By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN

Last week, and perhaps in response to the issues raised through this column and other contributions from notable Nigerians, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, voted in favour of its own Constitution, by zoning the Chairmanship position of the Party to the North, which invariably means that its presidential candidate in the 2023 election will emerge from the Southern part of the country. This is how it should be, in order to reduce the tension currently stoked by the seeming unending debates on the issue. The ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, is still dancing round the issue and perhaps studying the body language of its major stakeholders, being President Muhammadu Buhari and Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu. However it may seek to delay its decision, this is a nut that APC must crack in favour of justice, equity, cohesion and unity of Nigeria. In this regard, APC cannot afford to violate the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and indeed its own Constitution. In essence, the presidential candidates of all political parties that hope to be part of the 2023 elections should emerge from the Southern part of Nigeria, in compliance with the dictates of our Constitution on zoning and rotation.

The matter has since gone beyond mere zoning, at least with the unfolding events of recent times. Also last week, Governor Babajide Sanwoolu led other politicians (mainly from Lagos State) to launch The South West Agenda, (SWAGA 2023) which is believed to be the campaign outfit of the former Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Not long thereafter, Tinubu himself flew in from London, where he had gone for medical treatment. Tongues have been wagging since then, whether Jagaban as he is fondly called, has any personal ambition for the Presidency in 2023. First, we must all thank God for good health and His healing power over Jagaban, notwithstanding the initial denials. None of us can play God, so when anyone is reported to have any health challenge, our duty is to pray for his quick and total recovery. I join other Nigerians and his well-wishers to pray that the healing shall be permanent. But that is not even the issue but rather the full meaning, impact and consequence of zoning and rotation, on such ambition (of BAT) if any. If it is accepted that there is a legal basis to insist on rotation of the presidency to the South in 2023 in order to avoid dominance of power by any particular zone, then such principle must be pursued and implemented holistically, and to its logical conclusion, to avoid the dominance of any particular region or religion. The major factors determining the political equation in Nigeria in relation to zoning and rotation are geographical location and faith. Indeed, from experience, the latter seems more potent than the former.

President Buhari is a practicising Muslim by all accounts and this is known to all. In fact, some have gone as far as tagging him a religious fanatic or a fundamentalist, citing some of his close cabinet members that he has entrusted with key positions of power in places like Ministry of Justice, Works and Housing, Defence, Finance, Communications, Internal Affairs, FCT, Aviation, Education, Information, name it. So, if there is going to be a power shift in the true sense of the word, then the next President of Nigeria should emerge from the South and he/she should be a PRACTICING Christian. It is as simple as that or else there should be no basis for insisting on zoning or rotation. By all known parameters, Jagaban is a PRACTICING Muslim and it is very strange that anyone would seek to drag him into the political equation of 2023. Yes, he is married to a Christian, but that has nothing to do with his person and his personal faith. The religious consideration is attached to the person who is to contest the election, not his spouse or his associates.

Now the absurdity of such consideration (of Tinubu Presidency in 2023) will be better appreciated when the North (going by the same principle of zoning) would queue to produce the next President in 2031, who would by all accounts, still be a practicing Muslim. So, the illogicality of Tinubu Presidency come 2023 is that Muslims will exhaust Buhari’s Presidency for eight full years, take Tinubu’s Muslim Presidency for another eight years and thereafter the North will produce a Muslim President for another eight years, making a total of twenty-four years of unbroken Muslim leadership. Where is the equity in such an arrangement? And yet we preach justice and fairness? I cannot even imagine its consequence on our psyche as a nation that is trying so hard to achieve unity and cohesion.

Is Tinubu qualified to be President of Nigeria? By all means YES, but given the scenario painted above, it is an idea that should not even be muted at all, by anyone who is sensitive to the feelings, faith and rights of others. So, the way in which I personally see SWAGA 2023 is that Jagaban will be the major player in who becomes the President. He must be accorded his full recognition in the political equation of the present day Nigeria, he may be allowed to play a major role in the emergence of any presidential candidate of the APC. But to say that SWAGA 2023 means that BAT or any other Southern Muslim will contest the presidential election will be totally insensitive and indeed incomprehensible.

The other aspect of the incongruity of the Tinubu presidency is that of proportional representation. If we advocate for power shift to the South, this will include the South-East, the South-West and the South-South. The people of the South-East and the South-South and all their Governors without exception are Christians. Per adventure it is possible, purely for the sake of argument, that the South-West is invited to present a presidential candidate for the APC because it has the majority (five out of six States), such a candidate should still be a Christian, given the present figures in Lagos (Sanwoolu), Oyo (Makinde), Ogun (Abiodun), Ondo (Akeredolu) and Ekiti (Fayemi). This is why apart from Chief M.K.O. Abiola, no elected candidate from the South has emerged without representing the majority of the people of that religion, who without any doubt whatsoever, are predominantly Christians. These are not matters of conjecture but pure facts and logic, being the same reason there has been no elected candidate from the North who is not a Muslim. This is the way Nigeria is structured presently and all calculations and permutations for power shift must take account of these factors.

Let me now share with you the thoughts of other notable Nigerians on the issue of zoning and rotation.
Edafe Great Sakoko:

Promoting religion is a no to me. Nigeria’s problem today is caused by Muslims and Christians. Please note not everyone of us believes in Christianity and Islamic. I will prefer a traditionalist rule over us come 2023.

Ilaje Trumpet:

Edafe Great Sakoko I buy your stance oooh, bro… but maybe those Christians tried before weren’t practicing Christians as indicated above by our SAN…

Paul Isaac Ayobamidele:

I think we should really look for the best candidate for this job. The political parties we have now are so useless that they do not have the interest of this country at heart. The issue now is Nigeria is already cracked beyond redemption. Let’s clear off this country and divide it into a manageable portion and then we can start a new beginning. The social system has cracked beyond redemption. We need a new value system, which can never happen in this condition we find ourselves.

Adetola Odumuyiwa:

Well written my erudite Senior Advocate of Nigeria. You were not dashed the title of SAN, you are eminently qualified for it. You went through the gamut of the Nigerian constitution right from the second republic to the present. Your role as stated in this piece is to guide those elements that are trying to manipulate the populace that have seen reading as a difficult thing. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very clear on the issue of rotation, religion equity and fairness. Those who are claiming merit in choosing the President of Nigeria have forgotten that it was this issue of rotation that produced Mohammad Buhari as President from the North, not merit as the apologists of merit want us to accept. Buhari is the least person to consider on merit for the job. Again, even if the argument on merit is to be given a thought, does it mean that it is only in the North that we have the most qualified candidate for the top job? The writers of our constitution recognized two dominant religions in our country; Christianity and Islam. On the issue of population, it is not true that the north is more populated than the South, if a real and unbiased population census is carried out. Geographic location or landmass is not the same as the real human occupation. Thank you Big Sam.

Deji Falade:

I watched you last night and I was amazed by the way you spoke, with references from the constitution, quotingg Section 14 subsection 12, and 223 of 1999 constitution thereabout, on the status of power shift for equity. I was dazed at the way you eloquently present your argument sir. You’re one in a battalion. God blessed you always sir.

Ogu Ibrahim Ogelebe Kolu:

Good evening sir. You have really spoken wisely, intelligently and objective. However, I humbly crave your indulgence on certain constitutional provisions that you left untouched. I respectfully urge you to peruse through section 14 (1) of the 1999 CFRN as amended in 2011. It is clear that Nigeria is a state based on democracy. And democracy entails the wills of the masses.

Conversely sections 133 a & b of the 1999 CFRN as amended in 2011 clearly authenticated the concept of plurality of vote as a condition precedent for winning. Sir, I beseech to comply with your submissions that “all constitutional provisions should be read together in order to discover the intent and purpose of the drafters”. It is crystal clear that the combined effect of section 14 (1) and that of 133 a & b were not contemplated in as much as he passed the test of section 133 a & b of the 1999 CFRN.

Conclusively, the problem of Nigeria is far beyond Zoning, rather it is about the best and competent leaders and best attitude of Nigerians. In view of the foregoing, it is my humble submission that the combined effect of sections 14(1) and 133 a & b of the 1999 CFRN is clear hence they should be construed and interpreted in their ordinary wordings. This is premised on the fact that laws are neither made nor enacted as fancies nor decorations rather they are made to be obeyed.”

When we advocate for power shift, it should be total and holistic, to cover all its components, or else it will lose its effect and impact. And it is left to be seen how a Christian candidate will deputize for Jagaban as a representative of the North in the equation of SWAGA 2023. Clearly therefore, the 2023 presidency should represent a total power shift, both in region and religion.

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