CONTACT US ON
WEEKS after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced February 28, 2023 date for the general election, KUNLE ODEREMI and SABIU MOHAMMED report that major camps of presidential hopefuls are upbeat in the bid to gain advantage and superiority in the political space.
Across the six political zones of the country, major power blocs and centres seem split over the battle for the presidency in 2023 and desperate in search for consensus.
The emerging power brokers are enmeshed in plots and counter-plots over power shift at the expiration of the tenure of incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari after a two-term of four years each. The split is based on fear and suspicion about the likely breach of the power rotation principle, especially in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the expedient power balancing mechanism ahead of the 2023 elections. For example, sources claimed that the APC may have found itself in a similar quagmire the PDP was prior to the 2015 presidential race before it resolved to retain its ticket in the southern part of the country. Apparently the APC leadership has not been comfortable with the attempt’s by some gladiators to jump the gun over the race for APC ticket in 2023. Hence, on May 7, it warned that it was premature for anyone, nursing a presidential ambition to embark on such journey midway into the renewal of mandate for party by the electorate in 2019. The warning came against the background that a couple of governors elected on APC platform have openly canvassed that the party’s ticket should go to the South in 2023, some forces within the party have aligned themselves with northern elders that the battle for the ticket be thrown up and based on merit on new terms. The elders gave the new conditions at the end of a summit held in Kaduna recently with Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh, in attendance.
But another flank within the APC is pushing for the former governor of Nasarawa State and now a serving senator, Al-Makura become the next substantive national champion of the party. There are indications that a former governor of Bauchi State, Isa Yuguda, also might throw his hat in the same ring. With such scenario, the presidential ticket of the APC will alternate from the North to the South in 2023. But that arrangement appears threatened by the agitation for a presidential candidate of Christian extraction from the minority ethnic groups from the North. For instance, names like a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara are said to be on the card. Yet, the promoters of the bid by the governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello for the APC ticket are unrelenting. Ditto the loyalists of a former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Ahmed Sani.
The party is also polarised along two major tendencies in the South-West. Some groups are promoting the ambition of a former governor of Lagos State and APC national leader, Chief Bola Tinubu. His bid is being promoted by sundry groups in both the North and the South, particularly the Southwest, including South-West Agenda for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (SWAGA). The latter, which comprises prominent names,has been lobbying stakeholders from the South-west, traditional rulers inclusive for endorsement and support.
The speculated presidential bid of incumbent governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, is engendering mutual suspicion in the APC South-West. The camp is also upbeat and confident in its principal galvanizing popular support and gaining the momentum to overcome all opposition because of perceived favourable disposition of external forces outside the region.
The battle for the 2023 presidency also underlines the frosty relationship between Senator Rochas Okoroacha and Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo State. The senator will require the support of his base and constituency in his renewed bid for the presidency in the next general election. There is uncertainty surrounding the alleged presidential ambition of Governor Dave Umahi as it was speculated to have been part of what informed his defection to the APC. The thinking is some circles is that the absence of a leader with an awesome and near cult influence in the party constitutes an albatross for the APC. This is partly based on the belief that PDP hawks favour the party picking its candidate from the North so as not to repeat perceived inappropriate calculations that cost it the presidency in 2015 when it conceded the ticket to the South. The assumption, this time, the preponderance of the North will vote PDP to complement electoral support mostly from the South-South and partly from the South-West and South-East.
However, there are those who believe the party might lose a substantial support of one of its main support base, South-East, which is vehemently demanding power shift to the zone in the interest of equity, fairness and justice. Vice-presidential candidate of the party in the 2019 poll and former governor Peter Obi, boardroom guru and former member of the House of Representatives, Chief Sam Ohuabunwa, as well as others from the South-East are believed to be interested in the PDP ticket.
Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark is among the strongest voice from the South-South that has lent support for a president of thee South-East extraction to succeed incumbent President Muhammad Buhari in 2023. He has advised anyone with a similar aspiration to shelf the idea, promising to mobilize the South-South for the cause, even though the Minister of Transport, Honourable Rotimi Amaechi is among speculated names from the zone for the presidency. The names from the North being linked to the 2023 PDP ticket include Atiku Abubakar, Aminu Tambuwal, Dr Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Senator Musa Kwakwanso, under an arrangement that the post of national chairman goes to the South-West, as a governor from the South-South is said to be keen on getting the slot of vice-president.
Unlike the 2015 presidential election, when Buhari as the candidate of the APC enjoyed massive support from the northern establishment, it is in doubt if any northerner could boast of such aura in the contest for the 2023 presidency under any party. Many of the hawks seem to realise this and have gone back to the drawing board to strategise ahead of the election. Notwithstanding the fact that Buhari hails from the North, some northern big wigs are strategising for the presidential seat, ostensibly for the North to retain power. The trend cuts across the PDP and the APC. In the 2019 election, both presented northerners as their candidates: Buhari and Atiku respectively. The emerging scenario revealed that the northern establishment indeed wants to jettison the idea of zoning to ‘pick’ someone who can galvanise all the zones, unite the country and assist the North to rediscover itself. But with the rising number of presidential hopefuls from the North-West, North-Central and North-East, the quest for a consensus choice is increasingly becoming slim. Each of the three zones in the North wants to have the presidency in 2023.
A top member of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), who would not like to be mentioned said, in an interview that the body and many other groups in the North believe that the president has not lived up to expectation on his pre-election promises in 2015 and 2019. He said this has informed the current search for alternatives. “We have looked at the present situation and concluded that we needed someone who would be able to transform our region, irrespective of where he comes from, in the next dispensation,” the source said. Another northern youth leader, Nasir Abubakar quipped: “We supported Buhari, but what have we gained from his presidency apart from the severe insecurity in the North? This is really sad.” Others against Buhari argued that the insecurity had degenerated to a hopeless situation that today in all the geopolitical zones, there is one form of criminality or the other. For instance, they argued that while the North-West is contending with banditry, rustling and kidnapping, the North-East is faced with tackling Boko Haram, while the North Central is in the throes of herders’ and farmers’ clashes. “As for the South-South, threats by militants remain pronounced; in the South-West, the issue of herders’ and farmers’ clashes have continued, while in the South East, the threat by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is on ground,” one of the sources declared. However, more worrisome is the belief in parts of the North that the country was deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines ever than before. According to them, the issue of ethnic profiling has become the order of the day. One of the leaders said: “We (North) are in government, yet others are calling us all manner of names. One can image what would happen, if we are no longer there.”
To some key northern elements, however, Buhari had done his best to towards improving the welfare of Nigerians, especially in the North. They argued that the majority of the problems of the country predated the current administration with claim that successive governments failed to tackle the woes.
Feelers showed that there are some northern leaders, who still insist that the presidency should go to the South in 2023. Among them are the governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje, Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Zulum and the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai. At different for a, they have individually expressed their views that power should shift to the South because the North has had its share.
For instance, the crisis between farmers and herders in the North-Central is so pronounced that states like Plateau, Nasarawa and Benue, are always in the news for the wrong reason. But more worrisome to the stakeholders in the zone is the perceived inability of the authorities to tackle the issue headlong. So, the crisis has triggered the strong agitation to have a minority as the president in 2023. According to pundits, since independence to date no minority or Christian from the zone has governed the country except General Yakubu Gowon, General Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar. They noted that no prominent politician in the zone has ruled the country, thus the formation of the North-Central Peoples Forum (NCPF) is meant to end the marginalisation of the people from the zone. Though, its interim chairman, Chief Gabriel Aduku, who is a former minister, as well as a former deputy President of the Senate, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu had severally denied they have pulled out of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), they maintained that the time had come for the zone to have a strong base where its problems and aspirations will be pursued.
The Hausa/Fulani, who are believed to be the major beneficiary of the present arrangement than other zones in the country, still want to hold sway. It produced the late Gen Murtala Muhammad, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua and incumbent President Muhammad Buhari. Yet, the zone is reportedly keen on contenting the 2023 presidency, as it boasts of the largest number of voters and population than the rest of the zones.
The North-East produced the late Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in the First Republic and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as vice-president in 1999, who is believed to still eyeing the presidency in 2023. One of the planks of the promoters of the cause is the need to placate the zone with the highest office in the land due to the devastation caused by Boko Haram.
The following are the likely politicians from the North-Central that might vy for the presidency: Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, former governor of Kano state, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, Governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai, former Kaduna State Governor, Ahmed Makarfi former, Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi ll and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami
From the North Central we have the former governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, former Senate President, Dr Saraki and another former Senate President, Senator David Mark. From the North-East, are Atiku; Governor of Bauchi state, Bala Mohammed; Dogara, former governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo and the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Gen Yusuf Buratai.
Piqued by the recent scenario and concern about who will pick the presidential ticket among those mentioned above, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) at a two-day summit, attended by representatives of 17 associations from the region, took far-reaching decisions. The convener of the summit, Professor Ango Abdullahi has set the ball rolling when he declared, “This summit is non-partisan, and has been designed to specifically address our inherent plurality in the North. We should commit to be dispassionate and brave enough to acknowledge where the North bleeds, and why. We must be mature enough to accept our limitations as a people, and identify what our sources of strength are. We must give hope to northerners that our current challenges will pass. This summit should signal a new era in collaboration between those who hold power, and those who have a duty to support them to succeed. We must send a message to people who are bent on assaulting and killing our people that they are treading a very dangerous path, and they must stop. It is not acceptable that innocent northerners should be made pawns in political games because political elite cannot win support of their people without yielding grounds to thugs and political minions to intimidate northerners. Accordingly, two crucial issues were adopted at the end of the summit: one was on restructuring and zoning of elective offices. According to the communique read by Professor Dent Danjuma Sheni, the leaders said they were for restructuring but that the North would not support the zoning of the presidency. A member of the Coalition of Northern Groups, Suleiman Abdul’Azzeez, who was a delegate at the summit, said the decision was arrived at after a cursory look at what he called unwarranted attacks of northerners in the South, with not a single prominent person from the zone openly condemning the incidents.
Umahi is the chairman of the South-East Governors Forum. He says his quest that the Igbo produce the next president is altruistic. “It is absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the South-East will never be considered to run for presidency under the PDP. And this is my position and will continue to be my position. It had nothing to do with me or my ambition. I want to clear the air that I never sought PDP presidential ticket and I will not. So whoever said that I moved to APC because they refused to zone the ticket to me is being very mischievous,” he declared.
On his part, Ohuabunwa once declared that his concern was not about if the PDP or the APC had taken a definite position on power shift. His words: “Whether the PDP and the APC delay their zoning or never do to the South-East, it is not the overriding consideration for me. I became the president of the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigeria (PAN) not because I am from the South-East: I became the chairman of the Nigerian Summit Group; it was not because I come from the South-East. I became chairman of the Nigerian Employers Association; it was not because I come from the South-East. Chairman, the Nigerian American chamber of commerce, it was not because I come from the South-East. For me. I was not picked because am from the South-East to lead the various organisations that I belong to.” Nonetheless, he harped on the need for justice, equity and fairness in determining where the next president of the country comes from. According to him, “I think that Nigerians are beginning to think that it is good to make the Presidency of this country to go round and after that, we can through it open, the way it is done in developed economies as industrialized nation. The way it is done in the industrialised nation. If we become industrialized nation, we will not be talking about East or West or North because whether you are East or West, when you do the right thing for the people, they do not care where you come from.” Ohuabuanwa justified the demand by many that the presidency goes to the South-East in the next dispensation. He expatiated: “We are going to get there and I think that one will work for us but it I also think that the people who are campaigning for South-East President come 2023 love this nation; they are doing right thing. This is because they want unity of the country. Those South-East people have said, for a long time, that we are marginalised. So, if we get a competent person with character from the region, we will be killing two birds with one stone.”
So far, nothing has been heard on the activities of a committee set up by the apex Igbo group, Ohanaeze