By Razaq Bamidele
The debate on zoning policy and power shift arrangement that raged on, almost for ages in the country, ironically has not gone away, even with the conclusion of the primaries of various political parties.
The debate which was expected to have fizzled out by now has refused to go away; rather, it has become a recurring decimal, as some parties elected candidates from the North where the outgoing president hails from.
While the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), acted according to the spirit of movement of power down South, the major opposition party People’s Democratic Party (PDP) acted contrary to the gentlemen’s agreement on zoning system. While the National Leader of the APC and former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu from the South emerged APC presidential candidate, former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar from the North was elected PDP flag bearer.
A couple of other political parties also toed the lines of the APC and PDP. The New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) elected a northerner and twice Kano State Governor, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, from the North, as its flag bearer while the Labour Party (LP), picked the former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, as its presidential candidate for the 2023 general election.
We can add Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, former Chief Security Officer (CSO) to the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, (from the North), for the Action Alliance (AA), and Prince Adewole Adebayo of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), who hails from the southern axis of Nigeria.
So, it’s against this background that stakeholders, who were expected to heave a sigh of relief when the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), produced their presidential flag bearers, are even more sceptical and apprehensive about whether power will truly change baton from the North to the South in 2023.
Interestingly, with the foregoing, the knotty issue of zoning and power shift arrangement in the country’s political sphere has bounced back to the front burner with political watchers and public commentators asking the question: ‘Will power truly shift from North to South in 2023?’
Going by the above scenario, what is crystal clear is that the controversy over the gentleman agreement seems to be far from being resolved. As the development stands now, both the protagonists and antagonists will start to marshal their theoretical points of view to back up their stands on the issue again.
Genesis of zoning formula
What could be said to have indirectly thrown up the power shift idea could be traced to the annulment of the June 12 presidential election of 1993 believed to have been won by the late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). He hailed from Abeokuta in the south-western axis of Nigeria.
The crisis generated by the annulment by the military regime of President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) nearly set the whole country ablaze. That led to the involuntary stepping aside of Babangida. The late Chief Earnest Shonekan took over as National Interim Head of Government, ostensibly to placate the south-westerners, who were believed to have been cheated unjustly. Yet, the crisis refused to disappear. Eventually, the late General Sani Abacha appeared on the scene by forcefully shoving aside Shonekan. Incidentally, General Abacha also died and General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Retd) took over. Abudusalami also hails from Niger State as Babangida.
Sadly, however, the believed winner of the unjustly annulled June 12, 1993, Abiola, who was detained by Abacha died in custody under Abdusalami’s administration. Some pundits are of the conviction that the choice of Shonekan to head the Interim arrangement was aimed at pacifying the South-west where Abiola came from. Additionally, political watchers were of the view that the pacification of the South-west dovetailed into the advent of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in May 1999.
Perhaps, sequel to that development, a gentleman’s agreement was reached to alternate the presidency between the North and the South after the formation of political parties in 1998 when the Fourth Republic took off in 1999. Although the formula is not contained in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the political novelty came out fine as a formidable vehicle for peace to reign supreme again in Nigeria, which was hitherto almost torn to pieces by the old order of selfish concentration of power on only a section of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation.
So, this has been the position since 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP from the South mounted the presidential throne of the country till date, as unconstitutional as the rotational arrangement between the North and the South. Umoru Musa Yar’Adua, (from the North) took over from Obasanjo (a southerner). Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, also succeeded him. Presently, Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner, is now on the saddle. This necessitated the debate on where the next president will come from, North or South.
Before now, various views had been expressed on the issue of power shift. While some analysts were saying the formula is unconstitutional and, therefore, must be stopped, some said it should continue for the sake of unity and stability of the country. A view comments would suffice to showcase people’s beliefs on the vexatious matter:
Zoning has died –Yerima
National President, Arewa Youth Consultative Congress (AYCF), Comrade Yerima Usman Yerima, in one of his interviews had this to say: “Definitely, zoning has died. Zoning is not constitutional. So, it won’t be binding on anybody. Zoning is totally out of it because it has been taken over by events since 2011. What is before us now is how a young and capable hand would come on board as president in 2023. And we would mobilise to ensure that, that comes to be.
“There is no latest development on my position on that issue. I still remain solid and firm on my belief that power should remain in the North for the sake of justice, equity and fairness to all.
“And come to think of it, the rotational presidency is unconstitutional but rather a gentleman arrangement mutually put together for the sake of equity to all. But the arrangement has been scuttled by former President Goodluck Jonathan. And by doing so, the North has been short-changed in the process. And with that, there is no more rotational presidency any more in Nigeria.
“Recall that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from the South spent uninterrupted eight years in office as president. And when it was the turn of the North, you are a living witness to what happened. President Umoru Yar’Adua fell sick and Jonathan acted for some time before the president later passed away. So, the last two years of the North were completed by Jonathan from the South.
“Principle of fairness demanded that, by 2011, Nigerians should have prevailed on Jonathan or any southern candidate not to contest so that the North could complete their terms. But Jonathan contested and won to make him a president that spent six years in office. Interestingly, in 2015, that same Jonathan also contested, aiming to spend another four years.
“So, as it stands now, by 2023, the North would have spent just 10 years whereas the South had already spent roughly 15 years. If you say the South should come again in 2023, the question now would be, where is justice? Where is fairness and where is equity?
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“What is going on right now is an attempt at blackmailing the North to hands off 2023 but I can tell you with all the emphasis at my disposal that neither blackmail, intimidation nor propaganda can deter us. We had experienced such intimidation over and over and we were not bothered; and the current one too, we shall overcome it.
“Therefore, the only advice I can give to all the political parties, whether the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), or any other parties is to make sure that all their presidential candidates are from the North or else they would fail.”
Ambassador Adejare Adegbenro
Ambassador Adejare Adegbenro, an international businessman from two formidable political clans is the grandson of the former Premier of Western Region, the late DS Adegbenro. The security expert during an interview with The Nigerian Xpress said: “As for me, as a Nigerian, I think anyone from any part of the country can contest for president whether male or female, young or old so long as they have the capacity to run Nigeria well. Also, the issue of religion should be out of it. It should not be part of the consideration. If we look at it, there is only one God.
“And that is why my motto has always been ‘I am a Nigerian and my tribe comes second.’ “
Comrade Razaq Kolade Olokoba
Comrade Razaq Kolade Olokoba, a right activist and Public Commentator is the Convener and National President and convener of the Campaign for Dignity in Governance (CDG), a coalition of over 70 other pro-democracy organizations.
His views on the issue: “I have spoken on that severally and I would not mind repeating it for the umpteenth time that this is not the first time alliances were arranged in Nigeria. I have to express the delight that however the current attempt has been, the most successful and most productive political alliance of all the alliances. It is against that background that is one of the reasons I think power should come back to the south and south-west in particular in 2023 for the continuation of its benefits.
“It is on record that this kind of productive alliance should not be allowed to break but rather be sustained and even strengthened. If you are running a profitable alliance, what you do is nurture that alliance to total fruition. And the best way to nurture the alliance to fruition, as far as I am concerned, is for the North to use their numerical strength to nurture and cultivate mutual trust, cultivate nation building to foster mutual trust and cooperation amongst ourselves.
“Numerical strength globally nowadays is no longer used in the world to bully or oppress people but it is used for nation building. If you look at bigger democracies ahead of us like in the United Kingdom (UK), the highest population among the Scottish and Irish are English people. But they devised a system that allows other ethnic groups to be comfortable with the way the political affairs of Britain are handled. So, it is not only in Britain but in several climes across the globe, that numerical strength is used to cement relationships and not to break the spirit of togetherness and oneness. That is the angle I have wanted our northern brothers to consider. That is number one.
“In addition, it is also imperative that the good work President Muhammadu Buhari would have done for eight years by 2023 would be continued by another competent hand from the southern divide of the country. And I can assure you that, naturally, the outgoing president would be the happiest man on earth to witness the continuity of his government in the progress he has made in the economy, in the unity of the country as well as in the development of infrastructure across the length and breadth of the country.
“And the best way to sustain continuity is to abstract trust and understanding from other regions so that when power moves to the south-west, it will set a better example to other ethnic groups that the northerners are people that can be trusted and best people to align with. These are issues that should be looked into towards next year-2023, general election.”
Factors that will determine zoning’s fate:
Leader of the Northern Elders Forum, Professor Ango Abdullahi, had asserted earlier that “it is the North that determines who governs the country.” Going by this assertion, if the North collectively wants the power to shift down South, the region has the capacity and numerical strength to make it happen. But if the axis is determined to keep the power up North, that would appear as a foregone conclusion.
However, if the North collectively considers other indices, and comes up with the idea of giving another region a sense of belonging, the power would be as good as resident in the South. This will buttress the assertion of Yerima, the AYCF president that, no matter how small and unpopular a political party is, the moment it fields a northerner as a presidential candidate, we have what it takes to install that candidate as the next president.
It was against that assertion that Olokoba appealed that, for the sake of unity, stability, and a sense of belonging, the North should consider supporting the movement of the presidency to the South.
The factor of religion is also strong enough to mention. At least, right now in the country, the raging debate about the 2023 election is on religion. While some people are kicking against the Muslim/Muslim joint ticket of the APC arrangement, others consider the debate unnecessary, saying competence should be the priority of Nigerians.
However, the debate is trending and as it goes, we promise to keep our esteemed readers posted.