2023: North, South on collision course over zoning

‘…Zoning primitive, normative mindset’

…Let’s jettison it – Arewa Forum

‘…For fairness, unity, South should be next’

…It’ll remain recurring decimal if… – Don

…We should think about our future, not zoning – NGO

One of the dominant discourses in Nigeria’s political terrain these days is the issue of which region of the country should produce the president in 2023. However, the issue is gradually pitching the southern and northern regions against each other. TOPE SUNDAY and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU take a look at the scenarios.

Barely two years to the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, the agitations over which zone should produce the president has taken the centre stage. As at the last count, the North and the South have spoken loudly and made their positions known. The southerners believe it is their turn to produce the president while the northerners insist that competence should be the basis in settling for the next president.

The South-west ambition

In July 2020, the people of the South-west through a pan socio-cultural group, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), declared that the Yoruba nation was ready to take over from President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023, and called on prominent Yoruba leaders to urgently address the division among its ranks to ensure that the region ultimately clinches the presidential nod.

The body’s publicity secretary in Ekiti state, Prince Michael Ogungbemi, while speaking with journalists, said the zone has both the human and material resources to prosecute its ambition, and asked the political leaders of the region to embark on consultations with a view to clinching the presidency.

The South-west claims that it had an unwritten agreement with the North when the All Progressives Congress (APC) was formed to take over from President Buhari after completing eight years in office.

Govs’ demand

Also, on July 5, this year, the Southern Governors Forum, a forum for the governors from the South-east, South-south and South-west geo-political zones, converged on Lagos state and demanded that the 2023 presidency be zoned to the South. Rising from its meeting in Lagos, the Forum stated that the presidency should be rotated between the North and the South.

Specifically, the governors demanded that the next president of the country should emerge from the South in the spirit of equity and fairness.

Northerners kick

Though, the Forum raised a number of issues in its communiqué issued at the Lagos meeting, the demands for rotational presidency and zoning were vehemently opposed to by some Northern elite. Leading the debate, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) rejected the demand that it was turn of the South to produce the next president.

The Forum in a statement issued by its director of publicity and advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, disclosed that the North would not be gagged and compelled into yielding a democratically elected office that is the right of all to any interest through intimidation.

Lending his voice to the NEF’s, the national chairman of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Sani Yabagi, said the decision of the Forum to have the presidency zoned to the South was a gang-up against the North.

Similarly, a chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Barrister Garus Gololo, argued that the southern governors had no right to force northerners to support their position.

“We are running a democratic government and any decision the southern governors take on where the next president should come from is wrong. It is basically a decision that will be made by the Nigerian voters. Voters reserve the right to exercise their right to choose which candidate they prefer.

“Southern governors did not discuss the IPOB, banditary, kidnapping and other criminal activities in the country, but they are discussing how the presidency would come to their region. It is very bad. We, the northerners, will not accept their decision,” he said.

Apologists at loggerheads

While notable leaders from the both regions have stated their preferences, some apologists from the two regions have taken to the social media to either support the demand or kick against it. Those for the South argued that there should be equity in the sharing of public offices, while those for the North hinged their argument on the premise that leadership should be on merit irrespective of region and religion.   

 A social media user, Mohammed Sanni Ya’u, said zoning is neither a constitutional provision nor a sacred cow in the nation’s democracy, stating that zoning is primitive and a normative mindset.

He said: “They (southern governors) are entitled to their opinion. Zoning of presidency is not a constitutional provision, and neither is it a sacred cow in the Nigerian democracy. The zoning formula is purely tribalistic, regional, and even religiously motivated and embedded. True democrats shall not take it. This is because democracy is a game of numbers, not a game of tribe, region and religion. Numerical strength is the yardstick and a final judge in authentic democracy. So, zoning is primitive and a normative mindset.”

Likewise, another user, Yerima Aibas, said: “Leadership should be on merit irrespective of region and religion. We are in a democratic dispensation. A few groups of people will not just hold a meeting and tell us their resolutions. They cannot speak for the masses. I don’t care if the presidency still remains in the North if and only if the candidate is credible and can deliver.”

On his part, Isa H. Dantiye doubted that the South has the political strength to win the seat, adding that competence should be considered.

“Let’s see if they have what it takes to win the election. We, Northerners, have what it takes. I’m sure our governors will retaliate against this unfortunate issue. Let’s get together and choose someone who has what it takes to make this country better, and not based on tribalism and regional basis,” he said.

 However, Esandegbo Iluobe thinks no region can produce the president without the assistance of other regions and insisted that it is the turn of the South to produce the next president, arguing that the North would have ruled for eight years as the expiration of the tenure of the current president.

“No region can produce the president without the assistance of others. However, it is the turn of the South after the North has done eight years (at the expiration of Buhari’s tenure). Buhari contested three times and only got 12 million votes in the North and it was until the South-west helped him in 2015 and 2019 to get 25% from 25 states as the constitutional requirement to become president of Nigeria,” he said. 

Also, Clifford Amadi contented that there should be equity in the sharing of public  offices, arguing that the North would have spent 16 years in power if the Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was voted in 2019 as the president.

Amadi said: “There should be equity in sharing of public offices. Assuming we vote a Northerner from the PDP as the president it means the North will have 16 years in power. This is not the way to ensure balance.”

 John Maximus said: ‘’The Northerners believe that zoning is not constitutional. But the quota system, parasitic resources sharing formula, one sided political appointment and 30% share for oil exploration is constitutional?

But Jonathan Pwajok cautioned that if power does not move to the South, secessionists may succeed in their agitations.

 “I see the position of the Southern governors representing a subtle diplomatic threat to the effect that if power does not move to the South, secessionists may succeed,” he said.

Arewa Forum’s position

In his view, the national president, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYFC), Yerima Shettima, urged the political class, parties and other stakeholders to jettison zoning for competence in the 2023 elections. Shettima in an exclusive interview with Blueprint Weekend insisted that zoning has done no good for Nigeria.

He said, “I maintain my stand that power should remain in the north come 2023. It is not about the south, it is about democracy. It is about the democratic process; we should do it and practice it right if we truly claim we are democratic.

“It is not about power remaining in the North, it is about competence. Nigeria will have to decide who the president would be and not by the South intimidating the North. Let us go to the polls, the number determines who wins.

“So, the question we should also ask those who are blackmailing the North for power in 2023 is, who is afraid of the North? Regardless of zoning, let us go through a democratic process. We don’t intend to force anybody to do anything and we don’t intend also to cause more havoc. Of course, the country is more divided than we were in the past. 

“Let us do away and jettison this rotational presidency because it has not in any way given us any good result as a country. And if we are going back, insisting that it has to be zoned, where were those people who are agitating or clamouring for zoning arrangement in 2011, when Goodluck Ebele Jonathan went ahead and contested against all odds? It should be open for all, so that the most competent person will emerge to lead our country.”

Southern Frontier’s stance

In his thinking, the spokesman of Southern Nigeria Frontier, Olufemi Akindele Lawson, noted that the South has competent people that can lead the country to the Promised Land, insisting that power should shift to that region in 2023 for fairness, equity, unity and meaningful development.

Lawson in a phone chat with one of our correspondents said: “We have a position and our position remains in tandem with the position of southern Nigeria leadership, including the governors and political leaders that come 2023 power must return to the south. 

“Though, we have not agreed on micro-zoning on which side of the South should produce the president in 2023. In the spirit of equity and fairness, it is only responsible for every Nigerian to expect that power will shift to the South having had the president twice coming from the North.

“I think it will be selfish on the side of the North or the stakeholders from the North to begin to demand that power remains in the North at this critical time that we need to promote National unity. It may not be a constitutional issue as far as rotational Presidency is concerned, but there have been what we refer to as convention and tradition. That power rotation is in the interest of promoting national unity and fairness for a country that is so diverse along with ethnic and religious bias. 

“Well, it is not in the power of the North and South to determine who becomes the President in 2023, the Nigerian people, I know are very sensitive, they are conscious of our multi-ethnic diversity and our current reality. So they will decide who the next President of Nigeria would be and I know the Nigerian people, including those from the North will support a Southern candidate come 2023.”

When asked about competence, he said: “There are competent people in the South too. As matter of fact, the South-west, South-east and South-south will put before Nigeria their most competent candidates for Nigerians, including the North, to pick from. So, we can not jettison zoning for competence, but rather consider competence in zoning arrangement.”

An expert’s take

However, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Federal University Oye Ekiti, Ekiti state, Mr. Kunle Olowojolu, said zoning will remain a recurring decimal in the country’s political system until Nigerians outgrow ethno-religious cleavages and embrace national unity and quality leadership.

 Olowojolu, speaking with Blueprint Weekend, said though zoning was not enshrined in the Nigerian constitution,  the complexity of Nigeria’s political system which is characterised by ethno-religious factors makes it relevant for peace and stability of the country.

“Zoning or rotational presidency is not enshrined in the Nigerian constitution. However, because of the complexity of Nigeria’s political system which is characterised by ethno-religious factors, the zoning formula becomes relevant for peace and stability of the country.

“It is a common knowledge that the Fourth Republic was birthed through zoning of the presidency to the South-west due to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. Until we outgrow ethno-religious cleavages and embrace national unity and quality leadership, zoning will remain a recurring decimal in our political system,” he said.

FAIRER’s admonition

In his suggestion, the lead advocate, Female Advocacy for Inter-Ethnic Relations (FAIRER), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Zubaiba Baba Ibrahim, told this medium that competency should be considered while scouting for the next president.

 “I can’t really say if I am for or against (the zoning of the presidency). No matter who the president is or where the political appointments favour, what have they done for the people? For us, we are looking for competence.  If he has the experience, if he has the capacity to build the people and take us to a greater Nigeria, that is what we are looking for.  

“For us, to say that the president must come from the South, the North or North-central is wrong. It is a flawed way of thinking. Our leaders should have experience and we should ask what he has done in the past that qualifies him to lead us. That is what we should be looking at.

“We should not be looking at the zone or zoning. In 2023, we should be thinking of our future and not zoning. Can we now say that since President Buhari is Fulani, all Fulani are enjoying,” she said.

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