Onyekachi Eze reports on the festering war of attrition between political leaders of northern and southern extractions over where the next president of Nigeria will come from
Though the next presidential election is about three years and four months away, the debate on where the next president would come from has taken the centre stage. Interestingly, this has pitched the North against South, with leaders of both regions in vociferous attacks on each other.
Chief Edwin Clark, National Leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), appears to be leading southern agitators, while former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof. Ango Abdullahi is one of the vocal voices from the North.
Out of 15 civilian and military leaders that ruled Nigeria since independence, 10, including the incumbent, are from the North while five are from the South.
It was to correct this imbalance that led the 1994 Constitutional Conference to adopt rotational presidency. This is supposed to be between the North and the South. But this is not yet a constitutional provision.
Rotational presidency became operational when Nigeria returned to civil democracy in 1999. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which won the presidency in 1999, adopted rotational presidency as a “gentleman agreement,” though the party abused the policy in 2015, when it failed to field a northern candidate at the expiration of President Goodluck Jonathan presidency.
Clark said this much, when he argued that one of the reasons Nigerians voted against the PDP in 2015 was because it abandoned the rotation of the presidency between North and South.
Yinka Odumakin, National Publicity Secretary of Yoruba socio-cultural group Afenifere, also noted: “We were all here in 2014-15, when politicians from the North almost brought heaven down on earth over ‘its own turn.’”
The 1994 Constitutional Conference divided the country into six geopolitical zones – South-East, South-South, South-West, North-West, North-East and North Central. Apart from the rotation between North and South, the presidency is also expected to rotate among the six geopolitical zones.
Since 1999, three geopolitical zones – South-West, North-West and South-South, have produced the president, while four of the zones – North-East, South-South, South-West and North-West have produced the vice president.
The South-East and North Central have neither produced the president or vice president of Nigeria since the return of civil rule. The North-West has produced the president twice, as well as vice president, since 1999.
Clark, who is from South-South, however is supporting the South-East to produce the next president after President Muhammadu Buhari.
His words: “Now after it (the presidency) has been zoned to the North, after eight years, it will come to the South and I am surprised … at people wanting to become president of Nigeria from a certain southern area, when the whole of the East, which is a very vital part of this country is yet produce a president.
“No matter whatever anybody says, the South-East is a very important part of this country before and after independence, you cannot push them aside. You just cannot. They must be considered in any rotational matter about the presidency for 2023. It is funny somebody just coming out, saying that rotation is abolished, that it does not exist because one competent or intelligent fellow is needed.
“Competent leaders abound everywhere among the different zones in Nigeria, so nobody should underrate any area of this country. The moment you are treating a certain area of this country as inferior people, as second class people, as people who are not equal to the others, then there is no peace, there is no country,” Clark argued.
Unlike PDP, many believe that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has not yet seen the whole country as its constituency. The party believes it is accepted only in the North and South-West. That is why it excludes the South-East and South-South in its appointments and development projects.
The party hinged its calculation for the 2023 presidency between the North and South-West, but not with South-East because the region does not vote for APC during the election.
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said South East has no claim for presidency in 2023 because they did not vote for APC in 2019 presidential election.
“I don’t know what they will do now for voting against the APC. For refusing to support the APC, they cannot come to the table to demand the presidency slot.
“For people like us in the APC, if the Igbo had come and voted Buhari, they would boldly tell Mr. President and the National Chairman of the party that presidency should go the South East since the South-South; South West and North West have produced president. What argument would the South East come up with now to convince anybody that they deserve the slot for 2023 president?” Amaechi asked.
But the vice presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 election, Peter Obi, said Amaechi was not the right person to judge PDP because APC performed woefully in Rivers State, where he comes from.
“He (Amaechi) is not in any position to make such statements because even he that is in APC; he did not contribute anything to the success of that election. He did not even achieve anything in his own state. Those of us from the South-East, who are in the PDP contributed to the success of our party.
“For example, PDP in my state got 95 per cent. They (APC) didn’t even get 25 per cent in Rivers State. So, he is not competent to speak on the presidency in 2023,” Obi stated.
If electoral performance is anything to go by, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had no reason seeking second term in office on the platform of PDP in 2003. Obasanjo lost even his ward to the then Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 1999, but went ahead to win the presidency. He was, however, able to reverse this in the 2003 general election.
As it is, APC may be looking towards South-West for its presidential candidate in 2023. This is the only region in the South where the party has strong presence. Out of the six states in the region, APC is in control of five.
Elder statesman, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN) said the South West region is well positioned to produce President Buhari’s successor in 2023.
He hinged his argument on the fact that since 1999, presidency goes to any region where two of the three major tribes – Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa/Fulani – formed an alliance.
“The problem in Nigeria is that the politician has created for themselves a situation where if two of them gather against the third one, they will want political power to be rotating among themselves.
“There are three major tribes – the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa. Where two of these major tribes gang up, that is where the power is going.
“In 1999, Obasanjo wasn’t sponsored by the Yoruba, even though he was a Yoruba man; the Yoruba rejected him, and sponsored Olu Falae. But northerners and the Igbo voted for him; the Yoruba never voted for him and he still won because the Northern Hausa and the Eastern Igbo decided to support him.
“In 2003, Obasanjo came for the second term; again, he was not sponsored by the Yoruba; the Yoruba put up another candidate, but still he won.
“In 2007, Yar’Adua was not supported by the Yoruba, but the Igbo supported the North and he won.
“In 2011, Jonathan came in, he’s not a northerner, but he was supported by the North and the Igbo, and he won. Having realised that power is between two of these sects, the Yoruba and the Hausa merged in 2015 and they produced Buhari.
“In 2023, if the Igbo don’t find themselves holding onto the Yoruba as friends or the Hausa as friends and allow the Hausa and the Yoruba to hold themselves together as in 2015, then that ticket will produce the president.
“That means the Yoruba will produce the president and the North will produce the vice president because that is the reality of the number. Politics is in number.
“Since the demise of Zik, the Igbo had never had a leader and that is the fault of the Igbo race today. If tomorrow, the Igbo bring out a young vibrant Igbo leader who can now find his way either to go with the northern Hausa and form alliance or the Yoruba and form alliance, then the hope of an Igbo president in Nigeria will come up,” Clarke maintained.
But the North said it is not yet done with the presidency. Some elements in the region said it has not yet done with the number one position because the North has been shortchanged in key positions of government.
Coalition of Northern Groups (CNGs), blamed the contest over where the next president would come from on the elite, whom it said is a way to manipulate the people.
Leader of the group, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, argued that presidency does not guarantee development to the region where it is zoned to.
“This is because northerners have held power for most of Nigeria’s existence. Why are we the most backward then? The South-East has just held power just nominally during the First Republic, but why then are they the most developed?
“So, all this noise about where the president comes from is just an elitist way of manipulating our thinking. Don’t we have governors from our localities? What are they doing for us? We even have local government chairmen. Are they working for us?” he asked.
The group however wants a renegotiation of the current political alliance between the North and South-West, which it claimed was becoming unhealthy for the North.
Instead, it called for realignment between the North, South-East and South-South, which he described as the region’s “traditional political friends.”
CNGs said: “What needs to be done by the North is not to insist that power must remain in the region which in any case, does not even serve the interest of the larger population of northerners.
“What is important at this point is for the northern political leadership to renegotiate its current alliance with the South-West which has never been North’s political ally.
“The alliance is already turning out to be unhealthy. We are already calling on the northern elders and leaders to review the region’s position by realigning with our traditional political friends which are the South-East and South-South.
“What is happening to us in the North now, are we happy that we have a Northerner as a president? We are not getting anything. So, the North will be better off with a Southern president who would provide services to everybody.
“It is the elite who have not allowed us to think Nigeria by making us think in terms of ethnicity and religion so that they can control us.”