Politics

2023: Battle royale over southern president

Last week’s resolution of Southern Governors’ Forum (SGF) that the South should produce the president in the 2023 elections set the stage for brinkmanship between the North and the South and within southern politicians, writes ONYEKACHI EZE

 

Unlike their northern counterparts, governors of Southern Nigeria were not known to speak in one voice. But of recent, decisions taken at their regional meetings have attracted national attention. When the governors met in Asaba, Delta State, about a month ago, their decision to ban open grazing in all southern states was earthshaking.

 

The Federal Government and other elements in the North did not take it kindly. A faceless group had even threatened attack on Delta State, for hosting the meeting.

 

And President Muhammadu Buhari, who had not spoken to the nation since his re-election in 2019, broke his silence, and ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to reactivate the 1963 Nigerian Republican Constitution and recover old grazing routes.

 

This is a story for another day. Last Monday, July 5, the governors under the aegis of Southern Governors’ Forum (SGF) met again in Lagos and came out with a resolution demanding that southern Nigeria should be allowed to produce the next president of the country when Buhari’s tenure expires in May 2023.

 

Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, who read the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting, said the Forum “re-affirmed their commitment to the unity of Nigeria on the pillars of equity, fairness, justice, progress and peaceful co-existence between and amongst its people.

 

“The forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern region.”

 

A day later, southern legislators in the House of Representatives, associated themselves with the decisions of the governors. Chairman of the Southern Caucus in the house, Victor Nwokolo, in a statement, said House of Representatives members from 17 southern states “unanimously and unequivocally endorse the patriotic resolution of the SGF on the resolve that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the southern region.

 

“We note that the demand that the next president of Nigeria should come from the southern region unambiguously represents the opinion of the majority of Nigerians across board, in tandem with the already established rotation of presidency position between southern and northern Nigeria.

 

“Furthermore, against the backdrop of our commitment towards free, fair, credible and transparent elections, the members of the House of Representatives from the South also back our governors in rejecting the moves to outlaw the electronic transmission of election result in the Electoral Act, as well as the confirmation of exclusive jurisdiction in pre-election matters on the Federal High Court.

 

“We hold that electronic transmission of result directly from the polling unit is a firm step towards the elimination of result collation related malpractices, including alteration of figures, mutilation of documents, snatching and diversion of ballot materials on transit to collation centres, among others.”

 

Former Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima and his Kaduna State counterpart, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, are in support of southern presidency in 2023. Shettima said at a book presentation in Abuja: “I believe in equity, justice and fairness. After power has resided in the  North for eight years, there is the need for a power shift in the South.”

 

Also, el-Rufai who just celebrated his 62nd birthday was of the opinion, “that in the political system we have, after eight years of President Buhari, the presidency should go to the south.”

 

But this did not go down well with the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNC), among others groups and individuals from the region. The NEF said through its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed that the position of the Southern governors is a sentiment that could be best discussed within a political process.

 

He argued that the democratic rights of Nigerian citizens to vote for a candidate of their choice “cannot be snatched by threats or intimidation.”

 

The group would rather want the governors, whom the noted are from two dominant parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to lobby their parties to zone their tickets to the south instead issuing an ultimatum.

 

“We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest,”

 

Baba-Ahmed contended. The CGC said the decision is a gang up against the North. Its spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said in a statement: “The North is represented by 250 ethnic groups whose right to aspire to the presidency would be circumvented by a delusional rotators principles and these include people of Yoruba ancestry who belong to the geopolitical North.”

 

In particular, the group mentioned the North-Central, which has not held any presidential or vice presidential positions since the return of democracy to the country in 1999, “and therefore has legitimate basis to aspire for the presidency in 2023.

 

This particular argument will also dog the south if the presidency is zoned to the region. Among the three geo-political zones in the region, only the South East has not produced either the president or vice president of the country since 1999.

 

The two other zones, the South-West and South-South have served in the two positions, though South-West served a longer period – eight years as president to South- South’s five years; and presently six years to South-South’s three years. That is why there are more agitations for president of Igbo extraction

 

A committee set up by the PDP to review the party’s performance in 2019 general elections had recommended for the party to throw its thick open to qualified Nigerians in all parts of the country.

 

The committee, which was headed by Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, noted that, “In line with certain unwritten conventions of the nation’s history, many people think that, for fairness and equity, the North-East and South-East geo-political zones that have had the shortest stints at the presidency, should be given special consideration, in choosing the presidential flag bearer of the party, for the 2023 elections.

 

“While we admit that this is a strong argument, we should not lose sight of the fact that Nigeria is endowed with many capable and very experienced leaders in every part of the country. “Moreover, the exigencies of the moment demand that nothing should be compromised in choosing the leader, with the attributes to disentangle the country from the present quagmire.

 

“Therefore, we think that every Nigerian, from every part of the country, should be given the opportunity to choose the best candidate, through a credible primary election; as a way of institutionalising a meritbased leadership recruitment process, for the country.”

 

An Igbo group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, said the Southern Governors Forum’s resolution has put the PDP on the spot. Secretary-General of the group, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, expressed the belief that the resolution would make PDP “revert to her original constitutionally preserved rotational presidency which the PDP NWCled by Uche Secondus is trying to thwart for greedy purposes.

 

“This shows that any political party that ‘anti-clockwise’ zones her presidential ticket outside the South will undoubtedly lose the bloc votes (of the South) to political parties that respect the aspirations of Southern Governors and the people.

 

“The reinforcement of the collective bargaining of Igbo to succeed President Buhari in 2023 is the major responsibility of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Who are those from the south eying the presidency in 2023? The number is legion; even some of the governors who passed the resolution are also interested in the job. Few of them deserve mentioning, and their chances.

Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu

 

The former Lagos State governor is presently the national leader of the APC. He is one of the few most successful and shrewd  politicians in the country. Among the Class ’99 Governors, Tinubu is not only among the few who are still politically relevant, but the only one whose political empire is still strong.

 

In 2007, when he left office, a faction of his own Alliance for Democracy (AD which later became Action Congress (AC), the party was in control of only one state, Lagos. But before the 2011 general elections, the AC extended its states to six, five in the South-West, and one in South-South.

 

He also became a determinant factor in national politics. Tinubu’s ACN later teamed up with the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and factions of PDP and All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), in 2013 to form APC. The party has been in government since 2015, and Tinubu played no small role to make it happen. Now that the party’s two term candidate and Nigeria president, Muhammadu Buhari, who is from the North, will serve out his tenure in 2023, Tinubu is well positioned to be compensated for his effort.

 

The former Lagos governor has already oiled his political machinery and activated his network for this purpose. When he turned 69 years this year, Tinubu chose the ancient city of Kano as venue for his birthday party and colloquium. Lanre Ogunyemi, Secretary of APC Lagos State chapter, said it the fundamental right of Tinubu as a Nigerian to become the next president.

According to him, the APC national leader has contributed to modern Nigeria and is regarded as the Moses of this generation, adding that it is left for Nigerians to accept him as their president or not. If the APC ticket is given on merit, it should go to Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu.

 

Apart  from monetary contribution, no member of the party contributed more than Tinubu to the success of APC in the 2015 presidential election. But to Tinubu’s disadvantage is his geopolitical region. He comes from South-West that has produced a President, Vice President and Speakers of the House of Representatives, in this democratic dispensation.

 

The agitation is that South-West has had its fair share, and has been adequately compensated for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which, Moshood Abiola, from South-West won, and which was annulled by the military. Again, Tinubu wants to be seen in the mold of former Premier of the defunct Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

 

The people of the region see Tinubu’s politics to be at variance with that of Awolowo, and they are ready to shoot him down. A PDP chieftain in Kano State, Comrade Aminu Abdussalam Gwarzo, said the decision for Tinubu to hold colloquium for his birthday in Kano has nothing to do with national cohesion and unity. He accused the APC national leader of failure to protect northerners in the South-West.

 

“So many things happened recently with the most recent one being the barbaric violence that erupted in Shasa, Ibadan. “Being a political leader of the South West, at least, as far as APC is concerned, Tinubu should have asked for restraint and seen to be active in trying to quell the looming crisis.

 

“As someone who is aspiring to be president of this country,

 

Tinubu should have risen to that occasion and talked positively. You don’t just come and hold your colloquium here (Kano) and think that will be a panacea for national unity.

 

“As far as I am concerned, it is purely a political move, more about 2023. The APC government has failed and Tinubu is not saying anything. So many lives are being lost on a daily basis, not only in the South West.”

 

Tinubu’s albatross in the South West was his “insensitive” comment when he paid condolence visit to Pa Reuben Fasoranti, former leader of pan-Yoruba cultural association, Afenifere, on the brutal murder of his daughter, Funke Olakunrin.

 

The former governor was quoted to have declared: “Where are the cows,” an attempt to exonerate killer herdsmen of the crime.

 

During the #EndSARS protest in Lagos, after the Lekki Plaza shooting, Tinubu’s business concerns were attacked, which he blamed on political opponents. Incidentally, the attack turned tribal, as businesses and stores of particular ethnic group in Lagos were attacked in retaliation. This people might want to pay him back in 2023 presidential election.

 

Mr. Peter Obi

The former Anambra State governor admitted that he is under pressure to contest the 2023 presidency. Obi, at a lecture he delivered at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, (UNN), Enugu, said, “All over the place, people have  been urging me to go for presidency in 2023. We will vote for you.

 

But I say to them, the vehicle called Nigeria has no brain box but people are talking of changing driver only. “What can a driver of a knocked engine or car with a faulty or no brain box do?

Absolutely nothing, until the vehicle goes for complete overhaul.” Obi, who was PDP Vice Presidential candidate in 2019 is one of very few Nigerian politicians, who are praised for frugality.

 

Nearly eight years since he left office, there is no corruption allegation against him, despite the fact that he has long fallen out with his successor in office. His simplicity has earned him many admirers.

 

Obi easily mingles and interacts with everybody, and honours invitation without much ado. Obi’s candidacy can easily sell to all Nigerians, but his problem may be the kingmakers, who may see him as difficult to control. That was the reason his choice as vice presidential candidate in 2019 was stoutly opposed by some South-East politicians.

Kayode Fayemi

 

Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Ekiti State governor is presently NGF Chairman. His twoterm tenure ends next year. He first became governor in 2010 after the Appeal Court annulled the election of Segun Oni. Fayemi lost his first re-election to Ayodele Fayose in 2014 but came back in 2018 to win a reelection. Before he was re-elected in 2018,

 

Fayemi served as Minister of Solid Minerals Development in the President Buhari’s first tenure. He was formally of Tinubu political family but has disagreed with him, to chart his personal political course.

 

The Ekiti governor belongs to a political family in APC that is opposed to Tinubu, and hopes to be made candidate of the party to spite the former Lagos State governor. Fayemi may face the problem of non-acceptance.

 

The governor is not politically known outside South West. So, how does he hope to win the presidential election if nominated by the APC? Again, he is from South West that has had its fair share of political leadership since 1999.

 

Other likely aspirants

 

The presidential race might be a crowded one when the whistle is blown. Apart from the trio, other likely aspirants from the South may include former Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha (he contested the APC ticket in 2014); Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; his predecessor in office, Rotimi Amaechi, who is the current Minister of Transportation; Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi; Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, among others. Northern aspirants however keep their hopes alive.

 

The likes of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar; former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello, will not surrender their ambition without a fight

 

 

 

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