As various interests strategise for 2023, the issue of zoning of presidential tickets by the two leading political parties is posing challenges to the Southwest.
While stakeholders in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) insist that a 2014 understanding of North, South rotation of the presidency be allowed to stand, stakeholders in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are cleverly not showing commitment. Rather, they are concerned by the need for the PDP to have a strong candidate, irrespective of zoning, to oust the ruling party.
Religion could play a role in determining candidates the region will throw up, especially on the APC platform. Some members of the party are of the view that the North would prefer a Southern Christian to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. Their contention is that such arrangement would allow the north to produce a strong Muslim, as a running mate. Otherwise, the country may witness another Muslim/Muslim scenario as it occurred in 1993 when the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) produced the late MKO Abiola, a southern Muslim, and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, a northern Muslim as candidate and running mate.
IF the argument is sustained, it limits the ambition of the national leader of APC, Bola Tinubu, who is a Muslim from Southwest. The North might not be disposed to another Muslim from the South succeeding the incumbent since this will leave the region with the challenge of searching for an acceptable Christian to present as running mate.
Although Tinubu is yet to declare his intention to contest the presidency, his body language seems to have given him out. Recall that a former lawmaker, Dayo Adeyeye, recently disclosed that the reason for the establishment of the South-West Agenda (SWAGA) was for it to serve as an organ for the presidential campaign of Tinubu. Yet, the national leader has failed to deny or dissociate himself from the activities of the group and others who have been speaking for him.
However, should the APC concede the presidential slot to the South and micro-zone it to the Southwest, there are about five likely contenders the region may pick from.
There is Bola Tinubu, who is already interfacing with other stakeholders across the country ahead of APC’s national convention scheduled to hold later in the year. His Muslim background may, however, hamper his ambition should exigencies favour a Southern Christian to succeed Buhari.
The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo could be favoured in the scheme of things. He stands a fair chance being a Christian, having served as the vice president so far.
The argument against his choice could be that he is also from Ogun State, like Olusegun Obasanjo, who did eight years as president.
An inside source in Southwest APC, told The Guardian, “There is nothing wrong with Osinbajo but it would amount to cheating on other states from the zone if Ogun State produces the next president.
“Premier of Old Western Region, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo came from Ogun State. Head of the defunct Interim National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan, also came from Ogun State. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is from Ogun State while Osinbajo himself is from Ogun.
“It would be cheating on other states from Southwest if Ogun again presents Buhari’s successor on APC platform in 2023, or are we saying there are no qualified people from Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Lagos, and Ekiti to rule Nigeria?”
Another possible contender is the incumbent Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who is also the Chairman Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).
The former Minister of Solid Minerals Development is said to have a strong working relationship with the north, especially as he is alleged to belong to the Abuja cabal, which is touted to prefer anybody else apart from Tinubu to succeed President Buhari in 2023.
It was alleged that the opportunity granted to the Ekiti State governor by the northern elite to address the Arewa House at the Forum on the 50th Anniversary of the Centre for Historical Documentation and Research (Arewa House), on October 30, 2020, indicated the confidence the northern hegemony has in Fayemi. “This may likely translate into support for the governor in the 2023 calculations if the party decides to zone the presidency to Southwest,” the source added.
In the speech titled: ‘Unfinished Greatness – Towards a More Perfect Union in Nigeria’, Fayemi assured the north that, the notion that the amalgamation of southern and northern Nigeria 1914 was a mistake, was wrong. Rather, he said what Nigerians need to do is to conquer “the demon of mutual suspicion and distrust that has poisoned Nigeria’s politics and subverted its will to forge the necessary consensus crucial to marching confidently towards our destiny as a great nation.”
But does Fayemi have the war chest to contest the party’s ticket with Tinubu if the game is left open? Unlike the national leader, Fayemi seems to stand a better chance of getting the support of major socio-cultural groups in Southwest, but how far that translates into wider support of the zone remains in the works.
Incumbent Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola is another possible choice for the region. He is said to be very close to and loved by President Buhari as well as other northern elements in the party.
Before President Buhari nominated his cabinet after the 2015 election, there were speculations that the powers-that-be in Lagos was not disposed to Fashola’s ministerial appointment. But surprisingly, Buhari put him in charge of three ministries, Power, Housing, and Works. That was the first of its kind in the country. In 2019, the president only removed the Ministry of Power and still left Fashola to control Works and Housing.
Since 2015, the minister has been seen as the starboy of President Buhari’s government even despite its lackluster performance. Fashola had distanced himself from party politics, but his recent advice to the leadership of APC to respect the ‘gentleman agreement’ of power shift to Southwest after Buhari’s tenure in 2023 suggests there may be some undercurrents.
Though, Fashola may also face the challenge of religion if the party decides to push him for the presidency, sources in the party say the former Lagos governor still stands a better chance among other contenders.
Years after going off the spotlight over the loss of his re-election bid in 2019, the Mai Mala-Buni-led Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) recently appointed former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos into its Contact/Strategy Committee.
The decision to bring Ambode on board is considered in certain quarters as a way of preparing him for a greater task.
Ambode, being a Christian, might also be on the shop list of the northern oligarchy in their search for who to succeed Buhari in 2023.
Meanwhile, a source from the party dismissed the insinuation, saying, the best the party could do to reward the former governor of Lagos is to offer him a return ticket to complete his remaining four years.
Speaking on the issue of Southwest and 2023 presidency, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Ebenezer Babatope said the PDP is yet to give the issue of zoning the presidency to South any consideration. He said, “If the party eventually decides to zone the presidency to the South and also micro-zone if to Southwest, we may have no choice than to support Chief Olabode George to vie for the ticket.”
According to him, “to contest the presidency involves a lot of money, energy, and influence, which Chief George possesses. In the absence of that, we are not desperate to have the ticket in Southwest; our major concern is that the PDP should present a strong candidate that has what it takes to defeat APC in 2023. Nigerians need to chase APC out of government in 2023 because the suffering is too much. The incumbent administration has lost what it takes to rule Nigeria for another four years.”
Babatope added that if the principle of justice, equity, and fairness is to apply, “Southeast is the zone to produce the next president after Buhari. But that may not apply in the circumstance we found ourselves now.”
A chieftain of APC and National Chairman of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Mr. Wale Oshun said the agreement in the party was that the presidency would rotate between North and South. “But on the platform of APC, if we are to argue where the party is stronger, we can then talk of Southwest because of its contribution to the victory of APC in 2015 and 2019. There is no zone that does not have qualified and competent people in terms of education and other qualities to rule Nigeria.”
Oshun, however, dismissed the factor of religion as a non-issue when it comes to Southwest. “We don’t lay too much emphasis on religion. I don’t see any religious factor working against anybody if the party micro-zones the presidential ticket to Southwest.”
The former National Vice Chairman, PDP Southwest, Dr. Eddy Olafeso said the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) is still studying the report of Governor Bala Mohammed and will submit its findings to the National Executive Council (NEC) for ratification.
He added that the issue of zoning was not as important in PDP as the best strategy to deploy to push APC out of power in 2023.