Leader of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), Chief Edwin Clark, has reminded former vice president Atiku Abubakar, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, of the roles they played to prevent the re-election of former President, Goodluck Jonathan, for allegedly violating zoning principle in 2015, advising them not to run for the 2023 ticket in the interest of national unity.
In a statement he made available to the media in Abuja, on Tuesday, the elder statesman told them that after the eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari, no northerner should be seeking to be president, noting that the region has already ruled Nigeria for 45 out of its 61 years as a nation in both civilian and military dispensations.
He said the three prominent members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other northern politicians who are contemplating contesting the 2023 presidential election should abandon their plans, saying that to continue with ambitions is to invite chaos.
“Firstly, I wish to use this medium to advise my most respected Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chieftains in the persons of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal, Governor of Sokoto State, and other PDP aspirants from the north, that in the interest of maintaining the unity of this country to which they have contributed so much, to re-consider their desire of wanting to contest for the Presidential election in 2023, because both by the PDP Constitution and by convention, it is now the turn of Southern Nigeria to produce the President of Nigeria, in 2023, after President Muhammadu Buhari’s eight years.
“To do otherwise is to invite chaos, which will lead to the disintegration of our dear country.”
Going into history, the foremost Ijaw nationalist recalled that Nigeria had practised zoning since the pre-independence era, which saw political posts shared among the regions.
“Zoning has been practised in the nation’s policy even before Independence, when Tafawa Balewa, in 1954, was the Prime Minister, Nnamdi Azikiwe was the Governor-General. Zoning of political offices, particularly the Presidency of the country, is the best antidote to the breakup of Nigeria, and the panacea for peace and unity of the country.
“One of the reasons why the north opposed Chief Anthony Enahoro’s motion for independence in 1953, was that they felt they were not equal to the South in education; that they were not in a position to produce proportional candidates who will run an independent government with the south because, at that time, they had only about 4 graduates. They subsequently walked out of the Parliament, went back to the north, and swore never to return to Lagos again. That was what led to the Constitutional Conferences held both at the Lancaster House in London and at Ibadan, Nigeria, purposely to keep Nigeria one. The impression was that no one group or section of the country should dominate the government of Nigeria at the expense of other parts of the country.”
Clark pointed out that as a result of zoning consideration, northerners did not want Jonathan to contest the 2011 election even though it was within his constitutional right to do so.
“Because of this zoning consideration, northerners did not want him to continue and contest the election in 2011. They objected to his appointment as Acting President of the country. I remember, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, the father of Dr. (Sheikh) Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, came to my house and pleaded with me to ask Dr Jonathan to step down for a northerner because it was the turn of the north. That Dr Jonathan should, in fact, be a Vice President to another northerner who should take the place of Dr Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and that when the north had finished, then Dr Jonathan could come back and become the President of the country.
“My response to him was that that will be against the Constitution of Nigeria, which provides that when the Office of the President becomes vacant either by death, or by illness, or any other occurrence, the Vice President shall take over, under Section 15 of the Nigerian Constitution.
“The opposition against Dr Jonathan was from various quarters; Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Dr Bukola Saraki were major parts of that opposition, which was carried through the 2015 Presidential elections.
“Though it was his constitutional right to re-contest in 2015, to complete the eight years, as provided by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Dr Jonathan’s succeeding late Dr Yar’Adua, did not obliterate his right to seek a second term.”
“Nevertheless, the northerners still felt Dr Jonathan should not contest the 2015 election because it was their turn. Hence most of the northerner leaders, including Governors and politicians from the PDP decided to support Muhammadu Buhari and even contributed funds to his campaign, including the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Dr Bukola Saraki.
“Most PDP leaders, from the north, who collected campaign money from the party did not use the money for the purpose. There were only a few exceptions among the northern leaders of the PDP. That was why I said that it was ‘PDP that defeated PDP in the 2015 Presidential election.”
The SMBLF leader also observed that both the PDP and the APC have been applying the north-south zoning principle, stating: “It is instructive that the nation’s two main parties, the APC and the PDP, have been religiously, following the zoning and rotation system between the north and the south.
“By 2023, the north would have ruled for another eight years. It is, therefore, rational and right, to insist that the Presidency should rotate to the south. It does not matter whether the presidency has been produced from the APC or the PDP since 2015.
“To which sub-region the presidency should be further zoned to in the south, is a different matter entirely. At the appropriate time, we will decide as to which area, section or region of the three regions of South-East, South-South and South-West, should have it.
“It must be understood that the north has had the Presidency for about 45 years of our nation’s history as an independent country.”
While listing the former Nigerian leaders and the period they spent in office, Clark stated: “As I have said earlier, I have observed with dismay, that some of my respected friends, especially, the former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and the distinguished former President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, who opposed former President Goodluck Jonathan for contesting the Presidential elections because they felt it was the turn of the North, are now wanting to contest for the presidency under the PDP in 2023.
“They are already campaigning through the length and breadth of the country, even after a northerner will be having a straight 8 years, come May 2023. Is it no longer not a negation of the ‘zoning agreement,’ for which former President Goodluck Jonathan was castigated? Is it no longer threatening the unity and survival of the country? As the intention of these and others who may follow will be going against the zoning system of the PDP. It may even be the deciding factor for the PDP, whether to be or not to be.”
“The recent resolution by the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum that the presidency should be zoned to the south and that those who refuse to heed to our plea/decision, should not count on our support, is wholly supported by me, as the leader.”
He further said:-
“The former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, under the zoning arrangement, contested the PDP Presidential Primaries in 2019, with other northern presidential aspirants, like the former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, the Governor of Sokoto State, former Senate President David Mark, former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, former Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, former Governor of Kaduna State, Ahmed Makafi, former Governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo, former Governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, former Minister of Special Duties, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, SAN and Sen. Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed.