Open-grazing, VAT, others: Danger as North, South govs tango




…South blackmailing North for power shift – APC chieftain 

…PDP’ll re-visit Bala-led c’ttee on zoning – Spokesman

…Every country has its own peculiarities – Olujimi

‘…Anti-open grazing law’ll protect citizens’

‘…VAT being used for North to cede presidency’

Ahead 2023 general elections, the battle of wits has started between the North and the South political elite with governors and ethnic champions fanning the embers of dispute. In this report, BODE OLAGOKE, TAIYE ODEWALE, TOPE SUNDAY, SAMSON BENJAMIN and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU, dug deep into the agitations and the implications.

Background 

The 17 Southern governors had demanded at a meeting in Lagos that the South should be allowed to take a shot at the presidency in 2023.

According to them, “The Forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern Region.”

Reacting to their position, their counterparts in the North at a meeting in Kaduna, rejected rotational presidency, saying it was against the constitution of the country.

The chairman of the Forum, the Plateau state governor, Simon Lalong, said, “Some Northern states governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to the three geo-political zones in the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the nation.

“Notwithstanding their comments, the Forum unanimously condemns the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the Presidency must go to the South. The statement is quite contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended that the elected President shall:- score the majority votes; score at least 25% of the votes cast in 2/3 States of the Federation.”

Gloom

Speaking on the likely danger of jettisoning zoning or otherwise, a political analyst, Towoju Mercy, said ever since Nigeria gained Independence in 1960, there have been issues of tribalism in the Nigerian presidency.

She said, “Presidency ought to be based on merit and people’s mandate but it’s had turned to a post which a particular tribe is ready to dominate. The presidential seat is not exclusively reserved for a particular group but for those who merit it and those that can hold the mantle of leadership.

“There are a lot of dangers that are about to set in, one of which is inter-regional or inter-tribal clash. I think it’s high time the Northerners should take a shift from the presidential seat and allow the southern region to enjoy the benefit of being a part of Nigeria. The fact is that it should be accepted that we are divided so let each tribe showcase what they are up to and the package they have for the country.”

Another political commentator, Success Ohia, said any attempt to jettison the zoning’s unwritten agreement will only further fuel secession agitations and which will endanger the already fragile unity of the country.

“I foresee a great danger in the country, because, it will not be in the interest of the country for the north to hold on to power in 2023, because doing so would be to the detriment of the fragile unity of the country, which is against the constitution in section 15(1) which states that ‘the motto of the federal republic of Nigeria shall be unity and faith, peace, and progress.’

In his view, a political scientist and lecturer in the department of political science, Federal University Oye Ekiti, Femi Fayomi, noted that the development might lead to a complicated outcome in the ongoing tussles between the regional governors.

“Infact, it’s looking increasingly like this would be a major test and hiccup to our federalism because some certain parts of the geo-political zones are yet to serve in the highest seat of the nation. Consequently, by zoning to other regions other than such regions will ignite and fuel the marginalisation outcry which will be another cog in the wheel of progress of the nation’s development and unity. 

“Also, if we are to look beyond primordialism, I think if any region can present aspirants with proven integrity, records and antecedents good enough to paddle the ship of the nation without any form of fear or bias toward any region. Going by our history, one can easily deduce that ethnicity has done more harm than good to our development taking into consideration failure to adhere to federal character principle in the various political appointments made by the government which has limited the input of other regions hence fuelling the ideology of Right to Rule by a certain region.

“I think the major political parties can make a decisive action towards presenting the best candidate from the geo-political zone that has yet to serve in such capacity to also contest since it’s not that those regions are short of human resources and intellectual capacity to improve the country’s various spheres.”

VAT, open-grazing, restructuring

Aside from the agitations for power rotation, the controversial issues of Value Added Tax (VAT) and the open-grazing law have also become tools for negotiation in the hands of politicians, which analysts have said pose danger for the continued peaceful existence of the country.

As agreed by the Southern governors at their Lagos meeting, most Southern states have enacted laws against open-grazing in the region. This action is also considered a move against the Northern Fulani who are culturally cattle rearers and in the business of moving their cattle about.

Some commentators, however, believe that the growing move against open- grazing of cattle and that of allowing states to collect VAT have been spurred by the body language of the government at the centre which appears to favour the Northern Protectorate.

Agitations for the restructuring of the country in a way that powers are devolved to the regions and states have been on the table for years now with those championing the cause predominantly from the South which makes it look suspicious to the North. Restructuring, as a Southern agenda, is seen by Northern stakeholders as an agenda against their region with the highest voting population.

A security expert’s view

A security expert, Chinedu Okafor, in his reaction, told this reporter that if not politicised, the governors’ decision to ban open-grazing has the potential of curbing farmers’, herders’ violence in across the country. According to him, the ban may have both positive and negative effects.

He said, “On one hand, it will definitely reduce the issue of criminal herdsmen kidnapping because the alibi of staying in the forest in the guise of rearing cattle will no longer be there as a cover. More so, it will also put a stop to the herders, farmers’ crises in the South, North and the Middle Belt.

“I’m afraid that if no compromise is reached between the northern governors and their southern colleagues on this issue, it could lead to another bigger crisis altogether. This is besides the Fulani’s expected revolt should the plan come into action. Every side needs to tread softly.

“Aside from deaths of different individuals, it has also led to loss of property worth millions of Naira and food shortages due to the neglect of farm lands and destruction of crops.”

Likewise, the executive director of Global Rights Network, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Hafeez Babatunde, said such a legal instrument is needed to stop the menace of herders, farmers’ clashes in the southern part of the country.

He said, “Governors of the states where the law is yet to take off must be reminded that the anti-open grazing law is undoubtedly the only legal route to protect their people from insidious attacks by criminal herders. It is a timely warning that mere rhetoric and grandstanding cannot curb the killer herders’ wanton campaign of destruction of farms and kidnappings across the southern states.”

For a former House of Representatives member, Aminu Sani Jaji, the controversy surrounding the collection of VAT is being used to compel the North to cede the presidency to the South in 2023.

Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, the Zamfara state-born chieftain of the All Progressive Congress (APC) said the North stands to gain bountifully in the long run if states are allowed to reap from the VAT generated in their respective domain.

Jaji, who expressed reservations over zoning, however, admitted that rotational presidency would enhance national unity and cohesion in the country.

“Even the issue of VAT or fiscal federalism that people are talking about, all these are because of 2023. They feel the only way they can get the presidency or mandate is through intimidation. It will not work. You can only win somebody’s heart by being polite and friendly. But so long as you continue to pursue somebody with a sort of intimidation with what you have, trying to use your own force, nobody will take it. 

“My take is that whosoever wants to be the president, let the person come and showcase to all Nigerians where he is from the North or South how he wants to be a president. Politics is a game of numbers. There is no way you can take away that word from politics. It must be the number. 

“When a group of people sit down and talk about zoning, it is about sentiment. In politics, you don’t zone everything. But it’s because we are not yet mature and advanced that the issue of zoning is coming up.

“I think the issue of zoning always comes up because we want to remain as one. Because the political diversity we have today was because of the regional politics we have been playing all the time since 1999 till date.”

As far as a former governor of Nasarawa state and the lawmaker representing Nasarawa West in the Senate, Abdullahi Adamu, is concerned, the right to field a presidential candidate solely rests with political parties.

“Those nursing the idea of zoning or rotational presidency should jettison it since it is not provided for by the 1999 Constitution. No part of the Nigerian constitution provides for zoning or rotation of political offices, meaning that for anybody to become president must be ready to go through the ballot box.

“You can’t just whisk away a position that is fundamental to the life of a country. You can’t talk of merit and talk of zoning. The issue of rotation, let’s just go by merit. Let every party find a way of selling itself in a manner as to garner the kind of votes to deliver the presidential result. It is as simple as that,” he said. 

Convention

In her reaction, a PDP senator representing Ekiti South, Biodun Olujimi, said people tend to mix up the issue of zoning and rotational presidency. 

She said zoning in political parlance may not be written or recommended anywhere in the constitution but the principles of Federal Character are enshrined in the constitution.

“As provided for by the principle of federal character, public offices cannot be occupied or dominated by one section of the country at the exclusion of others, which made political parties in Nigeria right from the first republic to reflect federal character in their compositions as far as membership and executives are concerned and even as far as public offices are concerned for anyone of them in power.

“Rotational presidency on the other hand is more of convention anchored on gentlemanly agreement written or unwritten between the North and the South in addressing the peculiarities of the country called Nigeria. This debate as regards where power should shift to in 2023 between political actors from the South and the North is unnecessary going by the already analysed trend from 1999 till date.

“Every country has its own peculiarities, rotational presidency between the North and the South is one of the ways of addressing the peculiarities of a highly diversified entity called Nigeria, and there should be no heated debate or argument across the divides on it.”

PGF boss’ warning

In his reaction, the director-general of Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr. Salihu Lukman, has warned that moves by some leaders in the APC to push negotiation for the emergence of the party’s presidential candidate for 2023 elections outside the structures of the party is a threat to internal unity among APC members and leaders.

He also canvassed for a strong and functional internal consultative mechanism to address differences and disputes between APC-controlled governments in the interest of the party.

Blaming the development on what he called “excessive politicisation” in a statement titled: “APC and struggle for New Nigeria” in Abuja, the APC chieftain said campaign and negotiation for power shift should be carried out within the party structures.

He said, “Part of the challenge of excessive politicisation is that it also threatens the internal unity of APC members and leaders. For instance, excessive politicisation in the country is influencing the decision of some APC leaders to push negotiation for the emergence of the party’s Presidential Candidate for 2023 elections outside the structures of the APC.

“This is now threatening the unity of leaders of APC. Around the whole question of power shift, some leaders of the APC have gone outside the structures of the party to mobilise support for the party to zone its presidential candidate for 2023 to the Southern part of the country.”

PDP spokesman’s view 

While the APC is yet to decide on zoning, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has disclosed that its national executive committee (NEC) “shall at a later date revisit Governor Bala Mohammed committee’s recommendation on zoning.”

The chairman of PDP Zoning Committee, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu state last week recommended that “consequently, the current offices being held by officers in the Southern zones of the country, namely; South-west, South-east and South-south zones, should swap places with the offices currently in the northern zones of Nigeria, namely, North-west, North-east and North-central zones.”

Before the Ugwuanyi’s committee, the Governor of Bauchi state, Senator Bala Mohammed-led committee to review party’s performance in 2019 had earlier recommended that the 2023 presidential ticket be thrown open.

But briefing the newsmen after Wednesday’s meeting, the party’s spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the NEC has unanimously adopted the Ugwuanyi committee report on zoning of the party’s national offices.

On the 2023 presidency, Ologbondiyan said NEC “shall at a later date revisit Governor Bala Mohammed committee’s recommendation on zoning.”

Calculations

Despite the regional and ethnic political calculations, event watchers believe that when the chips are down some of the governors in the forefront of the regional interest will be forced to dance to the tunes of their political parties, bearing in mind that only political parties have the constitutional powers to present presidential candidates.