T he power rotation tussle ahead of the 2023 general election continues to shape the discussion within the political space.
While the two main parties, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continue to hold their cards close to the chest over the zoning saga, the broader political actors, being leaders of the North and South, are also locked in the debate on power rotation.
Only recently, leaders from the two regions, stood their ground in their quest to control the levers of power after the 2023 poll.
Interestingly, build up to the 2023 polls had led to a clamour for power rotation by Southern leaders. Led by elder statesman and former federal commissioner for information, Chief Edwin Clark, Southern and Middlebelt Elders Forum, which include the Afenifere, Pan Niger Delta Forum, Ohaneze and Middlebelt forum, they asked southern politicians not to vie for national chairman positions of their party or vice presidential tickets.
Months later, governors from the geo-political zone echoed the call at a meeting in Asaba, Delta State. They re-echoed the call in subsequent meetings.
Miffed by the expression of “must” as used by the governors, Northern Elders Forum (NEF) fired back, declaring that the North won’t play second fiddle in 2023 general elections because they have the majority of the votes.
NEF spokesman, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed made the remarks at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria during the inaugural Amb Maitama Sule Leadership Lecture Series by the CNG Students Wing while Reacting to the southern governor’s recent position that power must shift to the South.
The major socio-political groups in the South, namely, Afenifere Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) pushed back, dismissing the claim by NEF, insisting that power must shift to the South.
Ohanaeze said it would amount to injustice to the Igbo race if the region is not supported to produce the next president.
The organisation insisted that there is no way Nigeria will move forward when a group of people have been set apart, noting that what is happening today in Nigeria is the consequences of Injustice.
The national publicity secretary of Ohanaeze, Alex Ogbonnia, said those still promoting injustice do not want Nigeria to grow.
Referring to NEF comments on the North’s numerical strength, Ogbonnia insisted “population or no population, it is not important.”
The pan Yoruba social political group Afenifere also has picked holes in NEF’s declaration that the North wont play second fiddle in 2023 general elections because they have majority of the votes.
Reacting to the comment, the acting leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo said,’’ We have been clamouring for a constitution we will all agree on, they refused. The argument that the North has the highest population is fake, they claimed they have the highest population, but when we visited the North the population they claimed did not exist.
‘’Nobody is willing to play second fiddle in the country, that is why we are saying let us come together, have a new constitution and agree on the terms on which we live together.”
Also commenting, PANDEF publicity Secretary Ken Robinson said the population figure the North is making reference to is false and that the population does not exist, wondering where the North has more population than the South.
‘’They have been using that to deceive Nigerians and use it to influence election results in their favour, why can’t they translate that into tax generation, we are working at challenging that over bloated population.
‘’We shall soon send for an independent body to conduct a census for the country. I am happy the southern elders are United in finding a solution to this problem. That statement that the North have highest population is a senseless statement.’’
But the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) threw its weight behind the remarks by Northern Elders Forum, hinting that the northern region would use its voter superiority to retain political power at the centre beyond 2023.
CNG’s reaction, contained in a statement by its spokesperson Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, made available to LEADERSHIP noted that the claim for an agreement to rotate power in some parties has long been proved to be a lie and impracticable by the southern politicians themselves.
Weeks later, governors of the 19 Northern states alongside traditional rulers rose from a meeting and opposed the call by southern leaders that the presidency should be zoned to the South in 2023.
They said zoning the office of the President, as being agitated by southern governors, is against the provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
They stated that any president elected must meet the constitutional requirements which include scoring the majority votes, and polling at least 25 per cent of the votes cast in two-thirds of Nigeria’s 36 states.Expectedly, the raised fresh verbal firestorm from the southern leaders just as the middlebelt forum tore into the northern leaders.
MBF President, Dr. Bitrus Pogu described the position of the governors as a threat to the unity of the country and a dangerous signal that could threaten the foundation of the country.
Pogu reminded the governors that they were not speaking for the people of the Middle Belt who should not be classified as northerners as there was nothing like a monolithic North anymore.
Debate shifts to political parties
As it stands the tussle appears to have subsumed under the intra- political party battle. This is so because parties remain the only platforms through which elective political offices are occupied.
As such all eyes are on the two major parties, APC and PDP as to how they manage the zoning of the party offices.
For watchers, under the APC, the prospects of the southern candidate seems more realistic, considering that the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner would be completing his eight year tenure. And based on a gentleman’s agreement the position should go to the South.
So far, most of the candidates seeking to emerge as national chairman of the party ahead of the anticipated national convention are from the North. If this is anything to go by it would seem like the power rotation is almost in progress.
Still with the dismissal of the supposed gentleman’s agreement on power shift within the party, stakeholders from the South are not taking anything to chance.
The scenario is however dicey in PDP. So far the debate on whether the ticket should go is still unfolding just as it remains hazy.
The clamour by northern stakeholders in the party is that the zone has been unfairly treated since the demise of Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. As such they argue they deserve to get the slot regardless of the zoning arrangement in APC.
However, the recent turn of events at the party National Executive Committee (NEC) which zoned the national chairmanship to the North has heightened the prospects of a Southern Candidate which does not sit well with some northern presidential hopefuls like former vice president Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, and Governor Bala Mohammed.
As such the clamour to throw the presidential ticket open as recommended by the Governor Bala Mohammed committee remains contentious. How the party manages the situation will be instructive.