Last week, former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu, paid a visit to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and held a press conference afterwards in which he disclosed that he informed the President that he would contest the 2023 election under the ruling All Progressives Congress. A day after, a former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, announced his own intention to run for president, saying that it was the turn of the South-East to produce the president and promising to match Tinubu’s grit for the position. The same day, the current governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Dave Umahi, also visited Buhari to inform him of his desire to run for president. With that, it seemed that the floodgates had been flung open for those with presidential ambitions to openly indicate their interest in the race and also for a tug-of-war between the South-East and the South-West to commence.
Given the unwritten arrangement of rotating the presidency between the North and the South, it is generally believed that the next president of Nigeria will come from the southern part of the country since the incumbent is from the North and he’s rounding off his second tenure. There is also another unwritten understanding that in the South, the South-East, which has not produced a president or vice president since 1999 when this Fourth Republic began and has never produced an elected executive president since 1960 when Nigeria had her independence, should produce the next president.
However, both issues of the South producing the president and the South-East producing the president are being challenged by other parts. For example, there are candidates in the North like former vice president of the country, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and former governor of Kano State, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, who argue that the race should be left open for all parts of Nigeria so as to produce the strongest candidate as president.
In the South, though the South-West got the same type of concession in 1999 and was supported by all parts of Nigeria to produce the two presidential candidates of the two key political parties, Peoples Democratic Party and All Peoples Party, there are many from the South-West who argue that such a concession should not be given to the South-East. Their argument is that the South-East is not strong in the APC and does not deserve to get the APC ticket.
They argue that the APC won the presidency in 2015 courtesy of the alliance of the North and the South-West, therefore, the South-West should be compensated for such loyalty. Interestingly, the South-West was not strong in the PDP and APP in 1999 but was still given the tickets of the two parties for the sake of justice. The South-West was mainly in the Alliance for Democracy, whose sphere of influence was in the South-West. A South-East person, Dr Alex Ekwueme, was the leader of the PDP. But he was bypassed and the ticket of the PDP was given to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was a late entrant into the party. Also, a South-East person, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, won the presidential ticket of the APP but handed it over to Chief Olu Falae of the South-East. Onu is a founding member of the APC and the current Minister of Science and Technology.
There is another bloc from the South-South which is hoping to reap from any confusion that may arise from the 2023 contest. Though Dr Goodluck Jonathan from the South-South was supported to be president for over five years — between 2010 and 2015 — there are arguments that the North would like to support Jonathan as president for one term, since he had enjoyed a term after succeeding the deceased Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010. That way, power can return to the North quickly in 2027.
There are also permutations that if there is a contest between the South-East and the South-West as well as the South-South, the North may cash in on it and retain power in 2023, thereby keeping the North in power. The feelings in the South-East will be that rather than allow the South-West to return to power after Obasanjo’s presidency of eight years and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’s vice presidency of eight years, the North should take it. The South-West will also reason that the North should have the presidency rather than the South-East reaping from what they deem as the sweat of the South-West. The South-South may have the same reasoning too. Consequently, a northern candidate like Atiku Abubakar or Rabiu Kwankwaso may reap from such an apple of discord in the South.
Many people in the South-West see 2023 as their opportunity to produce a candidate truly endorsed by the South-West. They believe that Obasanjo was the choice of the North in 1999. Therefore, any attempt by the people from the South-East not to allow that to be will be interpreted by the South-West as enemy action.
Similarly, the South-East sees 2023 as its opportunity to produce an elected leader of Nigeria since 1960. That will give the zone the conviction that it is actually an equal partner in the Nigerian project. Having supported the South-West, North and South-South to be president, it will see any attempt by the South-West or South-South to want to produce the president in 2023 as an act of betrayal. That will further widen the gulf among the zones of the South, which many have been making efforts to bridge in the past 20 years.
At the end of the day, there may also be a push to allow justice and fairness to prevail by ensuring the emergence of someone from the South-East as president. However, the trade-off may be that the popular choice of the people may not be allowed to emerge. Rather a candidate that is deemed to suit the wishes of the power-brokers will be anointed and helped to get into office. That way, such a person will fulfil the condition of the South-East ruling and also ensure that the interest of the power-brokers is protected. The implication is that such a person will not rock the Nigerian boat and will not take any action that will make Nigeria rise from its unenviable supine position.
Given the dreadful situation Nigeria is in regarding the economy, security and citizen morale, anybody who will take over from Buhari in 2023 should not be a lame duck. Such a person will face a Herculean task trying to pull Nigeria out of the mud that it has walked itself into. Such a person should be pitied rather than envied.
But whatever happens in 2023, the problem of foundational structure facing Nigeria will not miraculously disappear. If it is not tackled aggressively by a strong and visionary leader, Nigeria will continue to deteriorate. Nigeria is bleeding profusely. It requires a doctor who can stop the haemorrhage and stabilise the country first. That is the only way to ensure that the haemorrhage Nigeria is facing does not become fatal.