By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Like every other nation of the world, Nigeria entered the New Year with cautious optimism amidst the second wave of COVID-19.
And having survived 2020 with all its numerous challenges, most state actors are particularly excited that the lull has finally come to an end.
So, overtly or covertly, they have commenced their permutations for the 2023 polical race. This is coming barely midway to the second tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
As part of its early preparations, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on October 15, 2020 released the timetable for the next general elections and tentatively fixed the presidential race for February 18, 2023.
Though the ban on electioneering has not been officially lifted, some political pundits are of the view that the timetable would lead to a total flight of governance in the country no matter the threat of sanction.
But for those whose eyes are already on the coveted seat, there is no amount of time that can be enough to do adequate preparation for the contest. Other than a few frontline contenders who have already beaten the gun by oiling their political machines, there has also been a loud agitation in the Southeast for the president of Igbo extraction in 2023.
Although there is no clear-cut provision for zoning arrangement in the constitution of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), President Buhari was said to have affirmed the gentleman agreement that the presidential ticket of the party would move to the South during the recent National Executive Committee (INEC) meeting of the party.
In this regard, Southeast and Southwest are the two most likely top contenders on the platform of the APC to succeed President Buhari at the expiration of his two terms in 2023.
But from the outcome of the stakeholders’ meeting recently held in Igbere, Abia State, Igbo leaders are not only looking at the APC platform to actualize their dream, but also the leading opposition parties -the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Rising from their meeting, they appealed to state actors across political parties to concede the 2023 presidency to the zone in the spirit of justice and national harmony.
In the communiqué signed by Senate Chief Whip, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu; former Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim; Deputy Majority Whip, House of Representatives, Hon. Nkeiru Onyejeocha, spokesman of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu and pioneer National Chairman of APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie, the leaders argued that the region had demonstrated an abiding fate in Nigeria’s unity to deserve the presidency.
The communique reads in part: “The meeting observed that the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has rotated between Northern and Southern Nigeria and among the various geopolitical zones. Thus, the Southwest and South-south geopolitical zones in the southern part of the country have produced the president of Nigeria. Hence as power is expected to rotate to the South in 2023, the meeting noted that the Southeast is the only zone in the South that is yet to produce a president of Nigeria in the current democratic dispensation.
“The meeting further observed that the people of the Southeast have continued to demonstrate their commitment to the unity and development of the country. Not only has the geopolitical zone actively supported the emergence of Nigerian president of other geopolitical extractions, the people are also known to be major agents of development and heavy investors outside their zone and often the next in population after the indigenes in any state of Nigeria. Our well-pronounced presence and investments in every nook and cranny of the country represent the firmest and most practical demonstration of faith in the unity, peace, and continued corporate existence of the country, for where a man’s treasure is, there his heart lies also.
“Consequently, we implore all the political parties to cede their presidential tickets in the 2023 general election to the Southeast in the interest of justice, equity and national unity. To make good our demand and reciprocate such good faith, we have decided, as a geopolitical zone with substantial presence in every part of the country to give a block vote and throw our full weight behind any major political party, particularly the APC and PDP, that zones its presidential ticket to the Southeast in 2023 general election. We resolved to work for such a party irrespective of our different individual political parties.”
Much as the leaders were passionate in their appeal for support, they failed to affirm a resolution on the issue of consensus candidate. That, perhaps, was to allow for all possible options.
Traditionally, Southeast has always been a stronghold of the PDP, but the party is yet to come up with any identifiable presidential aspirant who could succeed Buhari.
For those in the APC fold, Senator Kalu and Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State are being looked up to as possible contenders.
Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, was largely responsible for the inroad of the APC into the Southeast. Apart from his ambition to take a shot at the presidency, he is one of the leading figures being relied upon to push the banner of the party into the nooks and crannies of the Southeast ahead of the 2023 general elections. Certainly, his activities towards this realization would pick up in the months ahead.
Even though Umahi, who recently defected to the APC, has consistently denied the alleged plan to contest the presidential ticket as his reason for dumping the PDP, rumour is equally rife that he might have settled for the slot of vice presidential candidate before he took the decision. For whatever reason he had jumped the ship, he would surely be available to join hands with the likes of Kalu, Governor Hope Uzodimma, Chris Ngige and other key stakeholders to make APC a party to beat in the Southeast in the next general elections and to also reach out to other regions for power shift alliance.
North’s game plan to divide the South
Already, there is a game plan by the North to divide the South ahead of 2023. Part of the move is the recent intrigues being played out to drag former President Goodluck Jonathan into the race.
According to this permutation, if Jonathan is supported to clinch the APC ticket, by constitutional provision, he would only spend one term and return power to the North by 2027.
It will be recalled that some APC governors, including Senator Atiku Bagudu and Alhaji Mohammed Badaru, had recently paid a thank you visit to Jonathan in his Otuoke country home shortly after the INEC’s announcement of David Lyon of APC as the winner of the November 16, 2019 poll.
As a follow up to that, the Chairman of APC National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC), Mai Mala Buni in company with Governor Umahi and former President of Senate, Ken Nnamani, also visited the former president in his Abuja resident to felicitate with him on his 63rd birthday anniversary.
Although his Special Assistant on Media, Ikechukwu Eze, had dismissed the speculations about the possibility of his second coming, the statement credited to Jonathan during an event organised by the Commonwealth Community Choir in Abuja, said “it is too early to talk about that”, gives room for suspicion that something may be up his sleeve.
It is no longer news that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is interested in the coming presidential race. While negotiating the merger arrangement that culminated in the formation of APC in the run up to the 2015 general elections, Buhari was said to had agreed to a ‘gentleman agreement’ that the North would support Southwest in 2023 since Southeast had aligned with Jonathan. But with some recent trends, it appears that Buhari’s body language is not favourably disposed towards Tinubu again.
Nevertheless, his campaign machinery has been set in motion to drum support for his 2023 presidential ambition. Just some couple of weeks ago, at the twilight of 2020, former senators and members of House of Representatives loyal to the national leader of the APC stormed the palaces of Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi and the Olubadan of Ibadan land, Oba Soliu Adetunji, to seek royal support for the former governor of Lagos State.
A former Minister of State for Works, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, speaking under the aegis of South West Agenda (SWAGA ’23), said that “Asiwaju Bola Tinubu remains the only Southerner who cuts across the country with his structure who could defeat his opponent in his ward, just as the late Basorun Moshood Abiola did in 1993.
“The tour is not a political campaign, but a sensitization drive. The agenda of the group is to call out all well-meaning South-Westerners to encourage, market and support the candidature of their principal, His Excellency, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (the Jagaban Borgu) for the office of the president of Nigeria in 2023.
“Their goal is driven by desire for a common front to push the Yoruba agenda for leadership of Nigeria.”
The recent visit of some political allies of Tinubu notably former governors of Osun and Ogun states, Chief Bisi Akande and Aremo Segun Osoba, respectively as well as Chief Tajudeen Olusi to President Buhari may also not be unconnected with the Southwest scheming for 2023. Sources close to the corridors of power said that Akande unequivocally told President Buhari to respect the 2013/2014 agreement in APC that the presidency would return to Southwest.
Similarly, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola had at different fora stressed the need to honour the gentleman agreement saying: “The truth is that what makes an agreement spectacular is the honour in which it is made, not whether it is written. If it were written, there would be no court cases of breach of contract because it’s a document that is written and signed that goes to court. The private agreement you make with your brother and sister should not be breached. It must be honoured.”
However, in the event that Buhari ultimately defaults or fails to honour the said agreement, Sunday Sun reliably gathered that Tinubu camp had already laid down its Plan B for the actualization of the Southwest agenda. These are some of the intrigues that would shape the politics of power game in the months ahead.
Regardless of the loud agitation for power shift to the South, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State is not living any stone unturned in his preparation to succeed President Buhari in 2023.
As part of the effort to step up campaigns for the race, Nassiriya Movement, a group which claims membership in 21 states, has declared its readiness to mobilize support for Governor el-Rufai ahead of the next general elections.
The leader of the movement, Garkuwa Ibrahim Babuga, made this declaration while addressing journalists on Friday, October 30, 2020.
El-Rufai’s counterpart in Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, has also not been left out of the scheming for power. Early December last year, some 72 pro-democracy groups from Southern Nigeria under the umbrella of Tambuwal Save Nigeria gathered together to drum support for him at a news conference in Sokoto. Speaking at the event, its Director General, Yusuf Abdullahi Bakura, said that the group was poised to mobilize massive support for Tambuwal in 2023 to succeed Buhari. The game is just starting.
However, as the actors warm up for the race, the leading opposition PDP remains as unsettling and the ruling APC. While there is a loud disquiet in the APC over the tenure of the caretaker committee led by Mai Mala Buni, the internal discomfort within the PDP is giving some stakeholders a serious cause for worry. Governor Nyesom Wike in a recent television interview lamented that the NWC of the PDP was ill-prepared to take over the affairs of government from the ruling APC.
“PDP ought to have harvested from the inefficiency of the APC; from the maladministration of the APC. But the present National Working Committee is not interested or doing anything to take over the realms of government in 2023,” he said.