Amid intense calls for power shift from the North to the South for the 2023 presidential election, the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, has said it will not stop aspirants of northern origin from contesting its presidential ticket.
It said it would leave the ticket open for all aspirants irrespective of their states or geopolitical zones.
This implies that prospective aspirants from the North including former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; a former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki; Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, his counterpart in Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, a former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and others are free to contest the party’s presidential primary as against the clamour for power shift to the South.
As of the time of filing this report, Saraki is the only northern aspirant to have declared his intention on the PDP platform, even though there are clear indications that others would contest. The Governor of Oyo State, Mr Seyi Makinde, revealed in October 2021 that Atiku and Tambuwal had indicated interest to contest the 2023 election.
In the South, however, only a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and ex-Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, and a former Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Sam Ohuabunwa, have indicated interest in the race in the PDP.
Southern groups such as Afenifere in the South-West and Ohanaeze in the South-East, prominent individuals across the country, the Southern Governors Forum and many others had called for power shift to the South when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), serves out his second tenure in May 2023.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum on January 13 said in Abuja that political parties that fielded northern presidential candidates would not enjoy its support in the 2023 general elections. Some persons have also called for the inclusion of a rotational presidency in the constitution to ensure that every geopolitical zone has a chance to produce the president.
However, some northern groups, including the Northern Governors Forum, opposed the position of the Southern Governors Forum, saying zoning was unconstitutional and that the president could come from any part of the country.
Despite the clamour for power rotation, however, none of the 18 political parties has made its position known on the issue of zoning, even though several aspirants from the different parts of the country have declared their intention to contest the coveted office, mostly on the platform of the PDP and the All Progressives Congress.
Meanwhile, in an interview the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr Debo Ologunagba, said the party would not stop anyone on the basis of age or where they come from.
Meanwhile, a ranking member of the PDP Board of Trustees in the South-West, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an opposition party that wants to win an election may not prioritise zoning, unlike a ruling party that should ensure power rotation.
He said the PDP would have to ensure the emergence of its best aspirant that could guarantee its victory at the poll regardless of who other parties present.
Reacting to the issue, a former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, said the party would need to have roundtable talks on the issue and possibly embark on constitutional amendments to avoid similar issues subsequently.
The PDP Chairman in Adamawa State, Tahir Shehu, described as a good development the lifting of the restriction on zoning of the presidency within the party.
Shehu, who is a loyalist of Atiku, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Friday evening, said Nigerians were looking forward to the party to rescue them.
Asked if zoning was a bad idea, Shehu said, “Zoning violates the principle of democracy because the position will be restricted to a particular zone. I believe the PDP has taken the clue that Nigerians are all anticipating that it is the party that will emancipate them from their present predicament. The PDP remains the only solution to insecurity, poverty, unemployment and a wobbling economy foisted on Nigerians by the ruling APC.”
Meanwhile, Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, said on Friday that it was the turn of the North to produce the president, adding that the Presidency was not for any section of the country but for everyone.
The governor spoke when a Contact and Consultation Committee he set up for his presidential ambition, which went round some states in the country, submitted its report to him on Friday at the Government House in Bauchi.
In a related development, the party also reacted to the statement made by Makinde, a chieftain of the party, who on Tuesday warned Nigerians against electing persons above 70 years.
Makinde, who spoke in Ibadan during the 65th birthday anniversary and thanksgiving service of the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev Supo Ayokunle, advised Nigerians to vote for a younger person.
In his response, Ologunagba said further that the party would be guided by the constitutional requirements on age limit for party members aspiring to be the President of Nigeria.
Speaking on behalf of Atiku, who is about 74 years old, his media aide, Paul Ibe, said age had nothing to do with leadership and that in line with the popular saying, “his (Atiku) fine wine gets better with age”.
Citing former United States President, Donald Trump, and the incumbent, Joe Biden, who are both over 70 years as examples, Ibe said experience, capacity and competence should be considered, noting that some young political leaders had performed below expectation.
According to Ibe, Nigeria needs a president who is able to bring people together and a detribalised Nigerian who understands the issues at hand.
Ibe advised Nigerians to make informed decisions and consider the health, preparedness of aspirants and those with well articulated policies in making a choice.
Asked when Atiku would declare his interest, Ibe said consultations were ongoing. He added, “The presidency of Nigeria is not a tea party. You need to be able to build a consensus around your ambition. People must buy into it. The process of getting people to buy into that bid is what is going on right now. The declaration is just a formal thing and is the end of that part of the process. So, we don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”
The pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndgibo Worldwide, has said it will not play the second fiddle to anyone by accepting the position of vice-president from any party. It said any aspirant who does that would lose the support of the region.
The spokesperson for the group, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, in an interview with one of our correspondents on Thursday, said, “We have made it known to all the political gladiators from Igboland that we don’t want any of them to accept to be vice-president.
He advised aspirants from the region to remain focused, courageous and not be afraid of any heavyweight from another region.
Asked about the plans of the region on how they would clinch the seat, he said, “Nobody will tell you about their plans going into a battle. We cannot speak about the strategy in public but there is a plan in place to achieve our aim