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Opinions of Friday, 3 December 2021

Columnist: Jakusko, Punch

Moral imperatives of power shift to South in 2023

File photo to illustrate the story File photo to illustrate the story

As the 2023 presidential election inches closer, the issue of zoning of the presidential ticket of the major political parties is now on the front burner. While the ruling All Progressives Congress has given indications that it will zone the ticket to the South, the Peoples Democratic Party has been keeping mum. Some APC governors have even given reasons why the ticket should go to the South.

It is imperative to put the record straight on this matter. Since independence, the North has produced Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister; Generals Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, and Abdulsalam Abubakar; President Shehu Shagari, late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua and the current President Buhari. On the other hand, the South has produced Nnamdi Azikiwe (South-East as Colonial Governor-General and Head of State under the parliamentary system of government), General Aguyi-Ironsi (South-East), General Olusegun Obasanjo (South-West), President Obasanjo (South-West) and President Goodluck Jonathan (South-South) who served one tenure plus.

Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, there has been an unwritten convention in the country for power to rotate between the North and South. From 1999 to 2007 former President Obasanjo from Ogun State was in power. Nigerians remember vividly that near the end of Obasanjo’s tenure, the former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili, was the frontrunner for the presidential ticket of the PDP. Odili ran an extensive pre-convention campaign, meeting delegates from all 36 states and Abuja. At the last moment, Obasanjo and some PDP leaders intervened, insisting that after the two terms power should rotate to the North for equity and fairness.

That was how late Yar’Adua succeeded Obasanjo. However, Yar’Adua was not able to complete his first tenure and his deputy, Jonathan, stepped in to complete the tenure and even went for a fresh four-year term. When Jonathan was going into the race in 2011 some northern leaders operating under the auspices of Northern Political Leaders Forum led by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar mounted strong opposition against his candidature. They maintained that the North should be allowed to complete its second term of four years. Events that followed that opposition are now history.

As the debate on the issue of zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket continues, it has cast a moral burden on some politicians in the North like Atiku and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who in 2015 insisted that power must rotate back to the North.

As pivotal as this issue is, the positions of some leaders of the North and some of their foot soldiers in the South do not show that they genuinely understand the stakes, one of which is the unity of this country, well enough. They lack the understanding that Nigeria is fractured and urgently needs healing.

The presidential election in Nigeria is extremely sensitive. It is the most powerful and influential position that confers the greatest sense of belonging to the federation on any ethnic or geopolitical area that produces him or her. Therefore, since independence, every segment of the country craves to have a piece of the cake. That is why morality is the obvious sandwich of Nigerian elections and, indeed, the 2023 presidential election. The questions, therefore, are: which region has produced more presidents or heads of state? Which region has not produced any? Considering the issue of rotational power in order to correct the vexed issue of imbalance among the six geopolitical zones, especially the North-South power bloc? Under the present circumstances, whose turn is it between the North-South power bloc come 2023?

Already, this has started generating heat among the gladiators as the nation gradually and stealthily moves closer to 2023 and as the momentum continues to build up.

It is important to underscore that one major factor that will largely determine the overall outcome of the election is power rotation between the North and South political blocs. This is what has defined the attitude and the internal democratic practices of the major political parties that will participate in the forthcoming election. It has equally attracted some of the biggest political groups such as the Progressive Governors Forum, made up of governors on the platform of the ruling All Progressive Congress; the Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum, which is made up of the governors of the leading opposition party; caucuses of political parties in the two chambers of the National Assembly; the political parties; socio-cultural groups, etc.

While it is good to clarify that zoning or rotational presidency is not enshrined in our constitution or any electoral laws in the country, there is an unwritten understanding, which was practised by the PDP, which united Nigeria and gave every segment a sense of belonging and inclusion. It is still not clear whether the ruling APC is disposed to retaining these age-long democratic practices that have remained a strong pillar of our democracy and a uniting force. This is what has currently divided the political elites.

A communiqué by the Southern Governors Forum signed after its meeting in Lagos State stated that “the Forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern region.”

The leaders of the North, which include state governors, traditional and opinion leaders that met in Kaduna, replied the southern governors saying, “the Forum unanimously condemned the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the presidency must go to the South.”

However, socio-cultural groups from the South-East, Middle Belt, North-Central, South-West, South-South as well as minority groups in the North all threw their weights behind the position of the Southern Governors Forum in the spirit of equity, fairness and justice. Also, Governor Babagan Zulum of Borno State categorically supported the position of the South-South.

He said, “I have said it, times without number, that I, Professor Babagana Zulum, I am of the view that the presidency should go to the South in the year 2023 because the unity of our country is very important” adding, “Secondly, inclusivity is very important. Thirdly, I am in the APC. Six or seven years ago, APC had zoned the presidency to Northern Nigeria based on the agreement that in the year 2023, the presidency should go to the South.”

Similarly, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union are in support of the southern governors for power to shift to the South saying, in a statement by its President, Comrade Jonathan Asake, that “we wish to categorically declare that we align with the position taken by the southern governors for power to shift to the southern part of Nigeria after eight years of President Buhari in 2023. Thereafter, power should then rotate among the North, South, and Middle Belt zones to ensure justice, fairness, and equity.”

Leading lawyers have also expressed the position of the constitution and relevant laws which envisage such matters that have arisen today. For instance, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and rights advocate, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, stated that the “drafters of the constitution envisaged a situation when a section of the country may want to dominate others and provided for provisions against it. Section 14 (3) forbids domination of political space or occupation of office to the detriment of others. It is to promote national cohesion, loyalty to the country and spread of offices, including the presidency.

“If six geo-political zones called North have been in power since 2015 and after exhausting eight years, the constitution expects the south to produce the next president. Zoning is lawful and constitutional. And there is precedent. In 2006, they (northern governors) made a similar demand for power shift, if they checked their records.

“Again, Article 7 of PDP says zoning shall be adopted and enforced. Article 7 of APC says similar things, to promote national unity. Both in their constitutions and the constitution of Nigeria, there is room for zoning and rotation, to promote national cohesion.”

As Nigerians await the unveiling of the zoning arrangements of the leading political parties, the APC and PDP, it is imperative to remind them that, whatever formula they come up with, the fairness, equity, justice and the unity of Nigeria must guide their decision. There will be no APC or PDP if there is no country called Nigeria. National interest must override the personal interest of some chieftains of the two political parties who are pushing for the parties to jettison the unwritten rotation of the presidency.

The country is almost overwhelmed with the myriad of problems, ranging from a comatose economy, insecurity, banditry, terrorism, agitations, to decayed infrastructure, affecting it. The political class should not compound the woes of the country by instigating one section against the other over the issue of rotation of the presidency. They should take a cue from Jonathan, who said several times that his ambition is not worth the blood of any individual. Jonathan put national interest over his personal interest and that was why he congratulated his opponent, now president, Buhari, even before the Independent National Electoral Commission announced the final result in 2015. For the first time in Nigeria, the outcome of the 2015 presidential election was not dragged before the Election Tribunal or the Supreme Court. Those that thought Nigeria would “scatter” in 2015 were all disappointed that their doomsday prophecy did not come to pass. Nigeria had a very smooth transition of power in 2015 because a great patriot, named Goodluck Jonathan, ensured the country did not burn because of his personal ambition. That is one great lesson every politician must learn.