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Of Southern governors’ confab, presidential paranoia and 2023 babel

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
11 July 2021   |   4:18 am
Not minding the absence of two, the recent meeting of the governors of 17 Southern States produced unanimity on crucial geopolitical issues that revolve around Nigeria’s continued state of being.

[FILES] Southern Nigeria governors

Not minding the absence of two, the recent meeting of the governors of 17 Southern States produced unanimity on crucial geopolitical issues that revolve around Nigeria’s continued state of being. Barely one week after the momentous gathering, which was a sequel to the wave-making debut in Asaba, Delta State, the outcome of the Lagos outing has continued to engage public conversation.

Similar to its forebear in Asaba, where the major take away was the denouncement of open grazing of cattle, the July 5, 2021 exercise produced earth-shaking resolutions that hinged on power shift to the South. A quick look at the major points of the two meetings gives the impression that restructuring, which has been a constant buzzword in the polity, has been repackaged and rehearsed.

The Southern Governors’ meeting in Asaba, which reviewed free-herding of cattle by nomadic Fulani, did much to approximate the resource control or self determination that dominates the socio-political thought of the Niger Delta people. In the same manner, the issue of ensuring that the Presidency of the country, which happens to be close to the perception in Southwest, had to come out from the meeting at the State House, Ikeja, Lagos.

It has been observed that resolving the political contradictions in the country sits at the bedrock of the nation’s challenges. So, in few words, the spectre of restructuring, which has previously woven as a call for the return of the country to the 1963 republican constitution or devolution of power, come back to stand on the pedestal of powersharing between the North and South.

When former Libyan leader, Muammar El Ghadaffi, proffered that Nigeria be simply subdivided into North and South in recognition of the pre-amalgamation structure of protectorates, some citizens said he was mad. But, given the various reactions to the outcome of the 17 Southern Governors’ meeting in Lagos on return of the Presidency to the South after eight years stay in the North, it is obvious the nation prefers to live in denial.

There is a multiplicity of ethnic nationalities in the country. If that does not betray the fact that Nigeria’s union does not translate to unity, the fact of the existence of six geopolitical zones goes further to show that the country is an unfinished work of statecraft.

Prior to the revival of the Southern Governors’ Forum, the Governors of the 19 Northern States have always congregated as the Northern Governors’ Forum, which is currently under the leadership of Plateau State Governor, Solomon Lalong.

Before Lalong, former Chief Servant, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliu (Talba) presided over the forum. It was during the time of the Niger State governor that the debate over the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan inflamed passions.

Dr. Babangida Aliu made national headlines when, at the build-up to the 2015 General Elections, he alleged that there was an agreement purportedly signed by Jonathan committing himself to serving for just one term to make up for the truncated second term of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

Table Turns
THE resolution from the 17 Southern Governors’ meeting last Monday at State House, Ikeja, clearly showed how the table has turned eight years after the seven PDP governors went on shuttle diplomacy to save their party, nay the nation.

There was no mistaking the fact that it was all about the zoning of the Presidency. While politicians from the North, particularly second term governors, wanted the presidency returned to their zone so that one of them could benefit, the insistence of Jonathan to appropriate his constitutional rights and political privileges as an incumbent agitated them.

It is against the above background that the call by political parties, especially President Muhammadu Buhari, to support powershift to the South makes some political meaning. The Southern governors picked holes with the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), kicked against the planned excision of electronic transmission of poll results from the draft Electoral Act bill and set a September 1 date for final deadline for the legislation against open grazing. Despite all that, it was on the score of power shift that bedlam happened.

It would be recalled that ever since the amalgamation of former small opposition parties into the All Progressives Congress (APC), which defeated PDP at the 2015 presidential poll, mutual suspicion has lingered between the major conjoining platforms, especially the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).

While CPC donated President Buhari, the ACN caucus believe that it was its turn to takeover at the top echelon of the political leadership in 2023 when Buhari serves out his second term. However, shortly after the 2019 general elections, the Southwest caucus began to smell mischief and signs of bad faith from its other major partner.

That suspicion was said to have informed a reported meeting between Tinubu and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe in Abuja around December 2019. Tinubu was said to have told Kingibe that although there was nobody in the North to play a similar role he played for Buhari’s emergence as the party’s standard bearer, in the event that the North uses superior delegate numbers to defeat him at the presidential primary, he should be accorded the respect of choosing the presidential running mate.

Although The Guardian could not independently confirm the veracity of the alleged discussion between Tinubu and Kingibe, the source explained that Tinubu’s observations informed the dissolution of the APC NWC, which the powers that be saw as being peopled by loyalists of the Lagos strongman.

It would be recalled that during Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s supremacy battle with Governor Godwin Obaseki, it became obvious that in the absence of Oshiomhole, Senator Abiola Ajimobi or Hillard Etta would step in. Seeing that both men were Tinubu’s footsoldiers, the powers that be decided on a clean sweep of the entire NWC, based on the spirited pushback by Chief Victor Giadom, an acolyte of Transportation Minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who himself, like Tinubu is said to be nursing a presidential ambition.

Could it be then that the North planned ab initio to withhold the Presidential slot after Buhari? Was there an agreement prior to the merger that power should move from North to South after the President? Some notable APC stakeholders had mooted the idea that the party could retain the Presidency if it is zoned to Southwest. Senator Shehu Sani and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal, had years back asserted that Southwest was promised the presidential slot.

Part of the communique by the Southern Governors’ meeting, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu had stated: “The Southern Governors Forum at the end of the meeting held on Monday, 5th July, 2021 reviewed the situation in the country and focused on the current security situation, constitutional amendment, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

“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.

However, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) was quick to formulate two robust conditions for it to support a southern presidential candidate for the 2023 General Elections. According to its spokesman, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who gave out the conditionalities during a television appearance, the South must convince the North on what the zone stands to benefit and present a strong presidential candidate.

According to Baba-Ahmed, “The problem is the manner it is being pursued this time by people who were elected on the basis of the constitution, who understand that politics is about getting up and convincing people rather than just sitting down and say ‘we want this, we want that.’ That’s wrong.”

Renegotiation, Reconciliation
WITH the parallel positions being adopted by the various groupings, it is obvious that politicians are merely skirting around the challenges of building a strong political structure for the country.

President Buhari has asserted that the issue of restructuring lies, not with him, but with the National Assembly. In what has come to be known as the Ibadan Declaration, leaders of Southwest had noted that unless the country was restructuring with power devolved to the geopolitical zones and creation of state police or a return to the 1963 republic constitution, it would be impossible for the 2023 General Election to hold under the flawed 1999 constitution as amended.

Where would be the middle ground be? Given that the two major political parties were represented at the Lagos meeting, is it possible for the Southern governors to ensure that both parties-APC and PDP- select their presidential candidates from the South?

Within the APC, the argument is gaining credence on both moral and strategic grounds, especially given that President Buhari is from the North and as such makes it odd to support another northern candidate. But for PDP, it does not seem to be so, because at the point of his defection to APC, Governor Dave Umahi accused PDP of plotting to field a northern candidate for the 2023 poll.

The silent argument with the opposition party is that out of the 16 years that PDP held sway, the South enjoyed 13 disproportionate years to the North’s three years. Some observers have also observed the 2013 defection, contending that if the PDP leaders had left the party to ensure that power returns to the north, it would amount to self indictment to move for partisan consideration in the zoning format instead of the bold North and South divide.

It is left to be seen how the Southern Governors intend to put their resolution into political reality. But, for now, unless political parties make pronouncement on the issue of power shift to the South, more voices of babel would continue to define the build up to the 2023 election cycle.