With about two years to the 2023 general election in Nigeria, one of the issues that have dominated debates across the country is which region should produce the next president after the expiration of the second term of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari?
Such is the heat and weight the issue is generating that recent turmoil in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has been linked to the quest by political gladiators to reposition themselves ahead of possible zoning of the presidency in 2023.
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, there have been a rotation of the presidency between the Southern and the Northern regions; the arrangement was in place during the sixteen years the PDP ruled the country.
Though not constitutionally backed, political leaders say that due to the heterogeneous nature of the country, power rotation arrangement had become necessary to address complaints of marginalisation and domination, and to give equal power to ethnic groups.
Zoning has worked well leading to a seamless transfer of power by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo who ruled for eight years, to Musa Yar’ Adua, a Northerner. Though Yar’ Adua’s death unfortunately truncated that zoning arrangement leading to the emergence of another Southerner, Goodluck Jonathan.
Among political leaders in the South, especially in the South East, it is expected that after President Buhari must have served the constitutional guaranteed eight years in office that power should shift to the region.
However, it appears that some political actors and stakeholders, especially in the North are opposed to the idea. While some would want power to remain in the North, others are of the view that competence should rather determine who governs the country and not ethnicity.
The talk about zoning has already pitched many politicians against one another. Currently, in the APC, there is disquiet and uncertainty over the party’s position on the issue. In the last few months, different party leaders have been making conflicting statements on the issue.
Perhaps, what has become apparent is that the issue of zoning may lead to a major implosion and crisis in the two major political parties if not well managed ahead 2023.
“You see, I don’t think there is anything like agreement. You can ask the President, he led the group, Asiwaju was there, I was part of it, and there was no meeting. The agreement can’t be verbal, it has to be written,” Sanni Yerima, a former governor of Zamfara State and chieftain of the APC had said recently while declaring his intention to vie for the presidency in 2023.
Yerima further noted that there was no written agreement in the APC zoning the presidency to the South in 2023.
“Such an agreement can’t be verbal; it has to be written. In any case, any agreement that is contrary to the laws of this country is not an agreement. The constitution is very clear, the Constitution of the political parties, the Electoral Act. We are in a democracy and democracy is governed by processes and procedures and bylaws,” he further said.
But speaking recently, Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola countered Yerima, saying that the APC had an unwritten agreement to zone the presidency to the South in 2023 that must be respected.
According to him, “Political parties are clubs where you write agreements just like the social clubs and you can decide that it is the youngest person who will be the chairman of the club or party or that the oldest person or woman should lead.
“That is a matter of agreement among people. But the constitution that sets up the requirements of political party formation does not prescribe zoning. So, if people made an agreement, as a matter of honour, they should keep to the terms of their agreement, whether it is written or verbal.
“The truth is that what makes an agreement efficacious is the honour with which it is made, not whether it is written or verbal. If it was right there would be no court cases on breach of contract because it is all the documents, the written and signed agreements that always go to court. But the private agreement you make with your brother or sister and you deal with it, there is no dispute, it is the honour”.
Perhaps, a similar situation exists in the PDP where the party had on several occasions categorically said it had not taken a position yet on where to zone the presidential ticket in 2023. This stand is already causing ripples within the party with various chieftains, especially from the Southeast calming that the party must zone the presidential ticket to the region to gain its support.
But Uche Secondus, the national chairman of the PDP, said recently that the party was yet to decide on zoning, stressing that the party’s ticket was open to all Nigerians.
He said: “We must study our last outing before looking ahead. We can’t be talking of zoning when we have not appraised how we fared in the last election.
“By the time they (appraisal committee) finish, we will take decisions and the decision is not for the National Working Committee (NWC) but for the entirety of our party. And I believe that whoever is interested in 2023, maybe including the former President, the chances are there because the PDP is a party of all”.
However, observers say that PDP may just be waiting to see the turn of events in the APC before deciding on what to do. They, however, urged the party to be strategic before arriving at a decision to avoid a major crisis in the party because the Southeast may lay claim to the ticket.
Meanwhile, among the reasons given by the Ebonyi State Governor for dumping the opposition party for the APC was the refusal of the leadership of the PDP to commit to zoning the presidential ticket to the Southeast. Umahi said the region had done enough to deserve the PDP ticket.
However, it appears, Umahi may not be alone in the fight, in recent times agitations for Igbo presidency in 2023 had gained wide support in the region where leaders had consistently complained of being marginalised in Nigeria.
Chekwas Okorie, an Igbo leader and one of the founders of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), expressed dismay that the region had continuously been denied the presidency, stressing that there was no better time to actualise the Igbo presidency than 2023.
He warned the two major parties in the country that the region was tired of being used and abandoned, adding that it would not accept any position other than the presidency from the two major parties in Nigeria.
According to him, “Igbo presidency is realisable; it is far more realisable in 2023 than any other time. It is conventional but not in the constitution, even that rotation is in the PDP constitution and in APC where I belong. It is becoming a bit difficult to convince Nigerians that after eight years of President Buhari that another Northerner would want to continue from there.”
According to him, “Everything looks favourable for the South to be considered for the APC ticket. But when you now talk about the South, the Yorubas have had their turn when Obasanjo ruled for eight years, after that we had Umaru Musa Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan tenure, we know that Jonathan moved on to rule for six years.
“So, it is only the Southeast and for the interest of equity, it is appropriate that the region gets the presidential slot in 2023. But the way I am seeing it, the PDP may not zone the presidency to the Southeast in 2023”.
Similarly, some stakeholders have kicked against zoning; they say who rules the country should be based on merit and not because such an individual is from an ethnic group. One of such individuals is the President’s nephew, Malam Mamman Daura, who argued that competence, not geography should determine the next president of Nigeria in 2023.
Daura had demised the clamour for power shift, saying that it was time for the country to unite and go for the most competent person.
“Since Nigerians have tried the rotational presidency about thrice already, it would be better to go for the most qualified candidate in 2023 irrespective of whether he comes from the North or the South,” Daura had said.
Among political watchers, the issue has continued to generate mixed reactions, while some have called for caution, saying zoning could encourage mediocrity, others say it was the best way of carrying every one along in a divided and multi-ethnic country like Nigeria.
Political Analyst, Ayo Kusamotu said Nigerians should not see zoning as a right and that it may not solve the nation leadership problem, adding that he would rather prefer the best candidate to lead the country.
“On the issue of zoning, it is a party affair decided by the party constitution and not a national constitutional issue. Thus, it is irrelevant. Politics is about capturing power and the objective of the party is to see how best to win. Zoning isn’t a right but a privilege unless enshrined in the constitution of the party.
“The parties should give us the best candidate that will be detribalised. Zoning itself also brings about ugly effects and promotion of mediocrity. I do not wonder about our obsession with power and not service. We should learn from the United States of America. Where you come from is irrelevant, it is what you can do. Nigerians should stop being deceived. Let us choose the best person that can lead this country and be watchful of politicians who are obfuscating the real issues.”
However, analyst Festus Eriye disagreed with Kusamotu’s view, saying that zoning was the best way of fostering oneness in a diverse nation like Nigeria.
“For all their flaws and failings, zoning is one thing the political class has got right as a way of reducing heat in the polity and fostering a sense of belonging in a culturally and ethnically-diverse country as ours.
“It is a device which, despite its imperfections, provides hope that at national level even minorities outside of the big three ethnic groups can ascend the highest heights of political power with time. The same holds true at state level”.