Back to trenches as regions decide on zoning

Zoning of the presidential ticket appears to be the most discussed topic ahead the 2023 general elections, just as regional leaders and groups harmonise positions and make demands, KEHINDE OSASONA writes.

As the 2023 general elections draw nearer, political commentators have accused the North of deploying its usual strategy of bullying the South with its numerical strength in order to retain power and have the state of affairs under its control by seeking that the presidential race be thrown open to both region against traditional practice since the return of democracy in 1999.

The South has continued to resist, stating that an ‘open’ race is antithetical to equitable power distribution.

While echoing the region views at a press conference, recently, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) had insisted that zoning and rotation of key political positions cannot be discarded in a diverse and complex society like Nigeria, adding that the region would resist an attempt to politically colonise its people

PANDEF Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, while appealing for concession of the presidency to the Igbo in 2023, regretted that Nigeria could not be described as a tripod anymore.

According to Clark, the country was currently on 36 legs which if broken, would not augur well for the country’s co-existence.

“The young ones who belong to the disadvantaged legs are fighting and people are pretending not to know why. The other part of this disturbing issue is the question of who has the right over Nigeria?

“Who is that child, from what part of Nigeria? Who will say no, you cannot destroy our country? You can no longer relegate us to the background,” he stated.

Similarly, the Afenifere Leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, at a recent parley, wondered why political leaders from the North were propounding a lot of theories, when they realised that it was the turn of the South to produce the president.

Adebanjo noted that all the talk about aspirants from the South going to lobby, campaign, and sell themselves was all rigmarole, stressing that the North knows the truth.

“Although I don’t like all the people that came out from the East, for the fact that they are saying you have no people I’m happy you demonstrated that you have people. Go and unite. A house divided will not stand.

“What right does the antagonist have that the protagonist does not have? What right do you have that the man you are accusing of disturbing you does not have? The reality is that the man who wants to destroy and the one who is preventing the destruction have equal rights” he stated further.

Taking its own stance on the issue, however, the Southern and Middle Belt Forum (SMBLF) in a communiqué, warned the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) and others in the region to halt its plot, arguing that jettisoning zoning would be a huge threat to Nigeria’s unity.

The Forum also slammed the NEF Chairman, Ango Abdullahi, for saying zoning was “dead and buried”, even as he maintained  that zoning was important for the country to remain a federation.

NEF in a communiqué signed by former Vice-Chancellor, Plateau State University, Prof. Doknan Danjuma Shenni, posited that the clamour for parties to zone their presidential tickets to the South-east was not healthy for the country as the 2023 elections approached.

The communiqué titled: “2023 Presidency: Northern Elders Kick against Zoning” among other issues stated that the 2023 presidential contest should be left open to every region of the country for the best candidate to emerge.”

However, SMBLF argued that, “It has become necessary to underscore that Ango Abdullahi, with his established disposition of worrying inconsistency, tending to duplicity, is one of the people disturbing the polity and peace of Nigeria.

“A few days ago, this same Ango fumbled with the idea of a so-called consensus arrangement for northern presidential aspirants, the backlash of which he has not come out with, to now spring this reckless declaration that zoning is ‘dead and buried.”

In all of these, keen followers of political events in the country have continued to castigate the North for its lust for power and attempt to scheme out the other region in the permutation for the presidency in 2023.

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a political commentator Olaniyi Awopetu said all the political drama playing out in the country was being orchestrated by ‘5th columnists’.

He said, “These people abound in both parties and they are good at playing muddy whenever their interest or that of their region is involved. So, for me the 2023 elections would not be an exception but I can assure Nigerians that this too will pass.”

Who blinks first?

While the southern region was yet to overcome alleged plot by the North to retain power, in-fighting over whose turn it was to put forward a presidential candidate appears to be tearing the South apart.

As at last counts, over 30 aspirants have emerged from both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Bauchi state Governor, Bala Mohammed; and Sokoto state Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal Aminu; all from the North, among the major contenders.

While justifying his entrance in the race for the coveted seat for the record fourth time, at a meeting with members of the ‘Let’s Fix Nigeria’, recently, Atiku faulted the call on the PDP to zone its presidential ticket to a particular region of the country.

Citing the Constitution, he said: “All of us can run. The Constitution has not barred any one of us. There is no zoning in the Constitution; there is none. I was a member of the constituent assembly that drafted the current Constitution and there was nothing like that,” he argued.

As that was still raging, checks by this medium revealed the lobbying for micro-zoning to the South-west, South-east or South-south has continued unabated and may have torn gladiators and aspirants in the region apart.

Aside scores that have intensified interest in the presidency from the South, former Governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former Governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi; Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, are being touted as the big masquerade, a development that may further polarise the region along tribal and religious divides.

In the APC, the South-west’s claim is that it was a critical factor in the alliance that produced President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.

According to party leaders from the region, which claims to be the party’s strongest ally and stronghold in the South, there was an agreement over power shift that should be honoured.

South-west APC leaders also claim that although the zone produced President Olusegun Obasanjo, he was of the PDP hence the need for the zone to produce an APC president from the Progressives in the South-west.

Similarly, the South-south, which produced President Goodluck Jonathan, claims the oil-rich was a major stakeholder in the APC and indeed, Nigeria and deserved to produce the APC presidential candidate.

The South-east on its part claims the region has had not had a shot at presidency aside Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s six years of ceremonial presidency and six months of Major General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi’s military regime.

Way forward?

Going by the assertion by PANDEF, all stakeholders in the Nigeria project should by now have broad understanding of the political interplays and democratic considerations that have sustained and kept Nigeria together as a country.

The issue of zoning according to the group cannot be swept under the carpet, just as PANDEF maintained that any region that cannot abide by the established principle of rotation and zoning between the North and South has jeopardised the ‘one Nigeria’ slogan.