By Danladi Usman

As political activities continue to gather momentum ahead of the 2023 general election, the two leading political parties in the country, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, are yet undecided over the zoning of their presidential tickets. The silence of the APC and PDP on the zoning of their presidential ticket was what compelled Southern Governors Forum to demand that the two parties should zone their ticket to the south in 2023. The only governor produced by the PDP in the North Central zone, Dr Samuel Ortom has also thrown his weight to the clarion call for power shift to the south.

Since the return of democracy in 1999 it has become an unwritten tradition to rotate the presidency of the country between the north and the south to give every part of the country a sense of belonging.

Though the PDP laid the foundation for this rotation tradition, it has recently been playing hide and seek over its zoning formula, especially since its Committee on the Review of 2019 general election led by Bauchi state, Senator Bala Mohammed, recommended that the presidential ticket should be thrown open to interested aspirants from North and South. However, the outcome of the PDP national convention held on October 30 and 31 in Abuja which produced Senator Iyorcha Ayu as the in-coming National Chairman, has given fresh impetus for the party to pick its presidential candidate from the south.

While the PDP is dilly dallying over the zoning of its presidential ticket, the body language in the ruling APC indicates that the party will, most likely zone its ticket to the south. In tandem with this, virtually all the aspirants that have indicated interest in contesting for the APC National Chairmanship are from the north. The support of APC governors for power shift to the south in 2023 is also a strong indication of the direction the party is going.

As at last count, at least five APC governors have expressed support for power shift to the south in 2023. They include Governor Babangana Zulum of Borno State; Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State; Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano state; Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina state and Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa state.

Babagana Zulum is of the view that zoning the presidency to the south in the coming poll is crucial to national unity and inclusivity.

His words: “I have said it times without number that I am of the view that the presidency should go to the South in the year 2023 because the unity of our country is very important.

“Secondly, inclusivity is very important. Thirdly, I am in the APC. Six or seven years ago, APC had zoned the presidency to northern Nigeria based on the agreement that, in 2023, the presidency should go to the south.”

Governor El-Rufai was of the view that although the idea of rotating power is not enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, it is a political practice that should be respected.

His words: “The southern part of the country is supposed to produce the President come 2023; I don’t support a northerner to vie for the seat after President Muhammadu Buhari based on Nigeria’s political arrangement.”

Governor Ganduje believes that zoning is a strategy that favours the APC to win elections and as such, the south should benefit from it, while Governor Aminu Bello Masari backs the notion that in the spirit of fairness, equity and justice, a non-northern should succeed President Muhammadu Buhari come 2023.  nOn his part Governor Sule of Nasarawa does not see anything wrong in allowing a southern president to emerge in 2023.

Also, a former Kano State Governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, was reported to have said there is nothing wrong if a Nigerian from the southern region succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. In his remarks while featuring as a guest on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, he wants his political party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) to zone the presidency to the South.

The former governor believes rotating the office of the President between the North and South will give citizens the sense of belonging necessary for the development of the nation.

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“I have said it before (that) as far as the party I belong to is concerned – the APC, my proposal is that now that President Buhari is from the northern part of the country, he has done his eight years, let’s beam the searchlight to the southern part of Nigeria.

“Not because we don’t have enough competent people up North. If you say ‘let the other part of Nigeria produce the leader,’ that does not mean you are throwing to the dogs the issue of competence, the issue of credibility, and so on.

“While I agree we should go for the best and, therefore, throw it open regardless of which side of the country, we should also be mindful of aspects of the sense of belonging. You see, we must be mindful of the perception to give some sense of belonging to every part of Nigeria.”

Another chieftain of the APC, Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC-Kano) said the north had produced president for two terms in person of President Muhammadu Buhari, and the south should produce his successor.

“On the issue of the presidency in 2023, I will support a president from the southern part of the country. I believe it is time we have a president from the southern part of the country while the vice president comes from the north.

“I think it should be fair to rotate the presidency in such a way that people will have confidence in the system; both the north and the south will accommodate each other. Nigeria needs to be one country. One united country,’’ he said.

To show their sincerity to zone the presidency to the south, APC leaders and governors have already beamed their searchlight to the south for a sellable presidential ticket and have been wooing former President Goodluck Jonathan to join the party. The former president’s popularity has been on an upward scale since he saved the country from going over the cliff after his unprecedented handover in 2015. The hero welcome he got in Sokoto when he went to condole the Dasuki family was unprecedented, with the teeming crowd carrying placards and asking him to return to the presidency. In Jonathan, APC leaders see a man that could help them keep the presidency in 2023.

During Dr Jonathan’s 63rd birthday APC governors led by the Chairman of the Caretaker/ Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee of the All Progressives Congress, Mai Mala Buni visited the former president to felicitate with him. Among the governors on Buni’s APC entourage were: David Umahi (Ebonyi State), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi State) and Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa State. Former President of the Senate, Ken Nnamani, was also part of the delegation.

The visit to former President Jonathan by APC leaders rattled the national leadership of the PDP and the party quickly issued a statement titled, “APC governors’ visit to Jonathan affirms Nigeria is better with PDP,” and signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan.

According to the PDP, “The visit, which is a clear endorsement of the acceptability of the PDP administration, also indicates that the APC, in 2015, only created artificial symbols of misgovernance, corruption and other alleged misgivings just to discredit our party and grab the levers of power to achieve their selfish desires.

“It is evident that the Jonathan administration succeeded in office basically because our party understands the nuances of our nation, which we translated into people-oriented policies and programmes, in line with the manifesto of our party, to make life comfortable for Nigerians.”

As the 2023 general election is fast approaching the PDP will be at the losing end if they allow the APC to snatch former president Jonathan and make him their presidential candidate. The former leader has good followership in the south, including some PDP governors and that will, no doubt, join him if he decides to accept the offer being dangled to him by the ruling party. Though other aspirants like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, and Sam Ohuabunwa have indicated interest to contest for PDP ticket, the cost of fielding any of these aspirants against Jonathan, if the APC is able to convince him to contest on their platform. will be too heavy for the PDP.

Some PDP members are of the view that Jonathan can only do a single term because of constitutional restraints if they zone power to the south and he is made a presidential candidate. However, political pundits are of the view that PDP leaders are being shortsighted. They argue that it is better for the PDP to clinch the presidency in 2023, get back to Aso Rock and use the initial four years of another Jonathan presidency to rebuild the deepening crack in the party. If power is to stay in the south beyond 2027 the PDP would have had the opportunity of putting its house in order and groom a successor from the south that will complete the second term.

The fear in political circles is that if the PDP misses the opportunity of returning to the presidential villa in 2023 that might spell the death knell for the party. Already the rank of the party is depleting unchecked with members and governors defecting to the ruling APC. Only a popular candidate acceptable to Nigerians from the North and South and the political divide will restore the past glory of the PDP.