ARTICLE AD BOX
Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that as agitation for a president of Southern Nigeria extraction gains traction, the critical decisions may be influenced by Northern Nigeria
Rising from their recent meeting in Lagos, governors of the 17 states in Southern Nigeria under the aegis of the Southern Nigeria Governors Forum left no one in doubt concerning their preference for who succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. Without prejudice to political party affiliation and ethnic group, these states chief executives defended the widely accepted arrangement that the presidency of Nigeria should rotate between North and South of Nigeria. This political expediency is what Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State describes as “a political design that must be respected,” although as he said, ” the power shift arrangement among the various regions is unconstitutional.”
While this thought espoused by Southern Nigeria Governors Forum is not novel, coming at a time when the debate for which section of the country the next president should come from has become vociferous, throwing their weight behind calls for a president of Southern Nigeria extraction has major implications for the polity ahead of the next national elections in 2023.
Three political parties-the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) have a control of the various 17 Southern states. The APC and the PDP have equal control of eight states each, while the APGA controls Anambra State only. In the South-east; APC has Ebonyi and Imo. The party also has its flag flying proudly in Ogun, Lagos, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti in the South-west, while it controls the lone state of Cross River in the South-south; making eight states. The PDP similarly is entrenched in the South-south states of Akwa Ibom, Edo, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers. It retains two South-states; Abia and Enugu, while holding on to Oyo State in the South-west.
Apparently, the Governors of Southern Nigerian states are echoing the overriding sentiments of their people and that is why there seems to be unison in their position that is completely blind to ethnic and political differences. It is increasingly becoming clear that any Southerner who holds a different view will be walking on a lonely road. Although, agitation for which section of the South; west, east or south should have it, will later dominate the discourse; for now it may just be good enough to bring home the trophy before discussing where to keep it.
There are six geopolitical zones in the country. Although the South-east, made up largely of the Igbos-the third major ethnic group in the country, following the Hausa/Fulani and the Yorubas, has been consistent and more vociferous in demanding that they be allowed an unfettered shot at the presidency in 2023, this quest is blighted by another compelling quest mounted by a section of Igbos fighting for a separate country, called Biafra. This struggle for an Igbo country that is independent of Nigeria was what led to the Nigerian Civil War between 1967 and 1970 during which over 1 million lives were lost. The agitation has been revived and gained more steam in recent times under the leadership of the proscribed Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), whose leader Mr. Nnamdi Kanu was recently intercepted in Kenya and brought back to Nigeria to continue with his trial for treasonable felony, from which he absconded in 2017. The Igbo quest for presidency in Nigeria may be marred by trust issues and divided interest.
In the South-east, the two leading political parties are equally matched in their contention for the presidency. Both the APC and PDP have control of two states each. APGA which has control of the fifth state may have positioned itself as the beautiful bride to wooed by both the APC and the PDP. Many political pundits have contended that the presidency should be conceded to the Igbos to give them a sense of belonging, full integration and a closure of the Nigerian Civil War.
There are groups and individuals in the South-south who are making a case for presidency to go back to the region based on the understanding that Jonathan only served one term. They argue that he previously completed the two years left in Yar’Adua’s first tenure truncated by his death. A South-south presidential hopeful may spring from the PDP, the main opposition party that has managed to retain its appeal in the Niger Delta region. Since it is not a regional but a national contest, can a presidential candidate from that region be successfully sold to other regions of the country so soon after Jonathan? The APC would not dare choose its presidential flagbearer from the South-south because it is yet to gain the kind of popularity that can keep it afloat in the region. But there is a school of thought that is willing to swear by the name of the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, insisting that he wants to run for the presidency of Nigeria.
The demand of the Yorubas in the South-west for the presidency is stronger in the APC, the ruling party at the centre, which undoubtedly has deep roots in the region with many of its leading lights being instrumental to the formation of the APC. The serving Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo is from this region. Many are willing to hazard a guess that Buhari and influential Nothern politicians across board may be comfortable with an Osinbajo presidency. The Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State is from this region and is widely believed to harbour presidential aspiration. But the man whose quest to participate in the 2023 presidential contest is louder than everybody else is the National Leader of the APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu. As it currently stands in the region, the PDP may not venture out with a presidential candidate from the South-west.
Part of the Southern Nigeria Governors Forum communique stated its “commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously and 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.” This resolution was communicated on their behalf by the Chairman of the forum and Governor of Ondo State, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN).
The incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari is from the North-west state of Katsina. His maximum tenure of eight years comes to an end in 2023. He took the reins of government from former President Goodluck Jonathan who hails from the South-south state of Bayelsa.
Jonathan had served out the remaining two years of a four-year term of his predecessor, Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua, a Northerner from the same Katsina State as Buhari who took ill and died in office in 2009. On his own steam, Jonathan was elected for another four-year term which he completed in 2015. His attempt to seek another four-year term was unsuccessful. He was defeated by Buhari.
Among the 19 states, the APC has five states in the North-west in its fist. They are Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Zamfara and Jigawa states, except the Sokoto which is ruled by the PDP. The party rules in fives states in the North-central. These are Kogi, Kwara, Plateau, Nasarawa and Niger. Benue State is controlled by the PDP. The tally of states under the PDP in the North-east are three; Adamawa, Taraba and Bauchi states, while the APC rules Borno, Gombe and Yobe states.
One piece of good news for the Southern governors is that an increasing number of Nothern governors are also drumming up support for them. Some of the Northern governors who have publicly shown preference for a Southern president in 2023 include Governors Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna, Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa, Aminu Masari of Katsina, Samuel Ortom of Benue and Babagana Zulum of Borno. A spokesperson for Ortom stated the governor’s position. “Give all citizens a sense of belonging and reduce tensions across the country. ”
Borno State Governor said his was a principled stand. “I am in the APC. Six or seven years ago, APC had zoned the presidency to northern Nigeria based on the agreement that, in 2023, the presidency should go to the South.”
El-Rufai had long taken a stand, “The southern part of the country is supposed to produce the President come 2023; I don’t support a northerner to vie for the seat after President Muhammadu Buhari based on Nigeria’s political arrangement.”
The Kaduna is an influential voice in the APC. He headed the APC’s Restructuring Committee. He told a national newspaper. “In the APC, we deliberately omitted rotational Presidency in our constitution and the emergence of a presidential candidate does not take into account zoning and that was why in 2015, Rochas Okorocha from the East contested, Sam Nda-Isaiah contested, Buhari, Kwankwaso and others contested. II can say that as distinct from the PDP, APC has no rotational Presidency but candidates are selected strictly on the basis of political merit and the general acceptability of the candidate. Those of us from Northern Nigeria honour agreements. We do not violate unwritten political agreements and I will be the last person to lead in violating that agreement. I may have a personal view but that should be the basis. I don’t care where you come from but I look for merit. As a group, the Northern APC will have to sit down and endorse someone, most likely someone from the South, because after eight years of Buhari, I don’t think the Presidency should remain in the north unless there is some extenuating circumstances. All things being equal, we will honour our agreement and we keep our words.’’
Ganduje, an ally of Tinubu said he was supporting zoning of the presidency in 2023 to the South because it was strategic in winning elections.
Governor Sule of Nasarawa State said rotational presidency was one of designs that can guarantee peace in Nigeria. Katsina State governor, Masari also spoke in the same vein, saying a Southern president will ensure equity, fairness and justice.
However, there are still many hurdles to cross for the Southern governors to get the unalloyed support of their colleagues and other powerful interest groups in the North. For instance the Jigawa State Governor Mohammed Abubakar Badaru who is the Chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum, that is governors elected on the platform of the APC, believes the race for the presidency should be an open contest to all comers from all regions of the country. His Bauchi State counterpart, Bala Mohammed, Chairman of acommittee that reviewed PDP’s loss in the 2019 presidential election returned a report that opens the contest for the party’s presidential ticket in 2023 to any interested member of the party. The PDP has since downplayed this position, while emphasising that it has not taken a position on the matter yet.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) rejected the position of the Southern governors that the 2023 presidency should be zoned to the Southern part of the country, arguing that the presidency is not a rotational position. The group viewed the Southern governors position as subtle threat intimidation and blackmail. Its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed. NEF observed that the idea that it would be threatened, intimidated or blackmailed into yielding an office that ought to be settled democratically is not acceptable.
“NEF sees the decision of the Southern governors as an expression of sentiment that could be best discussed within a political process. We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest, he said.”
Lately, the North-central comprising Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Nasarawa, Benue and Plateau states have said plainly that no one from that region has governed Nigeria in a democratic and executive capacity and that they ought ot be given a chance.
Figures obtained from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shows clearly that 77 percent of voters that voted in the 2019 National elections were from Nothern Nigeria. The North is largely considered to be more politically exposed than the South. Even as religion and ethnicity remain domineering influences in Nigerian politics, the homogeneity of the North, in terms of the Hausa language and Islamic religion becomes an effective tool in delivering block votes to their preferred presidential candidate.
Northern Nigeria has a more active political population. There were 44.8 million voters in the North in 2019. Southern Nigeria had 39.1 million voters. The North-west cast 44 percent of the votes in the 2019 national elections and the North-east 41.7 percent; which were the highest in the election. The South-south cast 28.9 percent of votes, while the Soith-east had 26.1 percent.
Figures obtained from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shows clearly that 77 percent of voters in the 2019 National elections were from Nothern Nigeria. The North is largely considered to be more politically exposed than the South. Even as religion and ethnicity remain domineering influences in Nigerian politics, the homogeneity of the North, in terms of the Hausa language and Islamic religion becomes an effectivet ool in delivering block votes to their preferred presidential candidate.