Presidency 2023: El-Rufai under fire over call to end zoning

Presidency 2023: El-Rufai under fire over call to end zoning

- Senior lawyers and politicians reacted to Governor Nasir El-Rufai's statement that zoning of presidency should be stopped

- Shehu Sani and others who reacted said the presidency is supposed to be zoned to the south in 2023, adding that the rule should not be changed in the middle of the game

- Sani, in his reaction, said it would amount to ingratitude not to allow power to return to the south in 2023

The governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai, has been heavily criticised over his suggestion that zoning of political offices should be de-emphasised.

According to a report by The Nation, senior lawyers and rights activists believe El-Rufai's statement is a plot to ensure the north retains the presidency when President Muhamamdu Buhari completes his tenure in 2023.

Senator Shehu Sani, in his reaction, said it would amount to ingratitude not to allow power to return to the south in 2023.

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Sani spoke during a Sallah visit to elder statesman and Second Republic governor of Old Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa.

He recalled how the southwest facilitated President Buhari’s victory in 2015.

Sani said: “My view on that is very simple; it is an act of ingratitude for any northerner to think that by 2023, he or she should aspire for office in the view of the fact that, southerners, particularly the southwest did everything possible to support the northern candidate to emerge as the president in 2015.

“It will amount to changing the rules of the game at half time, when you are leading two zero. It can also be likened to removing the ladder after you have plucked the fruit.

“The north should appreciate the support of progressive-minded nationalists from the southwest or the southern part of Nigeria who worked tirelessly to remove the PDP from power in 2015."

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Sani added that the southeast must be allowed to produce Nigeria's president, saying"you cannot continue to punish them for the offence which they are not architect of?"

“After President Buhari, power needs to rotate to some of these major geopolitical zones; you cannot close the door after you have gone inside. Southwest has helped us to be where we are today.

“You can’t talk of competency when you have not produced an Igbo president. Are they not Nigerians? You cannot continue to punish them for the offence which they are not architect of? That is my view," Sani concluded.

Elder statesman Tanko Yakassai, reacting to El-Rufai's and Sani's comments, said: “It is up to the APC, because neither Nasir El-Rufai nor Shehu Sani can speak for the APC and the north.

“They are expressing their individual opinions, because they do not have the locus standi to speak for the north on the issue of zoning. But one thing I can say is that they are members of the APC, which has embraced the zoning arrangement since President Buhari came to power. So, it is up to the party whether to retain the zoning arrangement in 2023 or abandon it."

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Yakassai, however, said the APC may not subscribe to El-Rufai's view because it will affect the APC's chances in 2023.

“I doubt if the APC as a party would subscribe to El-Rufai’s view. In fact, the position of El-Rufai would not auger well for the APC as a party in 2023, because it would undermine the party’s standing in the south. It would be counter-productive for the party to adopt such a position, given the interest of its members from the south who supported the north to grab power in 2015 and retain it in the last general elections," he said.

Yakassai noted that El-Rufai’s statement had sent a wrong signal because APC members in the south would think twice on whether to continue supporting the party or not.

Also, the national chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, said the idea of a northern president in 2023 will not fly.

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He said: “I have always had the position that Nigeria does not have constitution that has provided for rotation of power. But, at the same time, the rotational arrangement has become conventional. It is that rotational convention that made it easier for President Buhari to defeat a sitting president in 2015, because 2015 was widely perceived as the turn of a northerner to become president. Since President Buhari towered above every other person from the north, he won."

Okorie added that his party decided not to field a presidential candidate in the 2019 elections to allow the north to complete its turn.

“In the build up to 2019, the UPP as a party – the party I lead – we knew that any person running for president from the south would be swimming against the tide. So, we decided to allow the north to complete its eight years, by not fielding a candidate for the presidential election, and that was what happened," he said

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“It is that same convention that Nigeria would observe by 2023. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop any person from the north wishing to run, but the person will never be able to win the presidential election. Such persons will be like those southerners who ran in 2019 and never stood any chance of winning.

“Owing to the fact that it is not a law, anybody can run. The likes of El-Rufai can run, if they wish to do so. But, if El-Rufai is able to win Kaduna state, he should thank his stars. Buhari with all his qualities and following in the north was not able to win on three previous occasions. But when Nigerians said it is the turn of the north, forces came together to mobilise support for him. In the South, the Southwest especially played a key role in making sure that he won," Okorie said.

Similarly, Lanre Razaq, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), dismissed El-Rufai’s comment as divisive and undermining Nigeria’s unity.

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He said: “Some people don’t know the value of Nigeria being together. A situation where you consider some segment of the country not entitled to the presidency is the most vicious act that can befall the country.”

Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in his own view said though zoning does not matter in ideal societies, it will take time for Nigeria to attain such democratic maturity.

Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said the Kaduna state governor was “flying a kite”, adding that El-Rufai was fronting for the “northern elite” which understand power better than “the southern establishment.”

Ozekhome said northern power brokers would not be willing to give up power after President Buhari’s tenure ends in 2023.

Ozekhome said: “Southern politicians will have a shocker coming to them, because the north will not let go of power.”

Another senior lawyer, Chief Emeka Okpoko (SAN), said the timing of El-Rufai’s call was suspicious. He wondered if “there wasn’t a selfish motive” behind the governor’s suggestion.

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Okpoko said: “If it was said because they (the North) have exhausted their term, it becomes something else entirely. Politicians should be elected based on competence, no doubt about it.

“But is the call genuine? Is it bona fide? Is there anything behind it? Is there any intention that is unclear to us behind it? I don’t see him (El-Rufai) as a straight shooter. There could be something behind it.”

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Meanwhile, previously reported that a former governor of Anambra state, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, said that the Igbo citizenship would cease to exist in 2023 if the southeast is not given the chance to produce the next president of Nigeria.

Ezeife said the people of the southeast geopolitical zone should be given a chance to become the president of the federal republic of Nigeria.

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