Even with a little more than two years to go as President and Commander in Chief of the armed forces, permutations over who will succeed Muhammadu Buhari in Aso Rock has resumed in earnest. The President was inaugurated for a second and final term of four years in May 2019 and the country will be ripe for another election in 2023. From an era of barely audible hush tones and kits flying, the matter has assumed centre stage in national discourse and causing disquiet in many quarters.
As to be expected, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC has recorded more agitations than the other parties. Supporters of aspirants in its fold have been criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country to drum support for their preferred hopefuls.
One politician whose rumoured presidential ambition has attracted the widest attention and commentary is Bola Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the ruling party. This could hardly have been different. Tinubu’s legendary influence, wit and deep pockets are enviable factors that place him ways ahead of others.
The former Lagos State Governor who holds the traditional title of Jagaban Borgu has not yet declared an intention to run. Instead, he has consistently said the next election is still far away and noting that his major concern is how to make the APC Governments succeed at all levels. Persons believed to be his foot soldiers have however been on the move advertising his candidature.
Last week the Tinubu for President project recorded a major boost when a political group, the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Grassroots Volunteers, BAT – GV declared its support. The group was created from the ashes of Buhari/Osinbajo Governance Continuity Agenda BOGCA which was dissolved in 2019, after the APC won the presidential election of that year.
National Coordinator of the group Dozie Nwankodu, said its support was in the national interest. He said the choice of Tinubu was also premised on his patriotism and the sterling records of his achievements, especially in the areas of human capital development, democracy and peace-building.
Other groups like Prof. Ishaq Akintola led Muslim Rights Council MURIC and South West Agenda, SWAGA whose members are former ministers, ex governors and lawmakers from the region under the leadership of Senator Dayo Adeyeye have been drumming support for a man many call the ‘godfather.’
The Tinubu Presidential ambition is said to be anchored on a certain 2013 agreement to rotate the Presidency between the North and the South. Those who have hammered on the agreement include Minister of Works Babatunde Raji Fashola and his Transportation counterpart, Rotimi Amaechi. A former Governor of Ogun State Olusegun Osoba is also in the know of the agreement.
During an appearance on Arise TV breakfast show recently, the elder statesman referred to the understanding. “Part of the understanding in the case of rotation is a conventional understanding that the presidency will move between the North and the South. That was the reason why we now allowed the chairman (of the party to come from the South.”
He said the word ‘zoning’ was deliberately not used in the agreement to avoid conflicting with the constitution. “But there was a clear gentlemanly understanding that the northern part of the country will produce the president when we did the merger in 2013 and the chairman of the party will then come from the South.”
But some other notable personalities within the party think otherwise. In fact, the word has attained amorphous usage, with members defining it in their self-interest. For instance, people from the North Central are also agitating that they deserve occupying the Apex office. Ask Yahaya Bello, Governor of Kogi State who is also scratching the ground in the race.
In the same vein, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, in the last two years has taken seemingly contradictory positions on the matter. In November 2020, El-Rufai expressed a different view to his earlier call for a Southern presidential candidate in 2023, hinging his argument on the need to solve Nigeria’s economic woes and electing competent leaders.
“Zoning in political parties cannot solve the economic problems we are facing.” He recommended selecting the best person to get the job done irrespective of his zone of origin.
But, by far the greatest threat to the zoning debate is coming from politicians in the Southeast part of the country. They are canvassing the view that what is fair and equitable is for the Presidency to be preserved exclusively for the region since the remaining zones in the South have tasted the office.
Former Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, Sir Roland Owie recently called on Tinubu to forget his 2023 Presidential ambition, positing that in the event that the major political parties agreed to zone the presidency to the southern part of Nigeria, it should be the turn of the Southeast to produce the president.
This is perhaps the major reason David Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi State recently cross carpeted to the APC. He has not disguised his love for the Villa since joining the party.
Social crusader and Biafra apologist Nnamidi Kanu also joined in the discourse. The leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, on Wednesday, urged Nigerians to reject Tinubu’s presidential ambition. In a statement he called for a referendum in the country.
The southeast position is marred by the APC membership paucity in the the zone. The opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP is more popular in the area. Moreover supporters of Tinubu say the existing zoning arrangement is between North and South. Not micro zoning.
Adeyeye sheds light on the matter. “What we have now is a kind of consensus for rotation between North and South. That is a very simple formula because when you go too far by micro-zoning to geopolitical zones, there could be a lot of tension…”
Opposition to the rising influence and political profile of the Asiwaju are not new. Grand antagonism was what denied him of APC Vice Presidential ticket in 2015. In the days before the merger talks which led to the formation of APC, Buhari and Tinubu reportedly struck agreement to run on the same ticket. According Olagunsoye Oyinlola, former Governor of Osun State, it took the intervention of notable leaders, including former President Olusegun Obasanjo to change what would have been a Muslim/ Muslim ticket
Born in 1952 in Osun State, Tinubu entered partisan politics in 1992 and has encountered both foul and fair weather. The annulment of the June 12, 1993 election projected his finer qualities as an activist. With more public engagements, he has since dramatically transmuted into an ideologue of no mean discipleship.
With the eyebrows the Tinubu 2023 project is causing in certain quarters, will it be imperilled or berth on a happy isle? Time will tell.