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2023 Presidency: The Mind Game Begins!


………Zoning, personalities shape debate ahead of 2023 presidency

It is about three years to the next general election, but political maneuverings have started in several quarters across the various political parties, geopolitical zones and power blocs over the 2023 presidency even as President Muhammadu Buhari, who was re-elected for a second term during the February/March 2019 general election has not spent up to one year in office.

Ordinarily, the scheming would not have commenced at the moment if not for the fact that President Buhari will not be taking another shot at the number one position given that he is on his last tenure. The 1999 Constitution (as amended), in paragraph 137 (b), states that “a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if he has been elected to such office at any two previous elections.”

Buhari was first elected as president in 2015, when he defeated an incumbent – Goodluck Jonathan – and was re-elected in the last presidential election. Having been sworn-in as president two times, he is expected to bow out on May 29, 2023 after serving out the constitutionally allowed two terms.

Already, the President has given a hint about his retirement plan. He said he will retire to Daura – his home town – after he completes his second term in 2023. “This is my second and final term, at the end of which I will, God willing, go to Daura and settle down,” he revealed during a meeting with some traditional rulers from across the country at the presidential villa in March, 2019.

But, three years ahead of the poll that will see the emergence of Buhari’s successor; it is a fierce debate over where power shift to as well as the likely heir to the coveted throne. Geopolitical zones and even names of some personalities are presently being touted, with some continuously resonating over time.

The zoning debate

Power is expected to shift to the South in 2023 given the zoning deal between the country’s two political divides – North and South, which took effect with the country’s return to civil rule in 1999. However, indications are that the battle for the 2023 presidency may go beyond that if emerging developments in the polity are anything to go by.

For instance, the euphoria in the North over Buhari’s re-election in February last year had hardly gone down, before some northern political leaders started canvassing the need for their region to hold on to power beyond 2023. Their clamour was stemmed on the need for the North to hold on to power for at least another four years in order to be at par with the South.

The present democratic dispensation is almost 21 years old and the power rotation arrangement, though not constitutional, has seen the South had the presidency for 13 years through Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (South-West, 1999-2007) and Jonathan (South-South, 2010-2015), while the North would have been in power for 11 years by the time Buhari completes his second term in 2023.

The plot by the North started like a pun, when the national president of Arewa Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, said in a media interview that there was no going back for the North’s bid for the 2023 presidency, but later gained ground among political elites from the region.

Among other northern leaders, who have so far expressed support for the bid include Second Republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed, a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. They all made a case for the abandonment of zoning arrangement, not only for the Office of President, but for other political offices as currently obtainable in the country.

But the belief in the South is that it would be politically suicidal for the North to attempt retaining power after Buhari. Most southern political leaders, who have cautioned against calls for an end to rotational presidency, maintained that canvassing for the abolition of rotational presidency at this point is not in the interest of the country.

According to them, Nigeria’s unity is presently under threat over rising insecurity, so anybody that is saying that the zoning arrangement for the presidency should be abolished now is trying to cause civil and constitutional crisis which may aggravate issues on ground.

But given the dynamics of politics, discerning minds are of the view that only political neophytes would wish away the plot by the North as pundits viewed postulations by the northern political leaders as subtle moves aimed at discarding the zoning arrangement, which undoubtedly favours the South in 2023.

Twists and turns

The zoning debate was still raging, when what seemed a detour by the North emerged. Interestingly, it came from one of the arrowheads of the 2023 Northern agenda, el-Rufai.

According to the Kaduna State governor, the presidency should return to the South after Buhari’s tenure in conformity with the zonal arrangement embraced by the major political parties.

His words: “The general political consensus in Nigeria is that the presidency should rotate between the North and South. It is not written, but everyone understands it. In some of the parties, like the PDP, it is even written down in their constitution, but it was breached in 2015.

“I think that every politician of honour should understand and abide by that consensus except there is an extenuating circumstance compelling it to be set aside. What could this be? President Yar’Adua died in office and it was compulsory for Jonathan to continue, but when 2011 election came, there were many people who insisted that Jonathan should step aside for a northerner to complete the tenure of Yar’Adua, but I opposed it because I didn’t think it was proper for an incumbent that got there not by his own design to be stopped from contesting when the constitution has not barred him from running.

“In the APC, we deliberately omitted rotational presidency in our constitution and the emergence of a presidential candidate does not take into account zoning and that was why in 2015, Rochas Okorocha from the South-East contested, Sam Nda-Isaiah contested, Buhari, Kwankwaso and others contested. I can say that as distinct from the PDP, APC has no rotational presidency but candidates are selected strictly on the basis of political merit and the general acceptability of the candidate.

“I want to say that those of us from Northern Nigeria honour agreements. We do not violate unwritten political agreements and I will be the last person to lead in violating that agreement. I may have a personal view, but that should be the basis. I don’t care where you come from but I look for merit.

“But as a group, the northern APC will have to sit down and endorse someone, most likely someone from the South, because after eight years of Buhari, I don’t think the presidency should remain in the North unless there is some extenuating circumstances. But all things being equal, we will honour our agreement and we keep our words.”

While many are still suspicious of el-Rufai’s detour, insisting that the South should not take it for its face value given that it has so far been a mind game over the 2023 presidential race as none of those jostling to replace Buhari, whether in the ruling party or the opposition coming out in the open to declare interest. 

So far, several names have been mentioned on the side of the APC. They include a former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; el-Rufai; Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi; former governor of Borno State, Kashin Shettima and former Zamfara State governor, Senator Sani Yerima, among several others.

Similarly, names being dropped in the camp of the main opposition PDP include former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was the party’s presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal and a former PDP Deputy National Chairman, Chief Olabode George.

Besides Yerima and George who have made their intentions known, none of the other personalities have confirmed or disclaimed being linked to the 2023 presidential race, but if their respective body languages are anything to go by, it is only a matter of time before the picture becomes clearer.

Will Tinubu run?

The APC national leader is one politician many have come to love or hate. But to those, who understand the game of power, Tinubu is one man you ignore to later bite your fingers.

Blessed with uncanny ability to identify political as well as electoral assets, Tinubu is reported to have said immediately after the 2011 elections reasoned that if General Muhammadu Buhari, who contested the poll on a relatively unknown platform – Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), could poll 12 million votes without much resources and national appeal, then he is the man to be pushed forward for 2015.

Both men had made an attempt before the polls to forge an alliance that will oust the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but the deal crashed at the eleventh hour.

The product of Tinubu’s assumption after Buhari’s impressive showing in that poll was the coming together of major opposition political parties – CPC, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The party was later boosted by aggrieved members of the PDP, who jumped ship, and for the first time since 1999, when the country returned to civil rule, the opposition was able to speak with one voice.

Tinubu’s support for Buhari in the 2015 presidential race stemmed from the party’s national convention in Lagos, where he mobilised APC governors and other party stakeholders to ensure that the former head of state was not muscled out by other presidential aspirants with huge financial war chests.

This explained why Buhari defeated four other aspirants – former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; then Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso; Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha and the publisher of Leadership Newspapers, Sam Nda-Isaiah, in a keen contest to clinch the APC ticket. He polled 4,430 votes to beat Kwankwaso to the second position with 974 votes.

Shockingly, Atiku, who many had thought would give Buhari a good fight, was a distant third with 954 votes. Okorocha came fourth with 624 votes, while Nda-Isaiah had 10 votes.

To further push the Buhari candidacy, the former Lagos governor also jettisoned his purported vice presidential ambition after consultations with party chieftains on the effect of a Muslim/Muslim ticket on APC’s chances in the presidential poll.

This paved way for the choice of a former Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as Buhari’s running, although not without Tinubu’s endorsement. Osinbajo served in Tinubu’s government.

Tinubu walked his talk as he was in the forefront of Buhari’s campaign, traversing the length and breadth of the country, canvassing for votes for the former military ruler. Many also believe that he was the major financier of the APC presidential project in 2015.

To many political observers, Tinubu was the reason for the inroad Buhari made in the South-West in the 2015 presidential poll. The former’s influence is beyond Lagos, as his political dynasty has spread to states like Osun, Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti states.

It was against the backdrop of Tinubu’s unflinching support for the Buhari administration that many were shocked, when he reportedly declared in February 2017 that he would run for the presidency in 2019.

The APC national leader, who then spoke during the inauguration of Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu as governor of Ondo State, said he will not rule out the possibility of running for the office of president, but emphasised that it will only happen if there is a vacancy in the presidency.

His words: “You see there is nothing wrong with such ambition. It depends on the timing and the environment and what political leadership dictates. I will not brush aside such an aspiration. It has been historical even that Buhari tried first, second, third, and fourth before he got it.”

Tinubu further that there was no way he will reject an opportunity to serve the country. “How can I rule such a thing out, the opportunity to serve my country? But you only do that when there is a vacancy,” he said.

Expectedly, meanings were read into Tinubu’s statement. While some insinuated that he had already set machinery in motion to vie for the country’s top job then, others said he is likely dump the ruling party for another platform to actualise his ambition.

But the former Lagos State governor came out to debunk the claim, saying he would rather support President Buhari. According to him, those who misconstrued his comment to mean that he would contest the 2019 presidential election were out to pitch him against President Buhari.

His words: “As long as that patriotic and committed man named Muhammadu Buhari holds and seeks to hold the mantle as our president, then Asiwaju Tinubu stands behind him in unwavering support and confidence.

“Asiwaju Tinubu remains faithful to the mission of progressive reform and change that President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have started. Tinubu was instrumental in the formation and success of the APC. His toil and efforts helped establish this government.  He is not one to tear down something he laboured so dutifully to build.”

While some analysts reasoned then that Tinubu sold a dummy to test the political waters given his ability to read situations and know when to throw his hat to the ring, it seems that the coast is now clear for the man most of his admirers refer to as Jagaban to actualize his dream.

The APC national leader has not officially declared intention for the 2023 presidency, but there have been pockets of endorsements in that regard from different quarters. Equally, some groups have sprung, urging him to run.

The most recent of such endorsements was last week’s declaration by the Lagos State chapter of the ruling party that Tinubu has what it takes to rule Nigeria.

Lagos APC Secretary, Lanre Ogunyemi, who spoke on behalf of the party, said: “Tinubu has all it takes to lead this country and he has all the fundamental rights as a Nigerian to aspire. It’s now left for Nigerians to accept or not. It’s now left for the party to decide who flys its flag as the presidential candidate come 2023.

“Whether he has briefed us or not on his aspiration, whether he is experiencing any body language, whether people are against it or not, we are sure that he has everything to lead this nation. This is a man who has contributed tremendously to what we call modern Nigeria. This is a man that we see as the Moses of our time, that has a lot of resourcefulness and he has exhibited that over time and over the years.”

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