2023 presidency and the North’s trilemma - By: Iliyasu Gadu | Dailytrust

2023 presidency and the North’s trilemma

President Muhammadu Buhari Photocredit: Tolani Alli

You won’t hear it spoken in public due to its sensitive nature. But in the higher circles of Northern Nigerian politerati there are fierce discussions going on as to how the region will fare after President Muhammadu Buhari leaves office in 2023.

The discussions centre around whether the North should agree to support a southern candidate for the presidency effectively ceding political power to the South or whether the North should instead insist holding on to power which will almost certainly result in scuttling the idea of power shift to the South.

The sub-theme of these discussions in the North focuses on the events of the past couple of months in the South in which northerners and their livelihoods were targeted for destruction and the strident, unapologetic and unrelenting manner the North and northerners are being slated in the southern based media and public space. The question being asked is can the North trust and feel comfortable under a southern president?

Another sub theme to the discussions is, with the calls for secession renting the air in both the South East and South West, should the North hedge its bets for now or should it concede power to the South as a political sacrifice in the interest of dousing the tension now building up in the country on the matter of political succession in 2023?

For the North, these discussions are necessary because as everyone knows in terms of the political stakes, the North with its voting numbers holds the aces and with that can play the game changer in national elections.

Approaching the 2023 elections, the North faces what some in the Northern political circles consider a Hobson choice; support a southern presidential candidate and risk being swamped politically once such a person gets into the office at the prompting of the southern elite, or hold on to power and face a torrent of political sniping and attrition all over the country making that decision a potentially hot political potato to the North.

As it is now, from the trajectory of these discussions, northern political supremos are juggling with three distinct options on the matter of 2023 presidency.

The first is to agree to a power shift to the South as a demonstration of good faith and reciprocity for the support that the South West gave to President Buhari to enable him tip the scales in the 2015 and 2019 elections. If the North considers this option, it is almost certain that the South West will be favoured and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu will be the beneficiary going by the view of some in the North.

And the simple reason is that of all the eligible potential candidates from the entire South and especially the South West, he stands heads and shoulders above them. It was he who almost singlehandedly swung his massive political machinery behind moves that gave birth to the ruling All Progressives Party (APC). And it was also his efforts that helped secure the unprecedented support of the South West behind the candidacy of President Buhari in the 2015 and 2019 elections.

But there are some in the North who, though in support of power shift to the South, are not enamoured on lining up behind Tinubu. They would prefer either Vice President Yemi Osinbajo or Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State.

Their reasons range from the fact that Tinubu appears too powerful and influential and will perhaps not be malleable as president.

Then there are those who are ambivalent to power shift to the South and would prefer that the North keeps its political advantages in view of the uncertain political situation in the country now and which is likely to continue up to 2023. Their ostensible argument is that democracy will not be served if eligible candidates from any part of the country are debarred from contesting the presidency on the altar of an arrangement that has no constitutional basis. But the underlying reason however is that those who support this view are actually angling for power to be retained in the North. It is conceivable that those who hold this view intend to mobilise Northern support behind a Northern candidate that the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will likely field in 2023 thus squelching the power shift idea.

From all indications, the North is not giving full unconditional support to the idea of power shift. Even those who support the idea put a caveat to it. If it is Tinubu that the Northern political elite decide to give their support to, they would like to bind him to some iron cast guarantees and commitments. They will for instance like to choose who should be his running mate and this will likely be a Muslim from preferably the North West or the North East. There will also be other conditions and guarantees in addition to this.

If the North chooses Vice- President Osinbajo, the idea or assumption will be that unlike Tinubu, the VP who is considered a political lightweight may not be too powerful and influential enough to assert himself as president. He will thus be expected to rely on Northern power elite to steady his government. He will also be made to agree to some conditions which may not be dissimilar to those placed before Tinubu.

Of the three options, the most sure footed, which the North will likely go for, will be to support a Northern presidential candidate which the opposition PDP might throw up. With this option, the North will not need to sit down to negotiations on what it wants and how it can be done. Similarly, the North will not entertain any fears of a Southern president reneging on promises previously agreed on.

For the North, this will be the fallback option considering that many expect the APC to run into heavy weather over a number of issues in the run-up to the 2023 elections. In the event of that happening, the Northern political elite will find the situation fortuitous and convenient enough to rally Northern voters to support this option.

But the big question is how will the South and especially the South West react.