July 15, was the expiration for the window of opportunity granted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for political parties to submit the list of their candidates for the 2023 general election. The commission had created the INEC Candidate Nomination Portal (INCP) at its headquarters in Abuja to receive and process such nominations. Thus, by 6 pm on Friday, the commission had shut down the portal. About 48 hours to the deadline, one of the prominent candidates for next year’s poll, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, was still grappling with issues bordering on the choice of a running mate.
For the major power blocs in the leading parties, the selection of running mates by candidates is settled. What remains is how to appease those variegated vested interests expressing certain reservations on the choice of candidates as their individual running mates.
The coming days are bound to witness intensive, serious consultations, negotiations and compromise on the way forward. With the slots of presidential candidates and their running mates apparently settled, the vexed issue of which of the rest the zones other than where the candidate and his deputy come from, gets the slots of other key positions in the next dispensation is another crucial matter on the table.
The way the issue is handled could go a long way in dousing or exacerbating the douse tension occasioned by the hue and cry over the choice of running mates.
The slots under the broad power sharing-formula include offices of president of the Senate; Speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as that of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), considered as the engine room of government. In deciding on where those positions should go, some extant laws of the land are germane.
The 1999 Constitution, the grund norm of the country, remains cardinal in this respect. Under different chapters and sections, the constitution provides for equity, fairness and balance in the distribution of key national offices. Quite instructive here is the section on Federal Character. It stipulates the necessity to strike a balance and just scale in appointments to guide against marginalisation and disequilibrium in the system.
These valves are considered expedient to guarantee equity, balance and fairness in the federal structure and all the organs of governments. Section 14(3) of the 1999 Constitution on the matter is succinct on the issue. It states:
“The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies.”
Of all the president of the Senate of the country since 1960, only three are Muslims, while the rest are Christians, just as only the South-West is yet to occupy the exalted office. For speaker, seven are Muslims from the North and South out of 13, only three coming from the South-West; two from the South-East.
For the position of SGF, the list dating back to 1999, indicated that out of the seven that have occupied the office, only two are Muslims from the North namely Ambassador Babagana Kingibe; Yayale Ahmed. The rest are from the Christians from the North, South-East and the South-South.
The current SGF, Boss Mustapha hails from Adamawa State just like his predecessor, Babachir Lawal, both of the Christian faith. Incumbent Senate President, Ahmad lawan and Speaker, House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, both Muslims, are from Yobe and Lagos states respectively. The two principal officers of the National Assembly y emerged through elections that took place in the separate chambers of the Senate and the House after intense and rigorous horse-trading.
While the candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is from the Adamawa State in the North-East, that of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu hails from the South-West. Incidentally, the chairmen of both parties are from the northern part of the country: Senator Iyorchia Ayu hails from Benue State, just as Senator Abdullahi Adamu of the APC is from Nasarawa State, both in North-Central zone.
The current agitation that Ayu should step aside as PDP chairman stems from the principle of power rotation between the North and the South in PDP Constitution and because the standard-bearer of the party (Atiku) is from the North. Some of those demanding that Ayu should vacate office claimed there is a subsisting agreement that the post will be filled by the South once the candidate of the party emerged for the 2023 presidential poll.
However, some influential party members have moved in stout defence of Ayu, saying there was no breach of the agreement since the general election has not be contested and won by PDP. The acrimony over the choice of running mate by Atiku has further fueld the agitation, with the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom among PDP chieftain dissatisfied about the intrigues that played out in the choice of a running mate by Atiku. Runners-up in the presidential primary of the PDP and governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike has become estranged to the party and other power brokers, including a former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, who declared that Wike had declared before the primary that he was only interest in being PDFP presidential candidate.
While the party intensifies efforts to appease Wike after losing the bid for the ticket, the issue of power sharing now surrounds which zones should produce SGF, leadership of the National Assembly in the event of the PDP forming government in the next dispensation. At the moment, the party has taken care of the interest of the North-East with Atiku as candidate of the party, and the South-South, where his running mate and governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Okonwa, hails from.
Three zones appear to be in contention foir those slots: North-West, South-West, South-East and the North-Central, even though the current chairman, Senator Ayu is from the latter. One of the permutations is that the position of president of the Senate might not go to the Northern axis since the presidential candidate of the party is from the area unless there is a deliberate action to undermine the zoning and power rotation principle in PDP Constitution. Therefore, the South-East or the South-West is favoured to be considered barring further unforeseen political alliances and alterations in the days ahead.
Conscious of the principle of federal character as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution as amended, the position of SGF will also be subject to serious political calculations in the PDP as it plots ahead for the general election. Some leaders of the PDP from the South-West, who spoke to our correspondent on the issue of power sharing, said they were only waiting for the dust to settle over the choice of running mate to come out forcefully on their demands for key positions to be used as baits in the campaign for the election which begins in September this year.
Similarly, there is suspense in the APC over which slots among the president of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) will go the rest of the geopolitical zones since the South-West and the North-East produced the ticket for the presidency. The concerned zones include the North-West, South-South, South-East and the North-Central, in spite of the latter having produced national chairman. Under the Buhari presidency, the North has retained both the positions of president and president of the Senate, while the South-South and the South-West produced more national chairmen and vice president, respectively.
On Friday, Sunday Tribune stumbled on a document containing the likely power-sharing arrangement being mooted by the APC leadership, should the party win next February presidential election. According to the document, with the South-West having the presidency and the North-East holding the number two position, the North-West will get the position of the Senate President. The South-East, which in the past held the senate presidency more than any other zone in the South, is to get the Speakership.
The South-South is to get the deputy senate presidency and the North-East, the deputy speakership. The North-Central, which currently boasts of the national chairmanship of the party, will be rewarded with the position of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The zone is also retaining the chairmanship of the party, while the position of the Chief of Staff to the president is reserved for the president.
Already, some names are being touted as possible personalities in either the APC or the PDP, depending on which way the election of 2023 swings, in the rest of power equation. The issue of faith will be factored in the choices for those positions in view of the hoopla generated by the fallouts of presidential primaries and the emergence of running mates of presidential hopefuls.