2023: North-South Dichotomy Worsens

2023: North-South Dichotomy Worsens

Zoning further sparks crises

Confusion as double speak reigns

The activities leading up to the 2023 general elections which is about 17 months away, is suggestive of the widening of the North-South gulf.

AljazirahNigeria’s Editor, GEORGE EMINE writes that this flared division does not portend well for election and the unity of the country at large.

As 2023 approaches, like in the case of every election year in Nigeria, tensions begin to rise across party and in most cases, ethnic lines. But these tensions are usually doused after the election and a winner announced. But in the case of the 2023 presidential elections, analysts say they fear if these tensions would doused after the elections as it seems from an early stage, that the election shall be held between the North-South divide.

This trend was given rife by the Southern Nigeria governors series of meetings which on Thursday September 16, insisted that the next President of Nigeria must come from the southern part of the country in the spirit of justice, equity and fairness, also reaffirming its earlier commitment to restructuring and fiscal federalism, urging their respective State Houses of Assembly as well as representatives at the National Assembly to pursue its inclusion in the Nigerian Constitution through the ongoing constitutional amendment.

In a seven paragraph communiqué read by the chairman of the Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, the Forum also supported the position that the collection of VAT falls within the powers of the states.

The communiqué reads, “Nigerian Southern Governors’ Forum at its meeting of today, Thursday, September 16, 2021 held in the Government House, Enugu, Enugu State reviewed the state of the nation and the progress of implementation of the decisions reached in her previous meetings and further resolved as follows:

Expressed satisfaction with the rate at which the States in the Southern Nigeria are enacting or amending the Anti-Open Grazing Laws which align with the uniform template and aspiration of Southern Governors and encouraged the States that are yet to enact this law to do so expeditiously.

Forum encouraged the full take-off of already agreed regional security outfits; which would meet, share intelligence and collaborate, to ensure the security and safety of the region.

Reaffirmed its earlier commitment to Structural and fiscal federalism as resolved at the inaugural meeting of the Forum held on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at Asaba, Delta State and emphasized the need for the Southern States to leverage the legislative competence of their respective State Houses of Assembly as well as representation in the National assembly to pursue its inclusion in the Nigerian Constitution through the ongoing constitutional amendment.

“Following from paragraph 3” above, the meeting resolved to support the position that the collection of VAT falls within the powers of the States.

Expressed satisfaction with the handling of issues around the Petroleum Industry ACT,  PIA, and ownership of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, by the larger Nigerian Governors’ Forum.

Reiterated earlier position that the next President of Nigeria must come from the Southern part in line with politics of equity, justice and fairness.

“The Forum thanked the host Governor, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, and chose Rivers State as the next host for the Southern Governors’ Forum meeting in November 2021”.

But barely three days after this meeting, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, through its spokesperson, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, vowed that the North will continue leading Nigeria, arguing that the region has the majority to produce a leader through the ballot. “We will lead Nigeria the way we have led Nigeria before. Whether we are president or vice-president or whatever, we will lead Nigeria”, NEF spokesman, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said on Sunday at a lecture in memory of the late Maitama Sule in Zaria Kaduna State.

According to him, NEF will not allow the 2023 presidency to be zoned to the southern part of the country, insisting that the position is a democratic office that will be determined by the majority. He maintained that there is nothing wrong if the North produces the next president after Muhammadu Buhari, adding that this is possible not because the North is superior to others, but because the rules of politics avail the region a great opportunity.

Ahmed stressed that the North will never be cowed into submission, nor forced to give up in the quest to retain power in 2023 considering its huge human population that gives the region an advantage over others. While stating that the future of the North is not for sale, Baba-Ahmed also maintained that the region will not be threatened, intimidated or blackmailed into giving up its right to a democratic office.

He said the region should not be compelled to give up a democratically elected office that can be sought by any person irrespective of where he or she comes from, further reminding those calling for power rotation to bury such thoughts, saying Nigeria is running a democratic government, whereby decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters who will elect the leaders of their choice.

Meanwhile, this is the same NEF which has repeatedly expressed regrets throwing its weight behind the candidacy of Gen.Muhammadu Buhari (retd) in the 2015 presidential election, instead of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, adding that Buhari has let down a majority of Nigerians who trusted in his leadership prior to 2015 polls.

“Is there any Nigerian who is not disappointed in President Buhari including diehard APC people? Is there anybody who would not tell you he wished President Buhari had done much better? We raised huge expectations, we told people, ‘Get rid of Jonathan, put Buhari there, he would fix corruption, he would fix insecurity, he would fix the economy’ but look at where we are now. How can anybody say they are happy with the record of President Buhari, even the people very close to him would tell you that they wished he could have done better and he could have done much better and he hasn’t”, said Ahmed in an interview with a TV station on Wednesday. Recall that the NGF had in December 2020 called for the resignation of Buhari.

In a clear response to the NEF, elder statesman and leader of the Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Chief Edwin Clark said for Nigeria to progress as a country, she must play down on ethnicity. He said: “Look at what is happening in the northwest! People who feel that they have been oppressed are the ones fighting back. The state governors were the ones moving the Almajiris from place to place and they are the ones fighting back now. I believe in one Nigeria”. He appealed to Ahmed to call his people to order so that we can have one Nigeria.

On his part, the National Chairman of the African Democratic Congress, ADC, Mr. Ralphs Nwosu, who said he was infuriated by the statement credited to Baba-Ahmed, faulted Baba-Ahmed’s comments in a statement issued on Tuesday, September 21. He said holding onto leadership and creating the kind of poverty the country has now leverages none. Nwosu said respected intellectuals should not sound this way.

He stated: “I am infuriated when any of our respected public intellectuals sound this way. Reducing our rich knowledge to North and South thinking creates the kind of dichotomy that impedes development and the kind of national cohesion to leverage our various people. Holding onto leadership and creating the kind of poverty we have now leverages none. Elites must become ‘unifiers’ so that we can build a nation that is able to employ our rich diversity values for quality and endearing public policies; public policies that are just and non-discriminatory”.

The ADC chairman stressed that in a multi ethnic country like Nigeria, it was important everyone is given a sense of belonging, and that he felt seriously that aiming to use the gaps in the democratic process to dominate others or threaten them hurts everyone. “We need to develop an elite culture that is beyond myopic prism. Our elites should really begin to challenge the status quo so that we can inspire our youths towards a direction that creates prosperity, security, peace and opportunities for all. Hakeem and many of our elites in the public space should realize that they model the way for all others, especially the youths, each time they mount any podium”, he added.

In a related development, Leaders of the North Central zone under the auspices of the North Central Renaissance Movement, NCRM, have called on the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to zone their 2023 Presidential tickets to the zone in the interest of fairness and justice. The group stated this at a world press conference which held in Abuja on September 6, saying time has come for other geo-political zones to rally behind the North Central to produce the next President of Nigeria. In his opening remarks, chairman of the group, Dr. Nghargbu K’tso said the zone will not accept the national chairmanship of any political party, stressing that nothing short of the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is good enough for the North Central in 2023.

This contrasts the earlier position of a group, the APC Patriotic Ambassadors of Nigeria, at a media briefing in March by its spokesperson, Dr. Aliyu Ibrahim, who is the National Coordinator of the group, saying that the North-Central is the most strategic geo-political zone in Nigeria, with multi-cultural and multi-ethnic electoral investment opportunities, populated by almost all the major and minor ethnic nationalities in the country and zoning the position of the National Chairman to the region will strengthen and help galvanize the huge electoral investment potentials that had from the early days of the first, second, third and fourth republic dispensations determined the flow and pattern  electoral victories at both primary and secondary elections.

During the presentation of “NIGERIAN’S 2023 PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION INTER ETHNIC PEACE DIALOGUE 2021” in Abuja on the May 31 with the theme: Restructuring and 2023 Power Shift: Nigeria’s make or Break Factor for Political Survival, organized by the Youths Off the Street Initiative, YOTSI, and its Diaspora partners, representatives of the various ethnic groups spoke frankly on these issues dividing Nigeria. Dr George Obiozor, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said the organisation believed there was the need for an emergency national conference to consider the proposals of various ethnic groups and also review the reports of previous national conferences for the restructuring and development of a new constitution that transpires equity and transparency ; noting that is high time Nigeria’s political power shifts to the South.

In the keynote address by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, AG. Leader of Afenifere, he said:  “Nigeria is on the brink of a second civil war and certainly will not survive it. The political atmosphere is already over-saturated with tensions and getting more combustive and volatile. This is the reason we must act now, in order to prevent the ethnic cleansing, bloodbath, mass murder, genocide and forceful disintegration waiting to happen. The damaging consequences will be grievous if these critical warnings are taken for granted. We are sitting on a ticking time bomb and it is about to explode”.

Adebanjo, while presenting the position of the Yoruba, which was also adopted by the Ohaneze, said the process for a genuine consensus on an acceptable national constitution should begin with the production of position documents by all nationalities between now and December. He said going forward; Nigerians should be allowed to exercise their rights and sovereignty on how they want to live together under mutually beneficial terms. The various regions in the country should be allowed to choose the type of government they wanted to adopt within their area under a truly federal structure which would guarantee some measure of autonomy and control over resources and policing of their entities.

“Ethnic nationalities in the country should be encouraged to prepare their document on Terms of Engagement between now and December 2021. The documents from the nationalities in which they propose the kind of regional government they want to form be collated and considered between January and March 2022. The product of this process should then produce the document that will become the Constitution of the United Regions of Nigeria or Federal Republic of Nigeria. As stated earlier, issue of true federalism must be central in every of the Constitution or Article of Engagement so produced. True Federalism that emphasizes Self-Determination”.

Dr. Lawal Abdullahi in his opinion, believes that separation is not the best solution to Nigeria’s long-standing issues. However, Confusion generated when the leader of Northern Consensus Initiative, said in his statement that the Northern Nigeria was no longer opposed to a break-up of the country. Creating more tension, he reiterated his assertion by making it significantly clear about the stand of the North in its readiness to separate. “The North, before now, was saying ‘we don’t believe in separation; but as I’m standing, I’m telling you that if there is going to be separation tomorrow, the North is ready for it. We are also ready, let’s go our different ways and I am telling you this with all sincerity and I owe no apology to anyone.”

Dr Nwachukwu Anakwenze The Chairman, Igbo World Assembly representing 57 countries who was virtually connected from Los Angeles gave his speech:  “We are in the last hours of our existence as a country. We are on the 11th hour, it’s almost too late. We have many things to deal with. It has never been like this. Appointments of key positions from one particular area because you’re the president have not been so. It has never been like that. We can’t tolerate that; we say implement restructuring and devolution of power”.

IWA states that the predominant view in Nigeria is for restructuring of the country, and this should be the minimum that Ndigbo should demand, so that every component part of this country can substantially harness its resources and develop at its own pace. We want to make Nigeria one of the greatest countries on earth. God have blessed us with everything you can imagine (great intelligent youths, land, agriculture, mineral resources except for good leaders. It is time to correct this. There is a need to restructure Nigeria to ensure true federalism as it was in the 1963 Constitution based on regions or zones. We need a Nigerian political structure that is based on equity, fair play, balance and equal access to political power for the good of all Nigerians. 

IWA feels that what Nigeria needs on the long run is true Fiscal federalism which is a system of government based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between National and Regional/State Governments. The individual federating units need to have more control over their own affairs.  The regional government should control their resources and pay a percentage royalty tax to the federal government. The federal government should control issues in the single exclusive list such as military or foreign policy. We should return to agricultural businesses such as was practiced in the sixties by our former leaders.

Speaking to AljazirahNigeria, a cross section of Nigerians spoke on ethnic lines with each respondent speaking for the benefit of his/her geopolitical region as against for Nigeria as a country. Sani Ahmed who spoke to our correspondent said he was tired of Nigeria. “I am tired of this arrangement called Nigeria. We neither are, nor united as a county as everyone believes in his ethnicity not the country. The day we begin to insist on merit as against ethnicity during elections, is when we shall get it right”, he said.

On his part, Johnson Ibiwari said: “If the North is insisting on continuity in 2023, I want to tell them that they are very wrong. Why can’t our legislators enact a law that will rotate the presidency across the six geopolitical regions? If that is done, all these problems will be settled once and for all because there are three geopolitical zones in both the North and the South so that would create a balance as no region will ever be left out or feel left out again. But this is a herculean task because there is lack of trust across the ethnic nationalities. I think the fear among the Northern elders is just the seeming unity they see from the southern governors”. As this mutual suspicion and distrust continues across the divide, 2023 still seems pregnant. The ruling APC itself has been inconsistent in its zoning the presidency to the South.

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