. This has disrupted party plans and created a division that may yet again deny it a place in Aso Villa come 2023, as internal crisis now seems inevitable.
To be fair Atiku Abubakar comes from the North East zone of the country, which has not produced a president, and Atiku, who has tried three previous times, seems to be the brightest chance of clinching it. But to do so would mean that power may remain in the north for unbroken 16 years which is intolerably insensitive to an average southerner. Also Atiku is already 72 and therefore will be in office at 80, at a time in when most Nigerians are calling for younger leaders. So his insistence on running is not an only restricting the ability of the party to organize itself properly which eventually undermine it’s capacity to confront the ruling party in 2023.
It was the PDP now caught in the web of his own rotational arrangement, that more or less started the zoning of positions, which has now been the formula being adopted by other political parties. At the moment, the PDP is in a quagmire over its zoning arrangement concerning the presidency.
Before the convention, the notion was that any zone that gets the Chairmanship would concede to the other to produce the presidential flag bearer of the party. This was actually in line with the decision of the 17 southern governors that the presidency should shift to the South, since a Northerner is currently occupying the position.
It was also on this premise that the Party’s Zoning committee headed by the Enugu governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, based its recommendation but left the major issue of where the presidential candidate would come from, to open contest.
It was speculated that the presidential ticket of the party was deliberately left open to all the aspirants, especially those from the North because as the North produced the chairman, the South would produce the presidential candidate but if the north produced the presidential candidate, the chairman be who is from the North would be step down. As untidy as this may appear, it was said was adopted because it favoured Atiku, whose supported, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, became the chairman.
Now, that the North has produced Dr. Iyorcha Ayu as the chairman of the party, the the Presidential ticket is left open and the battle has begun among those jostling for the presidency, with the North having the highest figure.
Those in the North who have shown interests include the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who was also the last Presidential candidate of the party in 2019, former Senate president and former Kwara State governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki, former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido, the incumbent Governor of Sokoto State and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal and former Governor Bala Mohammed. However, Atiku is the only one definitely determined to run.
The South though, has some aspirants, only one of them Dr. Anyim Pius Anyim, a former Senate President and Secretary to the Federal government, notable and who is capable of putting his weight and influence into the contest and he is from the South East, which people are saying is supposed to produce the next president, in view of the zone’s marginalisation from the position. Last Chief Dele Momodu, Bob Dee, a former supporter of Buhari, threw his hat into the ring.
Like Momodu, Dr. Doyin Okupe, from who the South West, has also announced his interest. But many believe that the PDP should look to the South East because of its solid support base in the region by killing two birds with one stone.
With Atiku coming out, the question being asked is whether the Southern PDP governors would throw their weight to back him, in accordance with their resolution in Lagos along, with their colleagues in APC, that power must shift to the South or would they chicken out to back a Northern candidate Of all the aspirants from the North Atiku is known to be outstanding.
He is such an influential politician who has his tentacles all over the country and also being described as most detribalised of all of them. He has paid his dues politically, when it comes to aspiring for the presidency.
He has since1992 when he vied and came third behind Chief MKO Abiola and Baba Gana Kingibe in the Social Democratic party (SDP).
He had contested under the Action Congress of (AC) during which he was disqualified out of the 24 candidates by INEC, on grounds of corruption but won at the Supreme Court, which ruled that the electoral body lack the power to exclude him from contesting.
He came out in 2014, when he tried to get the ticket of the APC but failed. He went back to PDP in 2017 where he contested the last presidential election in 2019.
Atiku has come out to tell those who care to listen that zoning should not be regarded as the problem facing Nigeria but poor leadership which should come from any part of the country. But he had forgotten that as a member of APC then he supported power shift under change mantra.
“The PDP has the right to determine its rules and how the party should be governed; the people of Nigeria also have the right to determine who governs them.
“Where the president comes from has never been the problem of Nigeria. I can cite examples; neither will it be the solution. There is no such thing as a president from Southern Nigeria or a president from Northern Nigeria
There is only one — a president from Nigeria, for Nigeria and by Nigerians.” he pointed out.
The former vice president has not given up and he still remains the hottest contender for the ticket of PDP. But the notion in the party, is that as a result of the power, influence and control of the party by the governors, he may not be favoured.
On the other hand, it was being said that based on his wealth and political structure and the loyalty of the people to him, respect and his good will to people over the years, he is likely to break the ranks of the governors and still scale the hurdles to bag the ticket of the party.
This is why, there is tension in the party and the argument that the rate Atiku is going about his presidential ambition, others may not match him. This would definitely put the South in a difficult situation.
Should Atiku win the ticket of the party, there is likelihood of a repeat of 2019 when he picked his running mate from the South East. And the permutation presently amongst some groups in the party, is that, if a southern candidate is not favoured, the most notable of them, Anyim may be asked to run with him.
Some of the Northern leaders in the PDP who had spoken on the zoning formula indicated why this may not work for the party, is the fact that the party would want to bounce back to power after eight years and their best bet is to field a Northern candidate, where the bulk of the winning votes would come.
Again, since the North would want to retain power, the surest way is through the PDP with a Northern candidate.
A Northern leader Alhaji Tanko Yakasai had once said that there was no way the PDP would give the ticket to the South, because the party would want to come back to power and would give the ticket to the area, where it would get votes to win the presidency.
He further argued that why it was not possible for the APC to zone the presidency to the North, was the fact that the person going out of the post in the party, is from the North and he came to power through the team work of southerners, especially those in the South West.
A chieftain of the PDP Bashir Ibrahim Yusuf, who is a member of the Executive of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said that zoning is a delicate issue here in Nigeria, which must be handled with caution.
Also another leader of the party and the Director of New Media Anthony Ehilebo said that the North getting the Chairmanship does not mean that the South would get the presidency.
He said that there had been precedence in the party when the North produced both the Chairman and the President.
According to him, “Amodu Ali from North Central was the chairman while late President Umaru Yar’Adua from North West was the President. This could still happen now. In the alternative, Ayu could quit if peradventure a Northern candidate merges, to pave the way for a southern Chairman. But we must have to get to the bridge before we cross it.”
Segun Sowumi, one of those in support of Atiku said that PDP zoning can’t stop Atiku’s presidential ambition.
He condemned the decision of the governors on zoning, which is just for fair play and equity amongst the various groups in Nigeria
He argued “Atiku is more of a consensus building candidate Nigeria needs at this stage. He is cool headed, not arrogant and a distrabalised person that can rule Nigeria well.
Zoning is an administrative suggestion, not backed by law,” he said
Former Jigawa state governor too, is one of the aspirants who believed that the party should not zone the presidency to the South.
What ever the case may be, Nigerians are watching to see how the presidential game would be played in the PDP and how Atiku would outwit the governors, who are bent on producing a much younger person for the presidential ticket of the party, who is likely going to be one of them.