Nigerian politicians have commenced whipping up ethnic and regional sentiments and accentuating fault lines in their quest for the nation’s presidency in 2023. And it is so predictable that the masses, always the victims of failed governance, will continue to be pawns in this game of political chess.
With preparations for the next general elections in 2023 gradually picking up, the typical intrigues and high wire political permutations are starting to take shape as expected. Among many other key matters is the issue of rotational presidency which has assumed a rather prominent role in recent political discussions leading up to the elections. The Southern Governors’ Forum and its Northern counterpart have taken opposing stances against each other, drawing a line hinged purely on ethnic and regional politicking, which has been the major bane of developmental politics in contemporary Nigeria.
After the maiden meeting of the Southern Governors’ Forum in Asaba, Delta State on May 11, 2021, in which the Forum declared a 12-point resolution eponymously tagged the Asaba Declaration, it has convened in Lagos and Enugu and has scheduled to meet again in Rivers State before the end of the year.
The Asaba Declaration generated its own fair share of ripples in the political space particularly regarding the directive that open grazing should be outlawed in the region and that all Southern states must enact adequate legislations to back it up. In the follow-up to that meeting, the Forum converged again in Lagos on July 5, and the communique issued after the meeting, among many other contents, expressed the Forum’s commitment to the rotation of the Presidency of Nigeria between Southern and Northern Nigeria. It therefore resolved that the next President of Nigeria in the 2023 elections should emerge from the South.
Reacting to the Forum’s demand, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural group commended the Governors, saying the truth is that there has been a gentleman agreement on the rotation or alternation of the Presidency between the North and the South. They further went ahead in urging the Forum to be magnanimous in conceding the Presidency to the Southeast on the altar of justice, equity and fairness. The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, also said the demand by the Southern governors for the South to produce the next President in 2023 is a welcome development but that restructuring of the country is of utmost importance.
The Pan-Northern socio-political organization, Arewa Consultative Forum, similarly maintained that there was nothing wrong asking for the Presidency to be zoned to a region. They stated that Nigerian Governors from North and South have been acting as pressure groups since 1999 when democracy returned and the constitution granted Nigerians the rights to free speech as well as freedom to vote. The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) on its own, rejected the position of the Southern governors that the 2023 Presidency must be zoned to the Southern part of the country, arguing that the presidency is a democratic office and not a rotational position.
The Coalition of Northern Groups, (CNG) responded to the rotational issue raised by the Southern Governors’ Forum by saying 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, it will not support power moving to the zones of those that are using threats, violence and falsehood as a means for political ascendancy.
The outright demand for the shift of the Presidency to the South was regurgitated again in the forum’s latest meeting in Enugu State which held on September 16. The communique issued after the meeting reiterated the earlier position that the next President of Nigeria must come from the Southern part of Nigeria.
In a related development, the Northern Governors Forum convened and declared that the position of their Southern counterpart that the next president must come from the South is contradictory to the provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended. In a meeting of the Forum in Kaduna held on 27 September, which was also attended by the Northern States Traditional Council led by the Sultan of Sokoto, the parley discussed issues of peace, progress, development and well-being of the Northern states.
In a communique signed by Mr. Simon Lalong, Governor of Plateau and Chairman of the Forum, the governors said the position of their colleagues in the South is totally condemnable. The Forum observed that some Northern State Governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to the three geopolitical zones in the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the nation. Notwithstanding their comments, the Forum unanimously condemns the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the Presidency must unconditionally go to the South. The forum maintained that the statement is quite contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended, which states that the elected President shall score the majority votes; score at least 25% of the votes cast in two-thirds of the states of the federation, and in the case of re-run, win the election through a simple majority.
Reacting to the northern leaders’ position, the Afenifere group said that the position of the Northern Governors demonstrated “the insincerity” on the part of many of the country’s political rulers. The Pan-Niger Delta Forum similarly described those opposed to rotational presidency as enemies of Nigeria. The Middle Belt Forum joined in berating the Northern Governors’ Forum for its statement, declaring that the Middle Belt people are not part of the North. The group said that in 2023, the president must be a Middle Belter or Southerner and that anything short of that is unacceptable. A top aide to the Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, said the forum would react appropriately in due time. He said the Northern governors and their traditional rulers have exercised their rights as guaranteed by the constitution and no one can stop them from expressing themselves.
Currently, the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) and main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), are apparently being pressured by moves and counter-moves for power-shift. No firm decision has been publicised yet by any of them as they continue making surreptitious moves. But from emerging indications, the PDP appears set to produce a Southern National Chairman in its upcoming Congress; and the APC also seems to be tilting towards producing a Northern National Chairman in its own upcoming convention.
Since 1999, it has been the culture of the PDP to allow the position of its National Chairman and Presidential flagbearer to emerge from North and South in a rotational order; both offices cannot be filled by just one region at any time. This culture was enshrined in the party’s constitution to give both regions a sense of belonging and forge a sense of harmony in its party administration. The APC followed the same pattern after its emergence in 2013. Its first national chairman was a Southerner and its Presidential flagbearer was from to the North, although some Southerners still went on to contest that particular presidential primary. As such, history shows that the region that produces the chairman of a party has a slimmer chance of producing the presidential candidate going by established tradition in party affairs in Nigeria.
While the issue of zoning has been an ever-present feature in our political space since the return to civil rule, it has never assumed this current level of widespread controversy. It should be noted that the principle of democracy which is practiced in Nigeria fundamentally allows for freedom of political participation by all eligible citizens of the country regardless of tribal or ethnic background. The rotational principle, as noble as it is, was a PDP creation and has no constitutional backing whatsoever. As such, zoning can only be guaranteed by willing political parties who field candidates for various political offices. And while the 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 APC has no such provision.
Being that the completion of the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari will mark a full 8-year tenure in 2023, the APC generally seems to gravitate more towards a Southern flagbearer in 2023 as a moral method of compensating its staunch Southern stakeholders who have supported the 8-year term of Buhari. There have also been talks of an unwritten pact among the key political actors during the party’s early days in 2013 that the South would take the presidential ticket of the party at the expiration of President Buhari’s tenure. But even at that, nothing is totally certain for now in the ruling party. The PDP on the other hand appears to have no such moral obligation to any Southerner; as it maintains that its last sitting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was a Southerner and its next flagbearer in 2023 should be a Northerner, notwithstanding that a Northerner from another party will be wrapping up an 8-year tenure in that same year.
Having established that the zoning ideology is alien to the 1999 constitution, it is important that the position of the Southern governors should not be taken to this current level where it will create widespread disharmony and defeat the core tenets of democracy which ensures participation for all. More specifically, Nigeria’s unique ethnicism is highly sophisticated and too complex to simply be bifurcated into North and South.
The country has six geo-political zones; each with its own distinctive characteristics and culture. The Presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo which was tagged a Southern Presidency could hardly be owned or personalised by an indigene of Ebonyi in the Southeast or a Bayelsan from the South-south. The Jonathan presidency, which was equally named a Southern Presidency hardly resonated with a Lagosian from the Southwest and there were even publicised events of extreme disagreements, self-sabotage and infighting within the South in the Jonathan years as some Southern politicians teamed up with some Northerners to deny a Southerner the chance to emerge as Speaker of the House all in the name of playing opposition politics.
The South has ruled for 13 years since 1999 but the Southeast still feels as distant to the Presidency as the seas are to the sky. How is it now a Southern Presidency when a major zone from the South still expresses daily angst of political marginalisation as it currently does?
The Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, labelled a Northern Presidency, has failed to sit well with some stakeholders from the NortheEast, and key players from the Middle Belt who feel alienated and not part of the Northern monolith even though the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum is a Middle-Belter. How can it now be called a Northern presidency?
Evidently, there are misleading and false political hyponyms around. The purported Northern or Southern presidency lacks collective ownership and support in the zones concerned, and defeats the purpose of its creation. It neither engenders national stability nor fosters regional cooperation. It is an avenue for ethnic warmongering and retrogressive politicking, and a superficial model to pursue predetermined political agendas.
More importantly, be it Northern or Southern leader, the fundamental purpose of governance is to provide a society befitting for decent living, increase social welfare and engender sustainable security and prosperity for all citizens regardless of ethnicity. It is arguable that since 1999, the region from which a President has emerged has enjoyed no lasting or general benefit from producing the President. What then is the essence of rotational Presidency? It adds no qualitative or quantitative value to the citizenry and electorate who decide who should lead them. It only fuels raging controversies such as we have and diverts attention from more crucial matters that should shape our presidential process. Mundane ethnic factors sit atop more relevant leadership vetting criteria such as the pedigree of those gunning for the apex seat, and their core competences.
Many of the aspirants or would-be aspirants have held one political position or the other in the past, but what are their antecedents and achievements? What value have they added to the system in the elective or appointive positions they have held? What are the capacity displayed and character shown in the past? What are their plans for the country going forward? Are they merely lip-service power mongers who seek power for self-aggrandizement to the detriment of over 200 million Nigerians in dire and urgent need of purposeful and beneficial leadership? What is their commitment and visible resolve shown towards tackling the array of challenges asphyxiating the country and suppressing its development?
The dynamics are fast changing from the situation in 1999 and the country should not be dissipating all energy on the region where the President will come from. The country is one and as long as the contestant is an eligible Nigerian, he should be free to throw his hat in the ring and test his popularity using the means of our political parties who should decide how to administer their internal systems to exude non-exclusive nationalism.
No region should hold the country hostage and make destabilising and uncharitable demands of being served the Presidency on a platter. The ongoing charade being engineered by the Southern and Northern governors’ forums is a huge disservice to the ordinary citizens of the country, who unfortunately are the pawns of the politicians and who will be the biggest losers of another misdirected political racing. Purposeful and developmental leadership is what the country urgently needs. Ethnic-themed leadership has left nothing but vestiges of failed governance in the hearts and lives of Nigerians.