OPINION: 2023: APC And The Politics Of Zoning, By Salihu Tanko Yakasai

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    As the 2023 presidential election draws closer, a lot of permutations and scenarios are being conceived by both the ruling APC and the main opposition party, PDP.

    These scenarios are not limited to only the two (2) biggest parties, as other political lightweights are equally plotting their own schemes with the oversized ambition of winning the presidential election. However, I will focus my analysis on the politics of zoning in the ruling APC, which is the favourite contender, barring any last minute pre-election surprises.

    Zoning has to a certain degree been in the political DNA of Nigeria since the First Republic, and to a large extent, even in the formation of governments whether military or civilian. In 2015, following the formation of APC, the party focused its attention on unseating the then ruling PDP with the issue of zoning taking a backseat. Prominent politicians rallied behind the most popular candidate, the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari, who won the presidential election with over 12 million votes coming chiefly from the country’s northern region where he hails.

    Former Lagos State Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu led the campaign, working tirelessly and deploying all resources at his disposal to ensure Buhari emerged as the candidate. Following a successful outing at the primary elections, Buhari rewarded Tinubu’s efforts by giving him the singular honour of nominating a running mate. Had Tinubu so desired, he could have submitted himself for consideration and it is unlikely Buhari would have declined. However, Tinubu was magnanimous enough to shelve his ambition at that time and presented Prof. YemiOsinbajo as his nominee to be Buhari’s running mate, a decision that Buhari accepted wholeheartedly.

    Immediately after the primary elections, the famed South West media began the process of “repackaging” Buhari, presenting him mainly to the Southern electorate as the best choice for Nigeria in 2015 and the long-awaited saviour of the motherland. Social media campaigns began on a level never seen before and portraits of Buhari donned in suits and other colourful Nigerian attire began making rounds. Indeed, he was “well-packaged” and as the Almighty God had decreed, he emerged victorious at the polls, defeating the sitting president; an unprecedented feat in the country’s political history.

    By and large, the South West led by Tinubu contributed immensely to the political success of APC in 2015, especially at the national level, consequent upon which a gentleman’s agreement was reached that upon the expiration of President Buhari’s two-term tenure, power will shift to the South West. As the popular Yoruba saying goes: Bu fun mi ni Bu fun e, niakere n kelodo. Which basically means one good turn, deserves another. Or so we thought!

    Since Buhari’s reelection in 2019, however, the body language of the ‘powers that be’ within the party and indeed the government, is beginning to suggest that they are not going to honour that ‘gentleman’s agreement’. The two major contenders from the region are facing uphill battles for their survival, scaling one hurdle after another, and having to tiptoe in a political minefield. There are two possible scenarios being plotted by these ‘powers that be’ in their quest to ensure nobody from the South West emerges as the presidential candidate of the party.

    The first scenario involves presenting a candidate from the South South or even the South East. In this regard, even APC’s former public enemy number one, the immediate past President, Dr. GoodluckEbele Jonathan is being touted by some APC stalwarts as a potential candidate for their party. The rumour spreading in certain corridors is that these political schemers plan to present him as their consensus candidate in the hope that upon the expiration of his tenure in 2027, his vice president, a northerner will then take over. As the Hausa man will say, Turkashi! What a scenario! However, if that was too ambitious a scheme, these political gladiators have a contingency plan, which involves one of Buhari’s serving ministers from the South East being backed for the number one seat.

    My primary concern with these two scenarios is that the South East and South South did not contribute convincingly to the victory of APC in 2015 and indeed in 2019. In the combined 11 states of the two regions, only two states are being controlled by APC governors while the South West has 5 APC governors and one PDP governor. If one examines the votes cast in the South East in the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections, compared to that of the South West, the huge difference in terms of the number of votes that these regions gave the APC is very apparent. Then why, in God’s name, will APC abandon its stronghold in the South, for other geopolitical zones where the party lacks a strong political foothold?

    As mind-boggling as the above scenario is, the second scenario is even more catastrophic for the APC politically, and that is presenting a northerner as the presidential candidate of APC in 2023. Those who advocate for this scenario do so simply because of the expectations that PDP will likely present a northerner as its presidential flag-bearer as well, thus, splitting the massive votes of the north and giving APC a chance of winning the presidential polls. How naïve is this political calculation?!

    The political instability or rancor this scenario may likely bring to the polity of the country will be of monumental proportions. This will certainly be chaotic and unacceptable to many. My ardent hope is that the ‘powers that be’ currently scheming and taking vantage positions in respect of the general elections will quickly nip this scenario in the bud before it plunges the country deeper into a national crisis that is already at an alarming state.

    My candid advice for our dear party, APC, is to stick to its ‘gentleman’s agreement’ and ensure that its presidential candidate in the 2023 election comes from the South West. A marriage between the North and the South West will surely yield a positive outcome for the party, simply because the numbers will add up and victory is guaranteed, by God’s Grace and Mercy. If the ‘powers that be’ are against the two major contenders from the South West, then I suggest they start shopping for alternatives. I can save them the trouble of letting them know that no other politician in the South West has the political clout, structure and national spread to do better than the two major contenders at the polls. But whatever we do as a party, our best bet is putting our strong foot down and rallying behind that foot to take us to Eldorado. This is clearly our winning strategy.

    Politics is about give-and-take, reconciliation, honouring of agreements, astute permutations and other conciliatory moves, which altogether set apart democracy from dictatorship. Any attempt to misappropriate juicy political office by a particular section to the disadvantage of the other(s) will spell doom for the party. We are living witnesses to how intra-party scuffles, crises and disagreements have brought the roof crashing on political gladiators at both state and national levels during the previous elections, and this is not an experience APC members will like to go through again. A stitch in time saves nine, they say!

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