By Wilfred Eya
The permutations over which zone should produce the president of Nigeria in 2023 have become a major issue of public discourse. Among various ethnic configurations, political parties and power brokers, zoning is unarguably the central issue as the nation inches toward the next general elections.
While the 17 Southern governors have demanded that the region produces the next President, their colleagues from the 19 Northern states have warned that no region can threaten them over the zoning formula.
Although few Northern governors and gladiators have called on political parties to produce a Southerner as President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor, others insist that a Northern candidate should still emerge in 2023. And the ding-dong continues. But unlike the PDP, APC initially hinted at zoning its presidential ticket to the South even though it did not state which part of the geopolitical zone will be favoured to produce the party’s flag-bearer.
At the moment, certain variables seem to be thawing the earlier position of the APC to go down South. So, in the APC and PDP, there is an impasse over which zone should produce President Buhari’s successor when he leaves office in 2023. Judging by all political calculations, it is difficult to predict the outcome as the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) are currently in a fix over which geo-political zone they should give their presidential ticket in next year’s general elections.
Both parties are battling to wriggle through the zoning conundrum at a minimal cost to their political fortunes in 2023. They are confronted with major but different hurdles though. For the APC, it is being challenged by a moral burden to still retain power in the North after eight years of Buhari’s administration. The President is from North West.
Chieftains of the APC pushing for a president from the South insist that the party could not turn around to zone the Presidency to the North after the same region would have ruled the country for eight years in 2023. But again, the headache to the ruling party is that power may slip off its hands if the major opposition party picks its candidate from the North, which is believed to have a more voting population than the South.
For the PDP, the assumption is that giving its ticket to a Northern candidate seems more attractive as that may be the surest way of recapturing power from the APC if the ruling party zones its presidency Southwards. The PDP also has the moral burden of thinking northwards after President Buhari’s tenure but the counter argument is that the North did not complete its eight years after late Musa Yar’Adua’s death.
Proponents of this position, especially those from the North, insist it would be unfair for the South to produce the presidential candidate in 2023 given the fact that since 1999, the South was in power for 13 years out of the 16 years that PDP held sway, while the North governed for just three years.
Based on the above calculations, the APC and PDP are treading with caution because where any of the two parties zones its ticket would have a lot of implications on its chances of winning the election. Before the obvious reality confronting the APC, of course the presumption in many quarters was that after President Buhari, power would naturally come down South following the gentleman understanding between gladiators from the North and South of the ruling party. But considering emerging political exigencies, the APC seems to be developing cold feet and being more cautious on zoning the presidency to the South because of the consequences should the PDP decide to pick its candidate from the North.
Following that, there are indications that the APC is currently in a dilemma over the zoning of the 2023 presidency. The permutation is that although the party is looking southwards to pick its presidential candidate, there is still the possibility that it could throw the race open for both Northern and Southern aspirants at the end. It is a strategy geared toward ensuring that the party retains the presidency in 2023.
In the same way, as an opposition party hungry to recapture power, the dominant argument among critical observers is that the best bet for the PDP is to go up North for its presidential candidate in the event that the APC settles for a flag bearer from the South. In a recent poll conducted among PDP members in six states across the geopolitical zones (Kano, Borno, Rivers, Imo, Lagos and Abuja), 70 per cent of those who took part in the survey agreed that the main opposition party should zone its ticket to the North.
In 1998, the PDP had reached a “gentleman’s” agreement that in the interest of “equity and justice”, the South would have an eight-year stint and this would be returned to the North in 2007.It was on that premise that late Umaru Yar’Adua became the anointed candidate from the North under the banner of the PDP. But in a twist of fate, Yar’Adua died barely three years in office on May 5, 2010. The tragedy placed the party in a quagmire.
It was in accordance with the constitution but against stiff opposition and massive support that Goodluck Ebele Johnathan became the President of the country, before deciding to run for the same office in 2011. One of the most vocal supporters of the PDP shopping for a candidate of Northern extraction is a chieftain of the party, Chief Raymond Dokpesi. For him, only a Northerner can win the 2023 presidential election for the PDP. He said party members who are canvassing zoning of the ticket to the South are only doing so because they want to copy APC whose members are rooting for conceding the ticket to the South after the completion of President Buhari’s tenure in 2023.
He said: “We are all Nigerians and there is no need for us to keep deceiving ourselves at this point in time. At the age of 70 and with my experience in organising campaigns in this country, I can tell you that unless there is a candidate from the North, in my own considered opinion, PDP will not stand a chance of winning the election.
“On the ambition of those from the South who are asking for the presidency to be zoned to the South, I can say that they are only echoing what prevails in APC. In that party, President Muhammadu Buhari has done eight years, so it is imperative on APC to cede the presidency to the South.” But recently, former Aviation Minister and a chieftain of the PDP, Osita Chidoka, said the main opposition party is in a dilemma over the zoning of presidency to any region.
Chidoka, who spoke during an interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today, said he would personally want the PDP to field a Southerner from the Eastern part of the country as its candidate. He, however, explained that his party is faced with two tough options – either to struggle to clinch power or embrace zoning to the detriment of winning the polls.
He said: “PDP is in a kind of dilemma. Do we struggle to win power first or continue our zoning as we have done or do we continue with the zoning even if that candidate may or may not win the election?”
So, the calculations on the issue of zoning are similar in terms of the ultimate goal of winning the election but different in the moral burden for fielding candidates from the South.
Realistically, Northern power brokers in APC who are in support of power going down South are more than those in the PDP thinking in the same direction. For instance, among many others, the Katsina State governor, Aminu Masari, has maintained that a Southerner should succeed President Buhari. He had said clearly: “With regards to zoning, fair is fair. If you ask me, I would, as a person, Aminu, think we should move the presidency to the Southern part of the country,”
A member of the manifesto committee of the defunct merger committee of APC, Chief Osita Okechukwu, went further to say there was a mutual agreement on power shift at the inception of the APC. He said: “There is a convention. It is a convention. From 1999, the convention of zoning was adopted. It is not written in black and white. It is a convention which provides guidance in liberal democracies. So, nobody can come out and say there was no agreement.
“In time past, some politicians were persuaded not to run for president for the sake of equity, fairness and justice. So, after President Buhari’s eight years, it should go to the South. The good thing is that there is no part of the country that does not have competent people.”
But his view is a sharp contrast to the position of ex-Governor Ahmed Sani who expressed doubts about such gentleman’s agreement that power should alternate between the North and the South. His words: “I don’t think there is anything like agreement. You can ask Mr President, he led the group. Asiwaju (Tinubu) was there. I was part of it. There was no meeting I didn’t attend or any meeting that I attended that there was such agreement. (Such) agreement can’t be verbal; it has to be written. In any case, any agreement that is contrary to laws of this country is not an agreement.
“The Constitution is very clear. We are in a democracy and democracy is governed by processes and procedures and by laws.”
Already, for both the APC and PDP, there is an array of aspirants from the North and South for the presidential tickets but many are anxious to see whether the concept of zoning would play a major part in who succeeds President Buhari in 2023.