By G9ija

The All Progressives Congress has announced Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima as presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the 2023 general elections, while the Peoples Democratic Party has chosen Atiku Abubakar and Ifeanyi Okowa. Are you concerned that the PDP’s strategy of selecting a northerner will undermine the APC’s chances?

On the issue of zoning in Nigerian politics, it has become an unwritten agreement among Nigeria’s political leaders; that power should rotate between the North and the South. The reason for this is very simple — we are in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society with over 250 ethnic groups, and the administrative division of the country since the amalgamation of 1914 has been between the North and the South.

Therefore, there is this sense that power should be rotated between these two major divides in the country. This was what informed—I believe—the decision of the military leaders in 1999 to compel the political parties (Peoples Democratic Party and Alliance for Democracy) to pick their two candidates from the South, especially from the South-West.

During that time, the contest was between Chief Olu Falae and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the eventual winner of the election.

In 2007, President Obasanjo made sure that despite the fact that we had very strong candidates from the South; the ticket of the PDP was given to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

However, for Yar’Adua’s untimely death, he would have at least been in office for eight years (two terms) before power would rotate back to the South.

By that accident of history—his death—the reign of power was taken over by President Goodluck Jonathan (the then Vice-President). By the time President Jonathan wanted to go for a second term (in 2015), there was a feeling in this country that power had resided for too long in the South, and this feeling was even from all sections of the country to the extent that President Jonathan lost that election.

This is what I was expecting the two (biggest) political parties (APC and PDP) to do. I believe that is what prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to insist that power be transferred to the South (in 2023), and I believe that is also what prompted APC governors, particularly those from the North, to decide at the last minute that power be transferred to the South.

Some of those who had the ambition of contesting withdrew because they thought it was better to maintain the political balance of the country; that the presidency should now come from the South, with power having resided for eight years in the North.

I think that was highly patriotic. That was a great demonstration of nationalism and patriotism by the APC governors and President Muhammadu Buhari. Their insistence that power should go to the South should be commended by everybody because they wanted to maintain the unity, peace, and progress of the country.

Do you think the PDP would have an easy ride winning should the party field a southern candidate?

We expected that the PDP should have done the same thing. Before the PDP held their convention, giving the general belief among politicians that power was coming to the South, the PDP zoned its chairmanship to the North in anticipation of the fact that the president would emerge from the South.

The PDP National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu is from the North, and deliberately its party chairmanship was zoned to the North because there was a general anticipation that the president would come from the South.

Otherwise, you cannot or it is not usual in this country to have a president and the chairman of the (ruling) political party come from the same region. It has never happened since 1999.

The PDP is the first to do it now, and it is a complete violation of the gentleman’s agreement that Nigerians have that we must maintain balance in the polity.

In the PDP’s constitution, I know too well that it is there that power will rotate between the North and the South. It is embedded in the PDP’s constitution, so they went against their own constitution, against the expectation of their members and against the feeling of the vast majority of Nigerians that power should go to the South.

They went ahead and zoned the presidency again to the North, concentrating power completely now in the North: the presidential candidate from the North, the chairman of the party from the North.

I think that is the issue that will decide the next election. I think this is what is paramount, not the issue of religion; Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian (ticket). That is not the issue.

The PDP’s failure to shift the presidency to the South or the APC’s mono-religious ticket, which is the decisive issue Nigerians will ponder on?

The issue is that there are people in this country who feel that after eight years of power in a particular region of the country, power should go to another region. Some people do not believe that. They think that a particular region of the country should have the monopoly of power irrespective of the feelings of the vast majority of Nigerians.

I think they are wrong because history teaches us that periodically, history repeats itself. That is a teaching of history; it repeats itself. And I believe history is going to repeat itself in 2023 because that would be exactly 30 years after the 1993 election that produced MKO Abiola.

Like I have said before, MKO Abiola, one of the factors that contributed to his victory was the fact that he was from the South and people were not even ready to look at the religion of the ticket—the fact that it was a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

The paramount issue for most Nigerians was that it was about time that power should rotate to the South, and the sense of fairness that is shared by all Nigerians was what propelled Abiola to victory.

I believe history will repeat itself. Go and mark it down.

In 2023, even in Adamawa State, if (PDP’s presidential candidate) former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is not careful, he will lose his ward because Nigeria is at a crossroad and expects a statesman like Atiku to put the national interest above his personal ambition and allow his party to pick its candidate from the South, so that we will have a scenario like in 1999 where the two candidates came from the South. That would have been better for the country.

What is the choice of a northern candidate for electoral reasons?

Tensions would have been reduced and it would have engendered the peace and unity of the country even better, but I think he is putting personal ambition above the national interest

The APC has done the right thing by picking its candidate from the South while the PDP has done the wrong thing, and Nigerians will show them at the polls, why they are not the party that can be entrusted with power.

My belief is that the party that will win the next election is the party that Nigerians can trust to keep faith with its promises; the party that Nigerians can expect to promote the unity and peace of the country. That will be the deciding factor in the next election; not a party that makes a promise and then breaks it; not a party that dashes the hopes and expectations of its own members who believe the next president will come from the South.

So, I want Nigerians to know that this is the issue before us, not any other. The issue is that the PDP has been making efforts in the last few days to distract Nigerians with the so-called religious ticket from its violation of its promise to Nigerians to pick its candidate from the South.

As far as we are concerned, the religious issue is merely a distraction. It is a complete distraction. The matter that will decide this election is the zone from which the presidential candidate comes from.