2023: The North, South’s battle of wits over zoning

Issue of power shift is pitching the North and the South in the political parties, especially in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), with subtle thretas from major political actors, writes TAIWO AMODU.

Less than two years to the next general election, the two major political parties in the country have become embroiled in internal dissension and intrigues over the zoning of their presidential tickets. The Peoples Democratic Party’s zoning committee, led by Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, has been silent on the report of the assignment it has been saddled with, while the All Progressives Congress (APC) Caretaker Committee/Extraordinary convention Planning Committee (APCECPC), chaired by Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni and given the mandate to conduct its national convention, has equally been silent on the zoning arrangement as it continued with the conduct of process that would result in the election of its national officers.

 

Mamman Daura’s bombshell

Checks revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari’s nephew and chieftain of the APC, Mamman Daura, had tested the political waters in July 2020, when he hinted that zoning would not matter in 2023. Speaking with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa service, he said Nigerians should close discussion on zoning and insist on competence. Daura claimed that zoning had been counterproductive in Nigeria in the last two decades, since it gained currency in its political lexicon. He said: “This turn-by-turn practice has been done repeatedly… It is better for this country to be one. It should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from any particular place.”

Following the outrage that trailed his remarks which discerning Nigerians interpreted as plans of things to be unfolded, the Presidency, through its Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, issued a disclaimer and claimed that Daura’s outburst was his personal opinion. “It is important that we state from the onset that as mentioned by the interviewee, the views expressed were personal to him and did not, in any way, reflect that of either the President or his administration. At age 80 and having served as editor and the managing director of one of this country’s most influential newspapers, the New Nigerian, certainly, Malam Mamman qualifies as an elder statesman with a national duty to hold perspectives and disseminate them as guaranteed under our constitution and laws of the land. He does not need the permission or clearance of anyone to exercise this right,” the statement read.

 

APC’s discordant tunes

A year after Daura’s startling revelation, the interim national leadership of the ruling party has continued to prevaricate over its zoning arrangement. The national secretary of the APCECPC, Senator John Akpanudoedehe recently hinted newsmen that the party stakeholders, not the Governor Buni-led committee had the final say on who gets what at Buhari’s house.

Indications from the array of contenders for the office of national chairman reveal that the new chairman could emerge from any of the three geo-political zones in the North-East, Central and West, thus giving the South hope that it could ultimately produce the ruling party’s presidential ticket.Among the aspirants for the position are: Aziz Yari, Senators Ali Modu-Sheriff and Kashim Shettima; Tanko Al-Makura; George Akume; DanjumaGoje, former governors of Zamfara, Borno, Nasarawa, Benue and Gombe states respectively. Also in the race are a former chieftain of the defunct Congress for Political Change (CPC) from Kwara State, Mustapha Salihu and Sunny Moniedafe from Adamawa State. Besides, the senator representing Niger East and Chairman, Senate Services Committee, Mohammed Sani Musa has equally joined the ranks of aspirants.

Further investigations revealed that certain chieftains of the APC from the North have continued to dismiss agitations for zoning, submitting that there was no provision for power rotation in the Nigerian Constitution. A former governor of Zamfara State and presidential hopeful, Sani Ahmad Yarima, at an interactive session with newsmen last July, said the resolution by the Southern Governors Forum (SGF), at its meeting in Asaba, Delta State that the next president must come from the southern part of the country, was a mere proclamation since there was no provision for it in the constitution

He said: “As far as I am concerned, the Nigerian Constitution and that of the APC, as of today, unless there is any amendment in the future, has declared that every Nigerian who is qualified based on the qualification that is enshrined in the constitution should aspire for any office in the land be it governor, state or National Assembly. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, the constitutions, both party and national, have not barred me from contesting for presidency. Therefore, no statement of any group can stop me.

“But you see, if tomorrow, my party comes up and says we have zoned Presidency to the South, I, Yarima, will follow it. I will then know that it is a decision, legally and lawfully binding on all members of the party. But, as the Nigerian and APC Constitutions are saying ‘citizens’ of Nigeria, I am a one and I will contest.”

Last week, former Nasarawa State governor and Senator representing Nasarawa West, Abdullahi Adamu spoke in a similar vein at a media briefing, where he argued that any of the geopolitical zones, including President Buhari’s North-West, could aspire for the APC presidential ticket. He said: “The constitution says you can only become a president through the ballot box. Nowhere in the Nigerian Constitution says we should zone any office. There is federal character that is the constitution. ”According to him: “The constitution is being reviewed. If you want to review and you want a provision, specifically, that the presidential office is to be zoned in such a manner, then tell us how you want it zoned. You can’t just wish away a situation that is fundamental to the life of a country. You can’t talk about merit and talk of zoning. The issue of rotation, let’s just go by merit. Let every party find a way of selling itself in a manner as to garner the kind of vote to deliver the presidential result. It is as simple as that. It is government of the people, by the people and for the people. Why do you want to change it.? It is wishful thinking only. We are not being practical.”

 

PDP: Playing the Russian roulette?

Unlike the ruling party, which appears circumspect and evasive on the sensitive issue of zoning, the main opposition party’s preference for a presidential candidate of northern extraction is an open secret. Stakeholders in the party, with a mindset to pacify the North, appears to be winning the narrative that the erstwhile ruling party should surrender its ticket to the zone.

Investigations revealed that shortly after the 2015 general election that released the PDP’s 16 years grip on the presidency, Uche Secondus, who was acting national chairman, constituted a commitment tagged: ‘Post election review committee’. Led by former deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, the team, while submitting its findings, recommended zoning of the party’s presidential ticket in 2019 to the North, in order to placate the region which felt shortchanged over Dr Goodluck Jonathan’s candidacy as the party’s 2015 candidate.

Further investigations revealed that another committee, a creation of the National Working Committee (NWC), led by Prince Secondus created another 14-man panel, with a mandate to investigate why the main opposition party lost the 2019 general election. The team, which had Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, as chairman and Emmanuel Agbo as secretary, in its report, recommended that merit should be a fundamental factor in the choice of the PDP presidential candidate for 2023 elections. It noted that, “in line with certain unwritten conventions of the nation’s history, many people think that, for fairness and equity, the North-East and South-East geo-political zones that have had the shortest stints in the Presidency, should be given special consideration in choosing the presidential standard-bearer of the party for the 2023 elections.” It further submitted that, “While we admit that this is a strong argument, we should not lose sight of the fact that Nigeria is endowed with many capable and very experienced leaders in every part of the country. Moreover, the exigencies of the moment demand that nothing should be compromised in choosing the leader, with the attributes to disentangle the country from the present quagmire.

“Therefore, we think that every Nigerian, from every part of the country, should be given the opportunity to choose the best candidate, through a credible primary election; as a way of institutionalising a merit based leadership recruitment process, for the country.”

 

Which way Ugwuanyi’s team?

Ahead of its national convention slated for next month, PDP’s National Executive Committee (NEC) inaugurated a zoning committee with Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as chairman, with a mandate to produce a template for zoning of national offices. Yet to formally submit its report, power blocs within the party have since goaded certain chieftains from the South-West to begin subtle campaigns for the office of national chairman. The list included former Osun State governor, who served briefly as national secretary to the ‘Bamanga Tukur-led NWC under President Jonathan’s presidency, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; former Ondo State Governorship candidate, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) and former Edo State chairman and national vice chairman, (South-South), Dan Orbih. Oyinlola is perceived as the anointed choice of the duo of Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, along with certain former and sitting governors. Jegede, according to sources, enjoys the support of former vice-president and presidential candidate in the last general election, Atiku Abubakar while Dan Orbih is the anointed candidate of Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike.

The zoning arrangement, which offers a hint that the North would produce the 2023 presidential candidate of the PDP, has since run into troubled waters, owing to the insistence of certain governors from the southern part of the country that the zone should not be denied the presidential ticket, after eight years of President Buhari from the North. A party source said in confidence last weekend that the Governor Ugwuanyi zoning committee report, a prelude to the October national convention of the PDP, might not submit its report this week, owing to the open rejection of its zoning of the presidential ticket to the North. The position canvassed at the weekend by former presidential spokesman, Dr Doyin Okupe, summed up the dissaffection by certain power blocs within the PDP, against zoning of its 2023 presidential ticket to the North. He said: “There should be a reset of the zoning arrangement in 2023. It does not make sense to replace a northern government of eight years with another northern government for another eight years, it doesn’t make sense. That is why the PDP should zone the presidency to the South. The southern governors, who are the leaders of the South had spoken, we should listen to them. It will be folly, reckless and insensitive for any political party to ignore the position of the southern governors.”

 

Jonathan as villa decoy candidate?

Despite the grandstanding by chieftains of the APC from the North that the zone would never surrender its right to vie for the presidency, flaunting its numerical strength, speculations are rife that a cabal within the Presidency has been putting pressures on former President, Jonathan to dump the PDP and join the APC. According to the narrative, the plot is to ensure that power returns to the North after one term of Jonathan in 2028. The former president, who spoke through his media aide, Ikechukwu Eze, has sustained his position that “he has no intention to defect from the party that made him deputy governor, governor, vice-president and president.”

Former senate president and chairman of PDP reconciliation and strategic committee, David Mark while speaking with newsmen last February, shortly after a closed-door meeting with the former president, said his team was convinced that the claim about Jonathan defecting to the ruling party was a mere ruse. He said: “Jonathan told us his views and we are very happy. He reassured all of us of his commitment to the PDP and he told us that he is still ready to offer his time, experience and resources to strengthen the party.

“That is very strong and important for us. Of course, you know there are funny issues going on, but we are leaving this place very happy. Jonathan is also ready to work with the reconciliation committee to play his own part. That is a great step for the party.”

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