A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, recently announced his intention to contest the 2023 presidency.
Anyim, a former Senate president and chieftain of the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the South East, said if the presidency is not zoned to the South-East, “it will remain a burden on the conscience of the nation.”
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Anyim’s statement is coming at a time controversy is raging in the opposition party on whether to throw the party’s presidential ticket open or cede it to a particular region.
Analysts say with the current political trajectory, the North will retain power in 2023 except the big parties – APC and PDP — zoned their presidential slots to the South.
Zoning of PDP 2023 elective offices would determine to a large extent the chances of the former SGF in 2023.
The South East and the North Central leaders are, however, agitating for power shift to their regions, on the grounds that they were yet to produce a democratically elected president since 1999 when the fourth republic set in.
The South East leaders have consistently lamented what they describe as political marginalisation of the region and demanded a national consensus that the zone should produce the next president at the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure in 2023.
Banking on the sentiments of zoning, Anyim has intensified his efforts towards clinching the apex ticket of the PDP at the party’s primary poll and winning the 2023 general election.
Recall that the Governor Bala Mohammed-led 2019 Post Election Review Committee had recommended that the party should allow all aspirants from all parts of the country to contest for its 2023 presidential ticket.
The committee, which submitted its report to then Prince Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, said many people thought special consideration should be given to the North-East and South East geo-political zones for fairness and equity, but that merit, rather than zonal consideration should be adopted in the choice of the party’s presidential flag bearer.
However, political pundits believe that if PDP’s presidential ticket is thrown open, political gladiators from the South would lose out. Therefore, Anyim has a herculean task to convince his party to stick to its zoning arrangement as enshrined in its constitution.
Anyim is said to have consulted former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan, and former military president Ibrahim Babangida, and head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, as part of his efforts to convince the stakeholders and elder statesmen to support his ambition.
The former Senate president was also said to have had meetings with the former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Danjuma; Chief Arthur Eze, and Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu who are said to have urged him to continue his consultations.
Meanwhile, some civil society groups under the aegis of Arewa Concerned Civil Society Organisations of Nigeria, rooting for Anyim have appealed to the top echelon of the PDP not to jettison zoning.
The spokesman for the group, Abdulsalam Kazeem, in a statement, said the next president should come from the South East, maintaining that Anyim remained the best man for the job.
“Between 1999 and 2007, it was South-West and North-East, and between 2007 and 2015, it was between South-South and North West, while from 2015 to date it is between North-West and South-West.
“The South-East, for instance, has been part and parcel of the Nigerian project from day one till date; and, they should be treated fairly just like other zones of the country,” he said.
However, how Anyim will convince some bigwigs from the North who are also interested in succeeding Buhari, such as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, former Senate president, Bukola Saraki and other aspirants from the North, remains a hurdle to scale through.
Though the former SGF has denied any wrongdoings, there is still a corruption allegation dangling on the presidential hopeful.
Anyim was alleged to have indulged in some irregularities concerning the Centenary City project during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. The House of Representatives Committee on FCT had indicted him in a report.
Also, one Dr. Cairo Ojougboh had dragged the presidential hopeful before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the same issue.
In a petition, dated July 21, 2015, addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari, Ojougboh who was the national vice chairman South-South of the PDP, had called on President Buhari to, as a matter of urgency, probe Senator Anyim who, he said, handled the Centenary City project.
“I am calling on President Buhari to revisit the Centenary Project and he will be shocked at the findings that the project was owned by private individuals but procured with government funds,” he claimed.
He alleged that the former Senate president was involved in fraudulent acquisitions perpetrated by the sponsors of the project covering over 1,500 hectares of land in the federal capital city, Abuja, adding that the size of the land was equal to Maitama, Asokoro and Guzape districts put together.
The EFCC was also said to have interrogated the former Senate president on the issue.
So he will have to justify to the PDP that he has what it takes to not only lead the party to victory in 2023, but that his hands are clean on the issue of the Centenary Project.
As of now, apart from PDP leaders in the South-East zone who reportedly endorsed Anyim for president, no other zone has done so. Also, the former SGF is not known to have structures and tentacles spread across other geo-political zones of the country.
But political leaders from Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states, who recently endorsed him in Enugu, said they did so because Anyim has a “distinguished record and unblemished service” as president of the Senate and SGF.
They made their position known in a 10-point resolution issued at the end of the meeting, signed by Senator Theodore Orji, a former governor of Abia State, who also chaired the session and Chief Duru-Iheoma (SAN), a former chairman of PDP in Imo State.
The South-East PDP stakeholders noted that the people of the geo-political zone “have earned the right to occupy the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023, on account of their eminent qualifications and overwhelming contributions to the development of all parts of the federation through the years.
“The choice of a South East citizen as the presidential candidate of the party in 2023, will guarantee every Nigerian a sense of equity, justice and inclusion in the management of the affairs of the nation.
“In our view, this is the best way of ensuring that we build a nation that leaves no one or group behind.”
In his response, Anyim said, “My records as president of the Senate and as SGF clearly show that I am more interested in building strong institutions than seeking enhancement of personal power or position.
“My records show effective and efficient management of the nation’s diversity based on equity, justice, fairness and inclusiveness.
“My decision is a product of some years of prayers, reflection and introspection on not just my capacity and preparedness to take on the task ahead, but also deep thoughts on our national challenges and the solutions they demand.”
Anyim could have the endorsement of the people of the South East, but he will still need to convince the other regions that the endorsement has nothing to do with a South East agenda.
Political battle with Umahi
As Anyim continues to consult critical stakeholders over his ambition, another factor that might derail it, if not well-handled, is the feud between him and his state governor, David Umahi.
Umahi, a former member of the PDP, recently defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and has declared his intention to succeed President Buhari in 2023.
Governor Umahi is already at daggers drawn with Anyim over his refusal to join him in APC along with other party bigwigs in the state.
The governor has accused Anyim and other leaders in the state of sponsoring insecurity and IPOB to cause mayhem in the state.
Pundits say Anyim, will have to put his house in order and conquer the fight with the governor, though they are in two different political parties, for him to succeed without any form of frustration from his home state.
Plot to impeach Obasanjo
Anyim was elected to the Senate to represent Ebonyi South Senatorial District in May 1999 and was appointed president of the Senate in August 2000, after Chuba Okadigbo had been impeached.
During his tenure, Anyim superintended an attempt to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo in June 2002. When the attempt failed, he declined to seek re-election.
Political observers say Anyim’s refusal to seek re-election was to avoid being humiliated by Obasanjo out of the red chambers of the National Assembly.
While the development is still in the annals of history, it is left to be seen whether the Ota farmer would go against Anyim’s interest or forgive him as he sets his eyes on succeeding President Buhari.