At a time when Northern leaders are divided over the issue of consensus Presidential candidate, leaders of Afenifere, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Edwin Clark and Prof. Bitrus Pogu, yesterday, accused the North of plotting to abort shifting power to the South.
The Southern groups decried the insincerity of Northern leaders over the principle of zoning, stressing that after eight years of Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidency, nothing short of zoning the Presidency to the Southeast would resolve the restiveness in the country.
They, therefore, enjoined the two major political parties, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to cede their Presidential tickets for the 2023 poll to Southeast geopolitical zone for peace, unity and stability of the country.
Making his remarks as a special guest of honour at the Greater Nigeria Conference (GNC) organised by Nzuko Umunna, the leader of Pan Yoruba cultural group, Afenifere, Chief Adebanjo, said the Northern political elites were applying divide-and-rule tactics to stall the return of power to the South.
The conference, which held at the International Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja, attracted prominent Presidential aspirants from the Southeast, including Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi; former Imo State governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha; Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige; 2019 Vice Presidential candidate of PDP, Mr. Peter Obi; former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim; President of World Igbo Congress (WIC), Dr. Anakwenze; Sam Ohuabunwa and Carol Anyanwu.
Others in attendance were federal lawmakers and eminent Southeast stakeholders, including Alex Obiechina, Senator Victor Umeh and Iyom Josephine Anenih, among others.
Adebanjo claimed that APC presidential aspirants from the Southwest, particularly the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Senator Ibikunle Amosun, were being propelled by power brokers in Aso Rock to aspire for the Presidency as part of a grand design to retain power in the North after Buhari’s tenure expires in May 2023.
While describing as disgraceful the purported moves by former President Goodluck Jonathan to take another shot at the Presidency, the Afenifere leader said Northern politicians appear to be smarter than their Southern counterparts.
He restated his support for the clamour for Southeast to produce President Buhari’s successor, even as he enjoined aspirants from the zone to close ranks and work in concert to achieve the objective.
He said: “I only wish to point out that they are just deceiving you, all what you are hearing that they (the North) are supporting the Southwest is an element of deceit to divide you to be able to rule over you. They don’t like anybody.
“I told Tinubu himself, not in the newspaper, but face-to-face: ‘You believe this man (President Buhari) will make you president?’ He said yes. I said, ‘he wants to make you president and he asked Osinbajo to contest, he asked Fayemi to contest, he asked Amosun to contest? All in the Southwest. why? He wants to divide the Southwest first.’
“The unfortunate thing is that former President Jonathan allowed himself to be disgraced by mentioning the fact that he is considering whether to be President. For what?
“Now that it is the turn of the Southeast, they are propounding a new theory: It must be based on merit and all that. If it is the question of merit, till kingdom comes, the South alone will produce the president.”
On his part, PANDEF leader, Chief Edwin Clark, lamented the continued marginalisation of the Southeast in the scheme of things. “It is fair and just to cede power to the zone in the interest of the corporate existence of the country,” he stated.
Pointing to the historical background of Nigeria, Clark noted: “Why the Southeast should have the presidency is because the children from that region are asking whether their own leg is k-legged, or deformed or broken, resulting in the inability of their zone to be president. If five or more legs out of the 36 legs of the pot are broken, definitely, the pot cannot stand.
“The Southeast people deserve to have a sense of belonging in this country. So, the clamour for a president is supported by me. Today, with no other tangible reason for the North to continue to hold on to power, some people are talking about merit and competence.
Prof. Bitrus, Pogu
“To these people my response is simple, we must all woo and win each other, because every part of this country has a beautiful bride and every part has a handsome groom. All that is required is for us to demonstrate reciprocal respect, love and understanding to one another. Let us do what is right; let us accommodate one another, and be fair to one another. Let all other Nigerians support a Southeastern Presidential candidate come 2023.
Also, the National President of MBF, Dr Bitrus Pogu, who maintained that it would be disingenuous to deny the South the presidency in line with power rotation principle, said there is need to uphold truth and fairness.
“By 2023, President Buhari would have spent eight years. It is only fair and equitable that the position is occupied by a Nigerian not from his zone. We have always said that the South should be left to decide which zone from the region should occupy the presidency in 2023.
“But we believe that it is clumsy and inelegant for the Southwest to seek presidency at this time, not after Obasanjo’s eight years as President and Osinbajo’s eight years as Vice President.
“For us, the debate should be a straight one between the South-South and the Southeast. But, the South-South has occupied the seat for one term and the Southeast has never occupied it at all.
The Presidential aspirants took turns to speak briefly on their vision, experience and accomplishments in leadership, assuring that if given the opportunity they would not disappoint Nigerians.
Earlier, in her welcome address, president of Nzuko Umunna, Senator Chris Anyanwu, stressed that inclusiveness and mutual respect are the glue that bond together nations with the kind of diversity as Nigeria.
She called on well-meaning Nigerians to ensure the actualisation of Ndigbo for Presidency campaign in the interest of the country, adding: “Without equity and justice, without inclusiveness, without mutual respect among the component units of this society, the future is bleak for Nigeria. All parts of Nigeria have woken up to the fact that they have equal rights and therefore hold equal stakes in the Nigerian enterprise.”
At the event chaired by former PDP chairman, Dr Okwesilize Nwodo, the conference, in a communiqué, affirmed its commitment to the unity of Nigeria just as it stressed that the ambitions of all presidential aspirants of Southeast extraction will be supported, regardless of party.
“The GNC resolved among others that for equity, fairness and inclusion, it is right that all political parties should zone the Presidency to the Southeast, assuring that a president from the region will usher in unity, peace and progress and, being grounded on justice and equity, will douse all manner of agitation in the country.
“It was resolved that citizens of the Southeast across all parties will work in unity to achieve the objective of a president from the region in 2023,” the communiqué reads.