The recent demand by some South East leaders for the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition platform, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to zone their 2023 presidential ticket to the geo-political zone has elicited divergent views from leaders of other regions in the country. The agitation has also opened up a fresh national debate over the parameters upon which the next president of the country should emerge. The call by the South East leaders for an Igbo presidency is coming against the backdrop of the raging debate over power shift to the South on the one hand and the clamour for the next president to emerge based on merit and not zoning. While the apex socio-cultural organisation in the North, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), has said that it would only support a candidate who understands the problems in North, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) noted that competence would be its defining benchmark on how the next president will emerge. Also, while leaders from the North Central zone have insisted that their region is best suited to occupy the presidency because it has not tested the presidency in a civilian setting, South West leaders maintain that their zone must produce the next president. Meanwhile, governors from the South East distanced themselves from calls for an Igbo presidency by leaders of the zone, stressing that they were not carried along in the meeting where the resolution was made. Last week, some leaders of the South East, including the Senate chief whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, former deputy Senate president, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, among others, had at a meeting in Igbere, Abia State, asked the APC and PDP to zone their presidential tickets to the zone in the interest of fairness. On its part, the Association of Middle Belt Ethnic Nationalities (ASOMBEN) declared that the Southeast region cannot deliver a presidential candidate in 2023, just as he called on the APC not to zone its presidential ticket to the region. Secretary-general of ASOMBEN, Rev James Pam, said the South East gave President Muhammadu Buhari only five per cent of their votes in 2015 and only managed to win the Imo State governorship election in a controversial Supreme Court judgment. According to him, South East has the least number of seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives with only five states among the six geo-political zones, adding that if the presidency is to be donated to any zone, it should be the North Central. “North Central is the only zone that has never produced a democratically elected president or vice president in Nigeria,” he said. Pam, however, called for jettisoning of the current constitution which he said was imposed by the military. He said a truly people’s constitution should be adopted via referendum before the 2023 elections, adding that the 1999 constitution is the source of all problems in Nigeria. “Politicians should, therefore, concentrate on achieving this within the next 12 to 18 months and suspend politicking for now. The three southern zones and the middle belt people proclaimed a constitutional force majeure on the 1999 constitution on 16/12/2020 and have given the federal government 90 days within which to kick start the process of dismantling the present constitution,” Pam said. Also reacting to the call by the South East leaders, the ACF said even though it will not interfere in the process of how candidates of political parties would emerge in 2023, parties should prioritise competence. ACF noted that it will rather go for a candidate who understands the problems facing the North and and the entire country. The national publicity secretary of the apex northern forum, Mr Emmanuel Yawe said, “The ACF will not impose a zone or a candidate on any political party. The constitution says only political parties can present candidates at elections. “The ACF will also not interfere with the process of how the political parties arrive at their candidates. We only hope that given the declining quality of leadership, what should be uppermost in the minds of kingmakers in the various political parties should be competence and not sentiments. “The ACF draws membership from northerners of every political association and affiliation. For us to interfere in the internal affairs of political parties will amount to biting more than we can chew. The political parties are many and so are their problems. “But if the various political parties resolve their internal contradictions, the ACF will subject each of them to scrutiny. We will then throw our weight behind the candidate that understands the problems facing the north and Nigeria of today”. On its part, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) said as far as the 2023 presidential election was concerned, quality and competence will be its benchmark. The director, Advocacy and Publicity of the forum, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said, “NEF recognises a number of key considerations which should inform the emergence of leaders at all levels. The first is the imperative of quality and qualification and competence of all Nigerians who would aspire to lead. This requirement should not be sacrificed or compromised for political conveniences. “Fortunately, Nigerians with these qualities exist in all parts of the country. Secondly, the political process must be respected as the principal mechanism for deciding who is entrusted with power. Key elements of this process include negotiation, persuasion and consensus building among the political elite and involvement of all Nigerians. “Threats and attempts to blackmail have no place in this process. Thirdly, we need to remind ourselves that it is voters, not just politicians, who will decide who leads them. Discussions about rotation must accord the voter the respect he deserves. “NEF believes that ethnicising leadership lowers and compromises its quality. Inclusiveness and fairness are vital to the survival of our democracy and nation. These can best be captured by the manner politicians and communities which make up our nation engage each other in a constructive and responsible manner. “Above all, NEF advises the nation to avoid damaging arguments about rotation as an end in itself, and see it as a vital means to an end, which is the emergence of quality leadership and inclusive governance”. On its part, the North Central People’s Forum (NCPF) said it has as much right to demand the presidential tickets of APC and PDP in 2023 as the South East leaders. The publicity secretary of the forum, Hon Sule Audu, said even though the South East is entitled to vie for the office of the presidency in 2023, the North Central is more favoured if the ticket is zoned to the North. “If you look at it geographically, and based on the zoning system in the country today, the South East has never produced the president of this country, the same thing with the North Central, although the South East had Aguiyi Ironsi and Nnamdi Azikwe. “I will put it that Azikiwe was an elected civilian president while Ironsi was a military Head of State, just as we have Gen Ibrahim Babangida and Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar in the North Central. “So I think going by this, it won’t be wrong or out of place for the North Central to also demand for the president come 2023 because before the creation of the six geopolitical zones, Nigeria was divided into two regions, the North and the South. “But now we have six zones which are South South, North Central, South West, North East, South East and North West. The South produced Goodluck Jonathan while the South West produced Olusegun Obasanjo who was a military Head of State as well as elected president. So, if the South West has produced both the Head of State and elected president, it is not wise for them to demand for the slot again. “However, the North Central and South East have the right to demand for the slot of president because if you look at the balancing of the equation, the North West had produced three elected presidents; Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua and the current president Muhammadu Buhari and two military presidents of Murtala Mohammed and Gen Sani Abacha”. According to Audu, the North East only had the former premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was from Bauchi while the Sadauna of Sokoto was the premier of Nigeria. “So on the whole, the three zones have the right to demand for president, but to be more favourable, it should be the North Central. If it is the turn of the North Central, anyone coming out to contest for the office of the president from the South West and North West is a spoiler”. However, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere and a political group, Yoruba Patriots Movement (YPM), have insisted that the South West geopolitical zone must produce the next president to avert a crisis in the country. The secretary-general of Afenifere, Bayo Aina, said Yoruba people realised it is only the APC that can give Yoruba candidates a ticket. Speaking also, the publicity secretary of Afenifere in Ekiti State, Chief Biodun Akin-Fasae, said the call by Igbo leaders was a mere wishful thinking. He said, “The presidency is beyond mere sharing among communities,” stressing that calls for major political parties in the country to allow the zone to produce their presidential candidates for the poll “is at the best a wish”. Akin-Fasae continued: “Though at the end of the exercise, it will be community based and will follow the basic political parameters in accordance with the wishes of political parties. “It will be inappropriate for none social cultural groups whose partisanship is known across the nation to order any party which they have never supported to zone their presidential candidates to them”. He added that Yoruba people are ready to support a candidate from the region regardless of political affiliation, noting that “Yoruba candidates are the only solution to Nigeria problems. ” On his part, the YPM national coordinator, Mr Oladosu Oladipo, said anything aside Yoruba president in 2023 would not be tolerated. He argued that the constitution of the country only recognises three regions: the North, West and East. “Obasanjo represented Yoruba, Jonathan had done for the East, while Buhari is doing the slot of the North,” Oladipo added. He further advised members of the APC to honour the pre-2015 elections agreement to ensure fairness and equity. “You cannot be a good Nigerian without being a good Yoruba man. Our fair share must be given to us in Nigeria. This summit is not partisan but political,” he said. Also, stakeholder of the Middle Belt Youth Forum and the gubernatorial candidate of Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Plateau State in 2019, Comrade John Pofi, urged Nigerians to look for the best candidate from any region to lead the country. He argued that persons with capacity to take Nigeria out of the economic struggles should be key. However, a founding member of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, (PANDEF) and former provost marshal of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Idada Ikponmwen (rtd), said the agitation for the nation’s number one seat to be zoned to the South East was timely and a reflection of the nation’s federal character. Idada, however, posited that the people of the region must come out to demonstrate and convince other Nigerians that they have someone who will be acceptable to all segments of the country. “To me it doesn’t look as complicated as many people may think. The issues of zoning can be seen as a measure to equitably share power to the various components or zones of this country. It does make sense because it reflects the issue of federal character in representation of government,” he said. Also, a human rights activists and public affairs analysts in Sokoto State, Ibrahim Adamu Tudun Doki, said zoning the presidency to the South East in 2023 would not be a bad idea for a unified country. According to him, the agitation for both APC and PDP to zone the presidency to South East is welcome development, adding that the region is marginalised. S/East Governors Dissociate Selves Meanmwhile, in what could pass for a spanner in the works for the clamour for Igbo presidency, the South East Governor’s Forum has disassociated itself from the position of the leaders calling on political parties to zone the presidential ticket to the region. Speaking through their chairman who is also the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, the governors said they are not party to such agitation. Umahi said if there should be such a meeting, the governors must be seen to be informed and be part and parcel of it. According to him, there are so many desperate politicians in all the political parties that have aligned themselves with some alleged bandits to destabilise the nation. But a chieftain of the Ohaneze Ndigbo in Umuahia, Abia State, Chief Magnus Ochiabuto backed the demand of the Igbo leaders for Southeast presidency. Commending the organisers of the meeting for the effort, Ochiabuto argued that it was unthinkable that 21 years after the current democratic dispensation, some people are still holding the thought that an easterner should not occupy the top seat. Another member of the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Madam Winifred Uduma, who backed the call for South East presidency in 2023, recounted how her husband struggled to validate the mandate of the late MKO Abiola in 1993 in Lagos State, adding that she stands with the South East leaders for an Igbo man to be president in 2023.