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2023 Presidency: Battle for top job hots up

Power must shift to South, Governors, Senators, stakeholders insist

You have to negotiate with us –North
By Mudiaga Affe, Kassim Omomia, Andy Asemota, Cajetan Mmuta and Idu Jude
The battle over who occupies the nation’s numero uno seat in 2023 has continued to heat up the polity, with many Nigerians and groups taking divergent positions on the controversy.

Southern governors resurrected the ongoing debate as they insist that the exalted position should be occupied by a southerner in the next dispensation.

Their position has, however, elicited a heated response from some northerners who rejected the idea.

Seventeen southern governors under the auspices of Southern Governors’ Forum (SGF) met in Lagos last week, where they took this stand as well as examined other national issues.

Speaking through the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, the forum reiterated its commitment to the politics of equity and fairness, with a resolution that the next president must come from the south.

But challenging the position of southern governors, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), through its spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said there had been a conspiracy against the North, in particular, to force a regional shift of the Presidency in 2023 by whatever means and tactics.

According to CNG, the governors’ resolutions on 2023 have exposed “a deliberate attempt to impose a contentious system of rotational presidency aimed at achieving dubious political goals to weaken the North.

“We categorically affirm that the North will not be stampeded or blackmailed into taking major decisions around rotating the presidency.

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“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.

“Inevitably, the immediate trigger to the Lagos pronouncements was the collaborative assurances by the former Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, and the Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai given just two days earlier,’’ the statement added.

Southern stakeholders and the battle line
A former Permanent Secretary in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Christian Ohaa, said those criticising the call by the southern governors for power shift to the south in 2023 were merely overheating the polity.

He added that the North would have wished to rule the country perpetually, alleging that it is a reflection of the posture of the Buhari-led administration.

Ohaa said, “I wish to enumerate here some of the things the country is missing for just refusing to adopt merit in the scheme of things.

‘’We prefer ethnicity to merit and we place religious affiliation ahead of economic development.

“It is obvious that the south has educated and qualified individuals who can take this country to greater heights. But because of this common ideology that certain ethnic groups could outshine the other if given opportunity, that is why we are where we are today.

“So, the southern governors have not even asked so much because whatever they say is for the betterment of the citizens of this great nation.”

The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, also commended the resolution of southern governors, declaring that the south should produce the next president.

Its Publicity Secretary, Alex Ogbonnia, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said the resolution was in line with the country’s political dynamics.

He stated that such thought was in tune with the ‘gentleman agreement’ reached in 1996 between the north and south that power should rotate among the two zones in the spirit of equity, fairness, and justice.

“I want to commend the southern governors for the kind of understanding existing among them.

“If they had been able to navigate this kind of unity before, some of the problems in the country would have been solved because what had existed in the past was a kind of divide and rule.

“Ohanaeze welcomes the idea that the presidency be zoned to the south.It is a very good idea, and it is in line with the political dynamics of Nigeria. It was in 1996 that a gentleman understanding was reached at the NUT Conference Centre in Abuja.The person who spoke for the south then was the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and the spokesperson for the North was Alhaji Abubakar Rimi.

“It was then agreed that power should shift to the south. And after that, it would go back to the north, and that power should alternate or rotate between the north and the south. That was why the people who made major outings then were Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Alex Ekwueme.

“So, Ohanaeze is very much impressed with the southern governors for their understanding, and I am very much confident that by the time they go back to the drawing table, they will be able to resolve the 2023 issues and come out with a better deal.”

Special Adviser to the Anambra State Governor on Political Matters, Ifeatu Obi-Okoye, said the southern governors’ demand was part of the dynamics of politics “because power is struggled for and nobody gives it to the other”.

Obi-Okoye added, “When you look at it from the dichotomy of north and south, what we will have is after one zone.The other zone will mount the saddle. Even at that, there should also be sub-regional equity.
“But the whole thing does not end in merit. It is also a horse-trading thing, and it is not a winner-takes-all politics.

“However, nobody dashes you power; you must negotiate for power with all the capacities you have.”

Similarly, a former Minister of Aviation in the First Republic, Mbazuluike Amaechi, said, “Everything they (southern governors) resolved, I endorse it because it was a pleasant surprise that they all had an agreement on those points.

“When it comes to the south now, they should arrange for their internal meeting and then decide whether the presidency should go to the South-East or South-West.

“But, by rotation, it will come from South-East because the South-West had taken its turn through Olusegun Obasanjo; South-South through Goodluck Jonathan.”

For the South-West Agenda for Asiwaju 2023 (SWAGA), the southern governors’ call was a boost to the country’s democracy.

National Chairman of SWAGA, Dayo Adeyeye, in a statement by his Media Manager, Gboyega Adeoye, said the SGF’s resolution was a good step towards the unity of the country, particularly at this time when the country is being threatened by centrifugal forces.

Adeyeye said the decisions were apt, “not only for the governors, but also for those rooting for a level-playing ground among the three major zones of southern Nigeria to warm up to produce the next president of Nigeria.”

He said such an agreement among the governors would douse the current tension raised against Nigeria’s democratic order by lingering ethnic violence across the country.

A former governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, similarly supported the southern governors on the rotational presidency, saying inequality in the country had made the call imperative.

Northern stakeholders divided
Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, said the 1999 Constitution and that of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had no provision for the rotational presidency.

Besides, he added, rotating the presidency between the north and the south over the years, had not solved the problems of the regions.

The governor, who is also eyeing the presidential slot, said Nigerians should be given the freewill to choose who their leader should be in the next presidential election.

Bello said, “The Nigeria of today deserves the best. Nigeria is like a ship or flight that requires the best captain to steer or lead the affairs to its desired destination.

“I have always asked this question; that there had been rotation from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) all this while, and what had been the result between then and now?

“If zoning will solve our problem, as of the time Olusegun Obasanjo was President, all the problems of the south should have been solved.

“As of when Musa Yar’Adua, of blessed memory, came on board, the whole problem of the north should have been solved, or when it returned to the south-south, the problem of the Niger Delta or the south should have been solved.

“And now we have President Muhammadu Buhari, it means the problems of the north should have been solved.

“Even though most of these leaders have tried their best under the circumstance that they found themselves in office, like what Mr President is doing today, is that the best practice?

The Kogi governor said, “When we are talking about democracy, it is about numbers; let the majority be given the free will to choose what they want, and not limit Nigerians to whom they want to elect into offices.

“When you look at it, I think it is unconstitutional, not in our party’s constitution. That is the APC. And it is not there in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended. We cannot be picking and choosing when it suits us.”

Contributing, Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, warned Nigerian politicians not to tear the country apart over who becomes president in 2023.

He also cautioned that politicians were after their pecuniary interests, and not the people’s welfare, and had a way of solving their differences.

Gumi, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said that power rotation had become outdated when former President Goodluck Jonathan contested elections twice.

“In the realm of politics, Nigeria at 61 is an infant compared to the centuries’-old civilizations of other nations. One, it would be extremely difficult for the nation to tear apart because of who becomes the leader in 2023.

“When Nigerians voted for Moshood Abiola, a southerner, against Bashir Tofa, a northerner, and Goodluck Jonathan against Buhari in 2011, it became evident that the nation was ripe to move forward from regional and narrow religious prejudices and interests.”

But a former member of the House of Representatives and chieftain of the APC, Lawal Nalado-Daura, said the southern governors spoke for themselves, not their political parties.

Reiterating that there was nothing bad in zoning the presidency to the south, Nalado-Daura added, “The political parties will strategise and see which section of the country will be more favourable to choose their candidates to win the presidential election.

“I think it is a good idea to rotate this thing from the north to the south. I agree with that.

“There is nothing bad in doing it. You know, some political parties will want to take advantage of zoning to field candidates from the zones they feel will be more favourable to win the election.”

Southern lawmakers back govs

Meanwhile, senators and members of the House of Representatives from the southern part of the country also supported the SGF’s resolutions on the rotation of the presidency.

Speaking through Opeyemi Bamidele, the Chairman of Southern Senators’ Forum, members of the Upper House described the governors’ resolution as a novel political decision.

“As much as we believe that competence and not regionalism should be the watchword in who becomes the president of any nation, we need to also be circumspect of our ethnic and political pluralities and think of the best way to further unite us.

“The events of the recent times where insecurity, secession agitations and others have further divided us and become one reality staring all of us in the face, we need to ruminate on how best to resolve these crises in the interest of our nation.

“Nigeria has never been this divided and the current parlous situation that has pushed our country to the verge of collapse necessitated the governors’ decisions and it shouldn’t be seen from the narrow spectrum that they were stoking the fire of disunity or promoting regionalism or ethnicity.

“Rotational Presidency will resolve most of the political problems and would naturally ward off secession agenda being promoted by some individuals and groups”.

Also, the Chairman, Southern Caucus in the lower house, Victor Nwokolo, said his colleagues supported the resolution of the SGF.

According to the caucus, the resolution by the governors reinforces their stance, as federal lawmakers, that the nation should exist on the pillars of justice, equity, fairness, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect.

Nwokolo added,“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”.

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