Zoning, ethnicity impacting buildup to 2023 Presidential election
• North Covertly Pitting South Against South
There are indications that Northern Nigeria is cleverly working underground to divide the South to have its way in the 2023 Presidential election. In fact, if the warning by the General Secretary of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, were anything to go by, the 2023 poll would further enlarge the mutual suspicion existing between the two broad regions.
Olajide had in an interaction with The Guardian cautioned the Southern region not to condescend so low to the north to the extent that the north would treat it (the South) as if it consists of three separate zones to easily pitch them one against another while positioning itself as a single unit.
The YCE scribe said the warning became crucial, especially given the posturing of Southeast and Southwest, which are considered to be the two most likely top contenders to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari at the expiration of his two terms in 2023.
He spoke to The Guardian on the sidelines of the meetings held by delegates of the Federal Government led by the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the president, Prof Agboola Gambari, Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and Director General, DSS, Alhaji Bichi with Southwest, Southeast and South-South leaders.
Olajide’s warning seemed to have been founded on the obvious bias surrounding the north’s game plan to subdivide the south into separate regions ahead of the 2023 general elections with a view to making the South vulnerable. Also, events of the last two months tend to justify Olajide’s apprehension.
The recent outburst by Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, that the leaders of the party should respect its zoning formula in picking its presidential candidate for the 2023 elections, betrays the devious schemes of the north. As one of those who played significant roles in the merger of All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2013 and 2014, Fashola is regarded as one of the technocrats in the ruling party that is not given to frivolity, particularly when talking politics. As such, for the minister to have the temerity to speak to the leadership of APC in that manner “carries much weight.”
One other development that is a cause for concern is the recent defection of Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, from the main opposition Peoples’s Democratic Party (PDP) to APC. It is widely believed that Umahi’s movement was not a sudden decision, but a pre-planned arrangement that has been incubated for a long.
Although there are contradictory reasons advanced for Umahi’s defection to APC from a zone that is known for its popular disdain for the ruling party, some observers believe the development has a lot do with Igbo ambition to succeed Buhari in 2023 or at best get the vice-presidential slot peradventure the northern hegemony in the ruling party decided to breach the ‘unwritten merger agreement’ of 2013/2014 with the Yorubas.
Then there is the surprise visit of APC governors led by the party’s Caretaker Committee Chairman, Mai Mala Buni to former President Goodluck Jonathan, who until now, remains a factor in the opposition PDP.
The APC leadership’s visit to Jonathan may have come as a rude shock to many political observers. The sharp altercations it subsequently generated between the ruling APC and PDP show that something was not adding up. But, like Umahi’s defection, there is however a background to the special visit to Jonathan considering the ‘easy access’ the former president has had in recent times in and out to the Presidency.
Some pundits have expressed warned that the recent romance between the presidency and Jonathan before the visit may have been aimed at scoring a political point by the north ahead of the 2023 presidential polls. While it is alleged that some power blocs in the north and within the ruling party are conscious of the danger inherent in the region clinging onto power beyond 2023, their projection seems to be to look the way of Jonathan, who by constitutional right cannot spend more than one term in office, if elected in 2023, so that by 2027 the baton will return to the north.
This projection seems to contradict the backdrop that the Southwest or Southeast if given the presidency in 2023 would want to stay till 2031. It is also of note that the recent visit of some political allies of the National Leader of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu led by former governors of Osun and Ogun states, Chief Bisi Akande and Aremo Segun Osoba accompanied by Chief Tajudeen Olusi and Dr. Yomi Finnih to President Buhari was shrouded in hidden meanings.
The details of the meeting were not disclosed to the media but a close source said the visit was not unconnected to the perceived frosty relationship between the presidency and Tinubu, especially in the aftermath of the #EndSARS crisis, where some forces have accused the national leader of being the brain behind the protests to topple Buhari’s administration just as the protesters have accused the former Lagos governor over a move to quell the protest by force to protect his interests.
When one of the elders was asked to abreast The Guardian of the details of their meeting with the president, the leader simply said, “If only you people would understand the type of intervention we are making this period to save the souls of Nigeria, you will appreciate our efforts.”
Another close Presidency source told The Guardian how Akande, who is known for his bluntness and courage told President Buhari point-blank that he must ensure the 2013/2014 agreement in APC that the presidency must return to Southwest be honoured.
It was not however uknown if the leaders pleaded with Buhari to consider supporting Tinubu’s presidential aspiration in 2023 or any other competent and credible Yoruba citizen.
What is however clear is that a former Deputy National Chairman of PDP, Chief Olabode George, who was apprehensive of the visit to Buhari has warned the president against accepting any plea concerning the former governor of Lagos.
Recall that in 2011 and 2015, the issue of zoning the presidency nearly set the north against the south. Former President Jonathan, who had completed the tenure of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, indicated interest to run for the presidency, the north kicked on the grounds that mandate 2007-2011, which the former president completed belonged to their region and by so doing, it was its right to produce the President. This argument was faulted on the basis that the 2011 presidential election provided a great opportunity for the minority to occupy the seat of power.
The then ruling PDP’s presidential primary was conducted and won by Jonathan, while Tinubu, whose party, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) placed its political machinery behind Jonathan, who eventually won the election.
The entire Southeast and South-South also queued behind the former president in 2011 to defeat President Buhari and his running mate, Pastor Tunde Bakare on the platform of the then Congress for Progressives Change (CPC). This was after the alliance talks between ACN and CPC collapsed before the 2011 election.
The situation however changed before 2015. Not long after Jonathan emerged as president, he reportedly alienated Southwest and went ahead to put Tinubu on trial before the Code of Conduct Bureau and was accused by almost all Yoruba socio-cultural organisation of marginalising Yoruba in his government, while the ‘juicy’ positions were occupied by Southeasterners.
In the build-up to the 2015 election, Jonathan came up with the 2014 National Conference, a political strategy he allegedly adopted to curry favour to win the 2015 presidential poll, but Tinubu and some Yoruba leaders pulled away from him to support Buhari under APC’s merger with a ‘gentleman agreement’ that the north will support Southwest in 2023 as Southeast aligned with Jonathan.
The outcome was that bad. The Southeast could not produce a Senate president, which could have been automatically ceded to the zone had it produced a Senator on the APC platform. The zone made the same choice in 2019 by supporting the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
But, with recent political development wherein the north seems to be playing games as Olajide pointed out, Fashola’s outburst comes as a fitting and timely warning.
Fashola (SAN), was the Lagos State governor when the APC was founded and he was a critical stakeholder. He has been serving as a minister since the party took over the Federal Government from the PDP in 2015. He spoke his mind too amid controversies as to whether power will shift to the South after Buhari in 2023. Speaking to reporters, Fashola had stated: “The truth is that what makes an agreement spectacular is the honour in which it is made, not whether it is written. If it were written, there would be no court cases of breach of contract because it’s a document that is written and signed that goes to court. The private agreement you make with your brother and sister should not be breached. It must be honoured.”
He acknowledged that zoning is not in the party’s constitution, insisting that the party leaders had agreed on zoning when the party was being formed. Likening political parties to clubs, Fashola added: “Where you write agreements just like a social club and we can decide that it is the youngest person who will be the chairman of the club or we can decide that it is the oldest person or the next female or the next male. That is the matter of agreement among people.”
There is no categorical provision for presidential zoning in the APC Constitution. The nearest to zoning is implied in Article 20, which states: ‘Election and Appointments (iv) Criteria for Nomination (6); it states that: “All such rules, regulations, and guidelines shall take into consideration and uphold the principle of federal character, gender balance, geo-political spread and rotation of office, to as much as possible, ensure balance within the constituency covered.”
He said: “Our opponents (PDP) have to think better than us in order to defeat us. Right now, they are not doing that. When it’s election time, they should come and meet us.
“Some governors have joined us, from where we think we could not get voters before now. To retain power in 2023, certainly, if we keep our promises, people will vote for us. It is that simple, that is politics.
“If you do what you said you will do, even if you don’t do 100 per cent and they see that you are making progress, they will even want you to finish what you started.”
Support For Buni Committee
while urging support for the Mai Mala Buni-led National Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary Convention Committee (NCECPC), Fashola described the committee as a product of necessity, noting that the leadership crisis within the party paved the way for its creation.
He stated: “It was a crisis that led us to have a caretaker committee. We must respect the caretaker committee. Let it do its job. Those of us who didn’t contest party positions, let’s focus on our jobs too and stop getting in each other’s way. Let’s be ready to support one another. Every support that the caretaker committee requires, we will provide, if it is within our means to do so. At the end of the day, we are governed by rules.”
Significance of Visit To Tinubu
IT is now an open secret that the political household of the national leader is undergoing some stress within and outside his base. Evident is the fact that Buhari’s body language and some northern cabals are not favourably disposed towards him. Not only on Tinubu’s alleged 2023 presidential ambition, but also the fact that immediately Buhari took over in 2015, he alienated him. The president only turned back to Tinubu about a year to the 2019 election, when he discovered the national leader would be useful to his re-election ambition.
No sooner was the second term won than the onslaught against Tinubu began anew, such that his political allies like the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was the ‘star boy’ of the APC 2019 presidential campaign have now been technically sidelined. Worst still is the surreptitious agenda of the north to pitch the national leaders against some crucial Yoruba members of APC.
The public perception currently is that the likes of Senator Ibikunle Amosun, who had largely benefitted from the political machinery of Tinubu is not in tune with him. Even the Minister of Interior, Ràuf Aregbesola, and a host of other protégés of Tinubu are now romancing the north against their mentor.
The recent #EndSARS controversies do not seem to be helping matters, although the national leader is said to be getting sympathy from top Yoruba leaders and elders, who were still convinced that “no matter what, Buhari cannot bite the finger that fed him in time of need.”
There is also the argument that if Buhari has any grouse at all against ceding power to Tinubu in 2023, an attack against the national leader now is tantamount to betrayal of the Yoruba by the north.
Other sources added that while it is still part of politics for the north to woo Jonathan or that Umahi has the freedom to associate with any political party “APC should look back and ruminate over its agreement as Fashola has pointed out.”
All said it could be safely concluded that the journey to 2023 may not augur well for Nigeria if the current administration remains adamant about demands for restructuring.