2023 Presidency: Options available to South if North fails to shift grounds

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Beyond the worsening insecurity occasioned by violent crimes like insurgency, kidnappings, banditry and the likes, no other issue has dominated the public discourse of late like the cry by the South to produce the next president come 2023.

The fact that prominent political leaders from the North, including governors Abdullahi Ganduje, Babagana Zulum and Nasir el-Rufai of Kano, Borno and Kaduna states respectively, at one point or the other tacitly endorsed the idea of a president of southern extraction, pockets of voices opposed to the idea still exist, and are even becoming louder.

That notwithstanding, the Southern Governors’ Forum in the penultimate week, re-echoed its stand, stressing that in the spirit of equity, fair play and seamless power rotation, the return of presidential power to the South, by the time curtain falls on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was of utmost importance.

Besides, the southern governors also threw their weight behind the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) by state governments, among others.

Irked by the position of the southern governors on both issues, some elders in the North under the aegis of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) said the region would not give up the presidency to the South, insisting that it will continue to rule Nigeria.

The spokesperson of NEF, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who spoke recently at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, while delivering the keynote address at the inaugural edition of Maitama Sule Leadership Lecture Series organised by the students’ wing of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), said the North was not for sale, and that northerners are not second-class citizens of Nigeria, as such the region will not accept to play second fiddle when the region has the population to vie for the top political position and win.

For many, Baba-Ahmed’s outburst about the so-called burgeoning population of the North smacks of arrogance and ethnic chauvinism because, at the slightest opportunity, the North keeps on shoving such threats down the throats of others, even though the so-called large population hasn’t translated to human development.

Indeed, before the NEF also introduced this fresh round of discord into the mix and further muddied the milieu, a former governor of Nasarawa State and senator representing Nasarawa West, Abdullahi Adamu, had described the idea of zoning the presidency to the South, in 2023, as wishful thinking that would be difficult to actualise.

At an interactive session with newsmen in Abuja, Adamu premised his submission on the fact that there was no room for zoning in the 1999 constitution and thereafter advised any geopolitical zone willing to take the presidency in 2023 to work assiduously for it.

The former governor’s position, however, runs contrary to the gentlemen agreement, which some key members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have confirmed to be in existence.

Last November, after some APC members plotted to annul a power shift arrangement between North and South, and retain the presidency in the North after Buhari’s second term, Fashola specifically warned that the zoning agreement reached during the formation of the party, for the 2023 elections must be respected.

Other former chieftains of the party that sided with Fashola on the issue included, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu, and the immediate past national vice-chairman (South South), Hilliard Eta.

But as some northern elements continue to live in denial, the Apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has stated that power rotation specifically to the South East would be beneficial to the country, as it would guarantee equity and fairness.

The group warned that failure to take the right decision at such a critical time in the country’s history could have catastrophic consequences.

The National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Eric Ebeh said: “It is no longer a possibility that there will be a referendum, but a reality if things continue the way they are. It will be obvious that each group will go their separate ways and it will be clearer that we can no longer exist as one. What will happen will see the day turning into night. There will be an enormous catastrophe that will even make whoever is occupying the position uncomfortable. That is why we are appealing that justice should be done.”

A group of Igbo intelligentsia, the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), however, said that should the North insist on the presidency remaining in the area, southerners should form a rainbow political coalition with some Middle Belt political forces under a different political movement to challenge the northern hegemonists.

The Chairman, Media and Publicity Bureau of the group, Chief Abia Onyike, also stated that a referendum towards self-determination for the ethnic nationalities in southern Nigeria cannot be ruled out of the current political permutations.

“If Fulani supremacists continue with their craving for political domination in Nigeria, then some of the mega ethnic nationalities in southern Nigeria may opt for the referendum to emerge as independent and autonomous republics under the African Union,” he added.

ALSO, a Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, (COSEYL) has insisted on southern Nigeria producing its president should the North insist on producing Buhari’s successor.

The youth group in a statement by its President-General, Goodluck Ibem, described as unfortunate and disappointing, statements from some northern leaders about power rotation in 2023, stressing that such was capable of creating disunity in the country.

“It is unfortunate that some people whom youths look up to for better direction and guidance would hold such views on such important and sensitive issue. It is a well-known fact that the North cannot produce a Nigerian president without the support of Nigerians in the South. President Buhari had the full support of the North and he contested in 2003 and he lost.

“He contested again in 2007 and 2011 and lost. He won the election in 2015 when he aligned with the South, who voted for him and he emerged president. ‘It is wrong for the hen to forget the one that assisted her in drying up her wet feathers during the rainy season,’ as the saying goes. It was the support of the South that made President Buhari to win his elections in 2015 and 2019.

“We are very surprised that the NEF has suddenly forgotten so soon how President Buhari emerged as president. History doesn’t lie; the group should go back to history to refresh its memory,” Ibem stated.

On its part, the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, which said that the NEF is not speaking on behalf of all northerners, urged well-meaning Nigerians not to attach too much seriousness to the divisive utterances expressed by Baba-Ahmed.

The spokesman of the group, Jare Ajayi said: “To begin with, the Middle Belt and a sizeable part of the North West and North East do not share his jaundiced view that only one section of the country should be producing the president.

“As such, the question of northern leaders insisting on the presidency does not arise. That is not to say that many politicians in that part of the country would not desire it, or even work at it. But it would be an exercise that will further polarise the country.

“Going by the attitude of politicians in Nigeria, the insistence by a section to perpetuate itself in power may not be strong enough to induce southern politicians to push for a referendum. This is because there will be many among them (southern politicians) who may collaborate with those who are trying to dominate them.

“That, however, does not mean that the North will succeed in perpetuating itself in power. But the attempt itself will shake the polity and the nation. ”

On whether the North has the numerical strength to cling on to the presidency in perpetuity, Ajayi said that there is no argument that the region does not have it. “This can be argued from two levels. One, such an idea cannot fly well with the majority of voters even in the North. Politicians with nefarious intentions know this hence their abhorrence for electronic voting, which will reduce their chances of rigging greatly.

“The second level has to do with the provision of the Electoral Act. Before a president is considered validly elected, he or she must have scored not just the highest votes; he or she must score not less than 25 per cent of votes in at least two-thirds of states in the federation. Even if all the 19 states in the North vote for a northern candidate, he still would not have crossed the bar. Votes of states in the South would still be needed.”

Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum, on its part, said, from what has been said on the foregoing debates over the rotational presidency, it is easy to distinguish from various narratives, that nation-building, as well as strengthening our diversity, are not on the minds of political leaders.

“It is necessary and important to state, as a matter of fact, that power or presidency in the hands of North, and the South from 1966 to date has not yielded dividends both for the general poor of the North, and to some extent, negligence on the part of southern leaders.”

He said the forum views the rotational presidency as the fancy of political elites who want the power to exclusively move within them not minding its cost on human capital development and the general health of Nigeria and Nigerians.

He said given this strange political game, “Yoruba Ronu would rather prefer to see Nigeria as a nation that must be nurtured, and made stronger by leaders, who have genuine desire and energy to lay down, lead, turn around, consider, exceed and apply restrain so that the people can have happiness, equity, fairness and justice.”

He said equality should be considered as absolute in a democracy, by any political leader that is wise. This feat becomes realisable if we push away factors that have divided us like nepotism, tribalism, religion and avarice, which are the pivots that turn the country anti-clockwise.

“The rotational practice is a gentleman’s agreement. If the North wants to break it, only one conclusion can be reached, and that is that all the conspiracy theories of Fulanisation are being validated. Anyone can do whatever he/she deems right, but they should be ready to live with its consequences. The arrogance of making insulting claims that can neither be backed by verifiable reality nor reason has an expiry date. You cannot push people to the wall and expect them to smile at you.

“We must warn that political, religious and tribal leaders must get away quickly from the reverie of crazy brains by reaching out to one another by way of the national dialogue with a mission to vigorously discuss the way forward and the urgent necessity to heal the wounds that exist in our diversity. From this, we can do with or without rotational presidency if leaders must consider the country’s health to be of utmost importance, considering our population, and the way the world views Africa and Nigeria.

“If harmony and understanding should fail, then separation becomes inevitable, but we must caution all gladiators that wars have never solved the need for war anywhere in the world and in war, women and children suffer,” the forum posited.

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