2023: Storm over Daura’s call for jettisoning of zoning
Permutations ahead of the next general election has dominated the political space of late, but the proposal by President Muhammadu Buhari’s nephew, Mamman Daura that competence rather than zoning should decide who emerges the next president seems to have rekindled the suspicion of a plot by the North to hold on to power beyond 2023. FELIX NWANERI reports
There is no doubt that President Muhammadu Buhari’s nephew, Mamman Daura, has no official portfolio in the Buhari-led administration but he is reportedly the most powerful man in Nigeria, perhaps, after the president himself.
This is despite the fact that the constitution provides for the Office of Vice President and whose occupant is the secondin- command to the president, with functions including participation in all cabinet meetings and, by statute, membership in the National Security Council, National Defence Council, Federal Executive Council and the Chairman of National Economic Council.
The belief among most Nigerians is that Daura heads the kitchen cabinet of the President. Reports had it at a time that he lives with his members of his family and maintain an office in one of the guest houses in the Presidential Villa, popularly referred to as the Glass House, and wields more power than the incumbent vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
While this view has remained a subject of debate since Buhari’s assumption of power in 2015, claims by the President’s wife, Aisha, have repeatedly pointed towards authenticating the belief that Daura wields the enormous power ascribed to him.
The President’s wife, for instance, once said the directive scrapping the Office of the First Lady in 2015, was issued by Daura, using Mallam Garba Shehu (Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity), a development, which according to her, embarrassed Buhari.
Also in one of her interviews with BBC Hausa, the First Lady gave an insight into the power struggle at the villa, with details of how her husband’s relatives, particularly members of Daura’s family, once physically confronted her.
Mrs. Buhari, who then confirmed the authenticity of a video that went viral in October 2019, in which Daura’s daughter, Fatima, claimed that she was attacked by the First Lady in the villa, said: “I was the one in that video and this person you see standing at my back are my security personnel.
“It was Fatima, the daughter of Mamman Daura that shot the video in front of my security and everybody there. She was actually recording the whole thing right in front of me and was laughing and mocking me.
They did that because my husband sacked them from the house. He told them to get all their belongings and leave the house for my son (Yusuf) to occupy. “I left them and wanted to get to one of the rooms, but they prevented me from getting through. I left them and took another way, yet I met the store locked.”
These claims and allegations, notwithstanding, Daura neither responded nor refuted any. Though an accomplished journalist, he rather opted not to engage in media exchanges with his traducers.
He was Editor of the New Nigerian from 1969 to 1973. He later served on several government boards and agencies including the News Agency of Nigeria, and in the 1980s was Chairman of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
While the President’s nephew had stayed off the media for a while, he stoked the fire last week with an interview he granted to BBC Hausa on the vexed issue of zoning and rotation of the nation’s presidency. His submission was that competence, not geography should determine the next president of Nigeria in 2023, when Buhari is expected to leave office.
According to him, since Nigerians have tried the rotational presidency about thrice already, it would be better to go for the most qualified candidate in 2023 irrespective of whether he comes from the North or South. This, he said, would be better for the nation’s unity.
His words: “This turn-byturn, it was done once, it was done twice, and it was done thrice. It is better for this country to be one… it should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere.”
He also used the opportunity to clarify his relationship with his uncle (Buhari), saying that contrary to the dominant view in the public domain, he could not possibly dictate public policy to the President. He said he grew up with the President and that they had always been close.
“Yes, I do visit him to greet him; I do give him advice, but if he asked…I advise him. But I don’t go there on my own and insist I must do this or that. No. You don’t do that to the government,” he said, adding: “My father was their mother’s first born. Buhari is the last born.”
2023 zoning debate Power is expected to shift to the South in 2023 given the zoning deal between the country’s two political divides – North and South, which took effect with the country’s return to civil rule in 1999.
The present democratic dispensation is 21 years old and the power rotation arrangement, though not constitutional, has seen the South had the presidency for 13 years through Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (South- West, 1999-2007) and Jonathan (South-South, 2010-2015), while the North would have been in power for 11 years by the time Buhari completes his second term in 2023 (2015-2023) as Umaru Yaar’Adua, who succeeded Obasanjo in 2007, passed on barely three years in office.
Perhaps, it is against this backdrop that the number of political gladiators in the South jostling to succeed Buhari keeps growing by the day, with the Igbo of South-East Nigeria insisting that 2023 is the time for one of their own to lead the country.
Ndigbo predicate their quest for power on the principle of equity and fairness as besides Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was a ceremonial president (1963-1966) and Major General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, who was military head of state between January 16 and July 29, 1966, no Igbo has led Africa’s most populous nation in the last 50 years. Some individuals in South- West have also been oiling their political machinery for the country’s number one position.
Early signal of North’s plot Many would have dismissed Daura’s position on the on the premise that it is one of those kites aimed at testing the political waters ahead of the next general election, but the belief in some political quarters, even before now, is that the 2023 presidency might not be an all-south-
ern affair and Daura’s views seem to have strengthened it. It would be recalled that the euphoria that greeted Buhari’s reelection in last year’s presidential poll had hardly gone down, when some northern political leaders started canvassing the need for their region to hold on to power beyond 2023.
Their clamour was stemmed on the need for the North to hold on to power for at least another four years in order to be at par with the South. The plot by the North started like a pun, when the national president of Arewa Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, said in a media interview that there was no going back for the North’s bid for the 2023 presidency, but later gained ground among political elites from the region.
His words: “We are considering supporting a northern presidency in 2023, and you better believe it because it is not just my personal opinion. The North has not benefitted anything from Buhari’s presidency because many northern states are still impoverished and under developed.
The rate of poverty in the North has become worse than it was in 2015. We cannot beat our chest and say this government has favoured the North. The first four years of Buhari was a waste and we cannot expect any magic to happen in his second tenure; it is not possible.”
Shettima had predicated his position on two grounds; the need for North to have another four years to catch up with the South’s 14-year presidency and to make up for the region’s inability to benefit from the Buhari administration, which he said, has favoured the South, particularly the South-West although those who read in between the line then, were of the view that his line of thought might have been spurred by North’s voting strength in the last elections.
Second Republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed, who later expressed similar thought, advised southern politicians jostling to take over from Buhari to have a rethink as the North could still vie for the presidency in 2023.
“This idea of zoning and rotation has been a tragedy for Nigeria because it has deprived the country of getting a better leader. That being the case, whosoever wants to claim it, let him go.
Look at Afenifere saying that next time it would be a Yoruba person; their understanding of rotation is between the North and the South-West or North- West and the South-West.
That cannot be. The contradiction, which they invented about zoning and rotation, has collapsed and now they are looking for lies to tell to deceive us.
“How can you say that we now have a president who is from the North-West and his vice, who is from South-West, and that next time it will be the turn of the South-West to produce the president of this country?
What are we talking about? I don’t want to hear about this equity and justice, that is sheer nonsense. “We keep on making this mistake of agitation of ‘it is our turn’ over and over again after all, somebody says the classical definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome,” he said.
Beyond flying the kite While many analysts and even political leaders, especially those from the South, dismissed Shettima and Mohammed’s submissions then on the ground that they do not speak for the North, some discerning political minds, however, warned that only political neophytes would wish away such proposition given the peculiarity of politics.
The picture became clear, when some public office holders in the North started buying into the power retention plot. For instance, the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el- Rufai, at a time made a case for the abandonment of the zoning arrangement, not only for the Office of President, but for other political offices as currently obtainable in the country.
According to him, the arrangement needed to be deemphasised and ultimately abandoned in favour of competence as Nigeria cannot afford to continue on zoning of political offices on the basis of regions. In a prologue titled, “Defeating a Determined Incumbent – The Nigerian Experience,” which he contributed to a book: “Power of Possibilities and Politics of Change in Nigeria,” written by the Director-General of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, Salihu Lukman, el-Rufai, described zoning of political offices as a barrier to political equality.
“Even with our success in the 2015 elections, there is room for improvement. Barriers to political equality, such as our seemingly entrenched though informal rule for zoning candidacies according to regions of origin, need to be de-emphasised and ultimately abandoned in favour of an emphasis on qualification, competence and character,” he wrote.
The Kaduna State governor, whose political standing as well as closeness to President Buhari and other powers that be up North is not in doubt later made what could pass as a detour, when he said the presidency should return to the South after Buhari’s tenure in conformity with the zonal arrangement embraced by the major political parties.
His words: “The general political consensus in Nigeria is that the presidency should rotate between the North and South. It is not written, but everyone understands it.
In some of the parties, like the PDP, it is even written down in their constitution, but it was breached in 2015.
“I think that every politician of honour should understand and abide by that consensus except there is an extenuating circumstance compelling it to be set aside. What could this be?
President Yar’Adua died in office and it was compulsory for Jonathan to continue, but when 2011 election came, there were many people who insisted that Jonathan should step aside for a northerner to complete the tenure of Yar’Adua, but I opposed it because I didn’t think it was proper for an incumbent that got there not by his own design to be stopped from contesting when the constitution has not barred him from running.
“In the APC, we deliberately omitted rotational presidency in our constitution and the emergence of a presidential candidate does not take into account zoning and that was why in 2015, Rochas Okorocha from the South-East contested, Sam Nda-Isaiah contested, Buhari, Kwankwaso and others contested. I can say that as distinct from the PDP, APC has no rotational presidency but candidates are selected strictly on the basis of political merit and the general acceptability of the candidate.
“I want to say that those of us from Northern Nigeria honour agreements. We do not violate unwritten political agreements and I will be the last person to lead in violating that agreement. I may have a personal view, but that should be the basis. I don’t care where you come from but I look for merit.
“But as a group, the northern APC will have to sit down and endorse someone, most likely someone from the South, because after eight years of Buhari, I don’t think the presidency should remain in the North unless there is some extenuating circumstances.
But all things being equal, we will honour our agreement and we keep our words.”
While many in the South, especially those of the APC extraction insisted that his position should not be taken for its face value given that it has so far been a mind game over the 2023 presidential race, their counterparts in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are also apprehensive over plans by some of its leaders to zone the party’s ticket for the 2923 presidential election to the North.
Though the party leadership has not officially declared its stand on the issue, the signs are clear that its eyes are set on a northern presidential candidate for 2023, especially with the party’s 2019 candidate and former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, showing interest.
Perhaps, it was this rumoured plot by the PDP to pick a northern candidate that informed the recent position of the leadership of South- East chapter of the party that no zone should be neglected or underrated in the decisionmaking process, especially the South East, which it said, had made tremendous sacrifices for the growth, wellbeing and survival of the PDP.
PDP National Vice Chairman (South-East), Chief Austine Umahi, who declared the position through a statement, was reacting to a comment credited to a former governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswam, that the PDP has zoned its 2023 presidential ticket to the North. Umahi said the former Benue governor “passed personal wishes” as the collective decision of the party.
He, therefore, urged the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP led by Prince Uche Secondus to quickly address Suswam’s comment for the interest of peace and unity of the party.
His words: “As a member of the NWC of our great party, I am shocked and embarrassed at this disclosure as the NWC had never discussed nor taken any such decision. As a political party, positions are only zoned in the PDP after they have been robustly debated by all six zones and unanimously agreed on as serving the best interest of the unity of the party and national exigencies.
“As such, the NWC of our party cannot allow Senator Suswam to pass across personal wishes as collective resolve, except if it is a case of the bird dancing by the road with the drummer lurking in the nearby bush.
The statement amounts to one being a judge in his case, which offends all known laws of natural justice.”
Southern leaders fault Daura
While it might be too early to draw conclusions on where the pendulum would swing to as regards the presidential tickets of the two main political parties for the 2023 general election, some analysts, who weighed the options on ground are of the view that the best any of the parties could offer the South is a vice presidential ticket. The questions against this backdrop are:
What happens to the zoning arrangement if the North retains power beyond 2023?
Can the South afford to wait for another eight years? Where is the place of equity, justice and fairness? No doubt, power is not served but struggled for, but some southern political leaders and groups that swiftly weighed in on Daura’s proposition, were of the consensus that there is no going back to power rotation between the North and South Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, through its spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, said the country must stand firm and respect the zoning agreement.
His words: “The northern candidates will definitely come out, but it is left for the country to say whether they want to accept the move or they should insist on the common understanding that power should rotate between North and South. “I heard Mamman Daura talking about competence or whatever. In 2023, he will understand if there is anything called competence. We are watching how things unfold.”
Odumakin added that he expects the South to forge a common front when the time comes to ensure that the presidency returned to the region. President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Emeka Attamah, described Daura’s statement as self-serving.
His words: “Having benefited enormously, he now wants zoning jettisoned because it is the turn of the South. Talking about competence or the most qualified, was President Buhari the most qualified Nigerian when he ascended the Presidency?
“Has he proved to be the most competent? Are the service chiefs the most competent among their colleagues to warrant their being retained beyond their tenure, obviously no because occurrences in the country since he became president and commander-inchief have proved him to be incompetent.
“Now that it is the turn of the South, precisely the South-East, he is mouthing the most qualified and competent. Equity is a constant flagship for peace and good governance.
Without it, there will be continued agitation and crisis.” Elder statesman and leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, on his part, said Daura shouldn’t have a say in such matters as zoning given his political experience.
“I’m not surprised at the principle statement by Mamman Daura. He has no political background; he hasn’t held any office in this country; he doesn’t belong to any political party, so he has not got any political experience. “The main fact that he is permanently a resident in Aso Rock as adviser to his uncle is not enough for him to make irresponsible statement that could jeopardise the unity of this country.
To jettison zoning is looking for chaotic situation in this country and there will be no one Nigeria, united Nigeria because no one will be a slave to the others,” Clark said. But in an interview with New Telegraph, a chieftain of the APC, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said though the issue of competence has always been raised at every election, it cannot stand alone as it must be juxtaposed with other factors such as national unity, equity, justice, fair play and spirit of patriotism.
His words: “I read what Maman Daura said and his emphasis was virtually on competence and on the issue of zoning, he simply repeated what the late Mallam Isa Funtua said about not believing in turn-by-turn.
That was the way he put and when he talked about competence, he didn’t say that competent people can only be found in one section of the country. So, we shouldn’t be bothered about that because when it comes to competence; that is not lacking in the South-East.
“Right from the First Republic, the issue of competence has always been raised at every election, so I don’t why this particular one is causing some people sleepless nights. It will always be there but my take on it is that competence cannot stand alone.
Competence must be juxtaposed with national unity, equity, justice, fair play and spirit of patriotism. All these must come together with competence to make for a stable democracy in a country like Nigeria. “I also know the while people are entitled to their personal opinion; the real issue is before the political parties as they are ones to decide on their respective presidential tickets.
The PDP was in government for 16 year, so as a member of the APC, I would want the party to be in power beyond President Buhari, but to be able to achieve that, there are certain things you cannot ignore. Buhari has cult-followership in the North but that was not able to make him president in three attempts until he reach out to the other sections of the country.
“Now, there is no Buhari again in the North because that followership is not transferrable and you don’t have any person with a similar cult-followership in the South-West, South-East, South-South or even the Middle Belt.
So, quite a number of factors different from the ones that threw up Buhari will throw up the next president and that is why I believe that my people in the South-East should be more strategic to actualize our aspiration of producing the next president of Nigeria come 2023.
“I have a very strong feeling that President Buhari will give Ndigbo a pleasant surprise because as someone with a military background, a everyone would have known by now that he is a man that likes surprises. So, he will give Ndigbo a pleasant surprise by supporting one of their own to succeed him.
A man who can take the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and thereafter a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, as his running mates cannot hate Ndigbo.
“Also, if you look at what is going on in the South-East in terms of infrastructural development; what we never saw during 16 years of PDP, you will see reason why we need to harness that goodwill because I see something in line with our aspiration coming through him. So, antagonizing him and trying to call him names will not be helpful.”