President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, have for long held the view that the battle for the 2023 presidency was still far away.
At different fora, the duo had maintained that permutations for the 2023 presidency was only a distraction to government and Buhari, who will complete his second tenure of four years in 2023.
Thus, while the battle is not open for now, with APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) keeping their cards to their chests, there is no doubt, underground moves within the parties towards the 2023 presidential election are on-going.
The big question that is hanging from the lips of many remains: where will the pendulum swing? But last week, Buhari’s uncle and the man generally regarded as the head of the president’s power machine, Malam Mamman Daura, appeared to have kick-started the debate for the presidency in 2023. He also seemed to have kicked off the race for the hot seat inadvertently.
In an interview he granted the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Daura strongly argued that time had come for Nigeria to look beyond zoning and place competence at the head of the requirements for who becomes the nation’s number one citizen in 2023. He said that geography should not determine the next president of Nigeria.
Duara’s comment, innocuous as it seemed to be his private thought, has sent alarm bells ringing across the country. For one, some schools of thought believe that the North is not willing to return power to the South after Buhari. Such people point to statements from some Northern leaders in that direction since Buhari was elected for the 2nd term. But we concede that Daura has a right to express his opinion on any issue.
Thus, we assume that his position is not the general thinking in the North. But one thing that is certain is that even if competence is to be the yardstick for the next president to emerge, we have no doubt that all the six geo-political zones of the country have competent men and women, who can mount the seat of the presidency and deliver the goods.
But we are worried by the timing of Daura’s comments. Calling for the scrapping of zoning now from Buhari’s camp in the 2nd year of the president’s eight-year tenure, when politicians are beginning to oil their machines for the presidential race, might be a kite flown for a particular agenda. Since 1999 when democracy returned, the country has consciously maintained the zoning principle, even if not written in our constitution.
That was why when former President Olusegun Obasanjo was leaving office in 2007, he handed over to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, a northerner. Death cut short Yar’Adua’s reign, which brought in former President Goodluck Jonathan, who completed the tenure in 2011, contested again and ruled until 2015, when he was ousted by Buhari.
One thing that was not in doubt was that Jonathan lost the election because the North went for the post, arguing that it was its turn to rule the country. Even within Jonathan’s PDP, many did not see why he wanted another term from 2015. It was on the strength of the pro-North sentiments that Buhari routed him in the election.
Although many believed that Buhari’s popularity in the North, combined with the alliance with the South-West, secured the win for him, the 2019 election, when he ran against a fellow northerner, Atiku Abubakar, proved that his popularity was not the reason for his victory in 2015. The North was divided between their two sons in 2019. Expectedly, Daura’s postulation has drawn the ire of different groups. One of such is the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo.
The group asked Daura not to shift the goalposts in the middle of the game. The group insisted that it is the turn of the South, particularly the South-East, to produce the president in 2023. It further warned that equity should not be sacrificed on the altar of parochialism since it was the rotation sentiment that produced the incumbent. That position was also espoused by a former Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark. He accused the political elite in northern Nigeria of insincerity over the rotation of the presidency between the North and the South.
Clark went on to insist that power should return to the South in 2023 with emphasis that it is the turn of the South- East for equity reasons. But, from our records, since 1999, no zone has been outstanding because it produced the president. The current insecurity ravaging the North-West where Buhari comes from is a good example.
Ordinary people in the South-West and South- South cannot emphatically say that Obasanjo or Jonathan changed their lives more than other Nigerians.
However, we strongly believe that having embarked on rotation since 1999, 2023 should not be an exception for equity’s sake. May be when all the zones have taken their turns, we can then evaluate the strategies and go for the most competent among Nigerians. We therefore believe that power should come back to the South after Buhari. Where it goes to then is what Southerners would work out.