2023: Where does the pendulum swing?




Political maneuverings ahead 2023 elections have reportedly thrown up a flurry of nocturnal meetings, contenders and pretenders to the exalted presidential seat. As the clandestine move to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari thickens, KEHINDE OSASONA looks at certain issues and the challenges.

Power shift, 2023 game plans

Although the 2023 general elections are still about three years away, politicians across the various political parties have in their characteristic manner started manipulating the system.

Not only that, some politicians have reportedly unleashed their foot-soldiers; who have now been criss-crossing the country’s geopolitical zones and power blocs to curry supports for their principals.

Apart from banking on the provision of paragraph 137 (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which automatically excludes the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari’s from re-contesting, the politicians have also intensified their muscle-flexing and building of political alliances ahead of time.

The president is expected to bow out on May 29, 2023, after he would have served out the constitutionally allowed two terms.

But given the dynamics of politics in the country, the zoning dialogue which has remained perpetual in the nation discourse has again triggered sharp division amongst politicians across party lines and geo-political zone.

This medium recalls  that shortly after the country’s return to civil rule in 1999, the power shift debate took the centre stage and it was exhaustively deliberated upon.

Blueprint Weekend recalls that the unwritten arrangement between the country’s political players has seen the South had the presidency for 13 years with former President Olusegun Obasanjo (South-west, 1999-2007) and Goodluck Jonathan (South-south, 2010-2015) at the helm of affairs at different times. By the time Buhari completes his second term in 2023, the North would have completed its mandatory eight years of two terms in office.

But as Buhari was yet to complete his term, some northern political leaders have started canvassing the need for the North to hold on to power for at least another four years in order to be at par with the South.

Leading the advocacy in an interview, the national president of Arewa Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, said that there was no going back for the North’s bid for the 2023 Presidency.

The advocacy was to later gained ground among political elite from the region who momentarily bowed to pressure.

Although the proponents of the North ‘Beyond 2023 scheme’ like Junaid Mohammed, Babachir Lawal and Malam Nasir el-Rufai to mention a few had no intention of fielding Buhari again having read his body language, they have nevertheless all at one fora or another made a case for the abandonment of zoning arrangement in the country. Their stance notwithstanding, pundits in the political parlance are of the views that issue of zoning would not fizzle out yet, saying the zoning deal between the North and South has become somewhat a ghost haunting her.

But dousing the power shift tension in an interview last year, the organising secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Adamawa state, Alhaji Ahmed Lawal, was quoted as insisting that power must shift to the south in 2023.

According to Lawal, the call was premised on fairness and the support received by the north from the southern part to retain power for eight years.

The chieftain, who rejected comments from those he called “selfish northern politicians” intent on shortchanging the South in the scheme of power play, said further that power rotation in 2023 would enhance national cohesion in the ruling party.

He said, “The opponents were selfish, as they could not claim to be speaking for the entire region. We must rotate power to southern Nigeria in the spirit of equity, fairness and harmony.

“It was instructive that our political leaders sought from southerners while APC was mobilising during 2015 elections. It is glaring that they cooperated well as no southern APC politician contested the primary election during 2015 and even in 2019.

“If we want to be fair to them, let them too have a feel of power come 2023. It is also instructive that those singing northern power retention cannot speak for the north because they are not authorised.”

The mind game

Interestingly, just recently when the zoning debate was still raging, some of the proponents of 2023 Northern agenda made a detour.

While making a U-turn, the Kaduna state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, said to be one of the proponents, said the Presidency should return to the South after Buhari’s tenure, adding that it should be in conformity with the zonal arrangement embraced by the major political parties.

He said, “In the APC, we deliberately omitted rotational presidency in our constitution and the emergence of a presidential candidate does not take into account zoning and that was why in 2015, Rochas Okorocha from the South-east contested, Sam Nda-Isaiah contested, Buhari, Kwankwaso, and others contested.

“I can say that as distinct from the PDP, APC has no rotational presidency, but candidates are selected strictly on the basis of political merit and the general acceptability of the candidate.

“I want to say that those of us from Northern Nigeria honour agreements. We do not violate unwritten political agreements and I will be the last person to lead in violating that agreement. I may have a personal view, but that should be the basis. I don’t care where you come from as I look for merit.

“But as a group, the northern APC will have to sit down and endorse someone, most likely someone from the South. This is because after eight years of Buhari, I don’t think the Presidency should not remain in the North unless in some extenuating circumstances. But all things being equal, we will honour our agreement and we keep our words,” the governor noted further.

But many are still suspicious of el-Rufai’s detour, insisting that the South should not fall for the bait. They said it looks more like a mind game as none of those jostling to replace Buhari, whether in the ruling party or the opposition has come out in the open to declare interest.

However, reacting on the new twists, a political commentator and analyst, Ojo Makinde, described El-Rufai’s action and statement as an “after-thought.”

In an exclusive chat with Blueprint Weekend, Makinde wondered why the North would in the first place contemplate flexing power with any southerner in 2023?

He said, “For me, the north is merely playing ‘Oliver Twist.’ If not, why on earth would anyone from that region prop up debate on power retention in the first place? Or better still, what is the mind game playing up intends to achieve?

“Some of us as keen follower of political happenings have been watching their antics and zigzag statement immediately after the 2019 elections. My advice to them is that they should not overheat the polity because of their dangerous ambition.

“Again, even though politics for some people is dirty, the North can come clean by playing their politics well if and only if they want to continue to enjoy the South loyalty.”

According to Makinde, staying away in 2023 was the only way to quash the dangerous ambition being envisaged amongst some northern elite.

Tinubu’s ambition, Oshiomhole’s travails

Although the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, had during the inauguration of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state in 2017, hinted that he would not rule out the possibility of running for the office of president, but his statement was with a caveat: “It will only happen if there is a vacancy in the Presidency.”

Blueprint Weekend’s findings revealed that Tinubu has already polarised the South West and may have equally tear APC apart.

As if to confirm the news making the round that Tinubu’s ambition has thrown shiver down the spine of some powerful clique in the South-west, an Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo, had in a recent interview punctured Tinubu’s ambition, saying he was merely day-dreaming “if he thinks the North will support his 2023 presidential ambition.”

Consequently, the 90-year-old statesman advised the people of the South-west not to allow themselves to be fooled by Tinubu a second time.

Adebanjo said, “Tinubu is day-dreaming if he thinks the North will ever support his presidential ambition. We have our principles. We are not supporting Buhari under any circumstance and Tinubu cannot lead Yoruba land because all he has done is to lead us astray. All he has done for us is to give some of our people who are close to him appointments.

“Nothing tangible has been done for Yoruba land. He gave his stooges appointments, nothing more, nothing less. If he has done more than that, let him say it.”

Investigation revealed that as part of the plot to stop Tinubu, some South-west governor was allegedly working with the Yoruba group to stop Tinubu at all cost.

There was also an allegation that the two South-west governors, working with Obaseki have provided funds to a group of pseudo-researchers whose assignment was to come up with lies, through their fake survey and indict Adams Oshiomhole as the primary cause of APC crisis.

As a pointer to the sinister move orchestrated by the alleged warmongers in APC, just few days ago, it took a court pronouncement to rattle the embattled national chairman, Oshiomhole. The action which almost led to a renewed battle for the control of the party by members loyal to Oshiomhole and governors, lingered until the Presidency waded in.

Despite being nicknamed cat with nine lives who has survival instinct, the embattled Oshiomhole got a dose of the intra-party crisis when the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Jabi, ordered his suspension.

Delivering a ruling on an application for interlocutory injunction, Justice Danlami Senchi held that the party wrongfully continued to retain Oshiomhole ordering him to stop parading himself as the national chairman of the party.

But few hours after, Oshiomhole’s lawyer Wole Olanipekun, urged the Appeal Court to grant a motion ex parte staying the order of the lower court.

Olanipekun said, “Time is of the essence” and the matter should not be left until tomorrow because “between now and tomorrow is like eternity.”

After listening to counsel arguments, the court found merit in the application and made pronouncement that Oshiomhole should remain in office as APC chairman, at least until March 20.

Abubakar Yahaya held: “We are of the view that an emergency picture has been painted so that intervention by this court at this time and in this process (is) granted.

“We also hereby give an order of injunction restricting the respondents in the suit, their agents, their privies and all officers jointly or severally from proceeding to take any other steps to give effect to the said ruling pending the determination of the motion on notice.”

 After that failed, the APC governors moved to shop for Oshiomhole’s replacement as they almost convened an emergency meeting of the party’s NEC, where Oshiomhole’s successor would have emerged.

But political observers were of the views that were it not for Buhari and Tinubu timely intervention; the gang-up of those they called the fifth columnists and ambitious second term governors would have consumed the activist turned politician.

The contenders, pretenders

However, just as fierce debate over who succeeds Buhari and zoning rages, names of some personalities are presently being touted as hot contender to the office, while some other names keeps resonating as pretenders.

This reporter learnt that plotters within the APC caucus allegedly launched an attack against Oshiomhole solely because they perceive the chairman as an obstacle to their bids and plans to truncate Tinubu’s 2023 ambitions.

So far, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; El-Rufai; Ekiti state governor, Kayode Fayemi; former governor of Borno state, Kashin Shettima and former Zamfara state governor, Senator Sani Yerima, among several others have propped up as possible contender.

In the same vein, from the main opposition party, PDP name of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar again propped up, while Aminu Tambuwal and a former PDP deputy national chairman, Chief Olabode George, Donald Duke and lately the deposed Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido who we gathered was being dragged to the murky water of politics as a possible Vice presidential candidate come 2023.

APC, PDP react

When our correspondent asked the APC spokesperson, Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a telephone interview how the party was handling the intra-and inter party crisis ahead of 2023, he decline to speak, saying, “We are not discussing politics for now. We are not discussing 2023 or even politics for now. As the ruling party, we have serious issues like governance, how to end corruption in the country and lately the Coronavirus pandemic to contend with.”

“That is our main concern for now,” was what he muttered before ending the conversation.

In the same vein, when contacted, his counterpart in the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, told Blueprint Weekend that the party concern for now was not 2023, but how to end the coronavirus scare.

He said, “What we should be discussing for now should not be politics but the coronavirus scourge raging the globe, Nigeria inclusive. It is our concern however that the ruling party rises up to the challenge.”

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