Presidency 2023: The Fog Thickens

Mai Mala Buni

Ahead of a post-President Muhammadu Buhari tenure, unconstitutionalised ‘gentlemanly agreements’ on North-South rotational presidency template becomes foggier as different zones and chieftains stake their claims. Louis Achi looks at the key issues

Astute former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba is no political Spring chicken. So when a politician of his standing speaks on a key political issue like the rotational presidency, discerning observers pay close attention.

Last week, as a guest on ARISE TV News programme, Osoba told Nigerians that zoning “was factored into their (APC) discussions even though not clearly spelt in the constitution.” He made it clear he was at the APC merger talks that yielded the presidential ticket to Northern Nigeria in 2013 and eventually produced President Buhari and therefore should know.

Stoutly defending the right of his close ally and former Lagos governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to contest the 2023 presidential election, he painted a veiled picture of lack of seriousness on the part of South Easterners to clinch the number one position of Nigeria. Not one to beat about the bush, he proclaimed that nobody from the South Eastern part of Nigeria within the APC has approached him to seek his support for that coveted office.

According to Osoba, “I recall, I was very strong in the campaign of MKO Abiola in 1992. We went around the whole of the east. He and I went to see Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in his house, CC Onoh, Mbakwe, we went around the whole of the east to lobby them that we are interested, nobody from the east has contacted me.”

Further according to him, “Part of the understanding in the case of rotation is a conventional understanding that the presidency will move between the North and the South. That was the reason we now allowed the chairman (of the party to come from the South).

“I don’t want to use the word zoning, because we definitely did not put zoning. We know it may go in conflict with the Nigerian constitution, which says anyone who is a Nigerian, who has read up to school certificate, can contest and at the age of 35, I think can contest for the presidency of the country.

“But there was a clear gentlemanly understanding that the northern part of the country will produce the president, when we did the merger in 2013 and the chairman of the party will then come from the South.”

Although Osoba’s position on North-South rotational presidential format reinforces Chief Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation’s stance and the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola’s and many other APC party chieftains significantly have different perspectives on the matter. Fashola even warned that it would be dangerous to abandon the agreement.

Recall that Zamfara State’s two-term governor, Sani Yerima, while proclaiming his desire to run for the presidency, denied the existence of an agreement to zone the ticket to the South in 2023. His footing is similar to that of a Kano State senator, Ibrahim Shekarau, who maintained that APC had no agreement to rotate the seat.

On his part, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, in the last two years, has apparently taken inconsistent positions on the North-South zoning formula of the presidency. Most recently in November last year, Governor El-Rufai proclaimed what seemed a position to his earlier singsong for a Southern presidential candidate in 2023.

Curiously, he based his fresh logic on the imperative to solve the nation’s festering economic woes and electing competent leaders. Hear him: “Zoning in political parties cannot solve the economic problems we are facing. Selecting the best person to get the job done will benefit everyone.” The Greek double-faced deity Janus can hardly sire more creative whelps than these.

There is more.
Mallam Mamman Daura, the influential nephew of President Muhammadu Buhari said last year, in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service, that there was no need for zoning the presidential ticket to any part of the country, holding that Nigeria’s political space should be left open for the best candidate to emerge as president. His position shored up suspicions that some elements from the North were perfecting plans to retain the presidency after Buhari’s second tenure lapses in 2003.
Besides reactions from the major socio-political organisations, key stakeholders also took different positions on Daura’s controversial statement. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), also claimed that the issue of rotational presidency is not a constitutional matter but only adopted by political parties for their own convenience.

“The Nigerian constitution does not make provision for rotational presidency; it is done at the convenience of political parties and not a constitutional practice. There is nowhere in the Nigerian constitution, where there is provision for rotation,” the body said.

For many observers, the unfolding drama holds a powerful message for the South East region, which has not had a shot at the presidency. The region must step up its template of engagement with the Nigerian state to achieve its legitimate dream of tenancy in Aso Rock.

Looking at the big picture, zoning remains, for now, a pragmatic template to assure contending forces in the Nigerian polity, who interpreted the nullification of June 12 presidential election widely acclaimed to have been won by Chief MKO Abiola, as a Northern agenda rather than junta politics.
Since the country returned to civil rule in 1999, under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the presidential office had been rotating between the Northern and Southern regions of the country. Will this template change under the APC? Foggy big question!