2023: APC and its contentious gentleman’s agreement on power shift

The “Lagos Declaration” by the 17 Southern governors on rotational presidency seems to be unsettling some founding fathers of All Progressives Congress (APC).

While some ruling party gladiators say the demand from the southern governors for the presidency to return to south is in 2023 in tandem with the agreement reached at the formation of APC in 2014, some feign ignorance of existence of such agreement.

The Southern Governors’ Forum (SGF), had said for the purpose of fairness, equity and justice, power must move down south after the expiration of President Buhari’s tenure in 2023.
The first major inkling to the agreement on rotation of presidency in APC was disclosed in November last year, when the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babajide Fashola, reacted to a statement from the National Deputy Secretary of the party, Yekini Nabena that APC is not concerned about zoning of the presidency in 2023.

Fashola, who was the governor of Lagos State when APC was founded in 2014, promptly called the attention of the party’s leadership to the fact that there was a gentleman’s agreement on zoning between north and south. He said the issue of zoning was more of a gentleman’s agreement in APC and it behooves all parties to honour it.

Fashola also reminded the party leadership that what makes an agreement special is the honour in which it is made, not whether it is written. He said if it was written there would be court cases on a breach of contract because it’s a document that is written and signed that goes to court.  “But the private agreement you make with your brother and sister cannot be breached.  It must be honoured,” he said.

Another founding member of the party and chairman, Constitution Drafting Committee of the APC, Chief Olusegun Osoba said there was a gentleman’s agreement among founders of APC that power would shift to South, after Buhari’s eight years in office.

The former governor of Ogun State said for anybody to, “now say anything short of that gentleman agreement in APC, would amount to breach of trust and confidence upon which the party was founded, gave its presidential ticket to Mr. President and defeated PDP in 2015 and 2019.”

In a similar vein, Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, who was part of the new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP) that joined forces to enhance APC corroborated Fashola on the zoning agreement.

Amaechi was the governor of Rivers State and also chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), when the merger was formed. Like Fashola, the Transport Minister was also one of the major financiers of the APC’s campaign that brought Buhari into power. Amaechi was accused by citizens of Rivers that he allegedly used the resources of the state to fund Buhari’s 2015 presidential campaign.

Some party chieftains said that Fashola, who is one of the favorites of President Buhari in the cabinet, couldn’t be ignorant of the details of how APC was founded and whether there was an agreement. It was also revealed that the first major meeting where the issue of APC’s merger took place, was hosted by Fashola, who was the governor of Lagos at Government House, Marina.  

Many party chieftains said the minister could not have spoken out of ignorance, being a political protégé of the national leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who led the Southwest block of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) into the merger talks with the Buhari-led defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC); including Ogbonnaya Onu-led All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); Senator Rochas Okorocha-led faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); and the Kawu Baraje-led new Peoples Democratic Party (nPDP).

Before the 2015 general elections, President Buhari had contested for the presidency three times on the platforms of CPC and ANPP, but failed until the merger propelled him into the presidency.

It was gathered that it was on the merit of north/south zoning agreement that prompted Tinubu and other stakeholders in the merger talk to concede the party’s presidential ticket to President Buhari during the party’s presidential congress held at Onikan Stadium, Lagos in 2014. A party source said without such agreement of rotational presidency, “there was no way President Buhari could have defeated the ‘money power’ of the nPDP arm of the merger.

A member of the party challenged Mr. President to speak out, “if there was or no gentleman’s agreement that power will go to the south when he got the party’s presidential ticket in December 2014.” 

Why controversy about zoning
ONE of the critical questions being asked after the 17 Southern governors’ declaration is why the issue of zoning is becoming contentious?
Observers are curious that despite political differences all the governors agreed that power must come to south. Analysts say three critical factors seem to be responsible for the southern governors’ demand for power shift in 2023, which needs to be carefully managed to sustain unity of the country. 
They alleged the worsening state of insecurity, especially those traceable to the activities of armed Fulani herdsmen alleged to be perpetrating terrible crimes across the country because their kinsman is in power.
It was also alleged that selective justice under the current administration is eroding confidence of the entire south. The development seems to be encouraging some self-determination groups that are calling for secession from Nigeria.
The harsh economic situation created by the poorly managed policies of the incumbent administration and the alleged nepotism in federal appointments in breach of the federal character principle in favour of the Fulani ethnic nationalities is also fueling the division between the two regions.

The arrogance of power and the ‘we own Nigeria’ gesture among some northern oligarchs, especially the Fulani hegemony under the present government is also unhealthy for the unity of Nigeria.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had expressed fears over the systematic work towards ‘Fulanisation and Islamisation’ of Nigeria while ex-Minister of Defence, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma said the Middle Belt should defend themselves if the Federal Government and necessary security agents did not defend them in the face of armed herdsmen attacks.

But crucial among these factors is that rotation of presidency between the two regions clearly stated in the PDP constitution, but unfortunately Tinubu and other politicians from the south committed the error of making a gentleman’s agreement in APC, which was not put into writing.

It is also alleged the Southern Governor’s position was a tactical move to counter the game plan of the north ahead of 2023. According to sources, “The north scheme is to ensure that if the ruling party peradventure picks its presidential candidate from the south, the north will ensure that PDP picks its presidential candidate from the north. The fear is that the northerners might switch their allegiance to support their own.

“The position of PDP governors in the SGF was to send a strong message to their party that it must pick its next presidential candidate from the south after 2023.”

But as Nigerians await the response of President Buhari on the SGF’s resolutions on power shift to the south, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), said the development was a gang up against the north. It argued that the presidency is a democratic office and not a rotational position.

In like manner, a former governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Sani faulted the SGF’s position, saying the southern governors’ demand was not only unconstitutional but also antithetical to the tenets of democracy.    
But credible sources confided in The Guardian that President Buhari is not unaware of the southern governors’ position that the presidency must shift from the north in 2023.  
The president is said to be gravely worried about his personal integrity and what might become of Nigeria, if the rotation agreement is breached.
It was also learnt that some notable leaders in the north are seriously concerned about the future of Nigeria if the region decides to retain power beyond 2023.
They were said to have reminded their people, especially the NEF, how the north from 2014 insisted that power must move from the south to north, which led to the merger and subsequent victory for the incumbent. They are considering the implications of forcing the country to restructure, disintegrate or they should allow power to move to south for the next eight years after Buhari’s government.
To the northern elite, among whom are retired military generals, the opinion is that power shift remains the best option the north can embrace now, in the corporate interest of Nigeria.
It was also gathered that for power to move south is a done deal in the ruling party. It is sad that the body language of President Buhari will soon determine that but which of the regions to entrust with the presidency, is the source of concern for power brokers in the north at present.
Some of the northern elites that have spoken in favour of power shift to the south in 2023 include Governors Babagana Zulum (Borno State); Mallam Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna State); Abdullahi Umar Ganduje (Kano State); Aminu Bello Masari (Katsina State); and Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa State).

How prepared is the south for 2023 power shift? 
Analysts are of the opinion that Southwest and Southeast will be the major contenders for the presidential slot in 2023 if it is eventually conceded. The South-south might express interest but the fact that the immediate past President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan is from Bayelsa State, might count against it.
The Niger Delta region currently has five states under control of PDP while governor of Cross Rivers State, Ben Ayade recently defected to APC. Despite the fact that Ayade defected, the region is still favourably disposed to PDP. The likes of former governor of Akwa Ibom State Godwill Akpabio, who is currently serving in Buhari’s cabinet and as well as Rotimi Aamaechi and Timipre Sylva are heavyweights but their influence may not force the zone into reckoning as per 2023

THE Southeast region may have a very good reason to advance for desiring to produce the next president of the country being the only zone yet to savour the position. Some analysts think the zone might stand a very good chance under the platform of PDP but it will find it a bit hard under the ruling APC.
The zone currently has two governors of the ruling party, Hope Uzodimma of Imo and Dave Umahi (Enugu), who recently defected to APC. The PDP also controls Abia and Ebonyi while Anambra is being governed by APGA.

The zone has experienced and seasoned politicians like Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu and Senator Rochas Okorocha.  They have been very active in the ruling party since 2014. Hopefully, they will put their acts together for a good outing come 2023.

Southwest is said to stand a good chance to clinch the APC presidential ticket in 2023. The zone currently parades experienced and seasoned politicians in the ruling party with five out of the six states under the control of the party.
For instance, it has the likes of Tinubu, Governor Kayode Fayemi, Fashola, and serving ministers like Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Rauf Aregbesola, the incumbent Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, and others it can present. 2023 will be a good time to shop fot the best!

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