While a lot of Nigerians are focused basically on their daily bread, and how to get the best of this from this COVID influenced holiday season, the political class in Nigeria is neck-deep in plots and schemes for the next election cycle that will end with the 2023 presidential elections.
Different groups are pushing different agendas. Rotational presidency. Resource control. Restructuring. The general consensus among players in the South seems to be the agreement that power must move down south. Many southern politicians feel that since power has been in the hands of the Northerners through President Muhammadu Buhari for two terms, then power is expected to shift to the South.
However there are some Northerners, like Mamman Daura, a close ally of Buhari, with the feeling that Nigeria is not a pendulum that swings from North to South. Many other prominent Northern elite have also stood their grounds to note that the North can still retain the control of Aso Rock after the expiration of the tenure of President Muhamadu Buhari. It is equally important to note that many members of the ruling APC are already pitching their tents, looking for the southerner with the most national appeal.
For instance, Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Works and Housing, and former Governor of Lagos State had declared that there was a “gentlemanly” agreement within the party at inception that should give ample room for rotational presidency. He described the agreement as one of ‘honourable brothers’ and hinted that the party’s existence may be threatened if it decides to repudiate such foundational pillar. This assertion is supported by a lot of APC chieftains from the Southern part of the country.
The People’s Democratic Party seems to have a flurry of candidates but the party has carefully avoided the issues of rotational presidency. Kola Ologbondiyan, spokesperson of the PDP told the media that the party is undecided on the issue of zoning. The most defining references to zoning amongst the PDP is the emergence of President Obasanjo in 1999, and the compliance of Obasanjo in handing over power to President Umaru Musa Yaradua before the unplanned interruption that brought Goodluck Jonathan into power. While many Northerners in PDP are asserting that given the gentlemanly rotational presidency agreement, the North should still have some ‘unfinished business’ in Aso Rock, Seyi Makinde, Governor of Oyo State feels that the most important issue is restructuring of the Nation, which should translate to creating the needed impact, irrespective of the region of the leader. The President’s performance and capability, he believes, is far important than the rotating the chair among political actors of different zones.
However, this was refuted by Chief Bode George, a staunch PDP Chieftain, who noted that the rotational agreement contributes to the unity of the country. Once it is expunged, it may portend grave danger for the existence of our nascent democracy.
It is also clear that many political actors in the PDP are encouraging the incumbent President, President Goodluck Jonathan, whom many Nigerians seem to have a lot of sympathy, respect and adoration for because of the perceived good leadership and selflessness that he offered while he was President. The media has revealed that Jonathan is being wooed by both the APC and the PDP to run for the Presidency in 2023. The ensuing altercation between the two major parties now is that the APC intends to woo Jonathan out of the PDP to contest for Presidency in 2023.
As much as Jonathan has not personally declared the ambition or accepted the invitation to return to Aso Rock, his ambitions may be impeded by an approved amendment of the constitution which may bar him from contesting. The 4th Altercation Number 16, Act 2017 states ‘The act alters the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to disqualify a person who was sworn in as President or Governor to complete the term of an elected President or Governor from being elected to the same office for more than a single term.” Pundits have therefore warned Jonathan to avoid those who intend to diminish his international and national reputation by any attempt to foist him on the Nigerian people to the contrariness of the constitution.
Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President, remains resolute in his goal of becoming the President of Nigeria. The former VP who has been unlucky in too many presidential elections has decided to start early by inaugurating the ‘Atiku Support Group’ in the 36 States of the Federation.
He seems to have robust followership within the PDP than Governor Aminu Tambuwal, a respected Speaker of the House of Representatives and current Governor of Sokoto State. Governor Tambuwal has been silently building bridges. He has had strategic consultations with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo recently and had also engaged in many visits to leaders across the country. Atiku may have to slug it out to gain the PDP primaries ticket this time around. Atiku may not be able to trounce Tambuwal to get the PDP ticket, as he did in 2018.
Campaigns have not begun but the body language, subtle pronouncements, solicitations, and discourses have long begun. One of the discourses that have long been on the front burner is the emergence of an Igbo President. For the sake of history, the only President of Nigeria of full Igbo extraction was President Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President General of the Federation. Nevertheless, for political expediency, the Igbo collaborated with the Niger Deltans to protest, promote, and posture for the emergence of President Goodluck Azikiwe Jonathan as one of theirs. Therefore, is it right to state that Igbos have not had a stake in the Presidency since democracy as claimed by Governor Umahi and other political stakeholders in the South-East?
Ohanneze Ndigo, the apex socio-political group has since been negotiating with the political big wigs in the East to make sure that the best Igbo Presidential candidate emerges. On the potential list of presidential candidates are Governor David Umahi, Chief Rochas Okorocha, Chief Orji Uzo Kalu, Peter Obi, Senator Ike Ikweremadu, among others.
Governor David Umahi appear to have taken the spotlight with his recent defection from the PDP to the APC because according to him, the PDP does not intend to support the emergence of a candidate from the South-East. Governor Dave Umahi is also known for his social and development intervention in Ebonyi State, the most recent being the establishment of arguably the biggest virology medical centre in Africa recently. Many critics have urged the Igbos to collaborate with other tribes so as to increase the appeal for an Igbo Presidency.
The biggest obstacle to anyone’s 2023 Presidential ambition, especially within the APC, may be Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The former governor has since been a national leader of the party from inception. His political tentacles are reminiscent of an octopus with nine lives and offsprings on the political battleground. So far Bola Ahmed Tinubu has remained silent over his presidential ambitions. Bola Tinubu has so far acted as a loyal party man. As much as many say there is no love lost between Tinubu and Buhari, Bola Tinubu has always been quick to debunk these claims by supporting the initiatives, congratulating the President at every turn of victory, and addressing socio-political issues without unnerving the presidency.
However, it seems that Tinubu realises that it is a changing political landscape and has therefore begun to pull the strings in his base, in the South West, while he continues to woo the North. Recently, a South West Caucus called the South West Agenda 23 (SWAGA 23) openly clamoured for Bola Ahmed Tinubu to vie for the presidential mantle. This was immediately followed by the setting up of structures in the South West, so that the needed groundwork may start. Former Senator Dayo Adeyeye, leader of the self-styled SWAGA 23 noted that Tinubu had all it takes to succeed President Buhari. Bola Tinubu was also reported to have visited Kano and some other states in the North, where he wooed Ulamas and other Northern leaders, canvassing for their support.
A relatively young politician, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi is one of the North Central Governors who has received the backing of the Kogi House of Assembly to charge into the battleground for Presidency in 2023. The Governor has also begun to showcase great capacity by representing women, youth, physically challenged, amongst others in the just concluded swearing-in-ceremony for Local Government Chairpersons. Most of the Chairpersons were reportedly backed by the Governor. Many political observers noted that Yahaya Bello intended to engender discourse around equitable political participation by giving ample platform to women, youth, and the physically challenged in his government. Perhaps, he hopes to use this exemplary event for his Presidential Campaign.
Governor Yahaya Bello is Senator Dino Melaye’s sworn enemy. As much as Yahaya Bello remains in government while Melaye remains in the fringes, Melaye may continue to be a thorn in his flesh and may eventually disrupt his ambitions for the Presidency. Also, Governor Yahaya Bello does not seem to have connected with many Nigerians on many socio-political and development issues. He is largely seen as a loyalist to President Buhari, and never considered as a political colossus in the mould of Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Meanwhile, Nnogwu Sani Muhammed, Chief Press Secretary to the governor has stated that the governor does not want to be distracted by calls to exert governance energies outside the state. This has made him urge political supporters to avoid distracting him from the work in Kogi State. Although the governor acknowledged that the calls to vie for the President stems from his development work, his investment in youth empowerment and his decisive steps in curbing insecurity, it was important for him to focus on delivering the gains of democracy to residents of Kogi State. As much as the governor had distanced himself from the Presidential Posters of him circulating the state, there is no doubt that the Kogi Parliament seem to have found Governor Yahaya Bello worthy of a higher position in national life.
Former Governor Ahmed Sani has already declared his intentions to run for President come 2023. The former governor of Zamfara is popular in the North for helping to empower the Sharia Law. During his tenure as Governor of Zamfara State, he adopted Sharia law in its entirety. This may have endeared Ahmed Sani to the religious sections of society but it created tensions and distrust for non-muslims in the State at the time. Analyst noted that Ahmed Sani may not have all it takes to woo the rest of Nigeria, but the decimals may change depending on his choice of a running mate and a well-defined strategy. When Ahmed Sani told the media that he was running for President in 2023, He noted that he had stepped down for President Buhari three times–in ANPP and APC. Yerima also noted that there was no such thing as a rotational agreement in the APC from the beginning. He claimed that he was present in all the meetings that brought the coalition of the parties into the APC. He also noted that he would be willing to negotiate with the bandits who continue to trouble the well-being of Nigerians in the North so that peace can be restored to Northern Nigeria.
Rumour mill has never ceased on the possibility of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo throwing his hat into the presidential ring as well. Osibajo continues to tackle socioeconomic issues and engage stakeholders as Vice President of Nigeria. In fact, the VP has constantly debunked such stories in professional forums such as the virtual conference of the Nigerian Bar Association which took place in August 2023. In September, a digital poster that pitched Governor Babagana Zulum as his running mate was available online and on social media spaces. Yet, the VP remains relentless in distancing himself from such ideas.
Many have also linked Gov Kayode Fayemi’s frequent engagements on party issues and national discourses as a ploy to enhance his visibility and engender people to consider him for the presidency come 2023. Kayode Fayemi is an intellectual who has done well to change the face of Ekiti State within a short time. He was also the former minister of Mines and Steel, and he helped develop policies and implement workable strategies that have so far seen the sector become competitive. However, many commentators feel Kayode Fayemi needs to stretch his influence beyond southwest Nigeria.
In the same vein, Governor Kayode Fayemi has been endorsed by the APC in Ekiti State to run for President in 2023. Olusegun Osinkolu, a member of the APC, Paul Omotosho, the Ekiti State APC caretaker committee chairman, and at least 1000 members of the APC in Ekiti State have relentlessly championed the projection of Kayode as very suitable for the job in Aso Rock.
Strategy alliances and handshakes of political actors in the country seem to be heating the polity, albeit in a pretty exciting manner, even when the country is faced with harsh realities that have made a lot of Nigerians lose interest in dissecting the best candidate for Aso Rock. Some Nigerians also fear that political actors are entertaining misplaced priorities. Mark Salu, a political analyst commented, ‘I wonder why a lot of our leaders aren’t tackling the present and overwhelming issues that reduce the productivity of the average Nigerian at this time. 2023 is coming. But we all have to be alive, well, healthy, and secure to vote for that next President’.