Governors of the 17 southern states have unanimously agreed that the next President of Nigeria should emerge from their region, puncturing the ambition of prominent politicians from the North.
The governors under the aegis of the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) made their stance known on Monday after a closed-door meeting which lasted for about five hours in Lagos.
Also, the name of Yoruba secessionist, Sunday Igboho, whose house was raided by operatives of the State Security Service (SSS), was also not mentioned in the communiqué issued by the southern governors.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and other notable personalities said there was no way the region could be intimated, insisting that democracy had its tenets which must be respected.
The governors, according to the communiqué issued, also discussed the current security situation in the country, open grazing, constitutional amendment and Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
They, however, reaffirmed their commitment to the unity of Nigeria on the pillars of equity, fairness, justice, progress and peaceful co-existence between and amongst its people.
Governors who attended the meeting are the Chairman of the forum and Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu; Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State, Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, Nyesom Wike of Rivers; Seyi Makinde of Oyo; Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti; Douye Diri of Bayelsa, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu and Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom.
While the governors of Anambra and Cross River were absent, those of Edo, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi states were represented by their deputies.
The decision of the 17 governors – drawn from three different political parties- to unanimously agree that the president should come from the South in 2023 is seen as a landmark decision.
Analysts told the Daily Trust that it appeared the southern governors have coalesced into a single force, a development that would most likely alter the political configuration of some northern politicians.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has eight governors from the region, same as the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has one governor.
According to the communiqué by the governors, “The Forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between southern and northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the southern region.”
If this decision comes to fruition, it would have ended the ambition of key politicians in the North that have shown interest in contesting the 2023 presidential election.
A former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, from Adamawa State, a former Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso from Kano State; Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State are among major contenders for the 2023 presidential poll.
Others are Governor Bala Mohammed from Bauchi State and a former Governor, Ahmed Sani Yarima from Zamfara State. Most of them have directly or by proxy indicated interest to vie for the presidency.
From the South, a former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State; a former governor, Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, Minister of Transportation and a former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi and a former governor, Donald Duke of Cross River State are among southern politicians who are said to be eyeing the number one position in the country in 2023.
Afenifere, PANDEF back governors
Meanwhile socio-cultural groups- Afenifere and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) have expressed total support for the resolution of the southern governors that the presidency must be ceded to the South in 2023.
Acting Leader of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in a chat with Daily Trust, said the rotation of the presidency between the North and the South as advocated by the southern governors was the right thing to do in a democracy to give every section of the country a sense of belonging.
The Afenifere leader also cautioned against any attempt by the North to want to remain in power beyond 2023.
Also, PANDEF’s National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, told Daily Trust that the decision of the southern governors was received with elation as it represented what PANDEF stood for.
He said that other ethnic organisations such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo and the Middle Belt Forum had in the past clamoured for power shift from the North to the South. He added that PANDEF was solidly behind the decision irrespective of where the presidency will come from the three geo-political zones of the South.
‘Decision not binding’
Constitutional lawyer, Akinwale Akinlawon, said the decision of the governors was not binding and would not stop interested politicians from the North or other region from contesting in the election.
“The constitution does not provide for rotational presidency. It is an agreement by political parties to rotate the presidency. Anyone nominated by a political party can vie for any position,” he said.
When contacted to hear their view on the decision taken by the southern governors, the Secretary of the APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, Sen. John James Akpanudoedehe, and the Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, neither picked their phone calls nor responded to text messages sent to them at the time of filing this report.
On their part, the PDP the spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, said they are yet to decide on zoning.
“PDP NEC has not met. When we meet and decide on zoning, we will speak,” he said.
‘North cannot be blackmailed’
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF), on Monday, faulted the demand by southern governors that the next president should emerge from the South.
The forum said the North would not be threatened or blackmailed into yielding a democratically elected office.
NEF, through its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said: “As far as the North is concerned, the idea that it will be indirectly threatened or intimidated or blackmailed into yielding an office which ought to be settled democratically is not acceptable.”
Baba-Ahmed described the decision of the southern governors as an expression of sentiment which could be best discussed within a political process.
“We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest,” he said.
According to him, “The southern governors come from the two dominant parties; APC and PDP and they must have some influence in those parties.
“The way it should be done is that the southern governors should influence their parties to zone the presidency to southern states and then work to convince Nigerian voters from all parts of the country to vote for that candidate.”
He said that the democratic rights of Nigerian citizens to vote for a candidate cannot be snatched by threats or intimidation, adding that politicians were becoming very lazy to think they will be given leadership in a manner that suggests an ultimatum.
A senator from North East said the southern governors were trying to blackmail the North into submission.
He said, “We have the presidency at the moment but look at how they are behaving. They banned open grazing without any room towards addressing the farmer/herder crisis.
“They kicked against the PIB simply because they don’t want exploration in the North and they are even challenging the powers of the president on tackling insecurity.
“What do you think will happen if they get the presidency in 2023? I am totally against any rotation. We should allow the numbers to count because democracy is about numbers,” he said.
As a follow up to their previous meeting in Asaba, Delta State, the southern governors set a timeline of September 1, 2021, for the promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all member states.
The governors had announced a total ban on open grazing in the region during the Asaba meeting.
On the state of insecurity, the southern governors re-emphasised the need for state police and urged the federal government not to be sentimental in the administration of criminal justice.
They also commiserated with families and loved ones of those who have fallen in the line of duty.
The forum also resolved that if for any reason security institutions needed to undertake an operation in any state, the chief security officer of the state which is the governor must be duly informed.
Responding to this part of the communiqué, Dr Baba-Ahmed said the position of the governors in demanding that they must be fully informed before security operations in their states take place was unacceptable.
He said there was nowhere in the Nigerian Constitution that said the president, who is the country’s chief security officer, must either get the consent or approval of a governor before exercising his responsibility.
“That is not the way to go,” he said. “The governors are members of the National Security Committee and a lot of these issues are matters that ought to be handled with some level of sensitivity and discretion and not to be thrown out in public as if they are demands which have no constitutional foundations.
“This particular decision taken by the southern governors has not been informed by the wisest decision-making process,” he said.
Some senior lawyers also said there was no constitutional provision for governors to give permission for security operations in their states.
Prof. Paul Ananaba (SAN) said as the chief security officers of their states, the governors don’t control security agencies because security is not in the concurrent list but the exclusive list.
“They just want to cause trouble because there is no constitutional provision that would warrant them to say that,” he said.
“However, consistent with governance, there should be some understanding between the federal and state governments with respect to security.
“It is not fair and advisable to carry out security operations in the state without the permission of the governor.
“It ought to be down to the local government as the idea behind three-tier government, because it is the failure of the third tier that led to these insurrections in the country.
“Local government chairmen would have been able to take care of these things before they grow out of control,” he said.
Also responding, Sunday Ameh (SAN) said the states have only subsidiary powers to maintain security in their states although the constitution said security and welfare shall be the primary purpose of government.
“Security in Nigeria is like a unitary proposal so that the ultimate responsibility for national security lies with the president and he directs the Inspector General of Police, which is right from the top.
“Therefore, the governors cannot stop security operatives from operating in their states because when it comes to security, the president is ultimately responsible,” he said.
However, Prof Ernest Ojukwu (SAN) said the governors were right because as the chief security officers of their states, no security agency should be deployed to any state without their consent.
From Abiodun Alade, Christiana T. Alabi & Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos), Victor Edozie (Port Harcourt), Lami Sadiq (Kaduna), John C. Azu, Hamisu K. Matazu & Saawua Terzungwe (Abuja)