The debate on which zone produces Nigeria’s president in 2023, which is not new, has gained gravitas with the defection of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Umahi claimed he defected because the PDP has never zoned the presidency to the South East since the return to civil rule in 1999, despite the massive support the party enjoys in the zone. Worse still, in his view, the PDP does not seem keen on doing so in 2023.
But he did not say whether the APC apparatchik promised him that the zone would be given the opportunity when President Muhammadu Buhari completes his tour of duty.
Three weeks ago, I asked an APC chieftain in Abuja if it was true that the ruling party promised Umahi a shot at the Villa in 2023, hence his impending defection to the party. The party chieftain was rather dismissive.
“You should ask Umahi who made the promise to him, where and how. Why would anyone make such a promise to Umahi of all people – just because he is a state governor? It is funny,” the man said. That was before Umahi’s formal defection, a move Buhari curiously said was not only bold but also “driven purely by principle rather than opportunistic motives”.
Even as a PDP chieftain, Umahi, ever obsequious, has always sucked up to Buhari. So, could there have been an agreement between the two that other APC chieftains may not be privy to? Can anyone place any premium on any political agreement reached with Buhari that does not burnish his personal interest? I doubt. But one fact is indubitable.
Political gamble Umahi’s political gamble may well be a shot in the dark, or even unhinged as some have said, but it has no doubt ruffled some feathers not only within the PDP fold but also in the APC and sparked a fresh conversation on zoning.
Before now, the APC had pretended not to make heavy weather of the zoning palaver. Not anymore.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola – a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, and two-term governor of Lagos State – gathered reporters in his Abuja office to warn that a hitherto unknown zoning agreement at the formation of the APC ahead of the 2015 elections should be respected in 2023.
As a senior lawyer, Fashola should have more than perfunctory knowledge of the nature of agreements and he told the journalists that much. Said he: “The truth is that what makes an agreement spectacular is the honour in which it is made not whether it is written.
If it was written, there would be no court cases of breach of contract because it is a document that is written and signed that goes to court. But the private agreement you make with your brother and sister should not be breached, it must be honoured.”
Fashola was smart not to reveal specifically the content of the agreement. But he should know because the agreement he is talking about was reached when he was the governor of Lagos and, therefore, at the centre of the negotiations that culminated in the merger of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC; Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP; a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA; and the new PDP to form the APC in 2013.
“I belong to a party, the APC, and I am committed to good governance because I think the best politics is good governance,” he stressed. The flip side of Fashola’s argument is that the APC has neither played the best of politics since inception nor provided good governance since it came to federal power more than five years ago.
Reporting the same story, Daily Trust was more revealing when it quoted a source who, like Fashola, claimed there was an understanding that the presidency should rotate between the North and the South. But unlike Fashola, the anonymous party stalwart, who claimed he was there when the APC was founded, went further: “I think at that time there was an understanding that the presidency would be produced by the North and later South, and South West in particular.”
It is hard to fathom why anyone would want to remain anonymous on such a harmless issue. Or could it be that Fashola and the faceless APC chieftain who remembered that the party zoned the presidency to the South West are one and the same person – just two sides of a coin? Of course, there is no clear-cut provision for presidential zoning in the APC constitution.
Article 20 that deals with election, appointments and criteria for nomination, says: “All such rules, regulations and guidelines shall take into consideration and uphold the principle of federal character, gender balance, geo-political spread and rotation of office, to as much as possible, ensure balance within the constituency covered.”
That is the closest the party got to the issue in its constitution. But even that has been flagrantly abused by Buhari. So, why is Fashola flying the kite of zoning now, almost three years to the 2023 elections? Was there really an agreement in the APC that presidential power should rotate between the North and South or between the North and South West? Is Fashola agitated that some Northern political hawks in the APC intending to retain the presidency in their region on the expiration of Buhari’s second term are plotting to thwart the North-South power shift arrangement or is he agitated only because the plot against the South East seems to have been extended to the South West? If Fashola is peeved that some people are reneging on the so-called agreement to cede power to the South West, a region that produced a president who served eight years and a vice president on the cusp of serving eight years, how does he feel being part of such a conspiracy against the South East? Are there no Igbo in the APC or it simply doesn’t matter to him? Such greed for power beggars belief but it explains why the South is politically where it is in Nigeria. Did South East chieftains of the APC who were also founding members such as Dr. Chris Ngige, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, among others, partake in this agreement to cede power to the South West after Buhari or could it be that they were just fooling themselves as equal stakeholders in the party? To be sure, I am not excited about the prospects of a Nigerian president of Igbo, or as some people would prefer, South East extraction, as long as Nigeria remains configured the way it is right now.
Why? Such a president will not make any difference. Yes, such an identity politics in a milieu such as Nigeria’s will benefit a few Igbo who are fortunate enough to be close to the president.
But ultimately, the president will be consumed by the same politics of appeasement that saw former President Goodluck Jonathan not finishing a 20-kiliometre road in his home state of Bayelsa, even as he was busy building Almajirai schools in the North. And Ndigbo will pay the price for such a power mishap.
Jonathan failed because rather than seek the good of the commonwealth, he pacified the Northern political elite that had no regard for him.
The fate of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction will be worse. At the end of the day, neither Nigeria nor the South East will benefit from such an arrangement. Yet, it will give detractors the opportunity to ridicule Ndigbo. So, those who seek for a Nigeria that works for all should ensure that the country is restructured before the 2023 elections.
In a restructured Nigeria, Ndigbo don’t need to be president to excel. As the last 60 years have proven, the resilience, ingenuity, resourcefulness, creativity, imagination of Ndigbo are all it takes to be a great nation.
A restructured Nigeria, unencumbered by asinine primordial cleavages, is what Ndigbo need to leapfrog the country’s development. It will only take those who believe in Nigeria to make the country great.
Ndigbo who inhabit all the nooks and crannies of this country are without compare. But it will also be the height of greediness for the Yoruba to seek another eight years of presidency even when Ndigbo are consciously excluded. That is not how to build an egalitarian society of equal opportunities.