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2023: Politicians in verbal game as power shift debate deepens

The 2023 general election is already generating ripples. Politicians have begun to jostle for various positions. But one particular issue that has continued to be a subject of discourse is where the next president should come from.

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, cultural and religious state and the Constitution, though silent on power rotation, provides for the principle of federal character. The provision makes it mandatory for fairness and equity in matters of appointment, citing of developmental projects, among others.

Upon the return of Nigeria to civil rule, in 1999, the founders of the then ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had reached a gentlemanly agreement that power must shift between the Southern and Northern blocs of the country.

In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo from South West geo-political zone won the election and spent two terms of eight years. He was succeeded in 2007 by Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from North West. But Yar’Adua could not serve out his tenure on account of death. His deputy, Goodluck Jonathan from South-South geo-political zone, completed the four-year tenure and went ahead to contest a fresh mandate in 2011. Jonathan was succeeded in 2015 by the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari from North West. He is due to leave office in May 2023 after completing two terms.

Now, the question arises, where would the power pendulum swing in 2023?

The question is currently receiving divergent answers which are already heating up the polity, as politicians engage themselves in verbal acrobatics on the subject matter.

Whereas many Nigerians believe that for the sake of equity and fairness, the power should shift to South East that has never had the opportunity; some others are playing up other considerations. These permutations, with the attendant wheeling and dealing appear to be tearing apart the entire south as they appear not to speak with one voice.

There is grave concern that power, which ordinarily should shift from the north, after eight years of President Buhari, may not, considering the intense politics around the subject matter at the moment.

Body language, comments and activities of leaders and groups from the region seem to suggest the north wants to retain power in 2023, after eight years of total hold.

However, most observers of Nigerian politics and the international community know that power has to shift to the southern part of the country come 2023 for stability of the country, which is almost at the verge of collapse, amid fighting low grade war against insurgents and bandits.

Read Also: 2023: Why Igbos can’t produce Nigeria’s president – Ogunlewe

Yet, shifting power to the south is also coming with a major challenge, as different zones in southern Nigeria are insisting it is their turn.

The South East and South West are keen on ruling, as Goodluck Jonathan, former president, has represented the South-South zone. Looking at the quests objectively, the South East, which has never “smelt” Aso Rock should be given a chance, but the political class and certain interests are thinking otherwise.

Chijioke J. Umelahi, a former Abia State lawmaker, who now runs a law firm in Abuja, noted that there would not have been need for zoning Nigerian presidency if true federalism is practised, principles of democracy followed and dividends of democracy obvious.

“Most Nigerians will not care about who rules them, his tribe or religion if the principles of democracy, justice and fairness, had been followed. It is not fair that a part of the country thinks leadership is their birthright,” Umelahi said.

In the same vein, Babarinsa Amodu, senior lecturer at University of Abuja, cleared the air on political power shift. According to him, since 1999 Nigeria has adopted an unwritten power shift approach, which is working but delivering less dividends of democracy to the people.

“From Obasanjo to Yar’ Adua and Jonathan to Buhari now, is a clear power shift between the North and South. There is no contention and people should not listen to some northern leaders because the basis of democracy and our unity should be hinged on justice and fairness. You cannot take your turn and take other people’s own. It is time for the South,” Amodu insisted.

In his opinion, Ifewodor Ogala, a retired navy officer, noted that while politicians are beginning to scheme for 2023, and throwing up issues they usually use to divide Nigerians like power shift, majority of the people know what is right for the country now, which is power shift to other zones.

“Even in military regimes, the Head of State tries to bring officers from other zones in his team to ensure support and avoid possible coup. So, why are politicians trying to do otherwise? If others supported a zone to win, that zone should support others to taste power too. That is fairness for me,” the Niger Delta-born retired captain said.

But Sam Onikoyi, a Nigerian historian and Commonwealth researcher based in Brussels, differed.

As much as he wants power to shift, he noted that the country has not benefited in terms of development and even unity with power shift since 1999.

Citing instance with Belgium, where he lives, Onikoyi explained that elections across the country, and especially in Brussels, are the smoothest and fairest because office holders are accountable to the people, hence where he or she is from is never considered.

“All we need in Nigeria is good leadership; politicians that will put people’s welfare first, improve quality of life, give everybody a sense of belonging and promote unity. If we achieve these like Europeans have done, issues like ethnicity, religious bigotry and even zoning or power shift will be needless,” he said.

Considering that the country has many ethnic groups, religious affiliations and zones, he noted that it would be fair to allow people from across the country to hold the highest political office because those who have held on to power for long have not delivered and are playing religion and ethnic cards when people want to hold them accountable for running the country down.

Meanwhile, on where power should eventually shift to in the South come 2023, Umelahi insisted that it should be to the South East. Ogala and Onikoyi also think the South East should have it in 2023, but Amodu said South West.

On his reasons, Ogala said the South East zone was a pillar in the country’s fight for independence, economic boom in the 60s, parades some of the best brains in Africa and most importantly, has right to rule as the constitution allows any qualified Nigerian, despite the zone, to stand for election and if elected, rule the country.

“The South East zone has not had a shot at presidency or entered Aso Rock for over 20 years since we returned to democracy. No, they should be given a chance, not the South West because Obasanjo had full eight years as president and Osinbajo will complete eight years as vice president,” Ogala said.

Also speaking for South East, Umelahi noted that the zone has every right to rule and argued that those who think the zone does not have quality candidates should tell the world what development those elected from other zones have brought to the country apart from piling international debts, economic downturn and disunity before leaving office.

“We are not saying an Igbo president will be the messiah, but the Igbos are Nigerians and have full right to be voted in as president. Again, if other zones have produced presidents who did not attempt their campaign promises, let’s give the Igbos a chance and expect less as we have done to other presidents,” Umelahi insisted.

Recall that some months back, the Southern Governors Forum had said that the presidency should rotate between Southern and Northern parts of the country, and that the South must produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023

“The Forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern Region,” part of a statement from the governors had read.

At a meeting in Abia State in January 2021, leaders of the South East unanimously expressed dismay that the region had continuously been denied the presidency, they said that there was no better time to actualise the Igbo presidency than 2023.

They had warned the two major political parties in the country that the region was tired of being used and abandoned, adding that it would not accept any position other than the president.

Those who favour power shift to South East, argue that since Alex Ekwueme’s function as Vice President to Shehu Shagari between 1979 until they were toppled in the 1983 coup, and Ebitu Ukiwe, an Igbo naval officer served as second in command for to the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida, the highest the Igbo had attained, no one from the zone has been elected as president of Nigeria.

Taoffick Gani, spokesman of the PDP in Lagos State, said: “There is nothing wrong in an Igbo presidency, the Igbo have played second fiddle for long in this county, even when Azikiwe ruled it was ceremonial.

“The Igbo presidency has become necessary, especially now that the economy is in tatters, it is believed that the Igbos are good in managing the economy, due to their enterprising nature; let’s have an Igbo man or woman that is good in this and let see how they can rule for four years. If they do well, they come back if not someone else,”

In recent years, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, has been in the forefront for the clamour for Igbo presidency in 2023.

Former president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo said recently that the president position was not a reserved and exclusive right of any region.

“This is a democracy; people are free to say what they want. But what is important is how the will of the nation will be distilled to ensure that there is justice. Nobody here is a second-class citizen and Ndigbo are not. So it is our turn in 2023,” Nwodo had said.

Meanwhile, until now only two politicians from the region had declared interest in the presidency in 2023; Kingsley Moghalu of Anambra State and Sam Ohabunwa, who is the founder and former CEO of Neimeth Pharmaceutical and also the president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria.

However, the lack of a serious candidate from the South East up till now, have been a source of concern to observers, though they noted that some of them may be waiting till the last minute before declaring their intention and may be playing safe.

The South East, the geo-political zone seeking for power shift from the North, seems not to be speaking with one voice.

Whereas the masses are clamouring for the president of Igbo extraction in 2023, some of the political leaders of the zone appear to be pushing different agenda.

A recent comment attributed to Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State that the All Progressives Congress was not interested in Igbo president.

He said that the APC was looking for a Nigerian president.

“We are not looking for an Igbo President. We are looking for a President of Nigeria. We as a party APC believe what we are practising here is partisan democracy and every politician must be loyal to his party. At the end of the day it is the decision of the party that you belong to that will matter,” he said.

Another comment considered controversial was the one made by Dave Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State, that God should give Nigeria another president like Muhammadu Buhari.

Umahi had been accused of dumping the PDP to position himself for the post of president in APC.

The visible disunity among the governors of the zone came to head a few days back when four of them shunned the Southern Governors’ meeting held in Enugu.

There have been discussions around some of the governors concluding plans to join the APC. These rumours appear to erode the confidence of the people in their leaders so badly that many people in the South East no longer see them as representatives of the people.

Former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara said it was possible to realise the much desired Nigerian President of Igbo extraction come 2023. Wabara said that all that Ndigbo needed to do to realise the project was to speak with one voice.

Wabara added that it was very possible for Igbo political elite and stakeholders irrespective of their party leanings to collaborate for the actualisation of the big project, notwithstanding their individual views or utterances.

According to him, “What is needed now is more of action towards achieving the project” and not necessarily utterances.

“We can’t talk with one voice because our experiences are not the same. But we’re one people and will continue to fight until we are re-integrated into Nigeria.

“It is a tall order given our position in Nigeria. Are we wanted in this contraption called Nigeria? When we were growing up, Ndigbo were on top and we didn’t despise other tribes. But now, do they treat us as equal owners of the country?”

Kunle Okunade said Igbo’s destiny was in their hands, adding that more unity was needed to realise such a dream.

“The actualisation of Igbo presidency is in the hands of the Igbo elite who need to be united in their agitation. But the truth is that regional agitation for the presidency in Nigeria will not help the unity of the country,” he said.

According to him, “Igbos might not achieve it due to lack of trust from their counterparts (the South West and North). There is nothing bad in allowing an Igbo man to direct the affairs of the country because of their cry over marginalisation. It will give the Igbos a sense of belonging in the Nigeria enterprise but the truth is that, the Nigerian 1999 constitution as amended does not provide for rotational presidency.

“For the Igbos to achieve their presidential agenda, they will need to build alliances across board and sustain their relevance in the Nigeria enterprise”.

Rochas Okorocha, a former governor of Imo State and now a senator, warned that the ruling APC would implode if it refuses to zone its presidential ticket to South East.

Okorocha warned that the ruling party would be divided if the party picks its candidate from north. The former governor explained why it is important for APC to consider a southern candidate. He said that the presidency was in south from 1999 to 2007 after which a northerner led the country to 2010, and that another northerner is in the saddle that ends in 2023. He sees no reason why power should not shift to South East.

The senator is a founding member of the APC. He led some factions of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to the formation of the APC. He has now sternly warned the leadership of the party that the APC would divide if a northern candidate is picked for the 2023 presidential election.

Doyin Okupe, a former presidential spokesman, also flayed the views recently expressed by the Northern Elders Forum that northern politicians had the rights to contest in 2023 and north has voting strength to emerge again once President Muhammadu Buhari has successfully completed his tenure. Even the Coalition of Northern Groups has agreed with the Northern Elders Forum.

Okupe flatly warned that the People’s Democratic Party would lose the 2023 presidential election if it picks its candidate from north again.

Abdullahi Adamu, a serving senator, also aligned with the views of his ilk in the North, saying that the zoning formula being championed by southern politicians isn’t constitutional, and that any interested person can contest for the seat of the president in 2023.

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