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2023 Election: To Zone or Not to Zone

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By Jonathan Asikason

Political fireworks for 2023 electioneering has already begun. The recent announcement by Nigeria’s electoral umpire slating 18th February 2023 as the date for the next presidential election has triggered off chains of events for early political skirmishes and horse-trading.

Just recently, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State broke ranks with PDP and defected, albeit unsurprisingly, to All Progressive Congress (APC).
He blamed PDP’s refusal to zone its presidential ticket to the southeast as the reason behind the move – a criticism his former party refused to accept.

As though taken the baton from the above, the duo of Babatunde Fashola and Chibuke Amaechi in a couple of weeks ago following that defection, stated uncompromisingly that APC must respect its zoning agreement. The very fact that the two key ministers and perhaps insiders in the extant federal government avowedly voiced this out, clearly x-rayed the ongoing clandestine intraparty politics in the country at the moment.

Before now, there has been debate in the political circle on how to go about 2023. While conventional wisdom had it that power should, some people would say ‘must,’ shift to South, questions still arise on which part of the South the reins will fall. This notwithstanding the arguments of some dissenting voices that still hold the view that the stipulations of the constitution should be maintained.

Those dissenting voices include Comr. Isa Aremu, the former Labour Leader. For him, the constitution should be the determinant factor in the choice of the next president.

”We should go with the spirit of the constitution. The constitution has defined how we can produce a President. It’s not about geographical location, it’s not religion bound, it’s not gender bound, there is no region limit, no state limit to where a president can come from. So, I think we need to first get that clear, that the Presidency, the governorship, the chairmanship of local government, are open to all Nigerians who meet the conditions as spelt out by the constitution,” the former labour leader argued.

“I think rotational leadership, turn by turn arrangement will never deliver Nigeria, what will deliver Nigeria is the ability to serve selflessly. The kind of presidency we need now in 2023 has to be all-inclusive, it not only has to pan Nigerian, but it also has to pan African because the problems facing us go beyond Nigeria,” he added.

Since the return to civilian rule on 29th May 1999, political power in Nigeria has been on relay between the South and North. The South has ruled for 13 years while the North will by 2023 mark 11 years in power.

A deeper foray into history shows that in Nigeria’s 60 years of self-rule, the North has held on to power while the South has ruled for just 17 years and 6 months. In that 17 years and 6 months, South West ruled for approximately 12 years while South-South ruled for 5yrs. Whereas the South East has ruled for just 6 months and 12 days.

It is against the backdrop of these historical realities that the people of the southeast are agitating for their turn to hold the reins of political power at the federal level. That this agitation is coming 53 years after the civil war and amidst IPOB’s campaign for the actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra, many argued, offers a healing balm and integrating cord to finally knit the country together.

Correspondingly, Balarabe Musa, in an Independence Day interview, a few months before he died, reemphasized his stance on 2023.

“I stand by what I’ve said, that the Presidency should go to the South East, for the sake of peace, national unity, and justice. I’ve talked quite a lot about that, I don’t need to say anymore,”

Corroborating the above, Douglas Anele
observed: “Ceding the 2023 presidency to an Igbo would help heal the festering wounds of the civil war and give Ndigbo a sense of belonging because the people are still being treated as unwanted second class citizens by the Fulani ruling cabal and their staunch allies from Yorubaland.”

He added, “an Igbo President would be good, a welcome departure from the divisive clannishness instituted by northern rulers at the federal level: the ubiquity and developmental accomplishments of Igbo people throughout Nigeria suggests that any of their own who becomes president would be motivated to develop all parts of the country since Ndigbo are everywhere engaged in legitimate activities of all kinds which contribute immensely to nation-building.”

Noting how serious the people of the southeast are in their agitation for the presidency, Law Mefor observed:
“The defection of Dave Umahi may just be a tip of the iceberg about what will soon justifiably happen to the PDP in the South East. Nobody shifts the goalpost in the middle of the game without consequence. PDP is a national political party built on the principle of zoning and rotation of presidential power. What is more, all the other zones in the South have benefited from the principle, only for the principle to be jettisoned now that it is the turn of the southeast to benefit as well.”

However, the people of Southwest have argued that power is not served à la carte and thus believe that the southeast alone should not be ceded the power to produce the next president of the country. Their argument is simple: if power should go to the South, all. Southerners should fight for it.

Similarly, the people of South-South are indicating interest in the presidential seat if it’s eventually zoned to South. No doubt, the body languages of Chibuike Amaechi and Nyesom Wike show strong indications of presidential ambition – but are they paying the people of Southeast in their own coin?

If power should go to the South, it behoves other Southern brothers to give the people of Southeast some sense of belonging. In 1999 Ogbonnaya Onu in APP stepped down for Chief Olu Falae of AD and merged structure so that the party will have a National spread. Dr Alex Ekwueme conceded to Obasanjo without resort to long litigation. All of the above paved the way for all Yoruba contests in 1999.

Also, the people of Southeast stood with former President Jonathan through hell and high waters. So it beggars belief why the agitation for Nigerian President of Southeast extraction is raising much dust in the South than in the North.

Having said that, Nigeria’s political class should bear in mind that the 2023 Presidential election will either make or mar the country. So will political parties read the handwriting on the wall and respect the zoning agreement? Only time will tell!

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