HE Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, has insisted that the southern part of the country must produce the next president of the country.
Akeredolu, in a statement on Tuesday, warned the national leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress against giving the presidential ticket to a northern aspirant so as not to put the party in a crisis.
While the Southern Senators supported their governors, saying the presidential aspirations of politicians from the South were legitimate, the Coalition of Northern Groups described Akeredolu’s statement as a threat to the unity of the country.
The National Chairman of the APC, Senator Adamu Abdullahi, had on Friday in Abuja said the party had yet to zone the 2023 presidency.
But Akeredolu, in the statement he personally signed and made available to one of our correspondents by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Richard Olatunde, on Tuesday, insisted that the presidential ticket must be zoned to the south.
He said, “The current democratic dispensation is anchored on the unwritten convention driven by a principle of equity. Political expediency dictates, more appealingly, that while adhering to the spirit and letters of the laws guiding the conduct of elections and succession to political offices, we must do nothing which is capable of tilting the delicate balance against the established arrangement which guarantees peace and promotes trust.
“Our party just elected officers on the established principle of giving every part of the country an important stake in the political calculus. The focus has now shifted to the process which will culminate in the participation of our party in the general elections scheduled for next year. All lovers of peace and freedom must do everything to eschew tendencies which may predispose them to taking decisions which promote distrust and lead to a crisis, the end of which nobody may be able to predict.
“The leadership of the party ensured that the principle of rotational representation guided its decision at the just-concluded convention. The party chairmanship position has gone to the North. All other offices have been filled on this understanding. This is the time the leaders of the party must make a categorical statement, devoid of equivocation, on the pattern of succession.
“The party executive committee has fixed a fee for the purchase of the nomination form for the office. It is expected, fervently, that it will proceed to complete the process by limiting the propensities for disagreement to a region for possible micro-management. It is very expedient that we avoid self-inflicted crises before the general elections.
“It is the turn of the Southern part of the country to produce the next President. The party leadership should have no difficulty in making pronouncements on this very important issue, just as it has fixed various fees for the purchase of forms. This must be done without delay. The principle of Federal Character is enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, as amended. It will be disingenuous for anyone to argue against rotation at this period.”
Urging the party leadership to speak out on zoning, he said, “We must not keep our party men and women guessing on the position of the leadership of the party. This is the time to weigh in and take control of the process. No statement must suggest, even remotely, that the party harbours certain sentiments which may predispose it to consider throwing the contest open. This is certainly not the time for equivocation. equity dictates that we take a stand.”
On his part, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, said that the 1999 constitution captured the issue of rotational presidency.
Bamidele, who is also the Chairman of the Southern Senators Forum, said the agitation for the presidency from politicians of Southern extraction was legitimate.
He stated, “Let me state that Section 14 of the constitution and various sections of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, stated that no section of the country should dominate others in terms of positions.
“Let me also state that the primary concept of governance is the welfare and good governance. The section emphasised that Nigeria shall not be governed in such a way that any particular section will have a domineering advantage over others”.
The lawmaker, who spoke in Ado Ekiti during an empowerment programme for his constituents in the five councils in the senatorial district, spoke in the light of reactions that trailed a statement last week by the APC National Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, that the party was yet to zone the presidency to any zone ahead of 2023 elections.
Bamidele said, “Rotational presidency is legitimate and constitutional. The whole essence of the constitution is equitable distribution of wealth and power. Part of the equitable distribution of power is allowing the presidency to rotate between North and South.
“Though the constitution didn’t say specifically about rotation, but logically and through various judicial interpretations, allowing it to rotate is legal and constitutional.”
Another member of the Senate, Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu), also spoke on zoning, but as it concerned the PDP.
He said dumping zoning might mark the end of the opposition party in 2023.
Utazi partly said, “I am not a member of the APC. But for the PDP, in its constitution, it is clearly written that power should rotate between North and South. When it gets to the North or South, you then do the micro zoning. The micro zoning is within the North and the South. If the PDP is working against its constitution, then it no longer wants to respect its constitution and uphold the tenets, as stipulated by its founding fathers and enshrined in the (party’s) constitution.”
A member of the House of Representatives, Rotimi Agunsoye (APC, Lagos), warned the APC against retaining power in the North as it would be counterproductive for the party.
Agunsoye said, “Of course, it has to come to the South. They cannot retain power in the North. They are doing their eight years. Fair is fair.”
When asked if it was compulsory for power to shift to the South, the lawmaker said, “This is a gentleman’s agreement. If anybody is faulting that gentleman’s agreement, such a person is wayward and not to be trusted. What is fair is fair. That will spell doom for the party.”
Another APC lawmaker from Lagos State, Babajimi Benson, said, “Zoning means fairness, equity and justice. The North will have it for eight years and it is in the best interest of Nigeria for power to shift to another region. Even within the North, they practise zoning among the geopolitical zones and among the three senatorial districts for governing a state. There is micro zoning within those zones and states.”
But the Spokesperson for the CNG, Suleiman Abdulazeez, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Kaduna, said the governor’s remark was a threat to the nation’s democracy.
According to him, the governor was just being mischievous and deceiving southerners on the issue of power rotation.
He said, “Our reaction to this is as always that people like Akeredolu are being deliberately mischievous to deceive their people over the issue of power rotation to anywhere. They enjoy the unearned populism that comes from their gullible followers whenever they make that empty boast that power must shift to the South in 2023 or anytime in the near future.
“This one coming from Akeredolu represents an entirely new twist in the zoning drama by suggesting that the controversial zoning arrangement should also be extended to the APC. The APC has at no time either expressly or impliedly committed itself to the zone.
“This is something that every responsible member of the APC should know. The APC is not and cannot be bound by any agreement to rotate power between regions to which it has never been a party.
“Whatever the case, let me repeat here that the North would never give in to threats or blackmail to give up its democratic and constitutional prerogative to field candidates for every national election.
“Our position remains unchanged that the North will never respect any arrangement that tends to block northerners from contesting elections to the presidency.”
“Akeredolu should know by now that the North is not and shall never be afraid of threats of disengaging from the Nigerian union by any section of the country that feels strongly about it, in fact, we welcome it.
“Everyone is by now aware that whatever power-sharing deal existed between the northern and southern regions of Nigeria in the PDP was dead and buried having been jettisoned by southern politicians twice in 2011 and 2015.”
Also, a former Secretary-General of the northern socio-political group, the Arewa Consultative Forum, Elder Anthony Sani, in a chat with The PUNCH, warned southern governors and their socio-cultural groups against intimidating the North over zoning the presidency to the south in 2023
Sani argued that instead of threats and intimidation, the southern governors, as well as groups in the south, should perfect their winning game plan and sell their candidates to Nigerians for the forthcoming elections.
At the Senate, a former leader of the Northern Caucus, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno), in an interview with The PUNCH stated that it would be unfair and unjust for the North to reject power shift to the South.
Ndume, who is from Borno State in the North, is leading the presidential campaign of a former Governor of Rivers State and Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, from the South.
When asked if the plan by the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party to dump zoning was fair to the South, the Senator said, “No, it is not. That is not fair at all. That is injustice. My position has not changed: I said it earlier than now that the Presidency – in the APC in particular – should naturally move to the South because there was a gentleman’s agreement on that.”
The lawmaker recalled that southern aspirants had stepped down for their northern counterparts, including Buhari, ahead of the 2015 presidential election, except for the then Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, who is now a member of the Senate and has rejoined the presidential race.