The earlier North Central decides whether it wants the presidential slot or the national chairmanship position of the two leading political parties ahead of the 2023 general election, the better.
Otherwise, the region stands the risk of not getting anything tangible on the platforms of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The zone, which includes Kogi, Benue, Plateau, Nassarawa, Kwara, Niger and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), only tasted the highest seat of power when Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) became the military Head of State through the counter coup of July 1966. Since then, the highest positions North Central has attained since Nigeria returned to democratic governance is the national chairmanship of PDP and president of the senate under the APC.
As the 2023 presidential election gathers steam, stakeholders from the zone seem to be working at cross purposes not knowing whether to clamour for the presidential slot to be zoned to it or settle for the national chairmanship of PDP and APC.
Some stakeholders from the region believe that the jostle for the chairmanship seat of APC is a clear indication that the party has resolved to zone the presidency to the south.
No fewer than 10 chieftains of APC from the north are jostling to contest the chairmanship seat at the next national convention of the party. Leading the pack is Senator Tanko Al-Makura, trailed by Senator Kashim Shettima, Senator George Akume, Senator Mohammed Musa, Salihu Mustapha and former governors of Zamfara and Borno states, Abdulaziz Yari and Ali Modu Sherrif.
Though the Governor Mai Mala-Buni-led APC Caretaker Committee has kept sealed lips on the issue of power shift, the desire of the aspirants is in tandem with the established tradition among the leading political parties that the slots for the presidency and chairmanship seats are shared between the north and south.
Chief Audu Ogbeh, Senators Barnabas Gemade, Ahmadu Ali from the north were national chairmen of PDP during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo (999-2007). A similar scenario played out under former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who had Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, Mohammed Haliru and Adamu Muazu as chairmen.
Both Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and Comrade Adams Oshiomhole from South-South region chaired APC from 2015 up till June last year under President Muhammadu Buhari before the National Working Committee (NWC) was dissolved and Bala-Buni Caretaker Committee was put in place.
But the recent call by Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, on the way to respect the rotational agreement between the north and south with regards to the presidency, may have allayed the fears the north would not relinquish power come 2023. Zulum’s call seem to buttress the arguments of some stakeholders from North Central who are calling on the party to zone the national chairmanship to the area.
However, Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, who has indicated interest in contesting the 2023 presidential election on APC’s platform, may not accept Zulum’s position. In the same vein, Zulum’s declaration has been said to be at variance with that of the former Zamfara governor and presidential aspirant, Ahmed Sani Yerima, who late last year dismissed claims of zoning arrangement in the APC.
Yerima had argued that zoning was alien to the Constitution, stressing that he would not drop his presidential ambition.
He said, “I don’t think there is anything like zoning. There was no meeting I didn’t attend, and no such discussion held in any of the meetings. Agreement can’t be verbal; it has to be written. In any case, any agreement contrary to the laws of this country is not an agreement. The Constitution is very clear, same with constitutions of the political parties and the electoral Act.
“We are in a democracy and democracy is government by processes and procedures and bye-laws. So the Constitution of Nigeria doesn’t recognise anything called zoning, likewise the APC Constitution.”
Observers believe that Yerima’s position could have given the impetus to Governor Bello of Kogi, who has been drumming support for his presidential bid ahead of the party’s decision on the chairmanship position.
Former governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha is also not relenting in his demand for the presidency to be zoned to the Southeast, saying it is the only zone in the South yet to occupy the office since 1999. Okorocha said zoning had become important considering the number of Ndigbo that have been joining the party in droves from opposition parties ahead of 2023.
Several groups, including members of the Bola Tinubu Support Organisation, led by Abubakar Kuso, have been drumming support for the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as Buhari’s successor in 2023. There are also speculations that Tinubu’s loyalists are positioning former Nasarawa State Governor, Tanko Al-Makura for the national chairmanship position should the party zone the presidency to the South.
Faulting the ambitions of presidential hopefuls from the north, especially Bello, a group, APC Patriotic Ambassadors of Nigeria (APAN), urged the Governor Mala-Buni-led National Executive Council (NEC) to zone the chairmanship to the North Central against the governor’s ambition.
National Coordinator of the group, Dr. Aliyu Ibrahim, while addressing journalists in Abuja, explained that the zone is the most strategic geo-political zone in Nigeria, with multi-cultural and multiethnic electoral investment opportunities.
According to him, “Zoning the position of the national chairman to North Central, will help galvanise more electoral victories for the party at both primary and secondary elections in future polls, beginning with 2023.
“APAN is by this move appealing to all APC chieftains and elected representatives in the three-tiers of government to give consideration to our call.”
In support of Bello, members of the Kogi Assembly have also called on leaders in the North Central region to demand that the presidency be zoned to the region. The lawmakers made the appeal in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, when they paid a visit to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq. The lawmakers said they had resolved to speak up on the matter in the interest of the zone.
Speaker, Matthew Kolawole, said the zone had not benefited from power sharing in the country under the current dispensation. “North Central has not really benefited from power sharing under any democratic setting, particularly for office of president and vice president. When it is time to talk about zoning arrangements, we ask that the presidency be zoned to the North Central,” he said.
National Chairman of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Yabagi Yusuf Sani–Sani, expressed the view that the region was qualified to produce Nigeria’s president after Buhari leaves office in 2023. “It’s only the North Central that has not been given the opportunity to produce a civilian head of government. People say we have produced military heads of state, but those were results of personal adventure.
“Now, we are talking of merit; people with skills, track record and experience to give this country the leadership it deserves. Unfortunately, it’s not about what you can offer, but where you come from. If at all zoning is about equity and fairness and giving every Nigerian sense of belonging, I think it is the turn of the region,” he argued.
Traditional rulers from the zone have also not been silent on the quest by political elites to rule the country. Chairman, Olamaboro Local Government Traditional Council, Kogi State, and the Ejeh of Olamaboro, Enek’ojokpuche, Ujah Sani Simeon, said the North Central should be supported to produce Nigeria’s next President. He made the call during a courtesy visit to the Gbong Gwom Jos and Chairman, Joint Traditional Council of Chiefs and Emirs, Plateau State, Da Jacob Gyang Buba in his Palace in Jos.
In the PDP, there is also indication that former President of the Senate; Bukola Saraki is jostling to contest the party’s presidential ticket following the report of Governor Bala Mohammed’s committee, which recommended that the party should throw open its search for a presidential candidate.
Reliable sources told the medi that the former Governor of Kwara State might contest the PDP’s presidential ticket if the party heeds the advice of the committee.
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