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Southern solidarity: Can the governors walk the talk on 2023 presidency?

Yes! It was made in Lagos and the governors from the southern part of Nigeria have been applauded, and at the same time, criticised for another heroic moment. But, like they say don’t talk the talk unless you can walk the walk.

Just like the bold proclamation now popularly referred to as the “Asaba accord” was made in the first half of 2021, governors from the southern part of Nigeria under the aegis of forum of Southern Governors made a daring move on July 5, 2021 in Lagos.

Hosted at the Government House Alausa, Ikeja by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the meeting had in attendance more than 10 southern governors, including their representatives, across different ethnic groups and party divides.

They include; Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos); Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (Ondo); Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti); Dapo Abiodun (Ogun); Seyi Makinde (Oyo); Adegboyega Oyetola (Osun); Nyesom Wike (Rivers); Emmanuel Udom (Akwa Ibom); Diri Duoye (Bayelsa); Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State among other governors.

The governors, at the end of the meeting, among other resolutions, unanimously agreed that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern region.

In a six-point communiqué signed and issued by Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), Ondo State governor and chairman of the southern governors, the forum “reaffirmed their commitment to the unity of Nigeria on the pillars of equity, fairness, justice, progress and peaceful co-existence between and among its people.”

This is coming nearly eight years after the region last thirsted for the office of the chief executive officer of the nation. Apparently, the governors’ political conviction as regards the presidential seat, which according to observers, may not be unconnected with the writings on the wall and the trajectory of rotational presidency in transferring power from one successive government to the other.

Interestingly, this is the second governors’ meeting in a space of two months with two front burner issues raised and several conclusions reached at the end of both meetings.

The governors’ declarations have continued to resound in the ears of Nigerians, and the citizenry are licking their lips in anticipation to how it would turn out.

The first takeaway was the ban on open grazing of cattle across the region due to the security challenge posed by the incursion of armed herders and bandits which was faced with severe criticism.

“Agreed that the progress of the nation requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian Federation leading to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions, which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism.

“In view of widespread agitations among our various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements, the Federal Government should convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency,” the governors stated in Asaba.

Beyond the recent resolution for rotational sharing of the presidential seat, the governors scheduled Wednesday,

September, 1, 2021 for the promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all states under the region.

They also threw their weight behind the 5 percent share of the oil revenue to the host community as recommended by the House of Representatives, and rejected the proposed 3 percent in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) recently passed by the upper chamber.

Among others, the forum also opposed the proposed 30 percent share of profits for the exploration of oil and gas in frontier states.

The June 5 Lagos meeting may have come and gone but its declaration still reverberates across the nation, hitting some nerves and eliciting strong reactions from Nigerians, particularly from the northern part of the country.

“Thus, Northern Elders Forum (NEF) sees the decision of the southern governors as an expression of sentiment that could be best discussed within a political process. We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest,” Northern Elders Forum riposted.

Read also: INEC, electronic voting and 2023 general election

The forum, in a statement issued by Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, director of publicity and advocacy, said the North would not be threatened, intimidated or blackmailed into yielding an office that ought to be settled democratically.

Also, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), in a statement issued by its spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, maintained that the North will not be “blackmailed into taking major decisions around rotating the Presidency and shall insist that only a candidate who is competent and able to unite and secure Nigeria should be President in 2023, irrespective of where he or she comes from.

Since Nigeria transited to democratic rule in 1999, four presidents, with two each from the North and South, have ruled the country in their various capacities.

It started with Olusegun Obasanjo (South West) who was president from 1999 to 2007. Followed by Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (North West) who presided over the country from 2007 to 2010, until his demise in 2010.

He was succeeded by Goodluck Jonathan (South South) who served as the President of Nigeria from 2010 to 2015 and later lost the 2015 presidential election to the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari.

While he is still the office-holder of Nigeria’s top job, supporters are already on the knocker, strategising, wooing the hearts of Nigerians and canvassing for the candidates of their choice ahead of the 2023 general election.

But, one major formidable hurdle they may be confronted with is power shift between the North and the South, which has become a major topic of intense debate among the citizenry.

Some political observers and onlookers are of the view that it is time for the southern part of the country to lead, whereas others have maintained that zoning is not in the constitution and should not affect the chances of potential aspirants.

“The declaration is achievable. Apart from being achievable, it is ideal for the survival of the unity of this country. The time for the election is approaching and there are pockets of opposition to the idea of rotational presidency and that may have pushed the governors to make their points known to the public,” Godwin Erhahon, former publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said.

Tony Abolo, a communication expert, said it was good the governors made their position known in a direct way because they have started to perceive a game plan ahead of the presidential election.

“On a more rational way, it has not been a good thing for this country, four years or eight years you are up north or down south, and every time they move to the position, there is always a different perspective. We should be thinking of what can create peace and amity, must will change the policies every eight years to suit the north and another eight years to please the south?” he queried.

Adams Aliu, a Benin-based constitutional lawyer told BusinessDay that zoning doesn’t exist in the constitution but, at times, intra-party politics can try to adopt it.

He said: “A lot of political underground has to be done to achieve it, meaning that the northern part of the country has to be prevailed upon not to present a candidate as it was done in 1999, where the southern part was allowed to present a candidate.”

As the 2023 political season kicks off in earnest, there are questions as to who emerges president. Now that the governors have come out to unequivocally present their position, will their solidarity prevail? Will it augur well for the southeast? What are the chances of the political bigwigs in the North?

These and many more pertinent questions await Nigerians on the road to the country’s 7th general election in a democratic era.

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