Owing to Nigeria’s recent political history, politics of power sharing has always been a subject of contention among the key players, election or no election.
For the present scenario, where ethnic suspicion and distrust for leadership have created undue tension, people could sometimes get unnecessarily nervous over minor whispers. Understandably so because of the dynamics of the game, the intrigues and nuances of power struggle. To keep afloat and be relevant, gladiators do not just look out for the right signals, but also constantly at each other’s throat. The renowned British statesman and liberal unionists, Joseph Chamberlain, must have had this dynamics in mind when he rightly quipped: “In politics, there is no use looking beyond the next fortnight.” In other words, nothing is settled until it is settled.
Already, the present wave of agitation for power shift ahead of the 2023 has stirred up fresh debate as to which zone deserves to produce the next president. At the forefront of this agitation is the Southeast geo-political zone, which has been complaining of perceived marginalization since the advent of the present democratic march.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s nephew, Mallam Mamman Daura, had ignited the agitation when he said there was no need for zoning of the presidential ticket by the parties to any part of the country, arguing that competence should be given priority.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had ab initio included rotational presidency in its constitution. And Obasanjo presidency represented the first attempt to institutionalize zoning or rotation of presidential power in Nigeria.
The idea started during the creation of the PDP in August 1998, when diverse groups and organizations, especially the G-18 and G-34 came together to oppose the military regime of General Sani Abacha. In the wake of the election that ushered in a democratically elected president in 1999, the PDP felt the strong need to micro zone the presidency to the Southwest ostensibly to appease the Yoruba who were aggrieved over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by the late Chief M.K.O Abiola.
Prior to that, the Constitutional Conference of 1994–1995 had recommended rotation of power, as well as demarcation of the country into six geopolitical zones which eventually received official endorsement of the Abacha regime. In fact, not only did he accept the creation of the six geopolitical zones corresponding to the present framework adopted by the PDP, he also endorsed power rotation arrangement amongst these zones, rather than just between North and South.
It was under the same arrangement that the late President Umar Yar’Adua ascended the exalted position on the platform of the PDP after the eight-year administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Discordant tunes, however, crept into the whole arrangement when former President Goodluck Jonathan decided to jettison power shift to the North, having completed the two-year tenure of the Yar’Adua administration where he was the vice president and subsequently concluded his first four years tenure as elected president.
In the build up to the 2015 general elections, the National Chairman of the PDP then, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, while drumming support for President Jonathan had said that the controversial arrangement known as zoning did not exist and that any member of the party could run for the presidency. In the end, Jonathan lost the election to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Accordingly, power eluded the PDP because of the alleged distortion of the zoning arrangement.
Though there is no official position yet on the issue of power rotation, there are already whispers in the polity that the North might not want to concede power to the South in 2023. Some of the strong voices in the party have been speaking backward and forward on the matter, arguing that the best is only good for the country. Governor Dave Umahi blew this open when he declared the reason for his defection to the APC. He said he moved to the APC because of “injustice” meted out to the Southeast by the PDP. His words: “I offered this movement as a protest to injustice being done to Southeast by the PDP. Since 1999, the Southeast has supported the PDP. At a time, the five states were all PDP. One of the founding members of the PDP was from Southeast, the late former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme.
“It is absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the Southeast will never be considered to run for presidency under the PDP. And this is my position and will continue to be my position. It had nothing to do with me or my ambition.”
For many of his critics, Umahi is merely crying wolf where there is none. It is interesting to note that the same Umahi, who as the Chairman, Zoning Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party, while submitting its report to the national caretaker committee in the build up to the last general election, had endorsed zoning of presidency to the North, saying “the presidential ticket of the party for 2019 is reserved for the North as approved by the National Convention in Port Harcourt.” Whether or not his patriotic claim to the interest of the Southeast is genuine or otherwise, time will tell.
But his antecedent speaks to the urgency of the need for the Southeast to put its house in order ahead of the 2023 race. All things being equal, the National Convention of the APC where critical decision would be taken is expected to hold early next year, while that of the PDP will hold in the last quarter of 2021.
As they say, power is not served à la carte. For the Southeast to actualize its dream to govern the country, the players in the region have to go beyond rhetoric. A lot of factors will definitely come into play in the selection process. One of these, according to some political analysts, is where the ruling APC decides to pick its candidate from. For example, if the PDP decides to concede power and choose its candidate from the South while the APC goes for a sellable northern candidate, the chances of victory will be very slim even for a supposed president of Igbo extraction because there is high tendency that people will vote on religion, ethnic and regional lines. In such circumstance, the best bet will be a strong alliance between the Southwest and the Southeast. Traditionally, the relationship between the two regions has always been dogged by mutual suspicion. How far they can both sustain the new found love will determine the relative ease with which power can shift to the South.
The challenge even becomes much daunting considering the fact that the North alone controls 19 out of the 36 states of the federation, including the FCT. This is coupled with its numerical advantage with the highest number of eligible voters, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) register. The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, admitted this reality when he said only zoning would determine the fate of any aspirant seeking the party’s ticket.
A former member of the BoT of the PDP, Ebenezer Babatope, speaking with Sunday Sun on the dicey political calculation, insisted that any zone that would produce the president must guarantee the victory of the party.
He said: “If the Southeast wants presidency in 2023, all I can tell them is that they must show all seriousness of purpose and commitment to the party and to the country at large. The PDP believes in power shift. For example, in the last election, it was power shift that brought the candidature of Atiku Abubakar.
“But this time around, if the party decides not to obey power shift, it will be because the party’s headquarters knows what will make Nigerians vote for the PDP. And, of course, Nigerians will not vote on sentiment. Any zone that wants power shift must be able to guarantee the victory of the party in the election.
“As I speak now, the PDP has not decided on which zone or candidate will fly the flag of the party in 2023. All I know is that the leadership of our great party will weigh very seriously those factors that will determine the victory of our candidate. So, the Southeast can produce the presidential candidate, if they are serious and show their commitment to the aspiration of the party not by what Umahi has done by defecting to the APC.”
Also a former Chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the PDP, Tunji Shelle, while acknowledging the right of the Southeast to aspire to the highest position of the land, said that the Igbo must involve lobbying in their strategy to clinch the ticket of the PDP.
He argued: “Politics is complex, politics is dynamic. The kind of politics we play in Nigeria makes prediction very uncertain. Now, political parties watch each other’s steps. Political parties wait for one another to know what to do. No party will just jump into zoning and maintaining it strictly. It has happened before and that is why former President Goodluck Jonathan failed to have his second term.
“Somebody may be popular, somebody may be doing the right thing, his politics might be right, but some people have made up their minds to determine who gets what. Unless you imbibe their culture, tradition, religion and their body language, they will always stop you.
“I am sure PDP has a zoning formula, but that alone cannot determine where the candidate will come from because some people have made up their minds not make it work. We have a very strong institution in PDP, but the programme can be defeated by insinuations, divisions and personal interests.
“Southeast, to the best of my knowledge, can produce a credible candidate. But who will put the voters behind them? The North is claiming to have highest number of voters. So, where the key players say the party should go is where it goes. Even when you have the best material from the South, whether Southeast or Southwest, the key players in the North will direct their people where to vote. They manipulate things. So, it is difficult to predict. I would have loved that the Southeast will present the candidate. But can they do it alone?
“For the Southeast to produce the president, the candidate must be outstandingly good, and the platform must be right. I know those who are good in the Southeast that can run the government of this country. But will they allow them? The people who claim to be the majority will just say we can’t trust this one. Even if they want to lobby, how many people can they lobby? Even if they put forward the right person, the people who determine the politics of this country will not allow it because they will always bring the issue of religion, the issue of ethnicity, the issue of tradition and culture.
“To the best of my knowledge, the Southeast deserves to have it, but how will they do it. They can’t do it alone. They have to lobby and get the right candidate that will be acceptable to those people who manipulate us.”
When Sunday Sun psyched up Buba Galadima on his thought about the zoning arrangement, he sounded cynical, querying which one is power shift, from whom to who?
“The power shift I am asking for is that somebody should be there after Buhari. It doesn’t matter where he comes from. Whoever he is, let the man be accepted by the whole country. Let it be somebody with large heart, somebody that will recognize the plurality of Nigeria, somebody who has the capacity to tackle the myriad of our problems, somebody who will accommodate the whole Nigerians as his own. That is the power shift I am preaching. I am only looking for the best and a situation where votes count”, he said.