2021: Battle of kingmakers, godsons in parties

January 10, 2021
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GROUP POLITICS EDITOR, KUNLE ODEREMI, furthers the dissection of issues such as restructuring and zoning as well as the personalities whose actions or inactions will directly shape the political happenings in the country in the New Year.

As posited in last week’s edition of The Polity, this year will prove very interesting as a result of the drama and attending intrigues that will play out in the political circles.  Many politicians, including those holding elective positions, are gradually returning to the starting block preparatory to the 2023 elections. Most kingmakers are deploying their arsenals, recruiting more foot soldiers to burrow into the fortresses of non-allies. Using fronts, godfathers and their godsons are testing the proverbial murky waters of politics to feel the pulse of the various shades of stakeholders in the political circles.  All manner of empowerment schemes are being unveiled and different platforms used to shore up the credentials of political bigwigs waiting in the wings to contest for offices and lawmakers have suddenly realised that they need to interface with their constituencies. Somehow, the posturing by these major political actors is posing major challenges for the parties due to attendant tension and acrimonies. The various power centres are locked in cold war because of the intense struggle for the structures of the main political parties. For instance, there is mutual distrust between the top echelon of the parties and the other structures, due to perceived moves to compromise the system in order to pave the way for the favourites of the leaders of the parties.

Governors and the battle of wits

Governors of the  All Progressives congress (APC) form the nucleus of the ruling party. Except in a few states, they are in firm control of the structures of the party. With enormous resources at their disposal, the governors constitute a main bloc of powerbrokers. The few of them, who have been having a running battle with either their  predecessors and other powerful interests, have been making frantic moves to have a firm grip on the structure of the party in their domain. Though their predecessors have been fighting back for continued relevance, the incumbent governors are rallying other power centres within and outside their states to checkmate them, except in Zamfara and Rivers states, where the bitter struggle for structures of the APC appears to defy all peace efforts as the main forces remain recalcitrant and adamant.

With their awesome power, the governors may  dictate the pace of major decisions and direction of events in the APC in the build-up and during the general election proper. They are most likely to determine the choice of candidates to run on the ticket of the ruling party in the general election. One of the current permutations is that the governors could prefer one of their own who is cerebral, young, vibrant and resourceful to fly the presidential ticket of the APC as opposed to any other party stalwart, no matter the quantum of war chest he can boast of. They are also said to premise their calculations on the one they can trust as against any individual perceived to be inordinately ambitious with moral value and bankrupt credentials.

The influence of the governors is bound to manifest in the selection of candidates for the election into the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly. Thus, the choice of those candidates could settle the war of supremacy between the governors and some members of the National Assembly.

Given the enormity of resources required for the membership revalidation and registration coming up very soon, the governors are in a better stead to provide necessary and requite logistics to make the exercise run smoothly. This will further enhance their capacity to own and control the structures of the APC. With the main party structures hijacked from some of the existing godfathers and kingmakers, the fate of many other stakeholders will majorly hang in the balance and the forthcoming national convention of the APC could be a foregone conclusion.

Also in the opposition Peoples democratic Party (PDP), the governors are bound to play a dominant role in the politics of 2023. They have inspired other leaders of the main opposition party after it survived from going under after losing the 2015 presidency to the APC. While providing leadership at the state level, the governors are beset with moderating the actions of other powerful forces out to carve their own sphere of influence across the rank and file of the party. This situation has led to the hide-and-seek game between the national secretariat of the party and some state chapters, culminating in the existence of factions of the party.

Beyond this is the plots and counter-plots against the PDP national leadership, which some party elders accused have stoked the fire in a number of state chapters. Already, there is a groundswell of opposition within the party over the bid by some PDP top shots holding elective offices at the party level and public offices in their bid to renew their mandate. There are also moves and counter-moves against the ambition of others in prime elective offices to move up the ladder in their political career through the 2023 elections.

With the defection of Dave Umahi to the APC, there are projections that more PDP governors may dump the party. The ruling APC has not hidden its intention to decimate the prime opposition party.  Some of its governors and party top shots have made public shows of their determination to further weaken the PDP by poaching its members preparatory to the general election.

A dangerous sword called zoning

Nothing seems certain and sacrosanct about the zoning principle that has become part of the political engineering designed to douse tension and engender stability in the polity. The main parties have been speaking from both sides of the mouth over which zone should produce the successor to President Muhammadu Buhari. The logic that the position should go the southern axis of the country is being thrown overboard by some voices within the APC and the PDP, just as some stakeholders argue that the contest should be open-ended to guarantee merit.

The positions of three  former governors and chieftains of the APC, Senators Ahmed Yerima, Ibrahim Shekarau and Chief Segun Osoba reflect the schism over zoning as it relates the ticket of the party for the presidency. Both Shekarau, a former governor of Kano State and Yerima, who governed Zamfara State  the past, declared that APC has no zoning arrangement in its constitution, a claim Osoba, a former governor of Ogun State, hotly disputed. According to Osoba,  there was a mutual agreement in the APC to zone the presidency to the South-West in 2023.

But Yerima, a presidential hopeful, who claimed that he attended all meetings involving President Buhari and a national leader of the APC, Chief Bola Tinubu, stated that  there was no meeting where it was agreed that the presidency would be zoned to the South-West in 2023. He said, “I don’t think there is anything like agreement. You can ask Mr. President, he led the group; Asiwaju was there; I was part of it. There was no meeting I didn’t attend or any meeting that I attended that there is such agreement. (Such an) agreement can’t be verbal; it has to be written.

«In any case, any agreement that is contrary to the laws of this country is not an agreement. The constitution is very clear, the constitutions of the political parties, the Electoral Act. We are in a democracy and democracy is governed by processes and procedures and by laws,” Yerima said.

Shekarau also made a similar claim supporting Yerima in an interview that there was no agreement to zone the presidency to any part of the country, also relying on the APC and Nigerian constitution to support his position.

However, featuring in live interview on Arise Television breakfast show on Tuesday, Osoba,  a close ally of Tinubu, said he was at the APC merger talks that yielded the presidential ticket to North in 2013. He declared: “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). I don’t want to use the word zoning because we definitely did not put zoning.

“We know it may go in conflict with the Nigerian constitution, which says anyone who is a Nigerian, who has read up to school certificate and at the age of 35, I think, can contest for the presidency of the country. 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,” he had recalled challenging the position of Yerima and Shekarau.

Restructuring: Will the North accept this crucial vaccine to save Nigeria?

It is one issue that remains stuck in national discourse beyond the civilian dispensation since May 29. 1999. It one of the vital issues the PDP and the APC enshrined in their individual manifestoes but which they have almost avoided like a plague to implement. Top government functionaries in the present administration had promised the APC agenda on restructuring and devolution of powers was fully on course. But there is no pragmatic step to that effect so far as the report of the Committee on Restructuring set by the party with the governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai as chairman is yet to be implemented.

It is not unlikely that the Buhari administration ahead of the 2023 elections would embark on a semblance of further devolution of powers to state, a form of tokenism  to the critical and popular demand for a total reform of the existing structure  that has killed  a country with a promising future.

War of attrition

The battle over which zone should produce president in 2023 will be most keenly contested and debated in the southern part of the country. The issue is already tearing a few power blocs apart.  Some chieftains, who floated a group to promote the touted presidential ambition of Tinubu drew flak from other camps in the APC, especially those favourably disposed to speculations about the governor of Ekiti State, Dr Kayode Fayemi, joining the race for presidency. Similarly, there is a gulf among APC juggernauts in the South-East over the quest by the Igbo to produce the president for the first since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999.

The disagreement has to led to the convening of parallel stakeholders lately in parts of the five states making up the geopolitical zone, in perceived supremacy tests. Nonetheless, both the South-West and the South-East are stepping up efforts to lobby the establishment at the highest level on the presidency project.

For instance, a former national chairman of the PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, said the recent defection of Governor Umahi to the APC would not affect the chances of Ndigbo in producing president in 2023.  “Recently, there was a presidential visit, led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor  Ibrahim Gambari, to South-East leaders of thought, governors from the zone, ministers, National Assembly members, as well as religious and traditional leaders.

The first demand was that we should be given the opportunity to produce the next President of Nigeria. The whole of the Igbo leadership spoke with one voice, including women and youth leaders. We are speaking with one voice as far as that project is concerned.”

A legal luminary, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), expressed a similar disposition on the Igbo presidency project, saying:  “We are speaking with one voice as far as that project is concerned.” He ruled out the possibility of politicians defecting from one major party to the other affecting the chances of an Igbo becoming president. “I don’t see how it will affect the Igbo presidency. All I ask the political parties to do is that, in the name of equity, every party should nominate an Igbo man, a south easterner, as its candidate…

“In spite of defections, PDP is still the dominant party in the South-East. Until an election is conducted nobody will say the defection (of Umahi) has affected anything,” Ahamba had stressed.

Nonetheless, part of the main ongoing debate over if the South-East or the South-West should produce president in 2023 is the electoral value of each to either the APC or the PDP. While the South-East has consistently voted PDP, the South-West has, comparatively, made the APC and its precursors a preferred choice. So, the debate over the variegated political configuration and alignment could assume a wider dimension in the march towards 2023 general election.

INEC: An umpire persistently in the eye of the storm

Having secured a fresh five year-mandate, the chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has the arduous task of raising the bar of electoral contest and management in the country. He bears a huge burden of enjoying increased confidence of all critical stakeholders. With the lenses of all focused on the activities of the commission as it kick starts the journey to 2023 through registration of voter registers, the INEC will be kept on its toes in 2021.

Fringe political Parties

What kind of challenge are those regarded as lesser parties play in 2021 in the march to the 2023 elections? Is there the possibility of a shift from the past when they became surrogates to the APC or the PDP? Do they hold the promise of an alternative to both  the APC or the PDP?

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