2023 Presidency: The north tackles the south

President Muhammadu Buhari: The North and South of Nigerian struggle for his seat

By Richard Elesho

Nigeria is on the edge. With an ever-deteriorating economic downturn laced with rising insecurity and secessionist agitations, these may not be the best of times for the country. But as the giant of Africa totters along the road to the 2023 general elections, discussions on which zone will produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor are threatening to widen the fault lines.

Although the elections are still almost two years away, debates over which zone will produce the next president is gradually turning into a house of commotion.

Since her return to democracy in 1999, there has been an unwritten understanding that in the spirit of federal character and all-inclusive governance, the presidency should rotate between the two broad regions in the country, namely north and south. Thus, like participants in a relay race, the next in line waits eagerly for his or her turn.

Buhari, a native of Daura, Katsina State in the northwest is on a second and final term. Governors from the southern part of the country, therefore, rose from a meeting in Lagos on Monday 5th July and made a strong demand that the presidency should be conceded to the zone in the next election cycle.

Governor of Ondo State who doubles as Chairman, Southern Governor’s Forum, SGF, Arakunrin Rotimi Akereredolu while reading the communique of the meeting noted: “The Forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern Region.”

Governor Rotimi Akeredolu

The Governors renewed the demand during their next meeting in Enugu on 16th September. The forum “reiterated their earlier position that the next President of Nigeria must come from the Southern part of Nigeria in line with politics of equity, justice and fairness.”

The SGF also resolved to back the efforts of Rivers and Lagos States to take control of the collection of Value Added Tax, VAT, from the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.

Before the Governor’s started canvassing for their position, some stakeholders in the north had promoted a similar view. But since the SGF formalised their standing, not a few persons in the north have opposed them with pure venom.

Deputy Chairman of Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Ambassador Yahaya Kwade accused the SGF of making remarks that could divide the country. He said but for their immunity, they deserved to be prosecuted for an offence against the State.

For Senator Ibrahim Shekarau, a former Governor of Kano State, what the southern governors did amounted to ‘ganging up.” Although he agreed that in the spirit of fairness, the presidency should be zoned to the South by the political parties in 2023, he objected to the style and language being employed by the 17 southern Governors.

The view that most aggregates northern response to the SGF demand was canvassed by their colleagues in the north.

The Northern Nigeria Governor’s Forum had an expanded emergency meeting in Kaduna on Monday, 27th Sept. The meeting which also had prominent traditional rulers from the 19 northern states in attendance, rejected the position of their southern counterparts on zoning and VAT describing it as unconstitutional.

Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong, who is also Chairman of the forum while making their resolutions public said of their colleagues’ demand:

“The Forum unanimously condemn the statement by the Southern Governors Forum that the Presidency must go to the South,”

He added that ‘some Northern States Governors had earlier expressed views for a power-shift to three Geo-Political Zones in the South with a view to promoting unity and peace in the Nation.

He however concluded that “the statement is quite contradictory with the provision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended that the elected President shall score the majority votes; score at least 25% of the votes cast in 2/3 States of the Federation. In the case of a run-up, a simple majority wins the election,” the forum added.

The northern governors also opposed the position of the southern governors on the collection of Value Added Tax (VAT) insinuating that their colleagues are confused on the matter.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai who played host to NGF meeting later explained that his colleagues were not against the next President coming from the south, but objected to the use of the word ‘must’ in the SGF resolution. He said the southern governors should have been diplomatic about their demand knowing it can only be achieved by collective action.