The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is faced with the challenge of balancing the rotation of party and elective offices to satisfy the expectations of various political interests, ahead of 2023 poll, unlike the main opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), which may throw its presidential ticket open to all aspirants. JIDE ORINTUNSIN reports
The coalition that terminated the reign of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) was aided by the quest to restore the power rotation arrangement between the North and the South abrogated by the Goodluck Jonathan-led government when he reneged on the agreement to do only one term. Before that 2015 elections, the political structure in the country changed, when three political parties and splinter groups of two other parties teamed up to unseat the PDP-led government. There was unanimity of purpose and interest among members of the All Progressives Congress (APC); personal, group or regional, or political group interests were subsumed with well thought out political permutations and arrangements to dislodge the PDP from power.
The legacy parties that teamed up to form the APC were the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), five governors and other aggrieved members of the PDP and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). To give members from different political platforms and zones a sense of belonging, the founding fathers of the APC had to agree on how to effectively share elective offices and appointive positions to accommodate the different interests in the party.
With the second term of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration coming to end in 2023, political scheming and jostling for positions have started within the party. The party’s much-awaited congresses eventually kicked off on July 31, when ward congress was conducted. Local government congresses followed nationwide on Saturday, September 4. These developments have heightened the tension among the major political blocs in the party ahead of the yet-to-be-fixed National Convention.
No categorical position yet:
From all indications, the governing APC is faced with the task of zoning various offices in the National Working Committee (NWC) and elective positions to satisfy the expectations of various political interests and also to position the party to retain power in 2023. Fears are rife that the “gentleman agreement” of zoning offices between the North and the South may be jettisoned by the controlling influence in the party. The silence of the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) over the issue has raised doubts within and outside the APC about the party’s commitment to the zoning arrangement.
Though political observers and legal practitioners have argued that zoning has no locus in the party or country’s law books, but since the advent of the current political dispensation in 1999, zoning has become a stabilizing factor in the country, which is an amalgam of diverse socio-cultural and political tendencies. Such observers have always argued that there is no provision for zoning in the APC Constitution. The nearest thing to it is implied in Article 20, which states that criteria for nomination for election and appointments should be based on rules, regulations, and guidelines that take into consideration the principle of Federal Character, gender balance, geopolitical spread and rotation of office, “to as much as possible, ensure balance within the constituency covered”.
With the kick-off of the congresses, party members and political observers have anxiously waited for the party leadership to release the zoning pattern ahead of the congresses and subsequently the National Convention. The delay, a party source said, is a deft move by the ruling party to know the direction and the body language of opposition parties, especially the PDP with regards to where the party flag bearer will be zoned to.
This move, observers believe, has paid off with the current crisis rocking the PDP national leadership, which is forcing the opposition party to organise its National Convention two months ahead of the expiration on the term of the Prince Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee. Ifeanyi Okonkwo, a political analyst, is one of such observers. His words: “No doubt, the delay in releasing the zoning arrangement by the APC has paid off. The crisis in the PDP is forcing it (PDP) to organise its convention ahead of that of the APC. This development is advantageous to the ruling party and it will surely feast on it, to enable it properly position itself for the challenges of zoning.”
Delay breeding tension:
Following reports of moves to thwart the power rotation arrangement between North and South at the expiration of President Buhari’s second term, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), had as far back as November 2020 raised the alarm on the core decision reached by the founding fathers of the party before the 2015 general elections and the need to respect the agreement in picking its presidential candidate for the 2023 elections.
Fashola’s call came on the heels of the defection of Ebonyi State Governor David Umahi from the PDP to APC. Umahi’s defection sparked a conversation on zoning, as it was alleged that the governing party lured the governor with the party’s presidential ticket.
Also, the visit by the APC Caretaker Committee Chairman (Buni) along with other leaders to former President Goodluck Jonathan last year generated speculations that the APC might be wooing Jonathan to defect and become its standard-bearer in 2023. This further heightened the fear that the party may not keep faith with zoning.
Though Fashola acknowledged that zoning is not in the party’s constitution, he nevertheless reminded the party leaders that they had an agreement on it during its formative stage. The former Lagos State governor said: “The truth is that what makes an agreement spectacular is the honour in which it is made; not whether it is written. If it was written, there would be no court cases of breach of contract because it is a document that is written and signed that goes to court. The private agreement you make with your brother and sister should not be breached. It must be honoured.”
The intrigues over zoning in the ruling APC appear to have some external influence. Intense pressure is being mounted on the ruling party to ensure that the presidency remains in the North after President Buhari vacates office. For both the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), the governing party should not yield to zoning and power shift.
Reacting to the Southern Governors’ Forum’s call for power shift, the NEF, through its spokesperson, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, urged on the ruling party not to concede. In a statement, Baba-Ahmed said: “We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest.”
The NEF argued that should southern governors be able to influence their parties to zone the presidency to their area, the South will still have to work and convince voters from all parts of the country to vote for their candidate. The presidency, Baba-Ahmed said, is not given on a platter of gold; it should be lobbied and fought for.
Speaking in the same vein, the CNG accused the southern governors of undemocratic action by ganging up against the North ahead of 2023. In a statement, the group said: “The gang-up against the North, especially to force a regional shift of the presidency in 2023 by whatever means and tactics include those that are undemocratic.
“The governors’ resolutions on 2023 exposed a deliberate attempt to impose a contentious system of rotational presidency aimed at achieving dubious political goals to weaken the North. This conspiracy is actively perpetrated with the connivance of some northerners and accommodated by the personal ambition of a few of those that present themselves as northern political leaders.”
A new twist emerged recently to zoning after the APC released the timetable for congresses that would lead to the National Convention, which is likely to hold in November or early December. Some desperate chieftains of the party, who either want to test the waters or force the CECPC to release the zoning arrangement, flooded the media space with a fake power rotation arrangement.
Fake zoning list:
In the list, the office of the National Chairman, Financial Secretary, Legal Officer, and Auditor were among those zoned to the North, while the South was expected to fill the offices of National Secretary, National Treasurer, Welfare Officer, National Youth Leader, National Woman Leader, and National Publicity Secretary.
For the elective positions, the party’s presidential candidate, Senate President, and House of Representatives Deputy Speaker were zoned to South, while the North was pencilled to produce Vice President, Deputy Senate President, and the House of Reps Speaker.
Debunking the list, the Caretaker Committee Secretary, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe said: “People who are interested in running for one office or the other can speculate. As far as I am concerned, at the last caretaker committee meeting we had, we did not discuss that. That is not what we are concerned with now. We are not going to be pressurized because of sentiment and we do the wrong thing. Let me say that zoning is not for the caretaker committee alone. It has to do with the President, it has to do with other major stakeholders, and it has to do with a lot of people.
“I want to mute the speculation. The list is not from us (the Caretaker Committee). There is no way such a decision will be taken without consulting with the President, the governors, and other major stakeholders. People should disregard the list. We are focused on delivering our mandate and we are to do it rightly.”
If the party was yet to come up with a zoning arrangement, the most influential bloc in the party, the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) — a platform of APC governors – was initially categorical that the idea of zoning has been ruled out. This was- until recently when some members of the forum came out openly to support the bid for power shift in 2023.
Abrogation of zoning?
PGF Chairman and Kebbi State Governor Atiku Bagudu had indicated while receiving Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade who defected recently, from the PDP to the APC, that the race is open to all chieftains of the party. He was quoted to have said: “The APC belongs to all Nigerians. Everyone, from every part of the country, is free to aspire to any position in the party in line with the provisions of our party’s constitution and the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
“The decision of Mr. Ayade to join the APC is a testament of our party’s capacity to mobilize all Nigerians consistent with the vision of the founding fathers to ensure that the APC is a platform to unite all Nigerians. The coming of Mr. Ayade into the APC further reinforces the process of membership and leadership recruitment at all levels.”
Bagudu also stressed: “Given all his achievements in Cross River State, Mr. Ayade is only coming home where he belongs. The APC is indeed the party that will provide him and his people, and indeed all Nigerians the viable platform for political aspirations and negotiations. Our party, the APC, is open, transparent, and will continue to guarantee fair contestation in politics, in line with the over-reaching commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari and all our founding leaders.
“Our National Caretaker Extraordinary/Convention Planning Committee has worked hard to restore the political credentials of the APC as a strong institution for Nigeria’s democratic development. We will continue to support the National Caretaker Extraordinary/Convention Planning Committee in all its current initiatives to rebuild our great party. With the coming of Mr. Ayade, the capacity of our party to mobilize all patriots and other like-minded progressive Nigerians to join the APC is stronger.”
Support from unexpected quarters:
A crack, however, emerged within the ranks of the APC governors over zoning, when five governors of northern extraction opposed the “free-for-all” arrangement pronounced by the PGF Chairman. They publicly endorsed a power shift. To them, the successor of President Buhari should come from the South.
Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, Kano State Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum, and their Katsina and Nasarawa states counterparts, Aminu Masari and Abdullahi Sule respectively, were the northern governors that cast their votes for power shift to the South.
Advancing his position, Gov. El-Rufai, who argued that though zoning is unconstitutional, agreed that the convention has come to stay and that Nigeria’s next president should come from the South. He said: “The southern part of the country is supposed to produce the president come 2023; I don’t support a northerner to vie for the seat after President Muhammadu Buhari, based on Nigeria’s political arrangement.”
Shortly after the Southern Governors’ bi-partisan meeting in Lagos rooted for a presidency from the area, Zulum did not hesitate to cast his lot for a southern presidency. He said: “I have said it times without number that I am of the view that the presidency should go to the South in the year 2023 because the unity of our country is very important. Secondly, inclusivity is very important. Thirdly, I am in the APC. Six or seven years ago, the APC had zoned the presidency to northern Nigeria based on the agreement that, in 2023, the presidency should go to the South.”
Sule who claimed to be a beneficiary of zoning in his state, vehemently expressed support for the rotational presidency, hence he urged the zoning of the party’s national chairmanship to the North and the presidential ticket to the South. Aside from engendering fairness, Sule maintained that zoning gives stakeholders a sense of belonging. Hear him: “That is why, from all indications, I have never said anything against the agitation for rotation of the presidency to the South. It’s because I don’t think it’s a bad idea for peace in Nigeria if there is a rotational presidency.”
Growing support for zoning:
Drumming support for zoning and power shift ahead of the party’s National Convention and the 2023 general elections, leader of the APC in the United Kingdom and Chairman, Nigeria Diaspora Voting Council (NDVC), Prince Ade Omole said the party must keep faith with the zoning arrangement.
Omole said: “We all know that zoning is not part of the constitution of the party but it is an arrangement that was put in place for fairness. As for me, zoning has been in our political environment for a very long time and I believe it should continue as long as the party agrees with it. So, at the end of the day, it is the party that will decide what zone the presidency or whatever office goes to. We also believe in the position of the party and we will keep doing that. There are few divergent views regarding zoning but I believe it is the right thing to do. It is a step in the right direction and it just gives everybody a chance to have a shot at the presidency or any other office in the country.
“I think it is the right thing to do even though it is not part of the Constitution. It is more of a gentleman’s agreement. Now, as we know, it (presidency) has been in the North and hopefully, it will come to the South this time around. We have read reports about chieftains from both sides of the divide saying that the North is having it for eight years, it is time for the South to have it for another eight years. So, it is a gentleman’s agreement that should continue for the greatness of the country.”
The Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) and a founding member of the party, Osita Okechukwu, while supporting zoning said the concept is the bedrock of all political parties in the country and that it is a convention that has come to stay.
On the delay in releasing the zoning formula on time, Okechukwu said: “The party has a ground norm, when we are sure of the distribution of the offices, they must be zoned in one way or the other. This concept breeds a sense of belonging. It is unavoidable. Whenever the party likes it will distribute the offices and it must be zone. No geo-political zone or state will hold the chairmanship and the secretary together.”
APC in dilemma:
Since the flag-off of the ward congress on July 31, the jostle for the party executive offices from the ward level to the national working committee took a new dimension, even with the “deliberate” dragging of feet by the party leadership on zoning. Our investigation revealed that the concept was widely deployed in determining how positions were shared at the ward level and local government levels in all the states of the federation to reflect the power shift from the existing arrangements during the just concluded congresses.
Though no clear-cut directive has been issued on the zoning of national offices, the array of National Chairmanship aspirants so far, are limited to the North, signalling that the zoning pattern of the party may have unofficially emerged.
Some aspirants clamouring for the national chairmanship include former governor of Bornu State, Ali Modu Sheriff, former Gombe State governor, Senator Danjuma Goje, former Zamafara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari, former Nasarawa State governor, Tanko Al-Makura, former Benue State governor, George Akume and former Bauchi State governor, Mallam Isa Yuguda. Others are former deputy national chairman of the defunct CPC, Salihu Mustapha, Sunny Monidafe and Senator Sani Musa. Former Niger State Commissioner for Information, Comrade Jonathan Vatsa, said: “With virtually all the national chairmanship aspirants from the North, it is clear that the party’s presidential ticket would go to the South. Whether the leadership of the party likes it or not, the distribution of the offices both within the party and for elective offices must be released and zoning concepts must be adhered to religiously, in the interest of peace and political stability.”
But, for Isa Aliyu Gusau, the sincerity of the Mai Mala Buni-led CECPC over zoning is “suspect”. The Zamfara-born politician said: “The body language of the Caretaker Committee has not shown any seriousness. Look at the PDP, a party in crisis, within few days, the party hierarchy decided to have their convention but in the case of the APC, the Caretaker Committee has been scheming for tenure elongation.
“If you recall, as far back as December 2020, it was alleged that the committee planned to stay in office and complete Comrade Oshiomhole’s term that was axed mid-way or what would have informed the non-release of the zoning arrangement weeks after the congresses began. It will only take a politically conscious-minded person to read between the lines. All the delay in announcing zoning arrangement is a ploy to sit-tight.”
Why is APC foot-dragging?
To justify this position Gusau challenged the logic behind the threat by the party leadership to sanction any member that file legal action against the party, even when such member was “unfairly and unjustly” treated. Gusau said: “We have had ward and local government with series of complaints and protests. Aggrieved members from 14 states petitioned against the ward congresses but their cases were left unattended, instead, they were threatened with sanction if they seek redress in court. I am afraid, without being labelled Prophet of doom, I can’t see this Caretaker Committee releasing any zoning arrangement so soon.”
With only the state congress before the National Convention of the party, it is expedient that the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker Committee must come out with the zoning arrangement. Only time will tell if the party leadership will honour the “gentleman arrangement” of 2014.