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2023 Presidency: Stakeholders weigh South West, South East chances

By Lawrence Njoku and Seye Olumide
15 January 2022   |   4:27 am
In anticipation that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will zone the Presidency to the southern part of the country in the 2023 general election, the Southwest and Southeast geopolitical zones have started gearing up for the impending battle.

Tinubu. Photo:

In anticipation that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will zone the Presidency to the southern part of the country in the 2023 general election, the Southwest and Southeast geopolitical zones have started gearing up for the impending battle.

It is becoming clearer by the day that both zones are not willing to leave anything to chance as they keep perfecting their strategies to produce the next president of the country. Although there are gladiators eyeing the number one position from other parts of the country, aspirants from the Southeast and Southwest are so far leading the pack, which points to a looming titanic struggle for power by the two zones.

Within the Southwest APC, aside from its national leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who notified President Muhammadu Buhari of his intention to succeed him in office during the week, it is widely believed that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State will also throw their hats into the ring. From the PDP, Dele Momodu has also declared his interest to contest.

In the Southeast APC bloc, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State has also informed Buhari of his intention to contest. Even though former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu has not formerly declared interest to run, he recently vowed to match Tinubu grit for grit for the APC presidential ticket.

In the PDP, former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, and former Chairman of Pfizer, Dr. Sam Ohuabunwa have also declared their interest to run. Also, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Kingsley Moghalu, has declared that he would gun for the position on the platform of the African Democratic Congress (ADC).

With aspirants from the two zones now the early birds in the 2023 presidential race, Secretary General of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, said the gladiators should be careful not to allow their personal ambition to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari becloud the desire of the people of their regions to see that the governance system of the country is redesigned to meet the standard of true federalism.

He urged those who have already declared interest from the two regions to be more tactical and apply necessary wisdom, noting that there is no provision in the Constitution that says the Presidency must be zoned to a particular region.

“Bearing this in mind, anybody from either the North, especially Northcentral and Northeast zones, are free to say it is their turn to produce Buhari’s successor in 2023,” he noted.

Olajide, particularly, said the gladiators from Igbo land, who have indicated interest to compete for the presidential ticket on the platform of the APC, needed to be conscious of the fact that they must negotiate and appease other areas ‘for them to get it’.

“How would you place the interest of Governor Umahi, who joined APC less than a year ago, coming to say it is the turn of Southeast and he is interested? What about those who struggled to form the party in 2013/2014. I see that as a wishful thinking. The Southeast also needs to realise that they have a lot to do to clear the memory of other regions on their people’s agitation and love for Biafra, especially relating to how the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) went about it in the last couple of years. These are issues that will crop up when the time comes.

“I think they have serious issues to deal with among themselves first and the way they dialogue and trade with other regions for them to realise their desire,” he said.

Anyim Pius Anyim

Olajide also cautioned the early callers for the presidency in the Southwest, saying: “What is paramount to Yoruba people today is the issue of restructuring. If that is not going to happen between now and 2023, then we want to see people with competence, character, capacity and good track records.”

On the need for trade off, the YCE scribe said: “That has always been a must in politics. There must always be a kind of give and take in democracy.”

The Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum said that in democracy, popular participation is allowed and it must be general.

According to the President of the forum, Akin Malaolu, the desire expressed by the gladiators from both Southwest and Southeast zones to produce Buhari’s successor in 2023 is normal. He, however, stressed the need for the two zones to have a kind of discussion and consensus among them, warning that there might be a kind of backlash.

“It is imperative for the two zones to see each other as one. They should also bear in mind that the North is smart and there is nothing stopping it from making overtures to anyone from the South-south as some are currently insinuating that the North is working out a script to bring back former President Goodluck Jonathan to contest in 2023.”

Malaolu also admonished the leaders from Southwest and Southeast to realise that their followers are watching and may decide to vote accordingly if the leaders failed to lead by example.

On the possibility of trade off, Malaolu said: “I expect it, and until it happens, you can never say, never in politics. I see a kind of trade off coming.

“What is important as we head towards 2023 is that those expressing interest now should be smart enough to look at critical issues and areas of negotiation, bearing in mind that Nigerians desire good governance, constitution review and restructuring. There should be a clear and concrete agreement on these and other issues before power is ceded to anybody or zone.”

The Yoruba group warned the North against playing a divide and rule game to retain power beyond 2023.

Former Director General of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Babatunde Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode governorship campaign organisations in Lagos State, Mr. Fouad Oki, noted that one of the setbacks of Igbo people in Nigeria’s democracy is that they have always played republican politics with a sense of entitlement, which, according to him, has not taken them anywhere.

Oki said it was unfortunate that many of the political gladiators in the South east zone were not ready to struggle for anything but rather chose to have a sense of entitlement. “This will never be a criteria to take the Presidency, especially in Nigeria and emphatically within the ‘progressives fold,” he said.

He commended Umahi and Kalu for discarding the entitlement and republican nature of Igbo politics to join the progressives’ fold.

Umahi

“However, Umahi and Kalu must continue to work with other zones and also continue among the progressives family if they aspire to take the presidency, definitely not in 2023, but later in the future.  This is due to the way things are now. In 2023, it will definitely not be Igbo’s turn to produce the president; they have just indicated readiness to work with other zones. For instance, now that the National Secretary of APC is likely to be zoned to Southeast, they can bank on that for future negotiation,” he noted.

Oki, who cautioned the Southwest zone, said Yoruba do not really deserve to take the Presidency in 2023 because they took the first slot in 1999.

“Why they are favoured this time is because of their contributions, though infinitesimal, to APC’s victory in 2015 and 2019. The Yoruba must understand that the North still has what it takes to retain the Presidency as long as politics is a game of number,” he said.

Oki warned that “with the way the Southwest is going about with the attitude of ‘if it is not me, it must not be another person’, Yoruba may end up giving the North the edge to determine who they (North) want and not necessarily who the Yoruba prefers as their presidential candidate.

The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, believes and expects that power will eventually be zoned to the south and micro-zoned to the Southeast in the spirit of equity, fairness and justice in 2023.

President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor, maintained that the time for Ndigbo to produce the president of Nigeria has come.

His words: “Definitely, the idea of the president of Nigeria from Igboland is an idea whose time has come. It is politically and morally justifiable. As a matter of fact, it is important that at this time in the history of Nigeria, we will take reasonable decisions to heal the nation, give every part of the country a sense of belonging, stop the bickering and reunite the country and reinvigorate the spirit of nationalism.

“To be candid, we in Igboland are ready to give candidates and presidential aspirants that are competent, nationalistic, with the capacity to perform, with evidence of what they have done and what they can do for the rest of the country. We are ready and we are asking the nation to obey the rotation in our history, which has been North and South and which created the balance – a political balance that has held our country together.”

To the National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, the declaration of interest by Tinubu is against then rules of natural justice.

He said the former Lagos State governor had chosen to add to the crisis of Nigeria instead of joining hands with patriots to save the corporate existence of the country.

According to Ogbonnia, Tinubu knows that he is doing the wrong thing by embarking on a project that is not rooted in equity, justice and fair play.

“It is a project that is dead on arrival. Because God is a universal entity, He is always interested in truth, fairness and equity. So, anybody embarking on anything that is not rooted in equity and justice will not succeed and this is a countervailing force that has sustained this world from the beginning.”

To the National Chairman, Social Democratic Party (SDP), Dr. Olu Agunloye, it will be too early to see or conclude that there is struggle between Southwest and Southeast over who produces Buhari’s successor.

He said: “I want to believe that many people from other zones will still come out. The fact that Tinubu’s declaration had triggered the outburst from Governor Umahi and Senator Kalu and others is not enough to conclude there is existing struggle between the Southwest and Southeast. For instance, some people are still making overtures to former Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina, just as we are hearing that some northerners are wooing erstwhile President Jonathan from South-south to throw his hat into the ring.

“We also have the likes of Governor Yahaya Bello from Kogi in the North Central warming up, just as the likes of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and erstwhile Senate President, Bukola Saraki from the North.”

Agunloye said that zoning sentiment was behind the recent declarations in the last couple of days, noting that it is not part of the Nigerian Constitution or a prerequisite to contest for the Presidency.

“Time will tell those that are really committed to contesting for the 2023 Presidency.”

A former National Chairman of the defunct United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, also noted that it was wishful thinking to expect an all-southern presidential contest in 2023.

“I am not optimistic that the contest for the presidency of Nigeria come 2023 will be a straight battle between the Southeast and Southwest in the two main political parties – APC and PDP. I say
this because there is no indication that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Governor Aminu Tambuwal and Senator Bukola Saraki, to mention a few, are in any mood to give up their own aspirations in favour of the South.

“In the APC, a southern aspirant may have become the early bird but all I know is that the APC leadership is not in any mood to surrender the northern political space to the PDP. Any person who is watching the unfolding development will simply agree that the APC is following the PDP footsteps. The PDP has raised its national chairman from the North central. There is the likelihood that the APC will do the same. PDP is stronger in the North central and the argument within the political class is that it is their turn and a plank in the North that has not been allowed to preside over the affairs of the country. So, the argument may go in favour of the North and in that regard the APC may also go to the Northeast and fight for a space there. They could rely on President Buhari’s followership in the North to have an advantage. This is the political calculation ongoing.

Sen. Orji Kalu. Photo/FACEBOOK/SENATORORJIKALU

“This does not favour the southern part of Nigeria and the reason they are doing this with confidence is that the constitution of Nigeria, which everybody has been clamouring for review, favours the North in raising candidates by political parties. This constitution has allowed every local government in Nigeria to produce delegates to the presidential primary on the basis of equality of local governments. Only statutory delegates can come by way of the positions they occupy and the delegates are still more in the North. The North has more local governments than the South put together. The military did this before they left. So, they have tremendous advantage in terms of delegates and Nigerian politics have not gone beyond ethnicity and religion. It is even more so now than ever.

“So I don’t see how the Southeast and Southwest will be squaring for a contest that is not even in their advantage except the party zones its slot to the South like they did under Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar that made it possible for former President Olusegun Obasanjo to become president. If that is not done, I don’t see the South coming up in those particular parties because the PDP has told everybody that it would throw the contest open and I don’t see the APC doing a different thing because they don’t have protection for zoning even in their own constitution as against the PDP that has jettisoned what is in their constitution in favour of open contest. So, this is the way I look at it and if the Southeast and Southwest are doing battle now, it will be a wasted effort.”

On the advantages either the Southwest or Southeast may enjoy in case the ticket is zoned to the South, Okorie said the Southeast stood a chance going by its position as the only zone that has not occupied the position before now.

He explained that the case of the Southeast zone has gained traction and there is almost a general acceptance that for equity, justice and fair play, the zone should be made to have a sense of belonging in power sharing in the country.

He rationalised that the Southwest has had its eight years under Obasanjo, with former President Goodluck Jonathan (from South South) coming after the death of former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

“With those developments, it will be unfair for anyone to canvass that any of these zones should be given the opportunity when a critical part of it has not tasted the slot,” Okorie said.

The politician suggested resuscitation of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to serve as a platform that could enable the Southeast produce the president.

“If APGA is resuscitated, if it is taken away from the hijackers that marooned it into one corner of Anambra State, the party can possibly become a formidable one that can enable a south easterner to emerge as president. I can tell you that it will change the equation in 2023.”

According to Emeritus President General of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, the trajectory of the emergence of a presidential candidate is still shrouded in controversy, following from the fact that the political parties are still considering where best their chances lie.

“In fact, the lords or controllers of the parties are busy calculating their chances of two things – victory and retaining or improving the control of the party. A political man is always working out the moves he is making and how to checkmate the plans and machinations of his adversaries.  A politician who loses relevance in the face of the victory of his party is doomed. This is the situation that makes the political person declare political struggles as a do or die affair.

“APC was owned originally by Southwest and Northwest. ACN had the most top office holders but the emergence of Buhari has tilted the control away from the Southwest. I can project that the presidential candidate will emerge from the Southwest.  The candidate will be someone who is malleable. PDP is still calculating its chances of winning the election with an Igbo candidate.  This is why it is tinkering with a northern candidate with the expectation of a repeat of what brought Buhari to power. If that happens, the Southeast voters will feel betrayed. This will result in negative consequences for PDP – block votes against it. The beneficiary will be APC.”

A political scientist, Dr. Jude Onuoha, however, stated there are various conjectures in the emergence of aspirants from the South for the presidential race. “Until these conjectures are rightly answered, it will be difficult to narrow down the contest. The political equation favours the North. If we will abide by the rotation arrangement between the North and South, then power in 2023 will come down to the South. But if what is happening now, especially among the two parties that are tinkering with where they will gain victory is put to perspective, then it will elude the South.

“The argument will favour the Southeast if eventually the slot is given to the South because the zone has not tasted the office. On the other hand, I think the Southwest is closer to power at the moment than the Southeast and if that is put to consideration, then a Southwest candidate may also emerge from the ruling party.

“So, what we should concentrate on at the moment is to get the leading parties to zone their slots. When it eventually favours the South, there will certainly be some give and take to ensure that Southeast takes the slot in 2023.”