Twenty-seven months to the end of Buhari’s second and final term, caucusing, machinations, scheming and realignments have commenced among politicians, especially those in the two leading political parties in the country.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are yet to zone their presidential tickets to any part of the country, but scheming for it has commenced, thus the crisis rocking the two political parties.
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Expectations are that the zoning arrangement of the two parties would be known after their national conventions later this year.
Impeccable sources told one of our correspondents that the APC 2023 zoning formula would be made known and ratified at the party’s national convention, likely to hold in June this year.
Similarly, competent sources at the PDP national secretariat said the direction of the party as per the 2023 presidency would be known in December this year when the national convention of the party is likely to hold.
Before the political parties take decisions on the zoning, politicians are pushing for the consideration of their respective regions.
However, some northern politicians have aligned themselves with the agitation that the South should produce the next president of the country.
Since 1999 when the country returned to civil rule, the presidency has been rotated between the southern and northern parts of the country.
Unconstitutional as it is, the arrangement has played a key role in determining who emerges as the president of the country.
So far, four persons, including the incumbent President Buhari (North-West), have governed the country.
The rest are Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (South-West), the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua (North-West) and Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (South-South).
The agitation for the zoning of the presidency ballooned in July last year when Buhari’s nephew, Mallam Mamman Daura, said there was no need for it, positing that competence should be given priority in 2023.
Mixed reactions trailed Daura’s position, forcing the presidency to distance President Buhari from it, insisting it was his nephew’s personal opinion.
However, if anything, the ‘clarification’ by the presidency only emboldened some notable northern politicians to speak on the matter.
Governor Nasiru El-Rufai
Without mincing words, Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasiru Ahmad El-Rufai, has backed the quest for southern presidency come 2023.
El-Rufai, 61, who is completing his second term in 2023, had on many occasions made his position on the 2023 presidency clear, insisting that it was the turn of the South to man the coveted seat in the country.
In an interview with the Hausa Service of the BBC, El-Rufai said, “In Nigerian politics, there is a system of rotation, in which everyone agrees that if the North rules for eight years, the South will rule for eight years.
“That is why I came out and said that after President Buhari has been in office for eight years, no northerner should run for the office. Let the southerners also have eight years.”
However, sources around the governor and in the APC said he was scheming to pair with a southern politician to contest for the vice-presidential seat.
Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje
El-Rufai and the Kano State governor, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, are most of the times not on the same page on issues, but on zoning, they share the same position.
Days ago, while featuring on Channels Television’s Politics Today, Ganduje said the presidential slot should be given to the southern region.
“It should go to the southern part of the country, but there should be a consensus of members.
“The zoning system, even though it is not in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a strategy for winning elections,” he said.
Ganduje, who is completing his second term in May 2023 has a very cordial relationship with the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who is said to be eyeing the presidency.
His closeness to Tinubu fuels the reports that he may pair with him in 2023.
Governor Babagana Zulum
In the spirit of fairness, the Borno State governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, said power should go to the South in 2023.
At the 17th Chief Gani Fawehinmi Annual Lecture with the theme: “The constitutional history of Nigeria’s dysfunction: Any pathway to indivisibility and common progress?” the governor said the country was moving into an inevitable tension.
“My response to the question posed by the theme of this programme is that, yes, there are pathways to indivisibility and common progress.
“We must collectively agree that we need to do more to demonstrate fairness to every constituent part that made up this country. That is the constitution.
“We need to understand that pedestrian suspicion is not an empirical or legal reason to deny any section of the country participating in the leadership of this country.
“We are fast moving towards a point of inevitable tension,” Zulum, a first-term governor, said.
Also throwing his weight behind a southern presidency is a former governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari.
He said if the presidential ticket went to the South, the APC chairmanship would go to the North.
“Our presidency has to go to the South. The APC chairmanship may as well come to the North,” Yari, a former chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), said.
Senator Ali Ndume
A former Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), has said it will be tantamount to a third term if the APC fields a northerner as its presidential candidate come 2023.
Ndume, who chairs the Senate Committee on Army, in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, said in the spirit of fairness, justice and fair play, the party should zone its presidential ticket to the South.
He added that retaining the presidency in the North would not augur well for the party and the country.
“As a founding member of the APC, I witnessed the first convention, where the presidency was deliberately zoned to the North, and four candidates from the region – President Muhammadu Buhari, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, and the late Sam Nda-Isaiah – slugged it out, with Rochas Okorocha exercising his constitutional rights.
“I feel it would not be fair, equitable and just to field a northern candidate for the presidency in the APC. To me, fielding a northern candidate would be tantamount to a third term, which is unconstitutional,” he said.
He said the fairest thing was to allow southerners slug it out among themselves for the 2023 presidential ticket of the APC.
Senator Ahmad Babba Kaita
Kaita represents Katsina North Senatorial District, where President Muhammadu Buhari hails from.
To him, the APC would be doomed if its zoning arrangement is jettisoned in 2023.
The lawmaker said although he was not aware of any agreement in the party, common sense demands that the South should produce Buhari’s successor.
He said, “Considering the political arithmetic of this country, it is common sense that none of us can produce a president without the support of the other.
“It is common sense that we have to network with other people and bring like-minds to be able to wrest power in favour of our party.
“If this is the case, we should rotate and accommodate everybody. I believe that even though it is not written, it is a gentlemanly agreement we should be able to abide by because without the contribution of other stakeholders from other regions, the APC is doomed.
“That was what happened to the PDP. They were so power-drunk that they thought everything was possible.
“I am a firm believer that the only way we can survive as a party is to make sure that power rotates within the regions,” he said.
What Nigerians should look out for – Prof Jega
Lending his voice to the debate, a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, said Nigerians should go for the best.
Jega, a chieftain of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), said, “My take is that in a country, state or local government, people should look for the best.
“Things have been so bad for long in Nigeria. We have been reduced to perceive representation in the context of where someone comes from, rather than competence, experience and capacity of that person to govern.
“All over the country, they are doing that. We want our own to be there; and our own goes there and didn’t do what we wanted, still everybody wants their own to be there.
“I believe strongly that to manage ethnic and religious challenges in our country, the issue of federal character is important, at least for some time, before we get to a point where people will realise that putting the focus on competence and merit is the best way for a country to develop.
“But I can summarise my point that ultimately, for Nigeria to develop, tap and explore its potentials, we have to pay attention to merit, competence and capacity, while at the same time looking at the issue of federal character.
“Let everybody produce their best and let us all look for the best everywhere and decide amongst them who is the best.
“It is possible to do that, using a scientific criterion to produce the best,” he said in a recent interview.
Failure of leaders makes zoning inevitable – Don
For Dr David Omeiza Moveh, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science and International Studies, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, zoning is still seen as a stabilising factor in Nigeria’s democracy because of the failure of successive administrations to accommodate and give a sense of belonging to different parts and people of the country.
He said the Nigerian elite needed to continue to use the formula for peace to reign in the country.
He added: “I think the issue of zoning has become a factor in our political reality. If you look at the nature of the Nigerian society, it is heterogeneous, comprising competing interests across regions, ethnicity and even religions. Therefore, it has become very crucial, or almost inevitable to try to balance these competing interests if we want peace to reign in the country. I think this is why zoning has come to be with us.”
The varsity don said it was a product of informal arrangement amongst the political elite for the presidency to rotate between North and South.
“If a region holds the presidency for eight years, then it is logical for another region to hold it for the next eight years. By now, zoning is not supposed to be an issue in our democracy, but there is the failure of leaders to deliver services that will affect citizens’ lives.
“If leaders effectively accommodate all the diverse interests across the length and breadth of this country, whichever part of the country they come from would not be an issue. This failure makes zoning to become like an entitlement – if one zone holds it, the other may feel it is its turn. In a mature democracy, zoning is not an issue,” he said.
On whether the failure of leadership since the return of democracy is the factor that makes zoning still relevant in Nigeria’s democracy, Dr Moveh said it may be a factor, but not the real issue.
He added, “I think the major issue in Nigeria is accommodation – giving every part of the country a sense of belonging. If we talk of the failure of leadership, it entails many issues. If you look at the military leaders that were in place before President Obasanjo was installed, they were from the northern part of the country. This coupled with the 1993 annulment of the June 12 presidential election, which was widely believed to have been won by the late MKO Abiola, made the political elite to agree that power should shift to the South and South-West for that matter. That was why the two major contestants then, Olu Falae and Obasanjo emerged.
“So, zoning is like a gentleman’s agreement amongst the elite to see how they can accommodate and give a sense of belonging to all the parts of the country.”
Moveh does not believe that zoning is a way of sacrificing or compromising competence based on parochial interests.
There are qualified Nigerians in every region
He said, “The truth is that there are qualified Nigerians in every region. If we want to move further to the six geopolitical zones, qualified Nigerians are everywhere. The question is how to find them. We should have a leadership recruitment process. One of the ways of finding them is to look at the records and antecedents of Nigerians that held one position or another and how they performed.
“For instance, the Federal Executive Council is supposed to comprise one minister at least from every state. So, from 1999 we know those that have been ministers, governors, senators, among others. We can find those that delivered. However, it may not be democratic to find leaders, but every state can come together to pick one person who should compete with others from the remaining 35 states.”
Dr Moveh believes that the only way Nigeria can do away with zoning is for leaders to rise to their responsibilities. In his view, most Nigerians would not bother who a leader is, and from which zone if they are feeling the impact of his leadership in their lives.
“If you look at the 1993 elections, the presidential contestants were Muslims. Again, if you also look at 1999 elections, the two major contestants were from a particular region of the country. So, the issue of religion, region or ethnicity, in my opinion, usually comes to play when the leadership fails to effectively carter for Nigerians and accommodate people of divergent interests. Once leadership is working, this issue of zoning will be a thing of the past,” he added.
By Ismail Mudashir, Isa Sa’idu & Saawua Terzungwe