buhari's bothersome baton

Nigeria’s power rotation controversy causes gridlock for Atiku, Tinubu

By Akin Irede

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Posted on April 9, 2021 09:54

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks after security forces rescued schoolboys from kidnappers, in Katsina, Nigeria
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks after security forces rescued schoolboys from kidnappers, in Katsina, Nigeria, December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Nigeria’s ruling party and main opposition are both stumped: each have heavyweight contenders whose shot at the presidency is stymied by an informal political arrangement, which holds that power should rotate between the north and the south. Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Yahya Bello… the list of politicians kicking against zoning taboos, grows by the day. Already, there are fears of a faction of the ruling APC breaking away if it does not get the candidate it wants.

The current gridlock had been foretold in October 2019 by a former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “Nigeria’s politics is an old men’s club. The next election (2023) will be a challenging one because of a gentleman’s agreement to rotate power,” she had said.

With Buhari’s second term coming to an end in two years, the zoning issue is back on the front burner and may well determine the success or failure of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is the ruling party.

Key southern politicians — some of whom include Bola Tinubu (APC chieftain); Yemi Osinbajo (vice-president); Rotimi Amaechi (minister of transportation) and Kayode Fayemi (Governor of the South-West state Ekiti) — have subtly begun campaigning for the 2023 presidential elections.

Will power return to the south?

The absence of a written agreement on whether power would return to the mainly Christian south has led to a heated debate.

“At this point, I am calling on the national leadership of the APC to rise to the occasion and take a decisive step in affirming the much cherished unwritten code for our party’s 2023 presidential ticket to be zoned to the south. That is the right thing to do,” says Dayo Adeyeye, a former minister who now runs one of Tinubu’s campaign organisations.

Another ally of Tinubu, Mr. Olusegun Osoba, who is also a former governor, says there was an unwritten agreement before the 2015 elections that the south would produce the next president once Buhari’s tenure had come to an end.

“Part of the understanding in the case of rotation is a conventional understanding that the presidency will move between the north and the south … I don’t want to use the word zoning because we definitely did not put zoning.

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