The outright demand by the Southern Governors Forum to produce the next President of Nigeria has ruffled a lot of feathers in the north. Can the belligerent posturing by the Southern Governors achieve the desired result?
There has been buzzing consternation in the political ecosystem in Nigeria following the May 11 meeting in Delta state by the Southern Governors Forum, tagged the ‘Asaba Accord and another meeting in Lagos State where it declared that Nigeria’s next president should be from the southern part of the country. The most recent one held in Enugu equally upheld this previous declaration among other things.
Other far-reaching decisions arrived at as contained in the communiqué released, and signed by the convener, Ondo State Governor and Chairman, Southern Governors’ Forum, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), include a rejection of the proposed allocation of at least 30 per cent of the profit generated by the proposed Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited for the exploration of oil in ‘frontier basins’ as identified by Section 9 of the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill; setting a timeline of September 1, 2021 for promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all 17 member states; and asking that security agencies must notify them as chief security officers of their states before they carry out any operation within their domain.
The 17 southern governors also unanimously agreed that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria. Specifically, the Southern governors want all the major political parties to field politicians from the South as their presidential candidates as they did in 1999.
This communiqué has drawn the ire of the Coalition of Northern Groups, (CNG). In response to certain the issues raised by the Southern Governors Forum, the group said that while the North may not be opposed to the democratic and credible transfer of power to any competent person from any section of the country, the North will not support power moving to the zones of those that are using threats, violence and falsehood as a means for political ascendancy.
CNG said specifically, its attention was drawn to “the audacious resolve of the Southern Governors to shield felons, arsonists and mass atrocity perpetrators in their midst by challenging the prerogative of the federal government to enforce law and order in all parts of the country and to protect the state and innocent citizens from persons and groups whose conduct constitute grave threats to national security and public safety.”
The Northern Coalition in a statement signed by its Spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, noted that “the gang up against the North, in particular, to force a regional shift of the presidency in 2023 by whatever means and tactics, including those that are clearly undemocratic.”
“We also note the insistence by the Southern Governors on the retrogressive Anti grazing law that aims to selectively imperil the business of cattle herding and threaten the legitimate presence of pastoral communities in the South, irrespective of whether they are part of a crime committed or not.”
“The desperation of the Southern Governors to shield the assortment of criminals who incite and carry out attacks, and wanton destruction of lives and properties of other citizens and national security assets, has exposed the level of their complicity in the operations of the armed terrorist groups in the South.”
“That their support for treasonable felony, by the subtle endorsement of the activities of such criminal separatist forces led by the likes of Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu, by warning the nation’s security agencies against operating in the region without obtaining permission from the governor of the particular state is a matter that must be given the seriousness it deserves.”
“That it is ironic for such leaders of a society that delights in unleashing mayhem against fellow citizens of other regions at the slightest of pretexts, to expect the other sections of the country to trust them or any of their protégés with presidential powers.”
“The Southern Governors resolutions in that regard have further exposed a deliberate attempt to impose a contentious system of the rotational presidency that turns all democratic norms and accepted indices of our national demography on their heads; a rotation system that is clearly aimed at achieving dubious political goals; and one clearly designed to weaken the North.”
“That the Southern Governors’ threat to impose and enforce this undemocratic leadership selection process on the North, irrespective of its advantage of numerical superiority and inherent political sophistry, is part of a calculated design to continuously weaken our region politically and pauperize it economically.”
“That this conspiracy is actively perpetrated with the connivance of some northerners and accommodated by the personal ambition of a few of those that present themselves as northern political leaders.”
The CNG categorically affirmed that the North will not be stampeded or blackmailed into taking major decisions around rotating the presidency and shall insist that only a candidate who is competent and able to unite and secure Nigeria should be President in 2023, irrespective of where he or she comes from.
CNG, therefore, warned the Southern Governors and their northern collaborators the former Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima and the Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai that any attempt to ride on the back of such gratuitous insults to democratic Fair play and crass political opportunism, to hoist incompetent leadership on the nation in the name of rotation would not be accepted and shall be vehemently resisted.
According to the group “The North is represented by 250 ethnic groups whose right to aspire to the presidency would be circumvented by delusional rotational principles and these include people of Yoruba ancestry who belong to the geopolitical North.
“The North Central Zone has not had any representation in top executive positions of President/Vice president since return to democracy in 1999 and so has even legitimate basis to aspire for the presidency in 2023.
“Finally, while we remain vigilant over the direction and fate of our nation, it should also be clear that the North is a major stakeholder in whatever happens in and to Nigeria, and the South will be making a terrible mistake if it assumes that we’re a mere pushover to be turned into marginal elements in all calculations on the future of our nation.”
The group therefore, urge the northern intellectuals, the cultured section of our politicians, the professionals, the elders and the general northern public to mobilize to resist this onslaught of the Southern Governors and elites to intimidate them into abandoning the defence of their interests, in spite of the fact that the North enjoys an overwhelming voter strength to decide any election any day.
Pundits have argued that zoning can only be guaranteed by political parties which field candidates for various political offices as controversy continue to rage over the issue of power shift to the South.
While the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has recognised and enshrined in its constitution that there shall be power rotation between the North and the South, the Constitution of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has no such provision.
In the PDP, stakeholders have argued that the North would take the ticket. A former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmad Sani Yarima, told newsmen recently in Abuja, that the North has the constitutional right to contest presidency in 2023 and that it was wrong for anyone to agitate for power shift to his or her region.
A chieftain of the APC, Chief Jackson Lekan Ojo, who spoke with Daily Trust in a telephone interview recently, said the 17 Southern governors’ demand is not realisable in 2023.
“It is laughable. It is the biggest joke of the millennium. They are just being deceptive to themselves. It is laughable because they can’t achieve this in 2023.
“Even if two big political parties zone their tickets to the South, these people will not meet up. Ethnic sentiments will set in and scatter everything.
“Similarly, in the APC, there are many political blocks, which will not agree to submit themselves to anybody. We equally have that in the PDP.
“We don’t have a single South. We have South-West, South-South and South-East. And from each of these geo-political zones, I know some persons that are bent on taking presidency at all cost.
“So, the unity you are seeing among the Southern governors now is an emergency unity which has no roots. They are just deceiving themselves. It is unity without roots and it will collapse with any little breath.
“If YPP brings a candidate from the North, the APC and the PDP fields their candidates from the South, the YPP candidate will have it because the Northern voters will not vote based on the political party, but they will vote based on ethnicity and religion,” he said.
A lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Bayero University, Kano, Dr. Aminu Hayatu, said zoning can only be a political party arrangement, adding that the constitution provides that all citizens who are qualified have the right to contest for electoral positions.
However, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Adamu Maina Waziri, who is also a former Police Affairs Minister, told one of our reporters that from 1999 to 2015, the PDP produced three presidents; two from the South and one from the North, adding that the South spent 14 years while the North spent only two years.
Waziri said, “Therefore, within the context of my political affiliation and identity, which is the PDP, the presidency in 2023 should start from the Northern part of the country.
“Zoning is never in the constitution of Nigeria, because those who drafted the constitution have found out that if you entrench zoning, it is going to strangulate the political development and political coalition of the country.”
“Therefore, they left it at the discretion of party and politicians to put up the coalition and the structure and the resources to support a candidate that can win an election.”
“So, the Southern governors’ resolution can be taken as a freedom of expression that has no compelling power on the political parties.”
Meanwhile, Southern governors who want power shift, have rejected the 30% share for ‘frontier basins’ which include Chad Basin, Gongola Basin, Sokoto Basin, Dahomey Basin, Bida Basin, Benue Trough, among others and set time for promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all 17 member states.
Currently, crude oil is obtained from eight states in the Niger Delta region, which include: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Imo, Ondo and Rivers states.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo through its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Alex Chiedozie Ogbonnia, has applauded the resolution of the Southern governors for power to return to the region in 2023 and urged them to go further and allow the Southeast geo-political zone to produce the next president.
Ogbonnia said they welcome the idea, “but beyond that, when you talk about South, it should be Southeast. Having secured it in the south, we are now urging all the Southern governors to understand why it should be in the Southeast for purposes of equity, fairness and justice.”
Political analyst opined that the fact of the existence of six geopolitical zones goes further to show that the country is an unfinished work of statecraft.
Some APC stakeholders had mooted the idea that the party could retain the Presidency if it is zoned to Southwest.
Northern Elders Forum (NEF) spokesman, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, gave out the conditionalities during a television appearance, that the South must convince the North on what the zone stands to benefit and present a strong presidential candidate.
Some analysts also argued that given that the two major political parties were represented at the Lagos meeting, whether it is possible for the Southern governors to ensure that both parties-APC and PDP- select their presidential candidates from the South?
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.
Therefore, it is left to be seen how the Southern Governors intend to put their resolution into political reality. It is trite to say that for now, unless political parties make pronouncement on the issue of power shift to the South, there would be more discordant tunes to define the build up to the 2023 election cycle.
Politicians on both side of the divide need each other to win the 2023 presidency. Blackmail and subtle threats will not work.
The puzzle is what happens when maybe the two major political parties, APC and PDP present a southern candidate and a third party or one of the major parties break the agreement and presents a northern candidate and he wins? Will the agitation for southern presidency force the election to be declared illegal?