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2023: What do southern leaders want?

Political leaders from the South are unanimous in their demand that the region should produce the next president. But in the case a northerner succeeds…

Political leaders from the South are unanimous in their demand that the region should produce the next president. But in the case a northerner succeeds President Muhamamdu Buhari, the region must get top positions in the parliament and government appointments, as well as an assurance that the North would not present a candidate in the next presidential election. Daily Trust Saturday reports.

The 2023 general elections have undoubtedly brought to the fore, the argument of rotational presidency between the South and North. Since democracy returned in 1999, the presidency has gone from South to North-South.

The southern region, represented by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr Goodluck Jonathan, had 13 years at the helms of affairs. While the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua had three years, President Muhammadu Buhari would have had eight uninterrupted years by 2023, making a total of 11 years for the North.

Many southerners argue that in the spirit of fairness, equity and justice, power should return to the region after Buhari in 2023. With parties’ nominations concluded and commencement of political campaign in days, this debate has continued unabated. This is partly due to the fact that of the leading four candidates in the presidential poll, two are from the North – Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Dr Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).

However, many southern leaders have insisted that it is the turn of the region in 2023. Prior to the commencement of presidential primaries, the 17 southern governors met at different fora, insisting on the exalted position in 2023. This decision, which cut across party lines, was commended by leaders of thought from the region, especially the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), comprising four regional groups, namely, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

With the backing of the All Progressives Congress (APC) northern governors who impressed on Buhari that power should return to the South, a former Lagos State governor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, emerged the candidate of the party.

The emergence of Atiku as the candidate of the PDP and his nomination of the Delta state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who hosted the Southern Governors Forum, where the historic ‘Asaba Declaration’ was made, received bashing from the political leaders in the South, especially the SMBLF, who insisted that power must return to the South.

The SMBLF, in a communique issued on May 29, described the emergence of Atiku as the PDP presidential candidate as “an affront” to the people of the South.

“The SMBLF, therefore, totally rejects the candidacy of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and calls on our people of southern Nigeria and Middle Belt, as well as all true lovers of peace and unity not to vote for him or any other northerner in the 2023 presidential election in the interest of posterity,” it noted in the communiqué, while urging “all politicians of southern extraction to refuse the position of a running mate to any northern presidential candidate, which will equally be viewed as subjugating their people to political slavery.”

It subsequently branded Okowa a traitor after he accepted the vice presidential position from Atiku. While condemning all the political parties that fielded presidential candidates from the North, it lauded those who chose southerners as flag-bearers.

Atiku faces opposition, as South weighs Tinubu, Obi

While socio-cultural groups from the South have vowed to work against Atiku, southern political leaders from his party have tabled demands for their support.

After several persuasions, South West leaders of the PDP, on Wednesday pledged to support Atiku after tabling pre and post-election demands.

The South West PDP stakeholders’ interactive session with Atiku and his running mate, Okowa, which had been shifted on several occasions, finally held at the Theophilus Ogunlesi Hall, Ibadan, where the zone insisted that the PDP national chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu must resign in the collective interest of the party.

The Oyo State governor, ‘Seyi Makinde, who spoke on the details of the resolution of the South West PDP, said the zone had classified its demands from Atiku into two, including pre-election and post-election demands, adding that for the party to feel reassured that it is being inclusive, the lopsided sharing of its national positions must be reversed before the elections.

“If we want to unify Nigeria, we must unify the PDP first. If we want a government of national unity, the faces in the PDP must reflect national unity. If we want to restructure Nigeria, we must have the willingness to do what is right to bring inclusivity into the PDP. Do we have the capacity? Do we have a candidate with the capacity? The answer is a resounding yes,” he said.

Daily Trust Saturday gathered that post-election demands include leadership positions in the National Assembly and top ministries and appointments when the government is formed. Most importantly, sources disclosed, is an assurance of a single term and that Atiku will support the South to succeed him. 

While noting that the demand of the zone’s leaders was attainable, Atiku said the party’s constitution, rules, regulations and procedures must be adhered to.

But there are fears that if the PDP wins with a northern candidate in 2023, the APC might play a similar card in future elections when the PDP decides to present a southerner.

A source who would not want his name mentioned said, “Don’t forget that Buhari won in 2015 against an incumbent president from the South. How are we sure this will not become a template to ensure the North retains the presidency. Atiku and Tambuwal supported him against Jonathan then. What if Tambuwal, who is primed to be a principal officer in the Senate and a key player in Atiku’s government, moves to the APC or is supported to contest in the PDP?” 

However, analysts have maintained that Atiku will face a major opposition in the region, where he has had most of his electoral successes in the past. More than 50 per cent (5,703,387) of Atiku’s 11,262,978 votes in 2019 were from the South; the figure exceeds 66 per cent if the Middle Belt is added to it.

While leaders from the South and Middle Belt are unanimous in their opposition to Atiku, Kwankwaso and other presidential candidates from the North, they are divided over the preferred candidate from the South.

The endorsement of Peter Obi of the Labour Party by the SMBLF on the premise that the South East is the only zone in the South yet to occupy the exalted position, has not enjoyed the support of all major stakeholders in the region.

The leader of pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, who said the SMBLF were fully in support of Obi, noted that it would be unfair for either the South West and South South, which have occupied the post, to deny the South East this opportunity.

Adebanjo, who said the leadership of the SMBLF was fully in support of Obi’s aspiration, noted that justice, equity and inclusiveness demanded that the next president should come from the South East.

“On the principle of rotation, what nullified Tinubu is because the South West has had its own, South South has also had its own, why not the South East? It is not a case of Muslim-Muslim ticket. Tinubu is a very good and qualified candidate, but what disqualified him is the fact that we can’t say we believe in rotation and justice and you have had two bites on a piece when one of you has not had a bite.

“Anybody, even among the Yoruba who wants to criticise me should criticise the principle. We are not talking about the personality of Tinubu or otherwise now, I am talking about the question of the South West not being entitled to it now. If the presidency should come to the South, is the South East not part of the region? That’s the question they should answer. The presidency should come from the South East,” the elder statesman said in an interview with Daily Trust Saturday.

However, some groups, such as Yoruba Council of Elders, a section of southeastern youths under the aegis of the Conference of South East Progressive Youths, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council, Omaluegwuoku Progressive Initiative, as well as the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), have all backed Tinubu for the 2023 presidency.

A political analyst and former campaign spokesman for Atiku, Kassim Afegbua, who said justice and fairness demanded that the South should produce the president after the eight-year reign of Buhari, noted that Obi would have a good outing in the South, especially the South East but Tinubu would win the election.