Power shift: APC, PDP keep North, South guessing

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Mala Buni and Iyorchia AyuIn this piece, LEKE BAIYEWU examines how the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party – Nigeria’s biggest political parties – will determine which zone or region of the country should produce the next president in 2023

All eyes are on the political parties, especially the ruling All Progressives Congress and the biggest opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, as Nigerians get set for the general elections in 2023. Being a multi-ethic and multi-religious country, the electorate are waiting for the parties to come out clear on which region – North or South – is the presidency going next. Within the regional agreement, the zones, especially in the South, are also agitating for the coveted presidential seat.

Political historians have noted that out of the six geopolitical zones, only the South-East has yet to produce the president. Others, i.e. North-West, North-Central, North-East, South-West and South-South have had at least a shot, either as a democratically elected president or a military head of state. According to the pundits, this is arguably why the cry of marginalisation is now loudest in the South-East.

From 1999, the South appears to have spent a longer time in power than the North. The Fourth Republic began with Olusegun Obasanjo (South-West) as President for two tenure of four years each, from 1999 to 2007. Obasanjo was succeeded by Umaru Yar’Adua (North-West) from 2017 to 2010 when he died in office. The then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan (South-South), assumed office and completed Yar’Adua’s first tenure in 2011. Amidst protests from the North and after a long negotiation, Jonathan contested for the Presidency in 2011 and won. The protests were from those who felt that Yar’Adua did not complete a term and ought to have two – for the North. Jonathan again sought a second term at the poll in 2015 but lost to the incumbent President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), from the North-West.

Cumulatively, in the almost 23 years of Nigeria’s return to democracy, the South has had approximately 13 years, while the North will be having 11 years by the time Buhari’s second term ends in 2023. Since 1999 to date, only the PDP and the APC have produced presidents. Within the period under review, the PDP, through Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan spent 16 years, while the APC would have spent eight years by next year. From all indications, the two parties have remained dominant in Nigeria’s political space, the reason why they bear the burden of expectations from the voting population.

Ahead of the next presidential elections, socio-political, ethno-religious and cultural groups are already clamouring for power, with some dismissing the zoning arrangement. For instance, state governors in the South have met at regional and zonal levels and resolved that power must shift to the South in 2023, a demand that the North has criticised as illegal. Several northern bodies like the Arewa Consultative Forum and the Northern Elders’ Forum have separately and on different occasions asked the governors and other stakeholders to rather lobby for the presidency, saying the race should be thrown open. Even a former governor of Kano State and ex-minister of Defence, Rabiu Kwankwaso, from the North-West, recently faulted rotational presidency, declaring that he was already consulting stakeholders on his presidential ambition. Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, a serial presidential aspirant from the North-East, who has yet to officially declare his bid this time, may also run for the office.

Indeed, some legal practitioners have stated that zoning of power does not exist in the Constitution but was only an intra-party plan introduced by the PDP. The proponents of zoning have, however, argued that it is a way of ensuring fairness and equity in the polity, giving each zone a sense of belonging.

Already, the PDP has zoned its national chairmanship to the North – North-Central precisely, with Senator Iyorchia Ayu emerging the occupant of the office at the party’s elective national convention last year. Close watchers of the PDP have said the party has a tradition of alternating its chairmanship and presidential offices to different zones. Now that its chairman is from the North, its presidential candidate should come from the South, they said.

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