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2023: Why zoning palaver may affect APC, PDP

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By Mathew Onwuasoanya

WHERE should the next Nigerian President come from in 2023? Which of the six geopolitical zones should take the slot?

  This is the loaded question to which the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are striving to find an answer ahead of the 2023 general election. But by every indications, the end is yet not in sight.

Ordinarily, where a President comes from in the most populous black country in the world should not pose a problem, if issues of accountability, due process and rule of law were the overriding principles in governance. But this is a country where promises of social welfare have been serially abused and broken with impunity by elected and appointed government officials that issues of place of birth and religious belief trounce transparency to necessitate recourse to affirmative action and the often dodgy federal character principles.

  According to Director of the Oba S.K Adetona Institute of Governance at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Awoye in Ogun State, Prof. Ayo Olukotun, if political parties have zoning arrangements in their constitution, whether it is zonal or geographic, they have to respect it.

 “Zoning in a federal state like Nigeria is like a safeguard that ensures no part of the country is marginalised. In a federal constitution, you have laws such as what we call consociation. It is part of the federal character principle we operate in the constitution and also the affirmative process. If it is agreed by consensus that the presidency must rotate, so be it. If the North has had it, it must go South. It is not what can be enforced anyway. So you have to allow candidates from the North to contest as well,” said.

But this goes nowhere near the headache in PDP and APC as the two parties grapples auguries of the plots and counter plots by rival blocs within their folds, because the idea that zoning is a gentleman’s agreement that cannot be enforced, especially considering that Nigerian politicians are everything but gentlemen in a proper sense of the word is the source of the problem.

Even the operation of Federal Character principle in 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria has not been as straightforward as it is spelt out in the law of the country. Not when every government in power has been involved in some form of nepotism and favouritism because of the Big Man nature of Nigerian politics, whereby the leader sees himself as a reflection of the fortunes and downturn of his tribe first.

At the beginning of the current republic in 1999 until 2015, the dominant political party was the PDP. The party inserted zoning in its constitution. It has struggled to maintain that arrangement, beginning with the administration of President Olusegun Obansanjo, who came from the (South) in 1999 through his successors, namely, late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (North) and President Goodluck Jonathan (South). But that merely extrapolates the ding-dong over where should go North in 2023. But something happened along the way. Political expediency crept in.

The party lost the 2015 general election after governing the country for 16 unbroken years. Racked by dissension and defections, it set up an Elections Review Committee to review why and how it lost the 2019 election to the APC. The committee, headed by Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, recommended, among other things, that the zoning arrangement of the party be looked into and possibly scrapped to allow all zones to contest the presidency.

Following that recommendation, all hell was let loose in the party. It was like a clarion call to every zone to stake their claim in the sharing formula that has dominated almost everything in the country. But the real game changer was the take-over and consolidation of power by the APC. Apart from creating a two-party dynamic and thereby widening the scope of contest for aspirants for the presidency, APC’s emergence also made it impossible for the PDP to hold on to its formula as it provided a viable alternative to its rival.

 That is why the Southern Governors Forum could take an inter-party decision in their meetings held in Lagos and Enugu last year that the South must produce the President in 2023. With these dynamics playing out on a broader canvas, both parties are finding it hard coping with the zoning arrangement, which was manageable when the PDP was the only political party in charge.

That is why zoning can be used simultaneously in a geographical North/South context and as a formula for the six geo-political zones. The PDP is currently torn between who, from where and how many in its fold can contest the number one seat in the country. Governor Mohammed, from the North-East, wants to contest for the position.

Same as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who is also from the North-East. From the North-West comes former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State, who has also indicated interest in running for president. Others are former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, who is from the North-Central. A former Senate President and former Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, is an aspirant of the PDP from the South-East. Pharmacist Sam Ohuabunwa (South-East), has declared his aspiration on the platform of the party.

 Governor Nyesom Wike who is doing his second term as Governor of Rivers State, is also preparing for the presidential election just like Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State and Governors Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State and Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom who both have their eyes on the Presidency as well.

Thus, all the six geo-political zones in the country are well represented, with aspirants on the platform of the party but battle over which part takes the plum post may turn the entire exercise into a war of attirion.

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