By Ehichioya Ezomon
In the lead-up to the February 2023 general election, the main issue of discourse in the polity is the region, between the North and South of Nigeria, that will produce the next president.
Going by “a gentleman’s agreement” by politicians, and political parties in Nigeria to rotate the “Office of President” in every eight years, the odds appear to favour Southern Nigeria in 2023.
As President Muhammadu Buhari from the North is rounding off his eight-year tenure of two terms of four years each in May 2023, the South is expected to produce the president for the country.
The agitation has been intense for the 18 recognized political parties, and particularly the two dominant parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – to zone their presidential tickets to Southern Nigeria.
And Southern state governors, capitalising on the nationwide mood and sentiment, have stepped up campaign that the South deserves a carte blanche to produce the president in 2023.
In three consecutive meetings in Asaba, Delta State, Lagos in Lagos State and Enugu in Enugu State, the governors, verging on a non-negotiable approach that alarmed power-brokers in the North, demanded that the South should produce the 2023 president.
Consternated by the “effrontery” of the Southern governors, some Northern politicians and intelligentsia countered by boasting that the North would hold on to power after President Buhari, as the region has the numbers to so decide at its own time and choosing.
But before a groundswell of Northern opinion was formed, Southern politicians embarked on a damage-control, to mollify the “few enraged Northerners,” who, nonetheless, schooled Southern governors on how to approach matters they’ve no control over.
Meanwhile, as the North seems pacified, and voices of support for a Southern president gain traction in the region, Southern views on the presidency are expected to be coordinated for one accord.
Yet, in the matter of 2023 presidency, there’re individuals that cannot subsume their ambitions to be president or vice president in the overall aspiration of Southern Nigeria to produce the president.
That personal ambition was on display during the New Year celebrations, when two Southern PDP governors, reading from different political pages on the 2023 presidential contest.
At separate events in Bauchi and Abuja, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu were discordant on the 2023 presidency, with Wike voting for a Northern president, and Ikpeazu settling for a Southern occupant.
Wike aspires to be president or vice president, depending on the rotation of the office between the South and North. So, he didn’t mask his ambition, endorsing Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State that could pair him as a running mate.
On a one-day visit to Bauchi, Wike dispensed with protocols and craved the indulgence of his listeners to deploy the term, “over qualified” to describe Mohammed’s suitability for president.
Wike’s endorsement of Mohammed doesn’t appear like the typical, which can be debunked as a “misquote” with the drop of a hat. The backing is well-choreographed.
“I endorse Bauchi State governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, for president come 2023…. He is ‘overqualified’,” Wike declares, adding, “let me use that word if there is any word like that at all.”
Wike lists the ingredients that recommend Mohammed for president to include: “He is qualified in every ramification. His relationship with people is second to none. So, people calling on him to run for president have seen the qualities in him.
“Apart from that, the fact that Bala has had all the experiences, from the civil service down to political office; from a director in the ministry, he became a senator, a minister and now a governor. That alone is enough to qualify him.”
Summing up his endorsement, Governor Wike called on members of the PDP, as well as Nigerians, to support Mohammed’s ambition, saying, “a vote for the governor “is not misplaced.”
However, at the same period Wike was drumming his support for a Northern president in Bala Mohammed, Governor Ikpeazu visited the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to confer with President Buhari.
Fielding questions from State House correspondents, Dr Ikpeazu stresses the importance of zoning the presidency to the South, and hopefully subsequently micro-zoned to the South-East.
The South-East zone has laid claims to the presidency in 2023 on ground of addressing perceived marginalisation of the area in the scheme of governmental affairs at the federal level in the country.
“I think that the Southeasterners have a right to take a shot at the presidency of Nigeria, and I dare say that our qualification starts from the fact that we understand and know Nigeria better than the other states of Nigeria,” Ikpeazu says.
“I dare say we go everywhere, we invest everywhere, we are pan-Nigerian people,” he says, adding, lightheartedly that, “today, a lot of people are afraid of Sambisa (forest in North-East of Nigeria) but for an Igbo man, Sambisa is a business opportunity.”
On how the South-East can clinch the presidency, Ikpeazu urges the political parties to be sensitive to the feelings of the contending groups, as “politics should not be a winner-takes-all thing.”
“It’s not at all times that you want to use your might. At times, you listen even to those whom you think are weak or unable to find themselves at the centre stage due to circumstances,” he says.
Ikpeazu counsels that anything that’s self-serving, selfish, and leads to a winner-takes-all mentality should be jettisoned at this time, as “we need to rescue our nation; we need to work hard to put Nigeria in a strong footing before we can begin to look at other things.”
“So, if we have this at the back of our minds, my thinking is that we will arrive at the fact that there is a geopolitical zone that has been clamouring and yearning for an opportunity to lead. And we should be gracious and magnanimous enough to give consideration to such yearnings and aspiration,” the governor pleads.
Yet, Ikpeazu believes the issue of a Nigerian president of South-East extraction “is a national question that requires negotiation, discussion and conversation with all parts of this country,” stating that he’s the least qualified to determine what happens in 2023.
Governor Ikpeazu denies aspiration for the presidency in 2023, stressing that his concern is how to serve his people for the mandate bestowed on him twice that will lapse in May 2023.
“I also want to spend my time supporting the incumbent president to do his time and his best while we wait for what happens to begin to unfold. These are my views about the presidency,” he adds.
The difference between Governor Wike and Governor Ikpeazu is a matter of discretion, which Ikpeazu is wont to exercise than Wike, who’s a “tell-it-as-it-is character that shoots from the hip.
But in discussing the very sensitive and emotive 2023 presidency, discretion is advised, especially for Southern politicians so as not to present a divided house for the naysayers to capitalize on.
Presenting divergent positions is the kind of development Northern politicians wish for Southern politicians, who often go at each other’s jugular when elective and appointive offices are on offer.
With such divisions playing well to their liking and scheming to dominate, Northern politicians have repeatedly accused Southern politicians of being unable to present a formidable front when it comes to the issue of the presidency of Nigeria.
And aren’t Southern politicians showing their hands early on to blunt the campaign for a president from the region before they hammer out which of the geopolitical zones of South-East, South-South and South-West will produce the president?
Politicians’ driving force is self-interest, but opposition to a Southern president shouldn’t be a spoiler-game in which aspirants, with no chance of getting the ticket even when the presidency is rotated to the South, conspire with the North to retain the office in 2023.
It’s about time Southern politicians buried their personal ambitions for the overall aspiration of the South for the presidency, which time and circumstance can still decide for any aspirant. So, for once, let them speak with one voice and wait for God’s anointing!
* Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.