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2023: The presidency zoning debate and the South East factor

As the general election of 2023 draws nearer, the debate is which zone in the South will get the slot? Many have argued that for equity and fairness, the South East, which has not “tasted” it before should be “allowed” to produce the next president of Nigeria.

Some others, however, believe that power is struggled for and is not served a la carte. Some, who choose to play politics with it say that the South East is not in the mainstream and as a result, should not be allowed to take it.

The 17 Southern Governors have on a number of occasions insisted that power must shift to the south in 2023. But they have remained silent on specifics bordering on where in the south the presidency should go.

The inauguration recently of a support group for Bola Ahmed Tinubu presidential ambition by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, has shown clearly that he wants the presidency to come to South West.

While the Southern governors have had the courage to insist on the presidency coming to the South next time around, it would be interesting for them to, irrespective of party leaning, speak in one voice on the particular zone they actually want the power pendulum to swing to.

Recently, Remond Dokpesi, founder of Daar Communications and member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in an interview said that no candidate from the South will be able to win the 2023 presidential election.

He also said that whoever emerges president in 2023 must compensate the people of the South East, “if we want a new Nigeria.”

Although he pointed out that if the PDP decides to zone the presidency to the south, it would be fair for the ticket to be given to the South East, he said there was no credible candidate for the zone.

Read also: 2023: Tinubu’s posters flood Lagos

“The South-East cannot win the election for the PDP; this is just the truth of the matter,” he said.

He was quoted to have further said: “I don’t beat around the bush; I treat issues as they are and as I understand them. There is no candidate from the South East, even I dare say there is no candidate from the South that you put in the north today that will be able to win. It is going to be a humongous challenge.”

But the pan-Igbo cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, flayed Dokpesi’s comments, saying it was disheartening that Dokpesi, one of the leaders of South-South People Assembly (SSPA) would profile the entire south as an electoral liability to the PDP.

“Ohanaeze Ndigbo is dismayed that Dokpesi could demonstrate this type of duplicity in a matter that is so clearly defined. Dokpesi’s assumptions are unreflective, weird and unworthy. Any person who loves Nigeria should be an advocate of power rotation, especially between north and south, and those our sons and daughters who lay claim to leadership should not, under any guise, give the impression that the south is a lame-duck, an electoral liability, and therefore must depend on the north to define the political trajectory of Nigeria,” a statement signed by Alex Ogbonnia, the group‘s national publicity secretary, said.

A newspaper had reported Friday that a former acting National Chairman of the PDP, Kawu Baraje, had said that the zoning of the national chairmanship of the party to north did not bar anybody from the region from contesting for the presidency on the PDP platform.

Iyorchia Ayu, a former Senate president, who is from the North-Central, was Thursday, October 14, 2023, picked as the consensus candidate of the PDP ahead of a former Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State and Senator Abdul Ningi from the North-East. The selection is expected to be ratified during the National Convention of the party end of this month.

Although the PDP national leadership has yet to comment of where it would zone the presidency to, the thinking in the polity has been that it is automatically looking towards South, the party having zoned the chairmanship to north.

But Baraje, had in a statement last Wednesday said the North-Central needed the Presidency not the national chairmanship of the party.

According to him, in the event the zone gets the chairmanship, it should not prevent it from contesting the presidency.

He emphatically said that the zone made its position known before Ayu’s emergence, and that the leadership agreed to their position.

“The party too agreed with us. Not only did we agree that the fact that the party chairman is coming from the North-Central does not stop the zone from contesting the presidential ticket. This was put in black and white as an agreement,” he said.

His views could be said to have been shared by Boni Haruna, a member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT) and a former governor of Adamawa State, South East geopolitical zone, during an interview on Channels Television Friday.

Haruna, who waxed semantics on the zoning of the party’s presidential slot, said chairmanship zoning had never barred anybody from contesting, emphasising that the PDP history has always been zoning between north and south and has nothing to do with the party in power at the moment.

“The history of our party has been zoning between the North and South. The party will not be rigid. For the 16 years we were in power, 14 years were in the south- President Obasanjo spent eight and Jonathan six, and Yar’Adua only spent two. Under PDP, the North has held power for only two years,” he said.

He also went on to say that with Buhari’s eight years by 2023, the north would have only done 10 years. By interpretation, the PDP may throw the ticket open for whosoever will.

In a recent video trending on social media, Dele Momodu, publisher of Ovation International, apparently replying to those who think that the Igbo of South East do not have what it takes to lead Nigeria, said: “How can anybody say an Igboman cannot be president of Nigeria and I accept it? If I were the president of Nigeria today, I would have turned South-East Nigeria into a hub, our own Silicon Valley. These are people endowed. They are as brilliant as the Chinese, the Koreans and the Indians put together. We have them and why are we not using them? Because there was a civil war before and we said we have forgiven ourselves but an Igboman cannot be trusted to become anything in Nigeria; to be president, inspector-general of police or chief of Army Staff. Why?”

Momodu further said: “Look at Joe Biden, he appointed Nigerians into his cabinet before the inauguration of his administration. He didn’t say, because they said Nigerians are very corrupt people; all those stupid sentiments that people express against us. He appointed them because he saw their talent. So, if you don’t want them; if you don’t trust them and they say they want to go, so why are you then stopping them? Even slaves got freedom. These are people contributing to world economy (listen carefully- I did not just say Nigeria economy); there is no country I have been to that I did not find an Igboman, either at the peak of academia, at the peak of business, at the peak of professions- they are everywhere- medical doctors, surgeons, lawyers, bankers, name it, they are everywhere. And then you come back to Nigeria you are discriminating against them, and now you say they should not agitate for their own nation.

“You are the ones causing the problem. If you want an Igboman, then bring them nearer and see if they would not perform. In this Lagos where we live today, anything we want to do in Ovation, we say let’s go to Computer Village. Who are the people controlling Computer Village? Who are the people controlling Alaba International Market? Do you think that people with empty brain can control those things that Igbo control? Even with all this fight, if you go to Kano today, it is the Igbos that are selling spare parts, without them all the vehicles there would not function. If you go to Sokoto you will see them there. Go to Borno, Iraq, Afghanistan, you will see Igboman doing great things.”

At the event where the recommendations of the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi-led Zoning committee was approved National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party in Abuja, a former Vice-President of Nigeria argued that the zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket has never been the cause of the country’s problem nor will it be the solution.

“The PDP has the right to determine its rules on how its party should be governed. The people of Nigeria also have the right to determine who governs them,” he said.

According to him, “Where the president comes from has never been the problem of Nigeria neither will it be the solution. There is no such thing as the president from Southern Nigeria or president from Northern Nigeria. There is only one president from Nigeria, by Nigeria and for Nigeria.”

His position has been interpreted by some people to mean that he was not buying into any idea of zoning the presidency to the south. Events of the coming days will prove all things.

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