Some elements in high places appear to be on a sinister mission. They want to discredit zoning for the simple reason that it does not fit into their 2023 calculations. Some others are nebulous in their declarations. In one breath, they want power to shift to the south. In another, they argue that the selection process should not preclude anybody, irrespective of region. They are ill at ease to admit that a call for power shift is tantamount to zoning. One such person is Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State who is always quick to tell us that he has never seen zoning take place anywhere in the world.
Positions such as El-Rufai’s have never stopped leaving people wondering. People are wont to ask what the military did in 1999 when it ensured that the Yoruba produced the president at that time. It had an arrangement where the presidential candidates of the two dominant political parties fielded Yoruba candidates. That was a deliberate design and it achieved its purpose. The arrangement was nothing short of zoning. What did we have in 2019 when the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) zoned its presidential ticket to the north in anticipation that the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, would clinch the ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)? The arrangement produced two northern presidential candidates from the two political parties that have the capacity to win in a presidential election That was zoning writ large. In these instances, especially the most recent one, there was no hue and cry. It was taken to be normal.
But the story is not the same in the present circumstance. A lot of encumbrances have been stacked up against the quest by the south for power shift. The north is scratching here and there to find justification to hold on to power beyond 2023. Many consider this scenario unpalatable. That explains the ominous permutations that have seized the political space. But the mood in the south does not permit the adventurism that the north is toying with. For the south, power shift in 2023 should be taken for granted. But the argument that is raging at moment borders on who should legitimately take the southern slot. In this, the south east has been very vociferous in its argument. Its claim to the presidency is unassailable except in the eyes of those who accuse some Igbo leaders of promoting separatism and at the same time jostling for the presidency. But that remains an allegation. There has been no shred of evidence in that regard.
In a normal setting, you will not labour to make any case for the south east. The zone has all the arguments going for it. But like some elements in the north, some south west political adventurers are warming up to thrown their hat into the ring. They want their zone to take advantage of the power shift to the south. Politicians of south west extraction in this mould are desirous of seeing power return to the south. But any argument in favour of the south east sounds inchoate to them. They do not agree to the fullest that the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency served their purpose. They want to make another quick dash at the presidency in the hope that the Yoruba interest would be fully served this time around.
Those making a case for the south west will further tell you that the Igbo cannot truly claim to be outsiders in the power equation of this country. They are usually quick to argue that the Goodluck Jonathan presidency was, more or less, Igbo presidency. They believe that the south east was at the commanding height of that administration. The people of the south east find this argument strange. But it is part of the south west strategy to shore up their claim to the highest office in the land. The argument, to say the least, is lame in every material particular. It does not even amount to an argument. But it is part of the ploy to make the road to the presidency tough for the south east.
As things stand, there is so much uncertainty in the air. But the south east is not resting on its oars. It is spreading its tentacles to areas that matter. Some of its front runners have left their comfort zone in the PDP to find accommodation in the APC. They call this positioning. The move is driven by the belief that the APC and PDP hold all the aces to the presidential throne. While you can say that the PDP is well seated in the south east, you cannot say the same thing of the APC. In recent weeks, however, the APC has been shoring up its popularity in the zone. That explains the rash of defections of some high profile south easterners to the ruling party. The calculation is that should the ruling party decide to cede its ticket to the south east, the party should be able to boast of people that matter in the zone to pick the ticket. In other words, the south east is striving to bestride both the APC and PDP in the likely situation of the two parties zoning their tickets to the south.
The arrowheads of this positioning strategy remind us that the APC-led federal government wilfully excluded the south east in power sharing because the party had no strong base in the zone. Those defecting to the APC from the east want to fill this gap. It is also a way of weakening the argument of those who would say that the APC was unable to give its ticket to the zone because it did not have notable names in the party.
But the intrigues are getting deeper by the day. Jonathan, our former president, has been brought into the mix. Some elements say they want to make another president of him. The promoters of this game are principally those who want a quick return of power to the north. They are toying with the idea of returning Goodluck Jonathan to power. That may sound attractive both to Jonathan and the zone that produced him. But the plot is laden with infelicities. Part of it is to pit the south east against the south south. Since the south east believes that it is its turn to produce the country’s president in 2023, it is likely to view with suspicion and disapproval any attempt to scheme it out by whatever means. Introducing Jonathan into the game plan is believed to be part of the ploy to scuttle the quest of the south east for the office of president.
Those who are drafting Jonathan into the contest also want to rupture his rosy relationship with the Igbo. There is the belief in certain quarters, particularly the south west, that the Jonathan presidency was favourable to the Igbo. Many of those who saw things in that light disliked Jonathan for it. Some joined the plot for his removal from office on the basis of that. But having tested the Buhari order, they are convinced beyond measure that Jonathan was a saint in state house, comparatively speaking. They now claim to love him after the grand sabotage they midwifed that saw to his ouster. But Jonathan is wide awake with his senses. I am confident that he will not take a leap in the dark.
As we wait for the uneasy resolution of this thorny situation, it no longer makes sense to discountenance zoning in our political arrangement. There is no shred of doubt that zoning at the presidential level is not official in Nigeria. But there is no denying the fact that it has become conventional. It is not a part of our constitution. But it is clear to one and all, given our experiences in 1999 and 2015 that Nigeria needs that arrangement to make progress.