Second page headline: Zoning may wreck APC, PDP
Threats, persuasions and permutations in play as Nigerians discuss which part of the country should produce the next president writes Akani Alaka.
Mamman Daura, the evasive octogenarian former newspaper editor, businessman and a nephew to President Muhammadu Buhari rarely grants interviews to the media. Therefore, his interventions on national affairs, whenever and wherever he decided to speak to the media are bound to attract comments and scrutiny from the public.
Yet, when he decided to speak on the qualifications Nigerians should consider in choosing the successor to his uncle in an election, which is nearly three years away in a recent interview with the Hausa Service of British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC, it is doubtful if Daura had anticipated the reactions that have now followed.
Though he commented on many other national issues during the interview, the former newspaper editor appeared to have literally touched the tiger’s tail on his take on the 2023 presidential election.
Daura had told his interviewers that having experimented with the rotation of the presidency between the North and the South since the return to democracy in 1999, competence and not geographical origin should be the main criterion for choosing the next Nigeria’s president.
“This turn-by-turn, 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,” Daura said in the BBC Hausa Service interview.
His assertion was a dismissal of agitations for ‘power shift’ to the Southern part of the country after the tenure of the incumbent President. If he had not been who he is, perhaps, the comments would have been allowed to pass as part of the constitutionally guaranteed rights to hold and ventilate opinions.
Indeed, many other prominent Nigerians have in the past expressed similar sentiments. But Daura is not just a nephew to the President, he is also considered a leader of his uncle’s kitchen cabinet and perhaps, the person with the most influence on the president.
Many interpreted his intervention on the issue of 2023 presidency to be the likely position his uncle will also take when the time comes to decide, especially since Buhari himself has never spoken on the issue.
In addition, the assertion by Daura was also in tune with fears that the Northern part of the country may use its voters’ strength to retain the presidency in 2023.
This perception unarguably inspired the vociferous condemnations of the president’s nephew’s comments especially by groups, which have at the vanguard of the agitations for power shift to the Southern part of Nigeria and their allies in some parts of the North.
The groups, including the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere; apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Niger Delta’s PANDEF among others argued that there is no going back on the gentleman’s agreement that power should rotate between the various regions of the country.
The President-General of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo, in a statement released through his media aide, Emeka Attamah argued that it is unfair for Daura to call for an end to the zoning of the presidency after Buhari and the North had enjoyed two terms in quick succession.
Nwodo claimed that one of the reasons northern politicians ganged up to remove former president Goodluck Jonathan from office in 2015 was over the claim of violation of the rotation principle.
“The truth is that Mamman Daura is not being a fair judge. Then, he didn’t believe rotation should end. Now that he has tasted power through Buhari, rotation can end and the most qualified and competent can be voted in, discountenancing that the South-east has never tasted what he is drooling in” said Nwodo who further argued that, “All we know is that it is the turn of the South where we have abundant competent individuals who can steer the ship of this country, particularly among Ndigbo.”
Yinka Odumakin, the spokesperson for Afenifere spoke in the same vein: “It is amusing to see those who were singing zoning or tearing down of Nigeria before 2015, now becoming the apostles of competence after taking eight years. This is the most selfish orchestra.
He added that those opposed to zoning had also opposed restructuring the country into ‘true federalism’ which, according to him, would have reduced the bid by different parts of the country to gain control of the centre and the presidency. “There is no hope for Nigeria under this structure. If we go back to federalism, the internecine battle for the control of the centre will definitely go down,” he said.
In its own reaction, the PANDEF, in a statement noted that the concepts of zoning and rotation of political posts are in tune with the principle of federal character enshrined in the Constitution to promote political balance, and to address the problems of exclusion and hence, cannot be jettisoned.
The group, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Ken Robinson, therefore, described Daura’s statement as not only insensitive but most unfortunate and unarguably capable of creating unnecessary tension in the country.
It also pointed out that if competence was the basis of selection of the presidential candidate in 2015, President Buhari could not have emerged the leader of the country.
The Presidency has disowned Daura’s view, arguing that he did not speak for President Buhari. However, leading Northern socio-political group, the Arewa Consultative Forum believed that political parties should be allowed to sort out the criteria which they will use to pick their presidential candidates.
The ACF National Publicity Secretary, Emmanuel Yawe, responding to Daura’s statement noted the Nigerian Constitution did not make provision for a rotational presidency and as such, it is done at the convenience of political parties. He added that if political parties on their own decided to jettison rotational presidency, they have the right to do so.
Prominent Northern elder, Although Alhaji Yakassai agreed that political parties are crucial in the decision of where to zone the presidency.
Nevertheless, he argued that the South should produce Nigeria’s the next president since the North would have concluded its eight years run with the Buhari’s administration in 2023.
“The APC produced Buhari for the second term and by the end of the term, he has completed eight years. So it is ideal for the party to respect and stick to the zoning arrangement on ground and look for a presidential candidate from the South.
The PDP fielded Atiku Abubakar as its presidential candidate in 2019. So, I don’t know what will happen to the PDP and other parties.”
However, there are also those who are in full support of the position of Daura, arguing that experience in the country over the years has not shown that a particular region benefitted from having its person as the president.
“I want to know, what are the advantages to be derived by having a president or the head of government from one part of the country or another? I believe Nigeria should be ruled by a competent Nigerian, irrespective of his tribe, region or religion,” a member of House of Representatives in the Second Republic and elder statesman, Dr Junaid Mohammed said.
APC and Zoning Controversies
The spokespersons of the two political parties in their various reactions have also not been committal on the criteria that will guide the selection of their various political candidates in their interviews with journalists. Though 2023 may seem far off, the question of zoning is one that the two political parties may not be able to put in abeyance.
Analysts believe that if the issue of rotational presidency is not well-handled, it may lead to the disintegration of the ruling APC ahead of the 2023 presidential election.
While the majority of the members of the party from the Southern part of the country believe that the presidency should shift to their region after the completion of Buhari’s tenure in 2023.
Malam Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State and one of the Northerners speculated to be nursing the ambition to contest for the presidency in 2023 announced that he would support a member of the party from the Southern part of the country to emerge as Nigeria’s next president.
But it was learnt that there are other Northerners, especially state governors nursing similar ambition, but who are still keeping their intentions under wraps to see how the battle will play out in the ruling party.
It is believed that the support of President Buhari will be crucial for any of the presidential aspirants to emerge as the presidential flagbearer of APC for the 2023 elections. While the President has not spoken in support of any of the region producing the presidency, he has said will work to ensure that the process of producing the candidate is free and fair.
The Tinubu Challenge
This, according to former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Sani Yerima implies that anybody from any part of the country can run for the presidential ticket of APC. Yerima, who said this in an interview with a national newspaper in February 2020, therefore, declared that he is going to run on the platform of the party in 2023.
He also dismissed the claim that the President will support the presidential ambition of former Lagos governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu as a reciprocal gesture for helping to build a coalition that helped him and the APC to win the presidency in 2015.
“Politics is about an election – for people to decide what they want. So it is the majority of the people that will determine who they want. If he signed an agreement with Asiwaju, that agreement cannot be implemented even in getting the ticket. It cannot guarantee Asiwaju a ticket.
“For example, the president has announced and the party has decided that our primary is going to be direct, just like we elected Mr. President during the primaries of the last general elections. Will he direct everybody to go and vote for Asiwaju?” the former governor said.
Tinubu himself has repeatedly said he has not made up him mind whether to run in 2023 or not. However, members of the party loyal to Tinubu are everywhere already canvassing support for him.
Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation was one of those who have taken up the task of selling the candidacy of Tinubu to members of APC.
In a recent interview, the former SGF said no member of the party can stop Tinubu from contesting the presidency in 2023. Lawal also linked the sack of Adams Oshiomhole as APC national chairman to powerplay within the ruling party.
According to him, those who worked to ensure the removal of the former labour leader from office are also interested in the party’s 2023 presidential ticket.
But he said Tinubu has done enough for the party to be rewarded with the presidential ticket. “The party must create an environment that is free and fair for anybody who wants to contest, including Bola Tinubu.
Let the delegates, who must have emerged through a similarly free and fair process, decide who they want to vote for,” Lawal said while supporting the call for power shift to the South, particularly the south-west.
“A just and equitable way of doing things is to agree, as gentlemen, that since the North has had its President for the second tenure, the opportunity should be given to the South to produce the next president,” he said.
But there are also other members of the party who agreed that the South should produce the next presidential candidate of the party, but disagree on which part of the region the presidential should come from.
Some members of the party from the South-south also believe that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi has also made enough contributions to the success of APC as a political party and the administration of President Buhari and is deserving of being considered as Nigeria’s next president. Indeed, the crises which led to the sack of Oshiomhole as Babachir alluded to, was instigated to gain control of the party by the Amaechi group ahead of the 2023 election.
Also, the Southeast members of the party are also canvassing that the party’s presidential ticket for the next general election should be zoned to the region. Former Governor Rochas Okorocha and Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology were the candidates from the region nursing presidential ambition.
While APC has not been generally accepted in the Southeast, members of the party and other stakeholders are anchoring their claim on the need for justice and equity. Their argument is that the region is the only one that has not produced a Nigerian president since the country gained independence, except for the six months of late General Aguiyi Ironsi in the late 60s.
The South East 2023 Challenge
Indeed, the argument was that the APC and the PDP, which has been in control of most of the states in the Southeast region since 1999, should give their presidential ticket to a candidate from the Southeast in 2023.
The demand seems far-fetched, especially on the platform of PDP, despite the fact that the party is in control of three out of the four states of the region.
For one, big guns of the party who contested for the presidential ticket of the party like former Senate President Bukola Saraki former governor Rabiu Kwakwanso, Governor Aminu Tambuwal have been oiling their political machinery and strategizing towards a fresh bid for the ticket in 2023. Also, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who defeated all the aspirants to emerge the presidential candidate of the party in 2019 is said to be preparing for another run for the presidency.
Gabriel Suswam, the Senator representing Benue North-East Senatorial District and a former governor recently asserted in a newspaper interview that PDP would still zone the office of the President to the North in 2023 since the candidate of the party did not win in 2019.
“Of course, the PDP will maintain zoning. We have not realised it, so the zoning still remains in the North in the PDP. In PDP, we zoned the Presidency to the North and have we realised it? No.
“So, the zoning still remains in the North for 2023.” Speaking in the same vein, Rivers State Governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike said PDP’s focus in 2023 will be how to win the presidential election and not zoning. “As an opposition party, we look at all variables.
“What will make us win the election should come first. That is what is important to us. The ruling party can say that (zoning) but for the opposition party, there are variables. We look at all variables and our own concern is how do we win? How do we get back power?”
Wike, now considered to be one of the influential personalities in the PDP had backed Tambuwal against Atiku during the primary of the party for selection of the party’s candidate for the 2019 election.
The Sokoto State governor lost to Atiku. But it is believed that the Rivers State governor is still working for the emergence of Tambuwal as the presidential candidate of PDP in 2023 while he is also eyeing the position of vice president.
Yet, Okwesilieze Nwodo, a former chairman of PDP believe that for the Southeast, it is 2023 or never. The former PDP chairman said in a recent interview that the elite in the South-East will not hesitate to join Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), to demand for secession of the Igbo from Nigeria if the region is denied the presidency in 2023.“ In the first republic, the country was led by Tafawa Balewa, in the Second Republic, it was led by Shehu Shagari and then, those of us in PDP made a very strong case to move the presidency to the South-east, because even the military people were all from the North, apart from Aguiyi Ironsi who presided over for a very short time,” he said.
He dismissed the argument that the Igbo are not united and will not be able to produce a consensus candidate even if the presidency is zoned to the South-east region.
According to him, as many people from the region as are interested will be subjected to party primaries and the person with the highest vote will win. “I agree with Nnamdi Kanu in everything he says about the marginalisation of the Igbo.
He, more, than any other person has put it on the international map. If Nigeria tells the elite from the South-east that they would be treated as second class citizens in Nigeria, and that they can never be president, almost all of them will go with Kanu to fight for Biafra,” said Nwodo.