Opinion: Self-Interest May Cost South 2023 Presidency – Azuka Onwuka
On July 5, 2021, the governors of the 17 states of Southern Nigeria, under the aegis of the Southern Governors Forum, met in Lagos State and demanded equity and fairness for Southern Nigeria regarding the presidency in 2023. In their communique, they said, “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.”
The logic behind that was that since the incumbent President of Nigeria, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has enjoyed two tenures of eight years, power should move to the South at the expiration of his tenure in 2023. It was an unimpeachable argument. They were applauded for having the courage to speak up on such a delicate issue that is usually mischievously misconstrued. But that was where their sense of justice and equity stopped.
In 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy for the fourth time, the mood of the nation was that the presidency should go to the South-West, whose son, Chief MKO Abiola, was maliciously denied his electoral victory in 1993 by the military. Consequently, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, who was elected the presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party, eventually stepped down so that the presidential candidate of the Alliance of Democracy, Chief Olu Falae, from the South-West, would replace him as the candidate of the APP, which had a more national spread than the AD. In the Peoples Democratic Party, even though former vice president, Dr Alex Ekwueme, was the frontline candidate, the military high brass drafted Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, from the South-West, into the race. Obasanjo beat Ekwueme to emerge the PDP candidate. The 1999 presidential race, therefore, had two South-West candidates as the only contestants. Obasanjo eventually emerged president and ruled for eight years.
Since then, in the spirit of justice and equity, the presidency has been rotated between the North and the South. Even though the illness and eventual death of Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua attempted to temporally derail it between 2009 and 2010, the rotational presidency eventually returned on course. Dr Goodluck Jonathan from the South-South ruled for five years. By 2023, Yar’Adua and Buhari from the North-West will have ruled Nigeria for 11 years.
As a result, any person with a sense of justice and equity would say that the presidency should naturally go to the South in 2023. And since the South-West and the South-South had had their chances, the next half of the argument should be that the presidency should go to the only zone in the South that has not had its turn: the South-East.
While the 17 Southern governors wanted the North to give them justice and fairness, they themselves did not want to give justice and fairness to their colleagues in the South. These two other zones in the South still wanted more when their neighbours have not had anything at all. To justify this, different political arguments began to rise from all angles: “Power is not given, it is taken;” “You have to build bridges;” “This is not 1999. The circumstances are different;” “The presidency should go to the best candidate;” “What is important is who will get the job done. What has the presidency done for the zones that occupied it for many years?”
Some politicians and their supports from the two Southern zones relied on their financial arsenal and political connections and sagacity to emerge as president, without remembering that the military had created more states, more local government areas, more legislative seats, etc, in the North than in the South and that the North does not necessarily vote based on party affiliation.
The first sign was displayed at the just-concluded presidential primary of the PDP over the weekend. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State in the South-South was very sure he would win the primary based on his financial war chest and clout. But minutes to the take-off of voting, his long-time political ally, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal of the North-West state of Sokoto, announced his withdrawal from the race and told his supporters to vote for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar from the North-East. Note that in 2019, Wike hosted the PDP primary in Port Harcourt and backed the presidential aspiration of Tambuwal. But in 2023, Tambuwal chose to step down for his fellow Northerner rather than his Southern political ally, Wike. That action helped to give Abubakar victory.
Reacting to it, the Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo said, “It’s amusing that the PDP is now a political party for the Northern region, with Dr Iyorchia Ayu as PDP Chair, Walid Jubril as BOT (Board of Trustees) Chair, and Atiku Abubakar as 2023 PDP presidential candidate,” adding that another Northerner, Senator David Mark, supervised the PDP primary.
Members of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum have shouted themselves hoarse that power should go to the South-East in 2023 but self-interest, greed and quest for power have blocked the ears of those who should know better.
With the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as the PDP standard-bearer, all eyes are on the ruling All Progressives Congress to see whom it will choose as its presidential candidate. There are permutations that the APC may pick its candidate from the North to balance the equation against the PDP. It may also go southwards. But even if the APC does not choose its candidate from the North, the North will most likely mobilise to vote for its candidate (in whichever party) in next year’s presidential election.
In 2015, most Northerners in the PDP and APC worked to get Buhari into office, including those who held offices in the government of Jonathan and the ruling PDP. Atiku Abubakar, Senator Bukola Saraki, Tambuwal (who was the Speaker of the House of Representatives) and many others all left the PDP to work for the emergence of a Northern president. Many Southerners joined them, believing that everybody’s mission was to get a good president who would turn Nigeria around. Buhari came in and taught Nigerians that for the first time, the heads of the three arms of government can all come from the North.
If a Northern Muslim emerges the president in 2023, after eight years of the incumbent (a Northern Muslim), the same people in the South who were driven by self-interest to cause the loss to the South will turn around to complain that injustice has been done to the South and then call on Southerners to rise against injustice. It is said that he who comes into equity must come with clean hands.
For a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria which is filled with distrust and instability, any person who earnestly thinks about the good of Nigeria and its wellbeing should be more concerned about inclusive actions that will reduce conflict and create harmony and peace, two critical harbingers of progress. The power-is-right mentality is a short-sighted mindset that destroys the system and makes everybody a loser.
– Onwuka is a respected columnist with The Punch