AbeyaNews political Correspondent, ONYEKA RUFUS ONYEKA examines the clamour for the next President of Nigeria to come from the South East and concludes that, all things considered, the presidency is, indeed, for the Igbo to win come 2023.
Ahead of the 2023 presidential election, the people of South East geo-political zone have made clear their aspiration to produce the next president of the country. Irrespective of political affiliations, political leaders in the zone have been united in their quest for the zone to produce Nigeria’s next leader. The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has also been championing the cause lately. Although it is widely agreed that power must be taken and never given, which in this case means that the South East cannot clinch the presidency by merely clamouring for it, there are many factors that could work in the favour of the zone.
Top on the list of such factors is the zoning arrangement. In recent days, there have been arguments for and against the concept of power shift in the country, the gentleman’s agreement that resulted in power rotating between the North and the South every eight years. The latest of such came from President Muhammadu Buhari’s nephew, Mallam Mamman Daura, who in a recent interview with the BBC Hausa Service, urged Nigerians to embrace competence, and not zoning, in determining the next president in 2023.
“This turn-by-turn, it was done once, it was done twice, and it was done thrice… It is better for this country to be one…It should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere,” he said.
Before Daura’s comments, leader of the Northern Elders Forum
(NEF), Prof. Ango Abdullahi had also spoken against zoning.
In an interview with a national newspaper in June, this year, Abdullahi said: “This thing now has to die. The question of my turn today, your turn tomorrow must die. What should be alive is: where is a good Nigerian who will run this country efficiently and effectively? All this bojuboju must stop,” he said.
Although the zoning arrangement has no basis in the 1999 constitution, which lists the qualifications for election to the office of the president in Section 131 to include being a citizen of Nigeria by birth; attaining the age of 35 years; being a member of a political party and sponsored by that political party; and having been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent, it has become more or less a norm. A cross section of Nigerians believes it has helped to engender unity in the country.
It was originally an internal arrangement of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose constitution enjoins members to ensure equitable distribution of political offices in order to give every section of the country a sense of belonging. So, at the end of a Southerner, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure in 2007, the party worked hard to ensure that power returned to the North with the election of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from Katsina State. The arrangement suffered a temporary setback with the death of Yar’Adua on May 5, 2010, as his Vice, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan from the South-South geopolitical zone, inherited the office and went ahead to win the 2011 presidential election. In 2015, the North opposed Jonathan’s bid for a second term in office on the grounds that they needed to complete their turn, which was truncated by Yar’Adua’s death.
Two years before the election, NEF had vowed that they would mobilise their people to support any party that was willing to ensure that the region regained power.
“I was one of the founding members of the PDP who outlined the zoning formula of presidency between North and South but unfortunately, following the demise of former president, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the formula was immediately put aside to achieve unjustifiable course. Presently, we don’t have a particular political party or presidential candidate, rather the North is our party and candidate. We will join forces with anyone willing to see the restoration of power to the region,” said Abdullahi, who was then the Secretary of the NEF.
When the PDP ignored the threat and fielded Jonathan, the group, in alliance with other interests, made good their threat by ensuring that Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the March 28, 2015, presidential election.
Too many political observers, Buhari’s victory at the polls and his re-election in 2019 did not only restore the zoning arrangement but also deepened it. The expectation, therefore, is that power will shift to the South in 2023. Meanwhile, within the South, it is only the South East that has not had a turn at the presidency since 1999. It is against this backdrop that the zone is laying claim to the seat in 2023.
“The South East is the only region in the South that has not had a turn at the presidency going by the zoning convention since 1999. The South West has had eight years; the South-south has had six years. We have equity and justice on our side,” said a chieftain of the APC, Mr Osita Okechukwu, in an interview.
For the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, equity demands that the South East produces the next president of the country. Reacting specifically to Daura’s comments, he said: “He should have said this before the 2015 elections. They ganged up to push President Jonathan aside because they believed it was the turn of the North to produce the President. Having benefited enormously from his nephew being the President, he now wants it jettisoned because it is the turn of the South.
“Talking about competence or most qualified, was President Buhari the most qualified Nigerian when he ascended the presidency? Has he proved to be the most competent? Are the Service Chiefs the most competent among their colleagues to warrant their being retained beyond their tenure?
“Now that it is the turn of the South, precisely South East, he is mouthing most qualified and competent. Equity is a constant flagship for peace and good governance. Without it, there will be continued agitation and crisis,” Nwodo said.
Also, the Igbo Leadership Development Foundation (ILDF), in a recent statement, noted that it has started shopping for potential and credible personalities who could be candidates of both the ruling APC and the opposition PDP in 2023.
The group stressed: “Since South West and South-South have occupied the office in the current dispensation, the South East is next in line in the spirit of the rotation principle, fairness, equity and good judgment. This will bring an end to the manifest marginalisation of the South East. This will foster national unity, and also bring to a close the bitterness of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, which has lingered for 50 years since the end of hostilities and engender unity.”
The foregoing clearly shows why the zone is strongly laying claim to the position and their reasons may resonate with well-meaning Nigerians before the 2023 electioneering begins in earnest.
The present representation of the zone in the two dominant political parties in the country is also another factor that cannot be wished away. Gone are the days when the South East put all their eggs in the basket of the PDP; the people are equally entrenched in the ruling APC. Today, the ruling party parades notable politicians in the zone who have built bridges across the nation. These include former Senate President, Ken Nnamani; Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige; former Governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu; former Governor of Imo State, Chief Rochas Okorocha; former National Vice Chairman of APC, South East Zone, Hon Emma Eneukwu; former Minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr. Emeka Wogu, Director General of Voice of Nigeria, Osita Okechukwu and former national Chairman of the Progressive Peoples Alliance; Chief Chekwas Okorie, among many others. The APC also controls the levers of power in Imo State. The PDP controls Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia States, while Anambra, which is currently under the control of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) will be up for grabs next year.
So, when it gets to the point of the parties choosing their presidential flag bearers, it would be difficult to shove the zone aside in either the PDP or APC. In fact, if the result of the 2019 presidential election is anything to go by, the zone played the good boy to both the PDP and the APC. And this is where the third factor comes in.
Ahead of the election, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), asked the South East to endorse President Buhari’s re-election bid in order to secure the presidency in 2023. With Atiku Abubakar of the PDP choosing his running mate from the area in the person of former Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, the zone was torn between heeding the SGF’s call and supporting Abubakar. Abubakar had, on his part, promised that he would serve one term and return power to the South, in which case the South East. It was a typical case of being between the devil and the deep blue sea. Without going into the drama that played out in deciding which path to toe, facts showed that the zone demonstrated political shrewdness. When the result of the election was announced, Atiku got the overwhelming majority in the zone with about 1.6 million votes but Buhari secured 25 per cent or more of the votes cast in three of the five states, which enabled him to meet the constitutional requirement of 25 per cent votes in at least 24 states. The result also showed a sharp rise in Buhari’s votes tally in the zone from 198, 248 in 2015 to 403,958 votes in 2019. With the result, APC achieved over 100 per cent increase in 2019 compared to the 2015 performance in the zone.
So, did the South East people support Buhari’s re-election bid? The answer is yes. Can the people insist on the fulfillment of the SGF’s pledge? The answer is also yes. Nevertheless, how this factor and the other two play out in the days and weeks, perhaps even months, to come would depend largely on the level of dexterity political leaders of the zone deploy in prosecuting the 2023 Igbo presidency project.