By Majeed Dahiru
At a time when elements of the conservative northern political establishment in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) appear to have resolved to shift presidential power to the South of Nigeria in 2023, the liberal northern politicians in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seem determined to retain power in the northern region beyond 2023. Led by President Muhammadu Buhari, the conservative northern establishment, which has been in firm control of the politics of Nigeria’s largest democratic demography since 2015, when the APC came to power, may have come to the realisation that it cannot hold on to power after eight years without severe consequences for the unity and continuous existence of Nigeria. From all indications, as seen in the near absence of northern presidential aspirants on its platform, the President Buhari-led APC has clearly settled for a Nigerian president of southern origin, beginning from 2023 when Nigerians will go to the polls to vote for a new president.
On the other hand, the PDP, with its strongest political support base in the South and minority areas of the North (the Middle Belt), and which is expected to be the most willing to pick its presidential candidate from the region, is looking towards the North for its presidential redemption. Clearly unprepared for a Southern presidency, the PDP is hoping to opportunistically inherit the massive votes of Northern Nigeria by fielding a candidate from the region at a time the APC is looking South. In the thinking of many a PDP stalwart from the South, the interest of the party should be to win the next presidential election by any means possible and not be concerned by the morality of zoning for the purpose of equity, justice and unity. Having been defeated twice in the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections by the APC, which was heavily enamoured on both occasions by the massive votes of Nigeria’s largest voting bloc in the Muslim North, some PDP stalwarts from the South, like members of a defeated army whose officers and men are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, have surrendered to the political supremacy of Northern Nigeria.
In their consideration, an average Muslim Northerner is incapable of making rational political decisions without being influenced by ethno-geographic and religious sentiments, which makes it impossible for a Southerner to defeat a Northerner in any presidential contest in Buhari’s Nigeria. And for the PDP to win back the presidency of Nigeria in 2023, the candidate has to be Northern and Muslim. Even when there are clear indications that the political establishment in the region has reached a decision to cede power to the South in 2023, some PDP pundits have expressed doubt about the sincerity of this purpose, given the fact that Northern Nigeria holds the knife (power) and the yam (patronage) and can decide to keep both.
Whilst it is true that the North has the knife and yam in Buhari’s Nigeria, yet much as it may want to keep both, it is in the long-term interest of the region to relinquish power to the South as a last ditch effort to salvage whatever is left of Nigeria’s national unity and cooperate coexistence. Whereas the North wants power, still its needs the unity of the Nigerian state for its regional self-enlightened interest.
Relying on this impression of the political invincibility of the Muslim North, a legion of presidential aspirants from the region have been straddling the lengths and breadths of Nigeria and making a case for “winnability” over the morality of zoning, as the PDP prepares for the 2023 presidential election. However, the widespread clamour for power shift to the South by leaders of the region across ethnic, religious and partisan divides, as contained in the Asaba Declaration of the 17 Southern governors in May 2021; a position that has been adopted by the leadership of ethnic nationalities in the region and the seeming willingness of the APC to field a Southern candidate in the 2023 presidential election, has made the PDP find itself in a state of flux, amidst a raging controversy over zoning.
Whilst it is true that the North has the knife and yam in Buhari’s Nigeria, yet much as it may want to keep both, it is in the long-term interest of the region to relinquish power to the South as a last ditch effort to salvage whatever is left of Nigeria’s national unity and cooperate coexistence. Whereas the North wants power, still its needs the unity of the Nigerian state for its regional self-enlightened interest. Having failed to improve the socio-economic condition of the region and leaving it, by the end of his eight year rule, a terrorised, war thorn, poverty stricken dungeon of insecurity, President Buhari, despite his crass sectionalism, failed to wean Northern Nigeria off revenue dependency from oil minerals and tax revenues from the South.
It is the monthly allocation from crude oil revenues to the 19 states and 419 local governments of the North that is used to fund the elaborate and flamboyant Emirate system in the region. Just as the monthly allocation is also used to sustain the rich lifestyles of the political elite and their Ulama collaborators, whose duty is to put a stamp of religious authority on their divine right to rule over the people. Most importantly, for a region that is ravaged on all sides by terrorist groups, Northern Nigeria may fall to the combined armies of Boko Haram and killer herdsmen in the event of a prolonged disruption of oil production by militant agitators in the oil producing states of the South, resulting in the inability of government to fund security operations. Aware of this stark reality, in addition to a deeply polarised polity along the North/South and Muslim/Christian divides, the North may have taken a painful decision to cede power to a trusted ally and friend from the South, who has the capacity to heal a fractured Nigeria by not elevating the interest of his region over those of the others. It may have been provoked, abused and maligned but the North is not ready for a divorce from the Southern lady of means. And this is why no Northern presidential candidate of any party is likely to make much impact in the North, as most of the votes in the region will be mobilised for a preferred Southern candidate in the 2023 presidential election.
For a multi-ethnic and religious country like Nigeria, the principles of zoning and rotation of political leadership positions amongst the constituent peoples and regions, which has been in place since its independence in 1960 as a means of ensuring justice, inclusivity, peace and unity, is affirmed in section 14 of the 1999 Constitution…
For a multi-ethnic and religious country like Nigeria, the principles of zoning and rotation of political leadership positions amongst the constituent peoples and regions, which has been in place since its independence in 1960 as a means of ensuring justice, inclusivity, peace and unity, is affirmed in section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, which states that; “The COMPOSITION of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs SHALL be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.” It is in furtherance of this constitutional provision that a political convention was evolved to rotate the office of the president between the pre-amalgamation (1914) territories of Northern and Southern Nigeria every after two terms of eight years each.
That the PDP may not sail against the strong wind of the presidency that is blowing South, will be for the party to field a Southern candidate as its candidate in the 2023 presidential election. For the PDP, the 2023 presidential election is not just about “winnability” but actually survival. While the APC is dominant in the North and the PDP’s strongest support base is in the South, the move by the APC to field a Southern candidate in the 2023 presidential election will torpedo the PDP from the region, if the party fields a Northern candidate. And if the PDP goes ahead to sail against the wind in 2023 by fielding a Northern candidate, the ship of the party will capsize, sink into oblivion, as the party will lose in the North and in the South to the APC and go into extinction in post Buhari Nigeria.
• Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Abuja and can be reached through email@example.com.