As with other elections that have happened in the past, the 2023 general elections is as serious as it gets. In fact, before now, there were talks that the election would never happen and Nigeria, as a single entity, would become history.
Conversations like that bordered on increased calls for Biafra to become a reality, South West Nigeria wanting to form ‘The Oduduwa Republic’, South-South Nigeria reconsidering and Northern Nigeria acting as fencists.
2023 is here, and apparently, that has died down. So, the question currently is who the big players are and why they should or not be running.
Social media is the online public space for some of the conversations. At the same time, the determining consultations happen in Government Houses, the State House, and the Abuja homes of the godfathers of Nigerian politics. It is the talks outside of social media that determine the adoption of zoning systems by political parties or not.
In a February 2022 article, The politics of zoning, Reuben Abati says:
The politics of zoning is likely to make or mar the 2023 presidential election, with implications for the stability of the country. It is one of the most contentious issues in Nigeria at the moment, particularly in the two major political parties: the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), which both represent most of the contending stakeholders in Nigeria.
He then explains that zoning was adopted in 1999 to give all ethnic groups a sense of belonging “and prevent the overt domination of some sections of the country, lording it over others in appointments and the sharing of power and access.”
As Reuben notes, zoning is not a new item in Nigeria’s politics and has been present right from the First Republic and influences the formation of governments, both military and civilian.
The zoning idea was first introduced to ease inter-ethnic tensions after the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War. The National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the first nationally accepted political party, used the system to select party officials as they thought it would ensure national representation.
After what many will now call the introduction of zoning into Nigerian politics, big-name players suggested a rotational presidency during a National Constitutional Conference that was assembled following the annulment of the 1993 elections and the takeover of power by General Sanni Abacha (1994/1995).
The 1993 annulment caused disillusionment in the Nigerian polity, as people from the political zone where the winner came thought the country’s leadership had robbed them.
To calm nerves, the two main political parties leading the transition from military to civilian rule in 1999 reached a consensus that allowed the presidential candidates from the two major parties to emerge from the South-West geo-political zone. That was how Olusegun Obasanjo became Nigeria’s first democratic-dispensation president.
In an article in The Guardian, it was mentioned that zoning had become prominent in the Second Republic.
During the Second Republic, there was an informal albeit determined effort to zone high elective positions —President, Vice -President, Senate President, Deputy Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy Speaker —to the various geo-political zones in order to reflect the federal character and inclusive politics.The Guardian
Zoning, now an integral part of Nigeria’s politics, is a practice when political parties compromise on which geopolitical zone the president and vice president will emerge. Here, the parties alternate the president’s home area between Northern and Southern Nigeria.
When preparations for the 2023 elections became more intense, Nigeria’s two biggest parties, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Party (APC), entered the spotlight as zoning enthusiasts were interested in knowing if either of them would consider that the current president is a Northerner. The South East has never produced a president.
Amid the ‘noise’, a former commissioner for information in Edo, Prince Kassim Afegbua, said zoning is a constitutional requirement in Nigerian politics.
“I have read some aspirants talking about the absence of zoning in the Nigeria Constitution. To serve their selfish end and contest the 2023 presidential election against the run of play, they have resorted to making references to the 1999 Constitution to support their weak argument against the zoning of political offices.
“It must be stated that zoning means the same thing as federal character, which is expressly captured in the 1999 Constitution. The federal character talks about the political balancing of positions and appointments, which is the same as zoning. Zoning means “divide into or assign to zones”, positions and appointments, whether by election or appointment.
“For those declaring that there is no zoning in the constitution, why has it been the practice that each time a candidate emerges from the North, the vice-presidential candidate comes from the South, and vice-versa? The Senate president is also zoned to another geopolitical zone, ditto for the Speaker of the House of Representatives and even the secretary of the federation’s government (SGF).
“If there is no zoning, these positions could have been concentrated in one geopolitical zone, but for that federal character provision in the constitution, which is similar to zoning, we have made it a point of duty to observe zoning,” he said.
In March, the governor of Sokoto, Aminu Tambuwal, who is a PDP presidential candidate, kicked against the idea of zoning the Presidency and cautioned the PDP to focus on winning elections.
He said the party would have the liberty to share power only after successfully winning the 2023 elections at the centre and in the states.
Tambuwal appeared to have countered the position of Rivers governor, Nyesom Wike, who insists that the main opposition party should zone its presidential ticket to the South-South.
A few days after rejecting zoning, Tambuwal said, “As our situation is in Nigeria today and in times like this, when the situation is so dire, and the country is in distress, members of that community or country must come together and put whatever differences they have aside to save the country.
“It calls for every concerted effort from every and all concerned citizen to put their hands together to rescue it from an imminent collapse.”
On April 8, PDP governors of southern states insisted that the party should zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the southern part of Nigeria for equity and fairness.
Speaking on behalf of the governors, the Governor of Abia, Okezie Ikpeazu, said they had watched developments in PDP regarding zoning with keen interest. Still, they had no reason to change their earlier stand.
We also think that equity and justice are essential pillars that will ultimately stabilise our politics towards our journey in rescuing Nigeria.Okezie Ikpeazu
Earlier, on April 6, the PDP committee on zoning recommended that the contest for the party’s presidential ticket be thrown open to aspirants from any part of the country.
In March, the Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) of the APC officially approved the recommendations of its committee on zoning arrangements.
The APC zoned the position of its National Chairman to the North-central geopolitical zone.
Aside from zoning the seat of its National Chairman to the North-central, seats exclusively reserved for members of the six states in the sub-region include the National Vice Chairman (North-central), Deputies of the National Secretary, National Legal Adviser, National and Publicity Secretary.
Others are Zonal Secretary, Zonal Youth Leader, Zonal Organising Secretary, Zonal Women Leader, Zonal Special Leader (Persons with Disabilities – PWD) and National Ex – Officio Member.
The positions of the National Publicity Secretary, National Women Leader, Deputy National Treasurer, and Deputy National Welfare Secretary were zoned to the South-south.
Other positions reserved for the region also include zonal offices applicable to other zones.
The seats of the APC National Secretary, National Vice Chairman (South-west), National Youth Leader and Deputy National Auditor were shared by members in South-west states which comprises Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo.
The Deputy National Chairman (South), National Vice Chairman (South-east), National Treasurer, National Welfare Secretary and Deputy National Organising Secretary were zoned to the South-east.
There were other zoning arrangements, and during a meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the 2023 presidential ticket of the party was zoned to the South.
Rising from the meeting, the APC said it had agreed on a zoning formula to swap offices held between the North and the South.
By the arrangement, all offices occupied by northerners in the last eight years will go to the South and vice visa.
There are no indications that other political parties have made or are going to make zoning decisions. Therefore, the APC may be the only political party whose decision is to ‘give power to the South’.
The Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), an umbrella body of the youth groups in the South-East geopolitical zone, criticised the 16 members of the PDP zoning committee for failing to ensure that the party zoned the presidency to the South.
COSEYL in a statement by its President-General, Goodluck Ibem, said it would amount to a betrayal of the people of the South if former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was privy to the zoning arrangement of the PDP from the onset, indicated interest to run for the presidency when it’s the turn of the South to produce the next president.
On April 13, the Christian Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria said that politicians who don’t mean well for the country are against zoning. It warned that the 2023 general election is under threat.
“…This is why we are demanding that efforts should be made to calm the tensed political tension in the country and in the various States. The first step is to respect the zoning arrangement in place by allowing a Southerner, especially someone from the South-East to produce the next president.”
This is the only roadmap towards lasting peace in the country, but politicians who don’t mean well for the country are against zoning.PFN
To corroborate this, In a letter, a former Youth Leader of the PDP wrote an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari saying:
I am using this medium to urge you to leverage your influence in the party towards zoning the president’s office to a candidate from the Igbo Tribe of Nigeria, whether from the South-East or South-South of the Nation. I am sure that your highly successful template of electing a consensus APC party chairperson can be deployed towards electing a consensus APC presidential candidate of Igbo extraction.
What happens next will be determined in the next couple of weeks or maybe months.
There are eight presidential candidates under the APC, 13 or more under the PDP, and about ten others spread across various parties, including Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Kingsley Moghalu, Khadijah Okunnu-Lamidi, and so on.
While we argue that it is all about zoning the presidency to the South – the reason zoning takes all these pages – we must realise that the big players are in it for the cake.
There are strong indications that the APC’s national leader, Bola Tinubu, would win the party’s primary election anytime. Still, the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, who Tinubu has denied as his ‘son’, has also declared. A vice-presidential announcement that took an empty room, soothing music, and words of an orator to do and cast a shadow over Tinubu’s ambition.
Again, Tinubu can win it anytime and is the most prepared for a primary. Although, he seems to be the least desirable candidate from the party, mainly because the Aso Rock cabal is not too fond of him.
It is, therefore, possible that they opt for consensus candidacy and pick someone least expected – a move Tinubu may disagree with and may push him to another party, knowing that he is a never-say-die individual.
The consensus candidate may well be Rotimi Amaechi or some other minister who has been pretending not to know that 2023 is when the next election will happen.
BusinessDay suggests that Tinubu is in talks with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to run on its platform, indicating that he may already know how the ting dey go. Tinubu is determined to add ‘president’ to his CV. He even said he does not know how to lose elections.
Osinbajo is not as significant to contend with Tinubu as he is loved on social media. And, he may not even have the political prowess to win a local government. Yet, he may have a certain kind of support that may have pushed him to declare to run for the presidency in 2023.
In the PDP, Atiku Abubakar has declared, Peter Obi – social media’s beloved son and Nyesom Wike are in the race, and while we argue for other ‘strong’ political candidates in the party, those three are poised as the strongest.
Atiku doesn’t seem to want to open a treasure chest this time, as he did when he defeated Kwankwaso, Saraki, and Tambuwal in the PDP presidential primaries during the 2019 election. Besides that, there are arguments that his age, ethnic group and religious leanings are too similar to the current president. But, he is not backing down. He has even asked young Nigerians to contest with him if they can.
Wike will do well to continue holding the PDP in his pocket because he may win the primaries and get confused about what to do next – comedy or leadership.
For Peter Obi, he is the people’s darling because he is assumed to have been a working governor during his administration in Anambra. However, cooking for your house is not the same as cooking for the community.
We like to say that 2023 is here, and we will have a smaller number when the parties all have their primaries. Thanks to the heavens, but where is Nigeria in the scheme of things?
The presidential candidates will sell the same agenda: “I will defeat Boko Haram, give you more pomo, and more akara. If that is not enough, I will give you more garri to drink.” However, when they attempt to make the agenda sophisticated, you begin to see that the candidates themselves have no idea what is written in those documents.
The presidential candidates do not believe in young Nigerians and instead massage their egos and focus on faux social media engagement to make it look like the youths are part of the system.
The presidential candidates know the power and influence of cash and will use this again this next election. After some of them have been stopped in their tracks through primaries, they will seek retribution somewhere to show they have the power and influence mentioned earlier.
Interestingly, some of these people understand the power of marketing and will use any means to sell themselves like angels would do, but where’s the political will and strength to do what Nigeria needs to move ahead?
As usual, Nigerians are in the mix of the games and may start another wailing round after the next inauguration; except if the ‘right’ person wins.
But, as they say, “the beautiful ones are not yet born”.
Omoleye Omoruyi… an apprentice web/game developer, novelist, sensitive to happenings in the world. Meet him @Lord_rickie on Twitter/Instagram