DESPITE the unambiguity on the constitutional conditions for eligibility of presidential hopefuls, KUNLE ODEREMI, in this report, says the issue is fast-becoming contentious in the buildup to the 2023 general election.
Varying permutations are evolving across the political parties and indeed, political space over the 2023 presidential contest. The different power centres are buzzing with dizzying postulations and possible names that might be thrown up as the next president of the country. Those projections also come with other issues that might come into play at strategic stages of the transition to the next dispensation meant to separate the men from the boys. There are talks about health status, age, pedigree, character, knowledge and integrity of who might be the next first citizen. There are also issues bordering on the power of incumbency and money politics. But more fundamental and germane is the principle of zoning, which has defined political battle among the elite at very auspicious moments since the inception of civil rule 21 years ago. Both centrifugal and centripetal forces usually conspired to determine the way the pendulum swings in the parties, as the major political camps and gladiators attempt to gain advantage in the chess game ahead of the election that is just 14 months away. The issue of where the next president of the country should come from is fast gaining ground even with the general election about one and half years away. Major gladiators in the two leading political parties: All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are in the forefront of whether power should shift from the North to the South in 2023.
Nigeria became a federation in 1954 and it was necessitated by some preconditions, primary of which was the conviction that federal states have the structural capacity to accommodate diversity. Thus, the existent three regions: northern, western and eastern regions formed the federation to capture the ethnic heterogeneity of the entity. However, the dominance of the three major ethnic nationalities in the country aggravated suspicion and distrust from majorly the minority tribes, whose contributions to resources over the years shored up Nigeria’s economic status in the comity of nations. Their impact was most evident in the 1970 oil boom. Over centralisation and monopoly of power by the elite from a section of the country basically bred lopsidedness and imbalance in the power equation. So, it became expedient to introduce such policies as the Federal Character principle to contain the tension and distrust. For further political convenience and stability, and to cushion shocks, the concept of zoning or power shift became pronounced in the Second Republic, which the current main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) fully embraced and adopted as the country moved towards restoring civil rule on May 29, 1999. Through the valve, the country was able to precariously navigate the troubled waters stirred by the military for annulling the June 12, 1993 presidential election with the South-West getting compensated to produce president. Zoning has subsisted as the baton of leadership has moved based on the North-South axis, though sometimes potentially.
Question about age
The provisions of 1999 Constitution is clear on eligibility for elective public offices. Section 131 (d) provides: “131. A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if- (d)he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent.” An individual must be at least 35 years of age to be elected President or Vice President; 35 to be a Senator; 30 to be a state governor, and 25 to be a member of the House of Representatives or a state House of Assembly. So, the promoters of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run initiative hoped to end the stranglehold of the elderly on the political lever of the country, as well as bring about the inclusiveness. But former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida stirred a controversy on the age factor with his theorem that the presidential contest should be restricted to individuals that were within a certain age limit. The apostle of new breed politicians canvassed that those above 60 should excuse themselves from the race in what seems a throwback of his concept of old breed politicians diluting his ill-fated transition programme and convoluted diarchy that consumed his regime for attempting to destroy the most credible and fairest poll in the history of the country.
Babangida called on Nigerians to focus on individuals in their 60s in 2023, with his preference for persons with capacity to lead the country and effectively run its affairs economically and politically. He opined that bad leadership is a major reason for the woes facing the country, claiming that right now, there is need for a leader who connects with the people. He added: “I have started visualising a good Nigerian leader. That is, a person, who travels across the country and has a friend virtually everywhere he travels to and he knows at least one person that he can communicate with,” he said. “That is a person, who is very verse in economics and is also a good politician, who should be able to talk to Nigerians and so on. I have seen one, or two or three of such persons already in his sixties.”
Babangida was about 44 years when he took over as military president aside being part of the military oligarchy that ruled the country before then. Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari was 43 when he became head of state in 1984 and 73 when he was first elected president in 2015. Their senior in the military service, General Olusegun Obasanjo was 39 years old, when he mounted the saddle, following the assassination of Gen Murtala Muhammed in 1976.
At the buildup to the restoration of civil rule after a prolonged era of military dictatorship, the nation’s political class pushed forward as presidential hopefuls what many tagged part of its First Eleven. They fell mostly between the age bracket of 50 and 68 years. The list comprised General Obasanjo (62), second Republic Senate president, Dr Joseph Wayas (54), a former minister of Aviation, Tonye Graham-Douglas (59); a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Adamu Ciroma (65); a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Minister of Finance, Chief Olu Falae (60); Second Republic governor of old Oyo State, Chief Bola Ige (68), industrialist and administrator, Phillip Asiodu ((65), Second Republic Vice president, Dr Alex Ekwueme (67); Third Republic governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife (61); a former governor of Enugu State, Jim Nwobodo (59), a business mogul, Don Etiebet (54) and philanthropist cum civil engineer, Edet Amana (60); newspaper publisher, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu (57); board room guru, Gamaliel Onosode (66), former top officials of the ministry of Defence, Dr Bode Olajumoke (55); Second Republic Senate leader, Dr Olusola Saraki (66).
Though the those individuals that contested the presidency in 2003; 2007, 2011 and 2015 were slightly different, their age range almost cut across the same spectrum except for the admixture of new breeds that threw their hat into the ring. The impact of the younger politicians in those elections was salutary at the poll, in spite of the touted Third Force advocacy that became phenomenal among the political parties that operated at the fringes of the space. Huge resources required to establish and sustain structures, coupled with butter and bread, as well as ethnic politics constituted great challenges to the quest for an alternative to the bohemian PDP and APC.
Who does the cap fit?
The dominant forces in the emerging journey to the 2023 elections are in the two parties that form government at the federal and state as well as control the majority in the legislature across the country. The Labour Party (LP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) that appear more visible among the rest of the about two dozen parties, seem weak and incapacitated by many factors, chiefly internal contradictions and mercantile mentality. They are unable to prop up principled candidates and leaders that can rise above primordial factors.
In the PDP, names of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (74), Governor Aminu Tambuwal (55), a former president of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki (58) resonates more ahead for the presidential contest slated for February 18, 2023. For the PDP, the most touted names include an APC leader, Chief Bola Tinubu (69), incumbent vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (64), governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi (56) and a former governor of Zamfara State, Senator Rufai Sani Yerima (61). Among others being regarded as potential materials are President of African Development Bank (ADB), Dr Akinwunmi Adesina; United Nations deputy secretary general, Mrs Amina Mohammed; former CBN deputy governor, Professor Kingsley Moghalu; World Trade Organisation (WTO) Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; a former Anambra State governor, Mr Peter Obi, and Ekiti State governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi.
Zoning vs 2023 elections
Against the background of the frenetic maneuverings for the 2023 elections, a legal luminary, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) underscored the necessity to do the right thing first to avoid a situation where the country might be trying to build something on nothing. He stressed the need for justice, equity for the country. His words: “Justice and fairness are the two words so potent, so heavy and so deep. In the absence of these two, what are we? St. Aquinas said it: “Human beings are like a gang of animals.” He insists on retooling the system to produce a mutually agreed constitution to guarantee a workable political structure. “Whoever, whether advertently or inadvertently, consciously or deliberately, knowingly or unknowingly, allows himself to take over the leadership of Nigeria under the present unitary structure rather than joining forces with well-informed and intentioned Nigerians for total rehabilitation of this unworkable constitution, will sooner or later come to the realisation that he is inheriting a burden garnished with a yoke, the ultimate result of which will be counterproductive to him and our people. Within now and 2023, we should and must put in place our own equivalent of a Magna Carta and institute a Marshall Plan for the re-engineering of this polity in diverse areas, including security, economy, education, basic ethics and ethos and values, as well as godliness, et al.”
An underlying purpose of politics is capturing power for the purpose of controlling resources. And crude oil remains the veritable source of revenue for the country, making the contest for political power more intense among the various stakeholders in the Nigerian project and challenging on the sincerity and commitment to the zoning principle during elections. A don, Dele Babalola, illuminates the issue, especially as part of the major problems in the nation’s politics. Babalola, who is of the Department of International Relations and Diplomacy, Baze University, Abuja, says: “Nigeria’s history of revenue distribution is about each ethnic group or geo-political region seeking to maximise its share of national resources. One reason for the acrimonious revenue allocation system is that Nigeria’s component units lack viable sources of revenue of their own.” He suggests that emphasis should be on “revenue generation rather than revenue distribution, as this would ensure fiscal viability of the states.”
The necessity to preserve the sanctity of zoning principle in the next dispensation was also echoed by a former deputy national chairman of PDP, Chief Olabode George because guides against marginalization. “The very heart of the survival of the PDP has been on zoning, which ensures that every tribe that comes to a meeting goes home with something,” he intoned.
Even though he agrees with Babangida on the need for a younger president who understands the reality of the majority of the population, the Director of Programmes at Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, said it was not necessary about age. It does not determine the ability of anyone to be a good leader. She opined: “The focus for the next elections for a lot of young Nigerians is a presidential candidate that has the capacity, requisite competency and character to lead Nigeria. Nigerians need a leader who is ready to listen to the people; a leader who understands the diversity of Nigeria and is capable of managing diversity. We do not want a regional leader, but a national leader who has travelled across the 36 states in Nigeria and is ready to work with a team of capable Nigerians from across the country. This is why we need a younger leader without the burden of past prejudices and primordial sentiments in 2023,” she said.
A foremost nationalist and leader of the pan-Yoruba organisation, Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, has also recated to the proposition of Babangiad, He said the trajectory of Babandia disqualified him from setting a template for leadership in Nigeria. His words: “Babangida should stop feeding us with that nonsense, he should shut up, if we have a proper system such people should be under trial by now,” he added. Adebanjo said: “I don’t agree with this; that is not the situation in developing countries. Age should not be the basis for determining who rules Nigeria, I don’t believe in age. Any competent individual can rule; even the young ones appear not to have learned their lesson.”
At the signing of the NoTooYoungtorun Act, President Buhari had asked those who might want to use the opportunity provided by the legislation to challenge him the 2019 election presidential contest to put their ambition on hold until subsequent polls in the country. Nonetheless, some younger political gladiators still tried their lucky at the poll. But given the huge enormous resources required to withstand pressure and challenges posed by the mega parties pose a big challenge. And power, as experts contend, is not given a la carte.
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