Tunde Thomas, Vincent Kalu, Lagos And Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
As arguments over rotation of presidency continue to rage, Minster of Works, Babatunde Raji Fashola raised the ante earlier in the week following his disclosure that there was indeed an unwritten agreement among leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 to rotate presidency between North and South.
As a result of the national interest such generated, Saturday Sun reached out to other leaders and stakeholders in the party to confirm the minister’s claim, their reactions confirmed sharp divisions on the twin issues of zoning and 2023 presidency. Reacting to the claim and why the party is not pushing it, the APC Northeast Vice Chairman, Mustapha Salihu, asked Fashola to explain the quarters where it was done and the parties to the unwritten agreement.
He said: “For example, if he said, so so persons were parties then we can ask if there was such or not. If for example there wasn’t agreement like that, somebody may insinuate based on his own personal interest that, yes, there was something like that. First, he has to provide people that were privy to that agreement. Even if he didn’t mention names, he will say the stage where it was done, whether at the point of merger, then you know from research those that participated in the merger.
“I can’t tell you yes or no because I was not privy to that agreement. If people who were privy to it will say, yes, there was and they will be the ones championing it and prevailing on the party to implement it.
“If I was there when such agreement was made, I would be among the people pointing it out and hammering on the party to remember the agreement made. Until somebody is privy to it, that is when the person will be able to comment on this matter and that is when the person will be able to pressurize the party to see that it implements what was agreed upon even though it was a gentleman’s agreement. Most of these types of agreements are unwritten and people as gentlemen try to uphold it.”
According to Salihu, there were stages during the formation of the party; there were consultations for alliances and after that there were consultations for merger, before the merger. After the merger, there was candidature, that is the primaries and after that there was general election, adding that, “ so, you know at what point it was done and the key players at that time.”
“Everything was on the papers and you know at certain times the representatives of the blocs that formed the party. If it was available, everybody will know who were at Campaign Council at that time. If it was before primaries, everybody knows who were members of the primary election committee and on each camp. Everybody knows who were in Buhari’s camp, likewise who were in Atiku’s camp. If the agreement was before the primaries, these were the key players and if it was after primaries, these are the key players,” Salihu stated.
Also, former Minister of Information and founding member of the party, Prince Tony Momoh, said, asking him such question was not fair, as it tantamount to revealing everything that happened in the party, asking the reporter if he announces in the market place all that happened during their editorial meetings.
“Have you asked Bisi Akande? Do you want me to say in the public all that happened in the party from the time of consultations, agreements reached, conventions, primaries, etc. Do you in The Sun go to the market place to announce all that happened during your editorial meetings? It is not fair.
“There were lots of agreements reached as a party. If you are talking of an agreement to rotate or not to rotate; if you want to know agreements that were written, go and look at the manifesto and the constitution, they are documented. If you want to know what happened behind the scene, you can investigate. The structure of Nigeria is presidential system, and not parliamentary. In a presidential system, there are certain things you cannot do. You cannot pick the governor and his deputy from the same local government; you cannot pick the president and the vice president from the same local government, the same state, and the same zone.
“It is zoned North and South and that is why you see now that what has emerged is that both Christians and Muslims have a voice. Once upon a time, Muslim- Muslim ticket could fly, but now you will find it difficult to find Muslin-Muslim ticket because of divergencies, differences of vested interests. In a parliamentary system, there is no need for zoning, but in a presidential system, you will zone and if you don’t zone, it is to your own detriment.
“Gone are the days for instance in a presidential system, you have an Awolowo and an Umeadi, both from the South. The risk they were taking was that they couldn’t have votes from the North. Now, it is impossible for someone to have running mate from the same zone because we have North and South. It is big risk for someone to fly Muslim-Muslim ticket or Christian-Christian ticket because religion has come into play.
“Whatever agreement reached at that time can be enforced in house now and the enforcement can succeed or fail. For you to be asking me such a thing is like asking you what you discussed at your editorial conference. It’s an unfair question.
“I know zoning was discussed. I was even the chairman of the committee at the caucus meeting to discuss coming together of which groups. So, that being the case, I won’t be telling you that this is what we discussed and this is the agreement we reached. It is an unfair question because I won’t give you the answer you want. Everything is there for discussion,” Momoh said.
In the same vein, Ambassador Yahaya Kwande said he doesn’t know of such an unwritten agreement. According to him, in a newspaper interview he stated that the issue of zoning started from the NPN era.
“The whole thing was voluntary, not asked for by Northerners, I was one of those that attended meeting at the Festac. We were there and Akinloye and the rest of the people in the South told us that at the moment, the supporters seemed to be coming from the North, and you were the ones promoting NPN and we accepted it, therefore we are going to concede the presidency to you in the North and then West the leadership of the party and East for the vice presidency. That was what happened. Akinloye had it and also Ekwueme, and Shagari was elected. Then, there was a coup.
“When we came back in 1999, it started with Obasanjo because we thought the West of South should be pacified with the position. He did eight years. That was the arrangement of the NPN that transformed into PDP. PDP accepted that arrangement. Yar’ Adua succeeded Obasanjo and did two and half years and died. By the constitution of Nigeria, the vice president took over from his boss. Jonathan even though from South took over and constitutionally and finished. He could then have stepped aside, but after finishing the arrangement, he then went on to contest, which was supposed to be the position of a Northerner at that time to complete the eight years. So that we have eight years in the South and eight years in the North, but he refused and contested and won. Now he wanted to contest the second term which would have given him the longest serving president in Nigeria. But Muhammadu Buhari defeated him, but not on the platform of the PDP.
“He was defeated on another party, APC, which has no arrangement of North and South. Now Buhari is finishing but it was the PDP that has rotation arrangement that would have allowed the North to conclude its four years so that the whole thing should shift back again to the South. When we talk about South and North, it didn’t mean we have a say in what comes out of South.
“The South has three zones and the North has three zones also. Obasanjo did that of the West; Jonathan did that of the South-South. So, if it moves now to the South, in my own opinion unless the people of South decide otherwise, it would have been the Southeast now. In the North, we have the Northwest, the Northeast and the North Central. When it moves to the North, it should circulate among the North Central, Northeast and Northwest.
“As far as I’m concerned, the arrangement for the PDP is such that the North will still have the next four years after Buhari, so that it will shift back to the South; and in the South, the Southeast will have it. But then APC seems to be mixing it up because of the personalities involved. Our politics in Nigeria is more of personalities than of ideology and that is why people are confused.
“When Fashola is talking about arrangement within the APC, I wouldn’t say no. They can decide to do like PDP and that can be another arrangement for the Southeast. “The most important point is that it is not a constitutional matter. We are a developing country and there will be a day when we trust ourselves and think that we are now Nigerian citizens not based on any sectionalism, as the president can come from anywhere.
“Probably Fashola knows about the agreement but if there was, we don’t know about it. He knows it, he should tell us more about it. Even that of the PDP was unwritten. This thing should not bring any problem in Nigeria because it is not a constitutional matter.”
Going further, former Lagos State Chairman of the party, Henry Ajomale, said there was such an agreement and warned the party leadership against taking any decision that will contravene the unwritten agreement among leaders of the party in 2015 that power should rotate between the North and the South.
Ajomale said presidency goes to the South immediately President Muhammadu Buhari completes his tenure in 2023. He warned that contravening the agreement would spell doom for the party.
According to him: “Fashola is not only right but it is also very thoughtful of him to remind our party leaders about this agreement at this point in time. I was part of the meeting where that agreement was reached, and it will do our party a lot of good if we can keep to the terms of that agreement as anything contrary may portend doom for APC.
“The general expectation is that after President Muhammadu Buhari must have completed his tenure in 2023,then power should rotate to the South. It is a gentleman’s unwritten agreement, and we should be honourable by keeping to that agreement. If we do anything contrary, it will do APC a lot of incalculable damage.’’
While warning that there will be consequences if the party should renege on the agreement, Ajomale stated that the South will resist any attempt by any group or individual from the North to scuttle the agreement.
“We in the South will not fold our hands if any group or individual attempts to derail this arrangement. We know what the South did, especially the Southwest to ensure that Buhari emerged as the president in 2015. Before then he had contested and lost on more than two occasions. It was when he entered into an alliance with the Southwest leaders that it became possible for him to win the presidency. So it will be unfair to deny the South presidency in 2023,” he declared. Asked why the party is not pushing it if there was such an agreement, Ajomale retorted: “I still believe that we should give the APC leadership benefit of the doubt more so, since nobody in the party has spoken on the matter for now. It should not be assumed that the party is not pushing it. We should be patient for now on the issue but I believe the party will do the needful at the appropriate time.’’
Advising Northerners opposed to the unwritten agreement to desist from making any plot to truncate the gentleman’s agreement, the APC chieftain stated that such plot will not augur well not only for APC but the nation as a whole.
“Any plot to keep the presidency in the North in 2023 will backfire. Those Northerners alleged to be making such moves should stop it because if they continue, it is an evil plot that will have consequences not only for the APC but also for Nigeria as a nation. I will therefore advise any Northerner involved in such plot to stop because it will have ugly consequences,’’ Ajomale declared.
Senator Kabiru Marafa, a chieftain of the APC in Zamfara state argued that the controversy over the zoning of the party’s ticket in the 2023 presidential election is immaterial, even as he noted that he would conditionally support whatever decision the party has taken.
Speaking to Saturday Sun, he said that party leaders would oppose any form of imposition by any cabal in the form of state governors lording their decisions over the other party members.
“As you know, I am just one out of several other members of the APC, regardless of what position you think I have attained in the party. The only thing I can tell you is that I am a party man and believer in justice where the right thing is done.
“I will support my party when it takes the decision but if the party does anything I feel my conscience does not believe, I will voice out my feelings on where I believe it is going to. But for me, it is immaterial on which zone gets it. We must be fair and just, not manipulated by few governors deciding who gets what as if the governors are the owners of the party.” A chieftain and foundation member of the APC, Osita Okechukwu, urged the party to honour the gentleman agreement reached on the zoning of the ticket for the 2023 presidential election.
He told Saturday Sun specifically that zoning should not only come to the southern region but microzoned to the Southeast geopolitical zone, emphasising that zoning or convention has been observed in resolution of public affairs throughout history.
“Yes, one subscribes to the position of Babatunde Fashola that there exists the noble zoning or rotation of presidency convention between southern and northern belt zones. In actual fact it is a convention or gentlemen’s agreement not law; however in liberal democracy there is always convention with its moral weight and law with its legal teeth. Both are equally observed in resolution of public affairs throughout history.
“The zoning convention in our history books first reared its equity, natural justice and unity head in the second republic, but commenced really in 1999, with our entry into the fourth republic Nigeria. It commenced from the South.
“The objective was equity, natural justice, and good conscience; all in an effort to construct a sense of belonging and national loyalty. We may recall that in 1999, two Yoruba were fielded by national consensus under PDP and AD/APP alliance – Falae/Obasanjo model. That was the genesis of rotation of presidency between north and south. The destination was peace, unity, equity and good conscience. We need that now more than ever, especially now that Mr President is exiting graciously and honourably in 2023.
“One remembers vividly how in 1999 – when Dr Alex Ekwueme, Adamu Ciroma, Dr Olusola Saraki, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Umaru Shinkafi and Abubakar Rimi -were persuaded to step down and allow the Falae/Obasanjo model because of national unity. And zoning coming South, the truism is that 2023 is the turn of Southeast to preside over Nigeria, since our two brothers, the Southwest and South South had presided,” he said.
The party’s Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, has however warned that there is no need overheating the polity with the zoning arrangement in the party, assuring that it would be resolved amicably in due course. The ruling party’s spokesman argued that the most important thing to every patriotic Nigerian is the peace and unity of the country not which zone the party will give the ticket to produce the next president.
“We know that there are six geographical zones in the country, but what is going to be the major determining factor is the agreement by the major stakeholders. The unity of the country is more important than any zoning arrangement.
“Our priority is unity because there may not be victory without unity even if the ticket is zoned to any part of the country. The most important thing is not zoning but the confidence of our party retaining the power. And I can tell you that I don’t have any fear of APC retaining power beyond 2023.
“What should be our concern is the unity of this country. We have to continue preaching the language of peace especially for some of us without dual nationality. We should look beyond ethnicity in 2023 but search for the candidate capable of uniting us as a country,” he noted.