The Dust Around Calls for Southern Presidency

In a follow-up to the maiden meeting of the Southern Governors’ Forum on 11 May 2021, which was held in Asaba, Delta State, the Governors met again in Lagos on 5 July 2021. All governors of the 17 southern states were either present or represented by their deputy apart from two states (Anambra and Cross Rivers) who incidentally were also absent in the previous meeting held in Asaba.

The inaugural meeting produced a list of demands pronounced through a communiqué now famously referred to as the Asaba Declaration. This meeting similarly provided some fresh resolutions.The forum, in a communiqué read by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State who is the chairman, re-affirmed its commitment to the unity of Nigeria on the pillars of equity, fairness, justice, progress, and peaceful co-existence between and amongst its people. It reiterated its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously declared that the presidency of Nigeria should always rotate between southern and northern Nigeria. In this light, the governors resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the southern region,

On security, the forum reviewed the security situation in the country and commended security operatives for their relentless efforts in restoring security and safety. They commiserated with families and loved ones of those who have fallen in the line of duty. The forum also resolved that if for any reason security institutions need to undertake an operation in any state, the chief security officer of the state must be duly informed.

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They set a timeline of Wednesday, 1st September 2021 for the promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all member states. They resolved that funds deducted from the federation account for the Nigeria Police Security Trust Fund should be distributed among the states and federal government to combat security challenges.

On the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the Forum commended the national assembly for the progress made in the passage of the PIB but rejected the proposed 3% and supported the 5% share of the oil revenue to the host communities as recommended by the House of Representatives. The proposed 30% share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins was also rejected by the Forum. It further rejected the ownership structure of the proposed Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC). The Forum disagreed that the company be vested in the Federal Ministry of Finance; rathere,  it stated that it should be held in trust by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) since all tiers of government have stakes in that vehicle.

To consolidate democracy and strengthen the electoral process, the Forum rejected the removal of the electronic transmission of the election result from the electoral act; and also rejected the confirmation of exclusive jurisdiction in pre-election matters on the Federal High Court. The Forum also unanimously picked Lagos State as its permanent secretariat

As expected, the resolutions of the meeting have generated reactions from the political space, especially the one on rotational presidency with the Southern Lawmakers Forum in the House of Representatives particularly endorsing the position of the southern governors on the presidency come 2023.

In a statement issued by Victor Nwokolo, the Chairman of the Southern Representatives’ Caucus, the lawmakers backed the governors on issues addressed at the meeting. They stated that the resolutions by the southern governors reinforce their stance as federal lawmakers, that the nation must and should exist on the pillars of justice, equity, fairness, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect, particularly in the political, economic and structural management of our national diversity.

They noted that the demand for the next President of Nigeria to emerge from the southern region unambiguously represents the opinion of the majority of Nigerians across board, in tandem with the already established rotation of presidency position between southern and northern Nigeria. Although the rotation of the presidency is not enshrined in the constitution, it has been a gentleman agreement within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

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Amid other reactions, the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG)  has 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  zones of those that are using threats, violence, and falsehood as means for political ascendancy. 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.

The Southern Governors’ Forum has drawn acclaim from many political commentators especially across southern Nigeria on its ability to consolidate on the regional harmony established through the Asaba meeting by holding a follow-up meeting in such a successful manner.

With regards to the rotation of the Presidency to Southern Nigeria in 2023, the Forum made official an already widespread sentiment established in the political hemisphere. Although no constitutional requirement nor legal clauses has made rotation mandatory, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) which was in power for the first 16 years of the current democratic dispensation has made it part of the political culture to rotate the presidency between the North and the South desirably after every 8 years. But that is a party arrangement which the PDP judiciously followed up till when it lost power in 2015. 

The party also made sure that the running mate is from another religion and region. The culture came into existence due to Nigeria’s vastly diverse ethnic configuration.

Nigeria is perhaps more ethnically sensitive presently than it has ever been since the civil war. Some separatist agendas are enjoying support in parts of the country. President Muhammadu Buhari is completing 8 years of Presidency in 2023. 

The campaign for power to shift to southern Nigeria provides a good chance for further geopolitical integration and inclusiveness, and greater harmony in the country’s national life. But the idea of power shift as a political party arrangement rather than a constitutional one offers diverse logical interpretations within the various political contexts in the country. 

While it is logical for the APC to zone the presidency to the south following 8 years of President Buhari (from the north) in power, will the PDP which has practised rotation since 1999, also zone the position to the south?Its last candidate in the office of President,  Dr.Goodluck Jonathan,  was from the south. Zoning the presidency to the south by the PDP will upturn the practice of rotation as a party arrangement. 

The question of power shift remains a knotty one across the northern and southern parts of the country. Since the return to democracy in 1999, the presidency has been held by persons from only three geopolitical zones in the country – the southwest, northwest and the southsouth.  The southeast, the notheast and the northcentral have been out of the equation. A fair system of rotation should prioritise the shift of power to any of these three parts. 

Much as the politicians mouth rotational presidency for the purpose of personal ambition and political gains, the overriding concern for equity should spare huge consideration for geopolitical zones that have not produced a President for Nigeria since 1999. Otherwise, the field should be thrown wide open for Nigerians to scout for the best and most experienced candidates to run for the office of President.

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