And at a time yearnings for a fresh political force seem to be on the rise, the task before the parties are, perhaps, uniquely enormous.
At the core of the upset within the parties is how they choose their presidential candidates, a situation which ties directly to the complex yet subtle geo-political contest for where the ticket should go.
While there is the broader context of zoning between the North and South, the subplots of which particular zone out of the six, namely, North Central, South West, North West, South East, South South, and North East, is also raging.
The situation became more intricate with the insistence of Southerner and Middlebelt Leaders, led by leaders of the geo-political ethnic groups, like Chief Edwin Clarke, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Ambassador George Obiozor, for the presidency to return to the South by 2023.
They also implored all southern political actors to reject the vice presidemcy and party national chairmanship positions in both parties.
As if that wasn’t complicated enough, southern govenrors also made a declaration that the next president must come from their zone.
Still, there are other prominent Nigerians, like Mamman Daura and former INEC chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega as well as some APC and PDP members who argue that competence should drive the process of how the next president emerges and not ethnicity.
Both parties are yet to decide and formally announce which zone will produce its presidential candidates. But it would seem like stakeholders within the main opposition party, PDP, are somewhat inclined to keeping the ticket in the North as it did in 2019, even though there are snippets of objections to this notion.
The pro-North party chieftains argue about fairness in light of the fact that since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, the South has held power for 13 years out of which PDP was ruling party for 16 years. Within the time, the North under the PDP arrangement, only held sway for three years.
Recall that former president Olusegun Obasanjo served from 1999 to 2007 and handed over to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in May 2007. Yar’Adua died after a battling ill-health on May 5 2010, paving the way for his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan to complete their tenure in 2011.
His decision to contest the 2011 election attracted protests by northern stakeholders within the party who argued that it would obstruct the party’s zoning arrangement.
After much politicking and negotiations, including a subsequent controversial one-term agreement, Jonathan defeated former Vice President Atiku Abubakar at the PDP primaries and later, President Muhammadu Buhari (then candidate of the defunct CPC) at the general polls to emerge president.
Jonathan’s 2015 ambition led to a major shakeup in PDP, leading to unprecedented defections including five governors and other political heavyweights who formed the nPDP and entered into a strategic merger which saw to PDP’s defeat by APC in 2015.
Sobered by the crushing defeat, PDP immediately, setup a committee led by then deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu to review why the party lost. The committee cited the jettisoning of zoning principle and recommended not just the return of the zoning arrangement, but specifically, asked that the North be allowed to fly the party’s flag in the 2019 polls. It was adopted by the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the national convention which saw to Atiku’e emergence as party candidate then.
Party stakeholders like, former presidential aide, Jackson Ude, argue that the zoning arrangement within the PDP still favours the North since it has not served it’s eight year term.
But the argument goes beyond that for other pro-North agitators.
For, a former national chairmanship aspirant of the PDP, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, only a northerner can win the 2023 presidential election for PDP.
He added that PDP members canvassing for the South to get the the ticket are following the APC whose members are agitating for a southern president after Buhari’s tenure ends in 2023.
His words “I can tell you that unless there is a candidate from the North, in my own considered opinion, the PDP will not stand a chance of winning the election.
“On the ambition of those from the South who are today asking for the presidency to be zoned to the South, I can say that they are only echoing what prevails in the APC. In APC, President Muhammadu Buhari has done eight years, so it is imperative on APC to cede the presidency to the South,” he said.
But other party stakeholders, like former national legal adviser of PDP Mark Jacob and director general of the Heritage Centre, Dr Katch Ononuju, argued that the feeling among members is for the party to zone to the Southern part of the country.
Jacob said, “the feeling among members is that it should be zoned to the Southern part of the country”, while Ononuju also argued that “many Nigerians would prefer to see a Southerner become President.”
Nevertheless, attempts by the party to zone it’s presidential ticket has remain contentious. The Governor Bala Mohammed panel which was tasked to recommend the way forward left it open for all contenders for all zones, heightening the lobby for the most critical ticket for the party.
PDP and micro-zoing in the North
In the North, the debate and lobby over the specifically geo-political region should get it. With President Buhari from the North-West it is interesting to see how those campaiging for the ticket to come from there would be. However, while some have campaigned for the ticket to go to the North East, other have canvassed that the ticket be microzoned to the North-Central in the spirit of justice, equity and fairplay.
To these PDP members only the North-Central has not had the privilege of producing the presidential candidate of the party while the North-West (Yar’Adua) and Atiku Abubakar (North- East) have done so.
Legal practioner and lawyer, Timothy Ojomo, argues that the North-Central is PDP’s best option at this critical time.
Arguing that the ticket should remain in the North, he said “The PDP can now say that ‘ in the spirit of fairness, justice and equity, we have had people from the North-West try, Yar’Adua was from the North-West (Katsina), Atiku Abubakar from the North East (Adamawa) has also been given the presidential ticket in 2019. So, let’s go to the North-Central”.
“In 2023, it pays PDP to go to the North-Central because the zone is the liberal part of the North, that is the Middle-Belt. To assuage the North and Southern divide, then the PDP should look at the North-Central. For instance, a candidate like former Senate President, Bukola Saraki can do the magic for them. He is from the North-Central and a liberal northerner. He has a leg to the North and the other to the South. To the North, he is one of their own as Abubakar, while the South also see him as their own in Bukola. His experience as a two-time governor and former Senate President is also an added advantage” he said.
Former Reps member who represented Yagba Federal Constituency in the National Assembly, from 2011 to 2019 Hon. Sunday Karimi, also argued for the North-Central.
He said “Since the South has a combined period of 14 years while the North will complete 10 years in 2023, for the sake of equity, the next President should come from another geo-political zone from the North, preferably North Central”.
APC and the lobby in the south
The APC is also caught in the intriguing zoning saga. Although the prospect of its next presidential candidate emerging from the South seems high against the backdrop of where the imcumbent hails from, the party has yet to make a clear pronouncement just like PDP.
On this score, the advocacy for the South-East to get the ticket has been rife. And the argument is that it is the only region that is yet to produce the president since 1999.
Nevertheless, so far, presidential hopefuls within the party cut across southern sub-region including the South-West and South-South.
However, other hopefuls like 2019 president candidate and business mogul, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim insists that the worrisome state of the country, requires that the best candidate based on competence and merit should emerge rather than hinging the discuss majorly on geo-politics.
But political analyst, Akpan Bassey said zoning remains a key way for APC to win in 2023 and that zoning to the South especially after a Buhari tenure is critical.
He said it would speak to justice, equity and fairness that after Buhari’s eight years, the party offers the presidency to the South.
“So, it is only fair that after the eight years of President Buhari, the ticket goes to the South. Then in the South, that is where the problem is right now because the South-West wants it, the South-South wants it and neither the South-West nor South-South think it should go to the South- East which has never tasted power. Yet, they are clamouring for fairness, equity and justice. If that should be the case, the South should not even think twice before zoning it to the South-East,” he argued.