The debate over which geo-political zone should produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023 heightened yesterday as leaders from the southern and Middle Belt under the aegis of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMLF) told the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to forget votes from the regions if they don’t zone their tickets to the South.
The regional political leaders who stated this after a meeting in Abuja also reiterated the call for restructuring of the country, stressing that the extant constitution and structure of Nigeria were grossly flawed and lopsided.
But while the apex socio-cultural northern group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said they were more interested in the capacity of the candidate, the North Central Peoples Forum (NCPF) said they would continue to dialogue with other zones to ensure that a North Central person emerges president of Nigeria next year.
The southern and Middle Belt leaders had last year asked all southern politicians not to accept vice presidential or national chairmanship positions in their parties ahead of 2023.
Following this charge, state governors of southern extraction had also demanded that the 2023 presidency must be zoned to their region, a clamour which was resisted by their northern counterparts and traditional rulers from the North.
Neither the APC nor the PDP has taken a position on where their presidential ticket will be zoned in 2023. However, while the PDP has thrown its presidential ticket open to all contenders, indications that the APC presidential candidate will emerge from the South are rife following the fact that all aspirants so far are southerners.
More so, all APC national chairmanship aspirants are from the North which reflects the party’s move towards shifting power to the South after the Buhari presidency.
But rising from their Abuja meeting on Thursday, the southern and middle belt leaders warned that no party would get votes from their regions in 2023 unless they zone the presidency to the South.
They also called on the government to redouble efforts to safeguard lives, especially in the North West zone which they said had continued to experience killings of innocent citizens by terrorists and criminals.
The meeting which held under the chairmanship of the leader and elder statesman, Chief Dr. E. K. Clark, had in attendance, delegations from the four regional socio-cultural organisations- Afenifere for the South West, Ohanaeze N’digbo for the South East, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) for the South-South and the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) for the Middle Belt.
The delegations were led by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, leader of Afenifere; Professor George Obiozor, president-general of Ohanaeze N’digbo; Dr. Pogu Bitrus, president of the Middle Belt Forum and Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, national chairman of PANDEF.
Their communiqué which was obtained by LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday was jointly signed by Chief Clark, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Prof. George Obiozor and Dr. Pogu Bitrus.
The communiqué said; “The meeting extensively discussed various issues on the state of affairs in the country, particularly the security situation, restructuring, preparations for the 2023 general elections and zoning.
“Forum restates its demand for the fundamental restructuring of the country by enacting a new constitution that would enthrone equity, fairness and justice. It must be One Nation, One System.
“Cites that the northern part of the country would have fully enjoyed the office of presidency of the country for the full statutory period of eight years by 2023, hence the presidency should rotate to the South.
“Therefore, unequivocally and in full resolve, we call on all political parties in the country to zone their presidential tickets to the South.
“Advices that any political party that does not zone its presidential ticket to the South should not expect support from the four regions.
“Notes that the basis of any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country such as Nigeria, is fair and even sharing of power.
“Condemns the continued senseless killing of innocent citizens across the country by terrorists and criminals, especially in the North West zone; calls on the government and security agencies to redouble efforts to safeguard the lives and property of Nigerians.
“Urges members of the National Assembly and governors of the four regions to commit themselves to the subject of restructuring.
“Reaffirms commitment to the unity of Nigeria, situated on the tenets of equity, fairness, justice, and the principle of federalism.”
According to the communiqué, the meeting was also attended by former governors, ministers, federal and state legislators, top politicians and professionals from the Southern and Middle Belt regions, including Obong Victor Attah, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State; Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu; Alaowei Broderick Bozimo; Senator Femi Okurounmu; Nze Ozichukwu Chukwu; Simon N. Okeke, OFR; Chief Supo Shonibare; Akin Fapohunda and Amb. Okey Emuchay,
Others are Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw; Prof. G. G. Darah; Solomon Asemota SAN; Dr. Alex Ogbonna; Mr. Mac Emakpore; Chief Douyi Douglas-Naingba; Mrs. Nella Andem-Rabana SAN; Prof. Mrs. Chinwe Obaji; Maj. Gen. Henry Ayoola (rtd); Engr. Ben Akaakar; Dr. Ebun Sonaiya; Comrade Jare Ajayi and Ken Robinson, among others.
ACF Not Bothered Where Presidential Candidates Come From
Meanwhile, the apex socio-cultural northern group, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said yesterday that it was not bordered where the presidential candidate of any party comes from but what such candidate has to offer is contained in its manifesto.
The national publicity secretary of ACF, Mr Emmanuel Yawe, said; “We at the ACF are not bothered where the presidential candidates of the APC and PDP come from. We are bothered at what their manifesto says and the strength of character of the candidates of these parties. Are they people to be trusted with power?
“President Muhammadu Buhari is from the North but can we say the North has all the goodie-goodies today?
“Fortunately for us in the ACF, the 1999 constitution says only registered political parties can sponsor people into elective political offices.
“Our hands are thus washed clean. If the southern and Middle Belt leaders operating on a platform that is unknown to us can force the APC and PDP to do their wish, good luck.
“We are only surprised that the Middle Belt has succumbed so early to the South. Is the Middle Belt not entitled to producing a president for Nigeria also?”
We’ll Dialogue For A North Central President—NCPF
Also reacting, the North Central Peoples Forum (NCPF) said it would continue to dialogue with other zones to ensure that a North Central person emerges the president of Nigeria in 2023.
According to the forum, the people seeking the presidency and the chairmanship position of political parties should continue to pursue their ambitions, and they are going to support them.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend last night, the national publicity secretary of the NCPF, Hon Audu Sule, said no one has the birthright of being president in 2023, adding that there people would not back down on the presidency and other political party offices until negotiations are concluded.
He said: “The position of NCPF is that our people are qualified for the position of president in 2023 and we will continue to dialogue with other zones because politics is all about dialogue.
“We are part of the North, if the position is zoned to the North, we have qualified people that can contest and lead the country well.
“Political positions are not things people can see as their birthright. When Jonathan was there, people did not complain. When Obasanjo was in government, the North gave him the full support. Why are some people now seeing it as if the presidency is now their birthright?”
Sule who asserted that Nigeria belongs to everybody, added: “The North Central believes in the oneness of the country. Therefore, the South should not see it as mandatory that they should produce the next president.
“They have population, we also have the population. The North Central population is more than the voting population of the South West. Why are they making it look as if it is their right? Yes, the South East has not produced the president in this dispensation but they have held positions before.
“So, for the South East, Azikiwe was there before. They should not look at it as if we are not qualified, or that they are the ones who are qualified.
“Politics is about dialogue. We in the North Central Peoples Forum shall continue to dialogue with other zones for our own interest. And when it fails, then we go along with the Northern interest. We have our citizens that are qualified to be president and national chairman of the party, and they can vie for every position, they have the support of the North Central Peoples Forum.”
Northern Elders Meet Today
In a related development, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) will meet today to deliberate on the issues raised by the southern and Middle Belt leaders, it was learnt yesterday.
Attempts to get the APC and PDP’s reactions to the southern and Middle Belt leaders’ position proved abortive.
The national secretary of the APC, Senator James Akpanudoedehe and the national publicity secretary of the PDP, Hon Debo Ologunagba, didn’t pick calls to their phones. They also didn’t reply text messages sent to them over the issues at press time.
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