Amid the controversies over where the ruling All Progressives Congress might zone its presidential ticket for the 2023 election, a chieftain of the party and Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, has said the founding fathers of the party won’t speak on the zoning arrangement until 2021.
He said nine among those of them who founded the APC were still in the party and that they would speak at the appropriate time whether or not there was an agreement on the zoning of the presidential ticket of the party for the 2023 election.
He said, “Nine of us are still in the APC. I can’t speak on the issue now. Most of us agreed that we are going to speak next year – from (Bola) Tinubu to Chief (Bisi) Akande, Chief Olusegun Osoba, myself; Tom Ikimi, Yusuf Ali; Ogbonnaya Onu; Danjuma Goje and Senator Wamakko.”
“We will speak next year after we would have done the APC caucus meeting on it. Caucus will agree that we speak on it publicly.”
Recent opposing claims by foundation members of the APC over an alleged gentleman’s agreement for a southern candidate to succeed the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), in 2023 has been causing apprehension within the ruling party, Sunday PUNCH learnt.
Three major opposition political parties, Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party and the Congress for Progressives Change came together and were later joined by a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance and other smaller groups to form the All Progressives Congress in 2014.
They were later joined by a group of aggrieved members of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party under the platform of the New PDP.
It was gathered that fears of a possible decision by northern APC leaders to renege on the 2014 gentleman’s understanding on zoning led to the recent comment by the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola SAN, for the party to honour the gentleman’s agreement.
Fashola said, “The constitution that sets up the climate of political parties’ formation does not prescribe zoning. The truth is that what makes an agreement specification is the honour in which it is made, not whether it is written.
‘If it was written there would be no court cases of breach of contract because it’s a document that is written and signed that goes to court. But the private agreement you make with your brother and sister can be breached, (it) is honour.”
This position was reiterated by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, in a separate television interview. In response to a question on the zoning issue, he said, “It is a difficult question for me to respond to. I just believe that the zoning which was done in the North and South should be respected, just like Fashola said.”
Fears by party leaders from the South were further heightened by last week’s declaration by the former Zamfara State Governor and chieftain of the party, Senator Sani Yerima, that the much talked about agreement didn’t exist and that even if it did, it was not binding because it neither had a basis in the Nigerian constitution nor that of the APC.
Governor of Ekiti State and Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, also kicked against zoning, adding, “there are excellent Nigerians from all parts of the country.”
Disquiet in APC over zoning as chieftains insist on southern candidate
Meanwhile, one of the former ANPP northern governors, actively involved in the merger talks, confided in Sunday PUNCH that before agreeing to bring the Action Congress of Nigeria bloc into the merger, Tinubu extracted an unwritten commitment from leaders of the legacy political parties that power would return to the south.
The former governor said, “Before Tinubu finally agreed for the merger to happen, his principal demand was that after the north, power should shift to the south. That was a gentleman’s agreement which all the parties involved were aware of.
“It was not something that everybody sat down, agreed on and signed in writing. It was a gentleman’s agreement. I remember it was on the final day of the meeting he threatened to pull his ACN block out of the merger if his demands were not met. It is this understanding that ensured that not a single aspirant showed interest in our 2014 primary.
“You will recall that four northerners and Rochas Okorocha from the South East contested that primary which Buhari won. With due respect, Yerima has an ambition which he is entitled to pursue as a Nigerian.”
The former National Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, Alhaji Buba Galadima, who was actively involved in talks that led to the merger, told Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, “The gentleman’s agreement was a private arrangement between General Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. It wasn’t something that was debated and agreed upon publicly.
Asked whether he was aware of any recent decision to zone the presidency to the south, he said, “It will be political suicide for any party to do that at this time. It is too early.”
A principal officer in the Senate from the southern part of the country, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution said the National Executive Committee of the party had already zoned the Presidency to the South but that the decision was yet to be made public.
He said, “How can somebody claim that there is no zoning arrangement in the APC? Is he bigger than NEC? The former governor of Zamfara State who was quoted to have denied knowledge of the zoning arrangement in the APC is constitutionally empowered to contest the next presidential election but the party would take the final decision.
“If the party says he cannot contest election, there is nothing he can do. The NEC has taken a decision to zone the party to the south, although it has not made it public.”
However, another pioneer member of the APC, Mr Rotimi Fashakin, said some powerful politicians who supported Buhari to emerge as the candidate of the party could have extracted some commitments from him and that such might not be open to others.
He said, “Of course, you will understand that when the merger was finalised, we were to go into the Presidential primary which was held at the Teslim Balogun Stadium. There was a lot of horse trading. General Buhari said publicly back then that he didn’t have dollars to give and even if he had, he wouldn’t give.
“You know some powerful people were behind his nomination and they were powerful enough to make his nomination possible despite his financial constraints and the threat from the people with deep pockets. At that level, some promises could have been extracted or made before such support was given. That is why I said, in politics and in political associations, there is information that you don’t give across the board, it is on a need-to-know basis.”
In response to a question on comments made by Fashola on the issue, Fashakin said, “Remember Babatunde Fashola was the governor of Lagos State, there were consultations and commitments extracted or exchanged that not all of us were privy to.”
Another pioneer APC member, Mr Nelson Alapa, who was until recently the Chairman of the APC Non-NWC NEC members, while responding to the same question, said, “At the take-off of any political momentum, there is written and unwritten understanding. One would ordinarily believe that the next dispensation, which is 2023, power should move from the North to the South, I am one of those who believe in that.
“Whether it is cast in stone or not, there is an understanding. We always have this moral understanding, there isn’t any written document but this understanding has always been there.”
Another pioneer member, Mr Osita Okechukwu, who is the current Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria, said it had been implied since 1999 that power should rotate between North and South.
He added, “In politics not everything is written in black and white, there are agreements between gentlemen. More than anything else, the refusal of the then President Goodluck Jonathan to respect this unwritten agreement, coupled with the fact that the emergence of the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was an idea whose time had come, culminated in PDP’s resounding defeat in 2015.”
APC chieftains insist on southern candidate
The Oyo State APC Chairman, Chief Akin Oke, has said anyone who claims there was no agreement for power shift when merger plans were being worked out for the party in 2014 is “either playing the ostrich or exposing his personal foible.”
He added, “Moral, social and political sense would guide any sincere person to the path of honour which revolves around ensuring that everyone is given due sense of belonging and rights to be part of the Nigerian project as bona fide citizens. Above all, things will work out well for us in the South-West when the time comes in 2023 because we remain the unifying factor in Nigeria.”
Also, a former senator, Olufemi Lanlehin, said whether written or oral, the sanctity of an agreement must be kept, adding that a man’s word should be his bond.
Lanlehin, who represented Oyo South Senatorial district in the 7th Senate, said, “The zoning arrangement is a system adopted by major Nigerian political parties to address the heterogeneous and diverse nature of the Nigerian society and polity. The APC at inception agreed to go by this arrangement, with the north taking the first shot and the south the next.
“I believe very strongly in the sanctity of an agreement, whether written or oral. The popular saying is that a man’s word should be his bond. It is in the interest of the APC, the polity and Nigerian society that this arrangement is respected and continued.”
A former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Osun State, Mr Sunday Akere, also said power must shift to the south in the spirit of fairness. “Fair’s fair. If a section of the country holds power for eight years, other sections should have a feel of power too. I am in support of power coming to the South in 2023,” he said.
He added, “If some people like Governor Nasir El-Rufai, Babatunde Fashola can speak about an existing agreement or understanding and Governor Kayode Fayemi can allude to the same on a national network, those of us that are outside will have nothing to do than believe there is an agreement.
The National Publicity Secretary, Asiwaju Grassroots Foundation, Mr Adedayo Adeboye, said power must not only return to the South, but to the South-West in 2023.
The Publicity Secretary of the APC in Bayelsa State, Doifie Buokoribo, said, “We are dealing with a political question, and the presidency shifting to the south of Nigeria is the proper thing to do. But it is part of an unwritten elite consensus that after eight years of the presidency in the North, it goes to the South.
A media aide to former Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, Sam Onwuemeodo, said Okorocha believes people from other parts of the country also have the right to aspire to the presidency but that on the basis of equity, Igbo should be given a chance.
He said “Okorocha believes in the unity of this country. He doesn’t believe in Igbo presidency. Rather he believes in a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction.
Similarly, founding members of the APC in the South-East, also said power should revert to the south in 2023.
Chief Emmanuel Eneukwu, who is a former National Vice Chairman of APC, South-East, said, “I believe that power should return to the South in 2023. And when it comes to the South, it is South-East.”
Chief Peter Ede also said, “I think it is not just the turn of the South, it should come to the South-East,” while the Chairman of APC in Enugu State, Dr Ben Nwoye, reinforced the same position. “We believe it is the turn of Ndigbo of South-East extraction; that is the only way for fairness and equity. That is one way to achieve the unity of this country.
In Ekiti State, the Acting Deputy State Chairman of the party, Sola Elesin, said on Friday that it was sacrosanct for power to return to the south. “The agreement was that when the north rules for eight years, it would be the turn of the south. Definitely, we are optimistic that power will shift to the South in 2023,” he added.
The former acting Chairman of APC in Cross River State, John Ochala, also said the Presidency should be zoned to the South-East. “Politically, it is expedient that it is zoned to the South.”
Meanwhile, the APC caretaker committee Chairman in Delta State, Mr Jones Erue, said there was no zoning arrangement in the party, adding however that the south should produce the next President.
Erue told one of our correspondents on Friday, “Yes, I agree with Yerima, there was no such agreement. Truly speaking, I’m a man of truth, I don’t believe in sentiment; there was no arrangement in APC. However, I believe that the best person to be the President of Nigeria should come from the South.”