There have been many talking points in conversations around Nigeria’s approaching 2023 general election in recent times. But by far the one talking point that has generated the most controversies and arguments is the zoning or rotation of presidential power between the North and the South of the country. The controversy centers on the issue of which region between the North and the South should produce President Buhari’s successor.
While the North argues that since the Nigerian constitution does not recognize power rotation, it reserves the right to retain the presidency after Buhari, the South insists that it is its turn to produce the nation’s president since a northerner would have been president for 8 consecutive years by 2023.
Power rotation was a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) invention to address issues of marginalization and inequity in the distribution of national political offices, especially the presidency, which some sections of the country had repeatedly complained about. By the power rotation arrangement, a president from saying the North would hand over to one from the South after having served his constitutionally allowable two terms of eight years in office and vice versa. It was for this reason that former President Olusegun Obasanjo handed over power to former President Umar Musa Yar’adua of blessed memory.
The arrangement has always been controversial right from its inception.
Politicians would deny its existence and usefulness when it does not favor them but would readily reference it when it suits them. For instance, after President Yar’adua died in 2010, the North insisted that his then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, should not contest the 2011 Presidential election because it was the turn of the North to produce the president to complete Yar’adua’s tenure.
The controversy spilled over into the 2015 election when the North again insisted that it was its turn to produce the president. It was against the background that Jonathan had reneged on the power rotation agreement that prompted the politicians and the elite of the northern region, irrespective of political affiliation, to queue behind the candidacy of Muhammadu Buhari, resulting in his eventual victory at the polls.
However, it appears that the power rotation or zoning controversy has taken a turn for the worse this time around than at those previous times. The entire nation is polarized along regional lines as the conversation about who becomes the nation’s next president in 2023 takes center stage.
The issue is threatening to cause an implosion in the two major political parties—the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP—if they do not manage it well.
It is already creating some kind of tension in the PDP. The party’s recently zoned its chairmanship position to the North based on the recommendations of the Zoning Committee that it set up. But it left the presidency open for both regions to fight for.
Ordinarily, by some unwritten understanding, one region cannot produce both the party chairman and the president cannot come from one region. However, the top hierarchy of northern elements within the party is scheming underground to produce the party’s flag bearer at the 2023 presidential polls.
The APC is battling its zoning demons as well. Indeed its demons are bigger and fiercer for obvious reasons.As the ruling party, it has a greater likelihood to win the coming polls. But for that same reason, it also has the greater burden to rotate power to the South than the PDP has since the current president, a northerner, will be serving out his tenure. The party’s headache becomes even much worse given the insistence by some key northern elements within its fold that zoning or power rotation is a PDP contraption that does not exist in the APC’s constitution. These elements want the power to remain in the North.
Any of these two main parties which manage the aftermath of the zoning issue well will most likely clinch the presidential seat in 2023.
For the party that fails to manage the situation well, I foresee a repeat of the scenario that played out in 2015. Aggrieved and disgruntled members of one party would either decamp to the other party or stay put in their respective parties while they actively support the candidate of the other party primarily because of regional affiliation or solidarity.
This happened in 2015 when some key members of the PDP from the North decamped to the APC while others stayed put but clandestinely supported the candidate of the APC, Muhammadu Buhari, against their party’s candidate, Goodluck Jonathan.
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