As the debate over 2023 presidency rages
SUNDAY ADEPOJU writes on the rising intrigues and permutations regarding the 2023 presidency, which suggest that the battle ahead in the coming months might be more dramatic ever than before.
In less than a year after the 2019 presidential poll, a number of politicians appear to have returned to the starting blocks in earnest ahead the 2023 elections. The last few weeks have seen some major political actors and groups spearheading debates over the next president at the expiration of the two-term tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The debate has taken different forms: one, over which zone should the next president come from; two, desirability or otherwise of the president grooming a successor; three, the declaration that the race should be thrown open to all the zones, in contrast to the subsisting principle of power shift or rotation and, lastly, if it is premature or otherwise for such a debate. To some pundits, those behind the currect debates are trying to jump the ship; to others, there is a deliberate attempt to pull others to join the fray and detract the incumbent administration. There is yet another school of thought that believes that the debate is necessary in order to feel the pulse of the major stakeholders in the country on the issue.
Thus, Senator Bola Tinubu, president of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, John Nwodo, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and other groups have, in one why or the other, joined the debate giving varying perspectives to the issue of the 2023 presidency. Within the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the journey to the apex political seat in the country is still blurring as to who will bear their flags. But even that is if the Third Force that was birthed before the last elections does not resurface in the future race.
Even, then and now, there have been divergent opinions on the issue of an alternative to the APC and the PDP. In the build up to the 2019 presidential election, the mantra of Third Force reverberated in the political space. Those belonging to that school of thought believed that it was the panacea to the inherent problems in the polity. Among other supporters of the cause, former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was quoted in a report in January 2018 as saying, “We need a coalition for Nigeria. Such a movement at this juncture needs to not be a political party but one to which all well-meaning Nigerians can belong.” Also, a group, the Nigerian Intervention Movement (NIM), claimed that it had a plan “to rescue Nigeria from corrupt and inert political leadership and system by the year 2019.” That notwithstanding, the Third Force was dead on arrival, as it could not effectively challenge either the APC or the PDP in the poll.
However, the idea of an alternative platform has not yet died. In November last year, governor of Kaduna State in the Second Republic, Malam Balarabe Musa, lent his support for the cause, as he said: “There is no way Nigeria can survive under the APC and the PDP. The force will be membered by people who are genuinely convinced by the drive to effect the needed change in the polity.” Others have argued that the Third Force would be an amalgam of the disgruntled stalwarts and members of the PDP and APC. If the force still finds favour in the electorate, the question of selecting the candidate that will run alongside APC and PDP, then the issue of the main gladiators remains pertinent.
Of recent, the issues of zoning formula cum selection of the presidential candidates of the main parties, the APC and PDP, had generated heated discourse, especially regarding issues arising from the body language of the bigwigs of the parties. In both parties, the stories are not different as each of them battles with internal crises occasioned by the journey to Aso Rock come 2023.
Recently, the chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the PDP, Senator Walid Jibrin, who also commented on the raging debate, was quoted as saying his party would soon begin to search for the most qualified candidate among presidential hopefuls in the PDP. But he reportedly added that the candidate of the party in the 2019 general election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was free to contest if he so wished. He said Atiku is a Nigerian and has the right, like every other citizen, to contest in what has been generally interpreted as his acquiescence of the freedom of all the six zones to contest for the 2023 presidency,
Jibrin said: “On the presidential candidate, the PDP National Working Committee (NWC), in consultation with all relevant organs, will reveal the plan about our presidential candidate. I don’t think there is anything wrong to allow anybody from any zone to show interest, but our collective decision will bring out an agreeable candidate.”
Obasanjo (South-West) ruled for eight years from May 29, 1999 – May 29, 2007; the late Umaru Yar’Adua (North-West) ruled for about three years from May 29, 2007 – May 6, 2010 and Goodluck Jonathan (South-South) ruled for five years from May 6, 2010 – May 29, 2015. At present, President Buhari has ruled for four years and he is on the second leg of another for four years to make it eight years. Invariably, the North-West is credited with eleven years; South-West eight years, while the South-South has spent five years at the helm of affairs.
Apparently, the zones are still agitating for the exalted seat. Even, the South-West claims it is still its turn to produce the president. One of the reasons given is that the zone deserves the slot as a reward for its loyalty to President Buhari and the North. In what may sound absurd, a group in the South said Obasanjo was not the choice of the Yoruba when he ruled as president, pointing out that he was imposed by a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), late Mallam Adamu Ciroma and the northern cabal then. There have also been allegations that Obasanjo did not represent the interest of the Yoruba while in power between 1999 and 2007. It was claimed that his loyalty was to the northern bloc that brought him to power.
If the existing North/South zoning arrangement be employed in determining who should become the next president, some are of the opinion that the South-East should have it. The argument is that it remains the only geopolitical zone that has not produced president. This formed the basis of the agitation by the people of the zone to produce the next president in the spirit of equity and fairness, as the Igbo remains the only major ethnic group, out of three, that has not produced president for the country.
Bearing in mind the journey to Aso Rock in 2023 and the attending struggle for power, the overriding comments from prominent Nigerians revealed that, by 2023, the south-eastern zone should be allowed to produce the president. Asserting that the South-East is the only zone that is yet to produce president, Balarabe Musa said: “My personal opinion is that the presidency should go to the South-East for the purpose of equity, fairness, justice and national unity because it is the only zone that has never tasted the presidency in respect of the history of our nation. The North has had it, the South-West had it once and the South-South had it once. South-East is the only zone that has not had it. If we want fairness, unity and equality, we should all agree and allow the zone in 2023.” The elder statesman further submitted that Nigerians should look out for someone who is credible in the mould of the late Chief Nnamdi Azikwe, whom he referred as the Great Zik of Africa, to run for the presidency in 2023.
Olawale Albert, a professor of African History, Peace and Conflict Studies, at the University of Ibadan and the pioneer director of the institution’s Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies (IPSS), also toed the same path. He was of the view that the slot should naturally go to the South-East, on the principles of equity, justice and national unity.
Professor Albert further said: “I think what is debatable is which particular group in the South should have it? I think equity and justice will require that we give it to the South-East. It is noted that we have several people in the South-West who are interested in it. To keep Nigeria as one, I think everybody should just look in the direction of the South-East.”
However, some analysists argue that some factors should be taken into consideration for the South-East zone to realise its ambition in 2023. One of such is the strength of the political platform on which the zone wants to run in the sense that any candidate that is running on the ticket of either the PDP or the APC stands a better chance, the two being the major political parties around. For Professor Albert, care must be taken because the journey depends on which part of the country the APC and the PDP pick their candidates in 2023. He maintained: “Now, if the South-East will have it, I don’t see Nigerians dashing it out to the zone. The South-East should work for it adequately and this by strategically positioning themselves in any of the two major parties. The South-East cannot belong to a small political party and expect the rest of the country to vote for it in that small party. That is the problem that zone has been consistently having; it is not ready to belong to what I will call consequential political party.”
A lecturer at the Department of History, University of Ibadan, Dr David Ajayi, said zoning is a gentleman’s agreement, believing that, “Zoning, even being an unconstitutional arrangement, is a means of promoting equity especially in a plural society like Nigeria. If we are really serious about the zoning arrangement, equity and national unity, why should the South-West or the North struggle if we are really sincere, except we are saying that the South-East is not part of Nigeria?”
In like manner, Mr Gbenga Bamgbose, who dwelt on the delicate nature of the polity, especially now that the issue of leadership is gaining momentum, said: “Given the delicate configuration of the country, zoning should be a criterion so as to give every component a sense of belonging. From emotional perspective, the South-East should be given a serious consideration.” Speaking on what the failure to give it to the zone may portend, Bamgbose stressed, “Most definitely, the failure enhances the fault lines of ethnicity that have stunted the growth of the country for so long.”
But in a brief encounter with newsmen shortly after he held a closed-door meeting with President Buhari, recently, a leader of the APC and former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu, expressed reservations over the talks about the 2023 elections nay the presidency. He was apt and concise when newsmen pressed to know his stand on the issue: “It will be mere restlessness to talk about it now.”
However, the South-East zone is not leaving any stone unturned in their desire to produce as some Igbo leaders have formed a coalition to forge an alliance with groups in the South-West and the northern parts of the country over the Igbo presidency project. The groups said to be involved in the coalition include the Northern Equity and Justice Congress (NEJC), led by Aminu Mohammed; Yoruba Network for Nigeria Presidency of Igbo Extraction (YONNIPIE), with Femi Olufemi as the spokesman and the Niger Delta United for Nigeria Presidency of Igbo Extraction (NDUNPIE), led by Joshua Jaja. They have all come under the aegis of the Pan-Nigeria Presidency of Igbo Extraction Coalition (PANPIEC) with Aminu Mohammed as its national coordinator.