BusinessDay

Greed, lies and pride: Inside North-South presidency gamble

With a few days left until the national conventions where presidential candidates of political parties will be elected, aspirants of southern extraction are coming to the realisation that they may not get their parties’ tickets.

Before now, there was a general impression among the political elite that power would in 2023 shift to the South in line with the rotation policy that has been in practice since the return of democracy in 1999.

In fact, many of the aspirants from the South claimed they sought and got the tacit approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to contest for the office.

But unfolding events, especially the strong feeling that the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), would likely field the current Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, while the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, would go for former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, has rattled many of the aspirants who are said to have been left in a limbo over their 2023 ambitions.

Buhari’s eight years tenure will end on May 29, 2023. Being of northern origin, the general belief is that his successor would naturally come from the South and preferably the South East, which has never “tasted” the presidency since the return of the country to civil rule in 1999.

And based on the principle of equity, fairness and justice, politicians from the South warmed up for the battle of succession.

In the APC, for instance, it was a common view that someone from the South would be the natural choice of the party as Buhari’s successor.

This thinking was given a fillip with the election of a former Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Adamu, from the North-Central as APC national chairman.

Before then, the PDP had elected another northerner, Iyorchia Ayu, as its national chairman.

Indeed, these were some of the factors that made southern politicians to jump into the ring, believing their counterparts from the North would give them maximum support as they (southerners) did to Buhari in 2015 and 2019.

But that seems to be in the past as events have shown that the North is determined to retain the presidency beyond 2023.

Indeed, sources within the parties told BusinessDay that the North, whether PDP or APC, are perfecting plans to ensure that another northerner succeeds Buhari.

And while they are busy perfecting their plans to achieve their aim, southerners are going about making a noise about what they would do if elected president.

Emeka Wogu, former minister of labour and productivity, said: “Whereas the North is busy strategising on how to retain the presidency, our southern politicians are fighting and de-marketing each other with the belief that they would be made the anointed candidate of their parties.

“So far, the body language of both the president and our brothers from the North does not show that they are willing and ready to let go of the presidency and the earlier we realise this, the better for us.”

The non-committal stance of both parties in zoning of political offices is not helping matters. Senator Abdullahi Adamu, APC national chairman, on Friday, said the party had not taken a decision on zoning and did not disclose when the party would do so.

Asked if the party had zoned the presidential ticket to the South, he said: “I am today privileged to be the chairman of the party. The party is greater than me. The party has not made a decision and I cannot preempt what the party’s decision will be.”

The PDP hierarchy is yet to take a decision on the issue. Its committee on zoning, led by Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, recently recommended that the race be thrown open, contrary to the position of many of the members.

But while these are going on, analysts see the rumoured presidential ambition of Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso, former Kano State governor, as another plot by the North to take over power, should the two leading political parties decide to zone the presidency to the South.

In March this year, Kwakwanso’s loyalists moved over to the New Nigeria Peoples Party and adopted him as its presidential candidate. Observers see his ambition as part of the grand plan by the North to steal power through the back door.

According to Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra State, the North’s grand plan is to massively vote for Kwankwaso in the event the presidential candidates of the APC and PDP emerge from the South.

He, however, allayed fears of him winning the election, stressing that northern votes alone cannot give any candidate the required two-thirds majority vote.

BusinessDay gathered that in 1994, some Nigerian patriots conceived an article of faith and principle of rotation of power that guarantees equity and inclusiveness for all the diverse components of the country. Thus, Nigeria was structured into six geopolitical zones, namely South-South, South-East, South-West, North-West, North-Central and the North-East.

It was also agreed that political offices would be zoned or distributed among the zones in such a way that every zone will have a sense of belonging. And that has been the style.

For instance, from 1999 till date, the presidency has been on rotation between the North and South. It started with the South when former President Olusegun Obasanjo ruled for eight years.

His administration was followed by that of late President Musa Yar’Adua, whose life was unfortunately cut short by death. Yar’Adua was from the North, thus maintaining the rotational arrangement.

Goodluck Jonathan, from the South, took over and ruled for six years before Buhari took over in 2015.

By next year, Buhari would have served for eight unbroken years.

Meanwhile, the unfolding development has received wide condemnation from leaders across the country, some of whom said they expected such betrayal from the North.

However, Ayo Adebanjo, Afenifere leader, warned of severe consequences should the North retain the 2023 presidency.

“What many people don’t want to believe is that the North does not want to leave the place (Presidency) whether they are in APC or PDP. They want to retain power. It is unfortunate that you in the South have not opened your eyes. I am not surprised. Where they zoned, some people still say they do not agree with the zoning. They will present a candidate from the North and say that is the person they will vote for. If they do that and vote for a northerner, they are questioning the unity of Nigeria and that may be the end of Nigeria. It is their game plan,” Adebanjo said.

The Middle Belt Forum (MBF) has also vowed to collaborate with other groups in the southern part of the country to work against the interest of the PDP, APC, or any other political party that zoned its presidential ticket to the North.

This was stated by Bitrus Pogu, national president of the MBF, who said such political parties would have to contend with the regional groups because of their position and resolve to have the presidency moved to the South in the interest of fairness, equity and good conscience.

The Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), led by Edwin Clark, former federal commissioner for information and South-South leader, said it would be calamitous if the major political parties zone their Presidential tickets to the North.

Read also: 2023: Political atmosphere hots up as PDP, APC elect presidential candidates consecutively

The group said any attempt by the parties to carry out such a move would be resisted as Nigerians would be mobilised to protest against plans by the North to perpetuate itself in office after the incumbent President Buhari.

According to PANDEF, it would be disastrous if APC and PDP present northern presidential candidates for the 2023 election.

“It is common knowledge that the basis for any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country like Nigeria, is fair and even sharing of critical political offices. Hence, it would be in the best interest of the nation and our democracy to ensure that the next President of Nigeria, in 2023, emerges from the South,” the group said in a statement.

Political observers alleged that the ongoing intrigues by the North were part of the ideology of ‘fulanisation’ of Nigeria.

According to Gabriel Osayemi, a university don, the Fulanis are trying to take over and cause disruptions but it’s hard to know who is really behind it.

He said: “Different social histories tell a story of people who are minority and want to conquer, reading up on the Fulani history in Nigeria shows that currently they are at their strongest point ever. Fulani has an ideology for power but not for governance and they believe that they must be in power like it happened in Ilorin; however, Fulanisation of Nigeria is not a possibility that would happen in our lifetime

“Most Nigerians think sub-nationally rather than being Nigerian, and if you lack a political agenda, sub-political units will have their own agenda.

“Nigeria needs to answer questions of where a national agenda will come from rather than a sub-national agenda and looking at our aspirant for the next election, we should ask who can lead us to have a Nigerian agenda or identity now the country needs people with fresh ideologies.

“Nigeria cannot achieve the goal of a national identity if the issue of inherent injustices in the federation is not fixed. We need to undergo some restructuring; past leaders had more than 50 years to structure the country to have an identity but lost the opportunity due to selfish interests.”

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