The clamour for power shift in 2023 may not amount to anything, if the signs emanating from the two major political parties in Nigeria are anything to go by.
Despite the agitation for the zoning of the presidency to the south, especially, South East, it seems, the position would be thrown open for contest for whosoever will.
While the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has openly said it was not considering any zoning arrangement in 2023, the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has zoned its National chairmanship to the north, has also given indication that it could be thrown open for all.
The “body language” of the parties appears to have now encouraged some political actors to begin to make moves through sponsorship of groups to drum up support for them.
Already, while political heavyweights in the PDP such as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, River’s Governor, Nyesom Wike and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki are battle ready to grab the party’s ticket using all the resources at their disposal, the APC National Leader, Bola Tinubu; former Abia Governor and serving Senator, Orji Kalu, and current Ebonyi Governor, Dave Umahi are also jostling to grab the ticket of the APC, deploying their massive wealth to sway the pendulum to their sides.
The Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has for several months been in the news as one of the likely contenders as some support groups have since launched for him.
Others who have also announced their interest include Anyim Pius Anyim, a former Senate President, and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, immediate past President of the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria.
A few days ago, a group called, Amalgamated Atiku Support Group (AASG), came up, describing itself as “a coordinating and umbrella body set up to coordinate the activities of support groups interested in volunteering to work with His Excellency Atiku Abubakar in the bid to actualise his aspiration to salvage Nigeria come 2023.”
A support group in Cross River State PDP, The Renaissance Movement, also announced its presence for Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, urging the party to leadership of the party to give its presidential ticket to the governor.
Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto State, has also given indication that he was interested in the PDP ticket.
In an interview session recently, he said: “Now that we have almost done all the congresses and conventions, I will come back to you after consulting in a matter of a few weeks, few months.
“I have tried it before. It (presidential ambition) was in the air in 2014. After consultation, I decided not to run. In 2018, after consultations with a number of stakeholders I threw my hat into the race. I will commence my consultation extensively now and make it public after,” Tambuwal said.
In recent years, there have been debates in Nigeria on whose region should produce the president after the expiration of the second term of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.
In the last few months, party leaders have been making conflicting statements on the issue, observers fear that if not managed properly it could breed a serious rancour.
Although, among political leaders in the South, especially in the South-East, it is expected that after President Buhari’s tenure expires in2023 that power should return to the region.
However, it appears that some political actors and stakeholders especially in the North are opposed to the idea. While some would want power to remain in the North, others say that every Nigerian had the right to vie for the presidency.
Also, there are others who are of the view that competence should rather determine who govern the country and not ethnicity.
Such is the position of former military leader, Ibrahim Babangida who said recently that the president should emerge through merit and acceptability rather than zoning, stressing that democracy does not align with zoning or power shift.
“We have to make a choice either we want to practice democracy the way it should be practiced or the way it is being practiced or we define democracy according to our own whims and caprices.
“If we are going to do it the way it is done all over the world you allow the process to continue, it is through the process that you will be able to come up with a candidate that will lead the country,” Babangida declared.
Equally, Pastor Tunde Bakare said recently that Nigerians should prioritise competence above zoning in the search for the nation’s new president in 2023.
“I said it on the Oct. 3, it is our immaturity politically and otherwise that makes us say that power must either be in the North or be in the South instead of looking for the best, fittest or most competent and people of character who love this country,” Bakare said.
Other notable Nigerians have also spoken against or in support of zoning the presidency to a region in Nigeria.
“A lot of people in the South considers that since Buhari would be spending 8 years in power, that it is only fair for power to be rotated to the Southern Nigeria in 2023, because allowing someone in the North to continue will likely deny the South power at the centre for 8+8 which will be 16 years on a stretch”, Adelaja Adeoye, PDP chieftain and political analyst said.
Chudi Amah, a political pundit, said: “When the PDP took the decision to zone its national chairman to the North, many people thought it was a hint that the party may be willing to zone the presidency to the South; but this does not seem to be the case or maybe, time would tell.”
“The PDP’s recent national convention ended without a clear position on the party’s position on which zone should produce the candidate to fly the party flag in 2023. That has created confusion to the point that we can now see that it is everybody game, which is against the spirit of fairness,” Amah added.
In the APC, similar situation exists, though the party has not taken a categorical statement on where the presidential ticket would be zoned to, however in recent months, loyalists of some party leaders have begun intense campaign to sell their principal to Nigerians.
Mamman Mohammed, director-general, Media to Governor Mai Mala Buni, chairman, of the All Progressive Congress APC Caretaker Committee, said the APC has not determined where its presidential ticket will be zoned to.
Mohammed while speaking with Businessday in a telephone conversation, said the task ahead of the party now is how to strengthen the party, build its structures and hand over a truly national party to the Nigerian electorates
The party has really not reached that position where it will decide whether to zone its presidential ticket or not.
According to him, “The Chairman, Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Governor Mai Mala Buni, has continued to emphasise that his current assignment is to build a strong and united political party that is acceptable to all, free of acrimonies.
“That is why following from the various Congresses, the party has constituted reconciliation committees that are working relentlessly to build that cohesion that the party is noted for.
“The party has also constituted National Reconciliation Committee headed by Senator Abdullahi Adamu to reconcile those still aggrieved.”
He disclosed that the committees have been given free hands to settle the issues to avoid unnecessary litigations.
“It is hopeful to that at the end of the day, the committees will also make their recommendations to the Caretaker Committee, which will provide direction for organising a hitch-free national convention.
“The party will be approaching the national convention with confidence. The party will be fair to everyone. So, let me assure you that when it is time to choose the party’s presidential flag bearer, it will be a national affair and whosoever emerges will have the backing of everyone in the APC,” he said.
Speaking in an interview last year, one of the party’s prominent members, Babatunde Fashola, the Works and Housing Minister, said at the inception of the party seven years ago, there was an agreement that power should rotate between both regions and demanded that it should be respected.
Fashola warned that it would be dangerous to abandon the agreement.
Laja Adeoye, political analyst said political parties must be careful so that their platform would not be hijacked by politicians with might and money to thwart the process.
According to him, “If you carry Nigerians along throughout the internal party process, you have already done about half of your campaign but if you allow undemocratic process by allowing powerful candidate, especially the moneybags to impose themselves on the party, you will have the generality of Nigerians to contend with at the general election.
“The bottom line is, any party that didn’t get its act right in choosing her candidate will meet a brick wall at the general poll, this is a fact because Nigerians are yearning for a better President, who they think will help them navigate out of this mud.”
Political commentator, Kayode Kehinde said the agitations for a Southern or South Eastern president for the two major political parties in Nigeria (APC & PDP) is undoubtedly rooted in the existing orientation that one part of the country is dominating the other and all not being considered the same on the electoral contest floor.
Adeoye further added that political parties must be careful on the kind of candidates they present so as not to ruin their chances of winning, adding that Nigerians are now wiser and would not accept any candidate that would further impoverish them.
“The country is in total mess at the moment, and from their experience, they won’t want to accept anyhow candidate from political parties, I can bet with you that the 2023 election will be a different ball game all together, because people are suffering now; prices of essential commodities are no longer affordable, people are wallowing in unimaginable poverty, citizens hungrily need a messiah who will help them and not pretenders, and they know the names of those they would want and would not want.
“They know the names and antecedents of everyone who would want to contest. Take the just concluded Anambra election for instance, Charles Soludo has a beautiful background that naturally attracted people to vote for him; so, same thing may likely happen at the Nigeria 2023 Presidential election, therefore, political parties must get it right, else Nigerians will have to go for the candidate they consider as less evil,” she said.
Paschal Mbawuike, a public affairs analyst, while making case for “justice and fairness” in determining who emerges as the presidential candidates in 2023, observed that many Nigerians do not believe in zoning, adding however, that it was for justice and equity in a multi-ethnic society.
Mbawuike also said that the provision in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended was the basis for zoning of the presidential tickets by political parties.
Considering the high rate of insecurity, worsening economic hardship, discordant tunes across the country, and piles of debt hanging on the country’s shoulders, the next president will have enough to work and think about as the level of damage to the country across all spheres is enormous.
While many are saying that throwing open the ticket is expected in the early part of the pre-election years, to galvanise interests and kick-start party activities, others think that Nigeria needs to get it right from the onset by pruning the interests and considering equitable and fairness in their selections.
But, the PDP, according to some observers, has changed and does not see reason in zoning the presidential ticket, as well as the APC, hence party members from across the country, and even from Katsina, president Muhammadu Buhari’s state, are also warming up for the ticket. Some observers are now asking, where lies fairness and equity?
Sam Ajanaku Onikoyi, a Nigerian historian and Commonwealth researcher based in Brussels, Belgium, is seeing selfishness and greed playing out in the 2023 presidential ticket across the two major parties.
According to him, with the eight years of Buhari, representing the north, power has to shift to the south, noting further that the idea of throwing the ticket open is callous, undemocratic and not in national interest because Nigeria is multi-ethnic, multi-religious and many regions, which must be carried along.
“I read online yesterday that the Sokoto State governor wants to be president, Atiku Abubakar is showing interest again, El-Rufai is also among them. What about other regions. Yes, democracy is a game of numbers, but there should be fairness. If your children keep graduating with first class, do not rub it on the face of your neighbours because they also want their children to be even greater than yours”, Onikoyi said.
In the same vein, Chijioke .J. Umelahi, an Abuja-based lawyer and former Abia State lawmaker, thinks that politicians will never change and 2023 will confirm that as many of them are jumping ship, seeking for their selfish interests and undermining the general interests.
“It will be in the interest of the country that every region is given a chance and politicians should have this as a guide. With the many agitations, allegations of marginalization, and intimidation, the political class should make the 2023 presidential ticket available to people from places the foul cries are echoing louder”, Umelahi said.
“I am from Ohafia in Abia State and Abia North, my senatorial zone has produced a governor. Imagine the senatorial zone having two governors ruling concurrently for 16 years, it means other senatorial zones do not exist. Let fairness be considered for 2023, the ticket should not be for the fittest or highest bidder because it is our future we are toying with, and governance at that level should reflect the interests of the entire country and not a section.”
But Aliyu Dati, a Political Science lecturer at University of Jos, noted that zoning has not been officially gazetted in any party’s constitution or even in the Nigerian constitution, hence it will always be embraced when it favours some people and discarded when it does not as being experienced now.
“During PDP’s 16 years, we saw a sustained flow in the zoning arrangement. But I don’t see that happening now because some interests do not respect ‘gentle agreement’, especially when it does not favour them. I see that gentleman agreement reached before the 2015 presidential election being dishonoured soon,” Dati said.
Speaking further, the university lecturer, disclosed that with the body language of the major parties, fliers being pasted in public places across the country, media campaigns and praise singing ensuing, the 2023 presidential ticket is going to go to the same hands as politicians are realigning now, safeguarding their interests and not the masses’.
However, Onikoyi draws from his experience in Belgium, noting that the people can still make the 2023 presidential ticket and election to count if they unite to fight their common enemy – selfish politicians.
“Here in Belgium, politicians are accountable to the electorates. During town hall meeting they meet the electorates who pass either a vote of confidence or no confidence. Depending on the vote, the outcome is usually decisive as a politician’s career can end there or boom. We can do that in Nigeria. People should stand for their rights, speak out, stand by your words and agitate for your common interests because the masses are the ones suffering. You can vote in a credible candidate from an unknown party, it must not be from any of the two major parties. Let’s try that in 2023, let’s try the credible man from an unknown party,” Onikoyi said.