Jul 26, 2021

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Power shift: ‘Opposition to Southern presidency widening fault lines’

With innumerable interest groups firing diatribes and laying claims to the Presidency in 2023, elder statesmen, socio-political and socio-cultural groups in the South are engaging a higher gear in their bid to realise the emergence of a president of southern extraction.

According to them, while it smacks of gross insensitivity to retain power in the North beyond May 29, 2023, southern political big wigs must engage in serious horse-trading with their counterparts from other parts of the country in order to make the rotational presidency stay on course.

However, an elder statesman and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, believes that the country must be fully restructured before any meaningful debate on where the next president should come from takes place, as anything short of that amounts to “shadow-boxing” and is “inappropriate.”

Last Thursday, northern state legislators said the North deserves to retain the presidency in 2023 because the South had ruled for 14 years, while the North would have ruled for 10 years at the end of Buhari’s tenure.

But without word-mincing, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo claims that anybody that wants the unity and progress of Nigeria should not contradict southern governors’ position on power rotation, even as it dismissed as unfortunate, the northern states’ lawmakers position on the matter.

For the Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Timothy Owoeye, the principle of fairness would be totally annihilated should the North be allowed to produce another president at the end of the incumbent’s second and final term.

Owoeye’s sentiment resonates with that of the Indigenous People of Nigeria (IPN), which insists that for the sake of justice, fairness and equity, the South, and indeed the South East should be supported to have a go at the Presidency in 2023.

But the senator representing Ondo South Senatorial District, Nicholas Tofowomo, who is of the view that “the two political parties have the decisions to make while the electorate has the final say,” on the issue, stressed that “we must also consider the unity of Nigeria. The unity of Nigeria has been eroded along many lines- ethnic, religious, economic and political due to the marginalisation of some geo-political zones in the country, and this has generated a lot of tension.

ACCORDING to Falae: “My fundamental position is that Nigeria as it is has to be restructured before I can take part in any debate as to where the next president should come from, or does not come from.

“Where the president comes from under this present arrangement cannot solve our problems. Whoever is there is a prisoner of a constitution, and the power structure. Those who think that the way that Nigeria is, with the present constitution, can solve our present problems are the ones quarrelling about where the president should come from- North, South, East or West. To me, it is a non-issue.”

“Even if you make me the president of Nigeria tomorrow, there is very little I can do despite my commitment, vision for the country, and my experience, there is little I can do to solve the problems confronting us.

“The power structure and the constitutional arrangements preclude my being able to do the things that need to be done. It is shadow-boxing whether the president comes from the South or North,” the former SGF said.

Insisting that where the president comes from does not solve the country’s problems if the necessary steps are taken to address the fundamental problems militating against the nation, he recalled that when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was president, roads in the South West were almost impassable. “On one occasion, I was going to Ibadan from Akure, but after three hours on the road, I had to return to Akure from Igbara-Oke. A bridge there had collapsed, so we couldn’t pass through.

“Now, if where the president comes from is a solution to problems, that proves that it is not. Right now Buhari is the president of Nigeria, he comes from the North and you will agree with me that the North is in a terrible state of insecurity, with banditry, kidnappers, herdsmen and killings happening every other day, if not daily.

“So, his coming from the North has not solved the problems of the North, and the massive unemployment rate in the region. What are we now talking about? Again, I want to say that talking about where the president comes from is shadow-boxing.”

The respected politician said he would neither join the northern agitators or southerners to “chase shadows like the 17 southern governors that insisted on power shift to the South in their meeting recently in Lagos State.

“It is avoiding the real issue of how we can solve the problems of Nigeria, insecurity, poverty and unemployment. Getting involved in shadow-boxing is avoiding the real issues.”

OHANAEZE’S position, which was made known by the national publicity secretary of the group, Chief Alex Chiedozie Ogbonnia, went thus: “The issue of the Presidency in 2023 requires conscience, and truth and people entrenched in justice, and who want Nigeria to move forward must abide by it. Those who understand the basis of what is called Nigeria, in the first place, must know that it was formed upon unity and equity. The issue of zoning had been there for a long time, and in 1998 when Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, was about to give way, there was a meeting at the NUC Centre, Abuja about rotation of power. The man who spoke for the South East was the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, while the late Abubakar Rimi, spoke on behalf of the North.

It was agreed in that meeting that power would rotate between the North and the South. That was how a southern person was supported as president in 1999. After the South, Yar’Adua took over and after Yar’Adua, it was Jonathan (South) and after Jonathan, it went back to the North. Now that Buhari who is from the North is serving out his second term, the natural thing to do is to return power to the South. Coming down to the South, it should go to the South East. Those who like the corporate existence of Nigeria must incline to truth, equity and justice.”

Ogbonnia insisted that the reasons being adduced on why power should be retained in the North were not necessary, and would not make for the growth of the country. He, therefore, asked the northern lawmakers and others canvassing for another president of northern extraction to focus on the unity of the country.

TOFOWOMO has a divergent view on the agitation for power rotation between the North and the South. “First, let’s look at it from the perspective of the political parties, especially the ruling APC, and the opposition PDP. In the PDP, the South has had the presidency more than the North, but in the ruling APC, the opposite is the case. The North has had its eight years already, while the South has not had it at all. So, it will only be fair if the ruling APC looks for a southerner in the 2023 presidential election. As for the PDP, the Presidency favours the North more than the South. But the two political parties have their decisions to make, while the electorate has the final say.”

On the other hand, he said: “We must also consider the unity of Nigeria. The unity of Nigeria has been eroded along many lines- ethnic, religious, economic and political due to the marginalisation of some geo-political zones in the country, which has generated a lot of tension.

“This tension has already metamorphosed into various crises ranging from insecurity to separatists’ agitations in the South West and the South East.So, we should prioritise the unity of Nigeria, and rise above tribal sentiments and nepotism.”

SENATOR representing Ondo Central District, Ayo Akinyelure, when approached for comment retorted: “No comment for now. This is purely a party affair. These contradictions will be resolved by the leadership of ruling and opposition political parties at the appropriate time.”
The Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Owoeye, said if the North could benefit largely from the principle of federal character in appointments, then it should allow the same principle of fairness to prevail in the shifting of the Presidency to the South.

“The northern part of the country has tasted the presidency all these years. For the principle of fairness to prevail, the South should be allowed to produce the next president. We are talking about a country that is multi-ethnic, how do you explain this attempt by some people to kick against a president of southern extraction? It is not fair.

“Why do we have Federal character in our appointments? If they have always been following the principle of federal character in appointments, and in the distribution of wealth, so, why is it that when it comes to the issue of presidency that they are saying a certain part of the country should remain perpetually in power? There is no principle of fairness in that, Owoeye said.

Speaking through his spokesperson, Kunle Alabi, “the speaker in addressing the agitation by northern lawmakers said: “I am sure they (northern lawmakers) are aware that Jonathan was originally a vice president, and it was Umaru Yar Adua, who had the mandate and Jonathan only took over after YarAdua passed on….

“It was a joint ticket then and it was a ticket of the North, so, they should not count that two years of Jonathan’s reign.
“In the principle of fairness and Federal character, it’s the turn of the South. If Buhari finishes his second term and another part of the North has to take over, what will be the sense of belonging of others?” Owoeye queried.

THE convener of IPN, Mazi Nnamdi Iroegbu, said: “Since the return of democracy, three of the six zones, that is South West, South South and North West have had the opportunity to govern Nigeria through Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari.

“Muhammadu Buhari, who has been incumbent since 2015, is expected to complete his tenure in 2023. The natural expectation is that Buhari, being from the northern region, power should shift to the southern part of Nigeria on the completion of his eight-year tenure.

“IPN therefore, reasons that for the interest of justice, equity and fairness, the only zone in the southern region, the South East, that is yet to produce a president or vice president since 1999 should be supported to produce the next president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Nevertheless, IPN is not unmindful of the constitutional rights of indigenous People of Nigeria to elect whosoever they desire. But we appeal to the leading political parties, to present choices that will reflect oneness, equity, fairness and justice to all Nigerians.”

A former Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly, Chief Eugene Odoh, cautioned northern lawmakers against canvassing for issues that could breed discord and disunity in the country.

Odoh, a two-term speaker and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said: “My position is that there is no zoning in our constitution, but by convention, the presidency has rotated between the North and the South, and to that extent, it is expected that all political parties should zone their presidential slots to the south where the stakeholders should be able to meet and further zone it to the South East region, which has never had it before. Doing so will create equity, fairness and a sense of belonging.

Beyond that however, “I do not think that the APC would retain power in the North. I do not know about other political parties. Looking at all the people jostling for the national chairmanship of the party, all of them are from the North, none is from the South based on their belief that the presidency is their turn. …Now, it is the turn of the North to produce the chairman in anticipation of the presidency coming to the South. That is what it should be. I am of the strong opinion that the APC will certainly zone the presidency to the South.”
CHIEF Ebenezer Babatope, a former Minister of Transportation is of the view that southern governors did the right thing by demanding for the presidency come 2023, and that the South should be allowed to taste power at the centre in the spirit of democracy and fairness.

He said the rejection of a president of southern extraction by sections of the North appeared suspicious, and that the concentration of the Presidency in one zone might weaken the democracy.

“I think the southern governors did the right thing by meeting and demanding for 2023 presidency since we are a federation. So, democracy is not rob my back, and I rob yours. Anybody thinking about making our federation to be weak should rather have a change of mind. That’s why we are clamouring that we should restructure because it is when we redefine our cooperate existence that everything will come to play,” Babatope stated.