•Nation divided as battle for 2023 presidency rages
By Charles Kumolu
Amid raging controversy over the zoning of the 2023 presidency, no fewer than six northern governors are backing the South for the nation’s top office.
They spoke about their preference for power to move from the North in the next elections.
The incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, from the North, is due to complete his maximum eight years’ tenure in government in 2023.
He succeeded former President Good luck Jonathan who hails from the South.
Jonathan had completed two of the four-year term of his predecessor, Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua, a northerner who took ill and died in office in 2009, and won another four-year term which he also completed in 2015.
Subsequently he sought another term but lost to the incumbent.
The latest of the six governors to speak are Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and his Borno State counterpart, Professor Babagana Zulum
Of the 36 governors in the country, 18 are from the North.
Their 17 counterparts from the South had stoked the latest controversy, last Monday, when they lay claim to the 2023 President.
Zoning had been an issue in the polity.
The argument of those in favour had been that power going round the country would give every section a sense of belonging.
Some even went further to say it should be a constitutional provision while others believe it should be a party policy.
But those against contend that zoning should have no place the polity as it breeds mediocrity at a time the nation needs its brightest in government to move her forward.
Of the six geopolitical zones of the country, only the South-East has not been President, prompting many who cite equity to root for the nation to concede the presidency to the zone dominated by the Igbo tribe.
The Southern governors had argued, in a communiqué they issued after a meeting in Lagos, last Monday, under the aegis of Southern Governors’ Forum, that the next President of Nigeria must emerge from the South.
The southern governors, from both the ruling party at the federal level, All Progressives Congress (APC), and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), unanimously resolved that the presidency of the country must be rotated between southern and northern Nigeria, and insisted that the next President of Nigeria should emerge from the southern region.
“The Forum reiterates its “commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously and 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 communiqué read by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, who is the Chairman of the Forum, said after the meeting.
The statement immediately drew a sharp rebuke from Northern Elders Forum, NEF, which rejected the position of the governors, stating that the presidency is a democratic and not a rotational position.
The group accused the southern governors of blackmail.
“NEF sees the decision of the Southern governors as an expression of sentiment that could be best discussed within a political process”, a statement signed by the group’s Publicity Director, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, read.
“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”.
NEF admonished the southern governors to influence their parties to zone the presidency to southern states and then work to convince voters from all parts of the country to vote for that candidate.
The Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, spoke in similar vein, accusing southern governors of ganging-up against the North ahead of 2023.
CNG’s spokesman, Abdul-Azeez Sulaiman, said the call was a gang-up to deprive the North of the presidency in 2023.
Suleiman said the southern governors’ action was undemocratic.
A statement by the group read: “The gang-up against the North, especially to force a regional shift of the presidency in 2023 by whatever means and tactics, include those that are clearly undemocratic.
“The governors’ resolutions on 2023 exposed a deliberate attempt to impose a contentious system of rotational presidency aimed at achieving dubious political goals to weaken the North.
“This conspiracy is actively perpetrated with the connivance of some northerners and accommodated by the personal ambition of a few of those that present themselves as northern political leaders.”
But in a reaction to the southern governors’ demand, Ortom commended them for their position on rotation of the presidency
“Governor Ortom believes that only equity, fairness and justice can strengthen the unity of Nigeria, give all citizens a sense of belonging and reduce tensions across the country,” a statement by his spokesperson said.
Zulum, on his part, clarified that the southern governors were not wrong in calling for power shift to their region since it would promote unity, but frowned on the use of the phrase ‘’must.’’
He said on a television programme: “I have said it times without number that I am of the view that the presidency should go to the South in the year 2023 because the unity of our country is very important.
“Secondly, inclusivity is very important. Thirdly, I am in the APC. Six or seven years ago, APC had zoned the presidency to northern Nigeria based on the agreement that, in 2023, the presidency should go to the South.
“But again, this is politics. We are supposed to meet and discuss this issue among ourselves, among the political class.
“This statement that people are saying that the President must go to the South, I want them to remove the word ‘must.’”
The four other northern governors who previously spoke about the contentious issue of the 2023 zoning of the presidency are Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai, Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, Katsina Governor Aminu Masari and Nasarawa Governor Abdullahi Sule.
El-Rufai argued that Nigeria’s next President in 2023 should emerge from the South.
“The southern part of the country is supposed to produce the President come 2023; I don’t support a northerner to vie for the seat after President Muhammadu Buhari based on Nigeria’s political arrangement,” he said.
According to him, although the power shift arrangement among the various regions is unconstitutional, it is a political design that must be respected.
Also speaking, Ganduje recently said presidency in 2023 must be zoned to the South.
The Kano governor said he was not unmindful of the fact the Constitution does not have provision for zoning but that it was important to adopt it since it was strategic in winning elections.
Masari also called for the rotation of the presidency in 2023.
The Katsina governor said the southern region should produce the next President.
According to him, a non-northerner should succeed Buhari in 2023 in the spirit of equity, fairness and justice.
Sule recently expressed support for rotational presidency.
The Nasarawa governor said it was necessary for the next President to come from the South.
The governor stressed that, for fairness and distribution, if the presidency is zoned to the South, the APC national chairmanship should be zoned to the North.
He said it would be unfair for him, having benefitted from power rotation, to denounce same.
“That is why, from all indications, I have never said anything against the agitation for rotation of the presidency to the South. It’s because I don’t think it’s a bad idea for peace in Nigeria, if there is rotational presidency,” Sule said.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) and governor of Kebbi State, Senator Atiku Bagudu, was quoted as saying, “APC belongs to all Nigerians. Everyone, from every part of the country, is free to aspire to any position in the party in line with the provisions of our party’s constitution and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended.”
In PDP, a panel, headed by Bauchi Governor Bala Mohammed, which recommended that the party’s ticket be thrown open to all zones, had attracted reactions, prompting the party leadership to deny that it had taken a position on zoning.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, was compelled to clarify that the party was still studying the report and would take a position on zoning after a broader political meeting.