With less than 550 days to the completion of the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari, the race for his successor is already gathering momentum among the two major political parties in the country, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Various interested individuals across these two parties are already making serious bids while different calculations, meetings, and strategies aimed at getting the number one seat are on top gear.
One noteworthy event in next year’s presidential race however, is the coming together of the leaders of the North Central Zone across the various political parties to make a collective bid for the Presidency. The North Central leaders who believe it is the turn of the zone to produce the next President are set to accentuate their campaign and agitation for the rest of the country to support their aspiration for justice, equity, and national unity.
Towards realising this idea, top-level meetings are going on in Abuja, Jos, Makurdi, Lafia, Ilorin, Minna, and Lokoja. The campaign is also to be handled at different levels with members of the National Assembly from the zone, former members of the National Assembly, present and past governors from the Zone, Speakers of the state Houses of Assembly, retired generals, business people, and traditional rulers being co-opted to start working at various levels to sell the agenda to their colleagues, friends, and associates from the other zone.
The leaders of the North Central zone and their people believe that this time around, their counterparts in the North Central and North East zones should support their agitation to produce the next President. They stated that their agitation is supported by historical facts, the principle of justice and equity as well as the concept of brotherhood.
They argued that since 1960 when Nigeria became independent, the unity of the North has been achieved because the North Central solidly supports the Arewa oneness. They noted how leaders like Chief Sunday Awoniyi, S. B. Daniyan, Alh. Aliyu Makaman Bida, Alh. Ahman Pategi, and others stood solidly behind Sir Ahmadu Bello and ensured the Gamji tree provided cover for all northerners.
They also noted that when the military took over, the North Central was the reason why Nigeria did not break into pieces as an aftermath of the 1966 coup. The nation had to look up to a young officer of North Central origin, Col. Yakubu Gowan as the most acceptable officer to provide stability, lower the tension and assuage hurt feelings across board. Part of their position is that North Central lost a lot of its people who fought as Nigerian soldiers during the civil war and that is why it is said the people of the area made supreme sacrifices to hold the nation together. By extension, It is also said that the Zone holds the key to the unity of Nigeria.
The North Central leaders also noted that in the Second Republic, leaders from the North in themnow-defunct NPN promised a North Central leader, Dr. Joseph Sarwuan Tarka the presidency before the decision was changed at the last minute in favour of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Tarka was also denied the Senate Presidency while the zone was also not able to get the Speakership of the House of Representatives zoned to it due to the exigency of satisfying the NPN/NPP accord. Yet the North Central apart remained solidly in support of the NPN.
In fact, the North Central played a key role in the political development of Nigeria such that the place had hosted some of the landmark events in the country. It was in Gboko that Alhaji Shehu Shagari was nominated for his second term. Jos hosted the Action Group National Convention in 1962 which led to the Awolowo-Akintola feud. In the same Jos, Chief M. K. O. Abiola in 1983 and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 were nominated as presidential candidate of their respective parties.
They also added that nobody has become the President of Nigeria without having strong showing or support in the North Central. From Shagari to Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, and Buhari. “This our zone decides who becomes the President. We are tired of being kingmakers. We want to produce the King because we have numerously qualified, experienced and connected individuals” the leaders said.
They noted that as a multi-cultural, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic region, the North Central remains better placed to unite the country as it represents a mini-Nigeria. In the same way, the Zone is also the food basket of the nation because of the rich land, its numerous mineral resources, industrious and friendly people. Before the discovery of oil in South-South zone in 1958, Nigeria depended on agricultural produce and solid minerals, both of which are abundant in the North Central zone. Now, that fossil oil is going out of fashion as a source of energy, the return to agriculture and mineral resources as sources of national wealth will place North Central back in its rightful place as the economic backbone of Nigeria.
The neglect of agriculture and mineral resources buried in the soil of the North Central has deliberately impoverished the people of the region. A deliberate action by the rest of Nigeria to support a President from the North-Central zone will help to conquer poverty and alleviate the suffering of the people. This May be the turning point that the country needs to wage war against poverty, create wealth and uplift the standard of living of Nigerians from all works of life.
The North Central leaders are also claiming that it is the only zone that has neither produced a President nor Vice President since the advent of the country. This fact, they stated, placed them in a worse situation than that of the South East which between 1979 – 1983 produced Vice President Alex Ekwueme. It is believed the North Central agitation was inspired by the success of the South-South zone which ended up producing a Vice President and President in Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Jonathan served as Vice- President for three years and as President for five years.
According to a leader in the North Central zone, the success of the South-South in producing a President has imbued confidence, the spirit of nationalism, and patriotism in the people of the zone. “Lack of that confidence and sense of belonging are the problems of our people. It has led to low morale and complex issues in our people. This time around, we must give it all it takes. We must persuade the rest of the country to give one of our qualified brothers and sisters the chance to make a positive difference in our country. And we have many such qualified people from all the six states in the North Central – Benue, Plateau, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger – and the FCT”.
The North Central leaders have called all the men and women in the zone qualified to be President to join the race in their respective political parties and provide solid backing for the North central agitation.
“The plan is to ensure that two or at least one of the two leading political parties presents a presidential aspirant from our zone while the other parties also get ready to present presidential candidates who are from the Zone. Then you will see our people solidly coming out to persuade the rest of the country to vote for a Nigerian candidate from the North Central”, one of the leaders stated.
The North Central leaders believe a candidate from the Zone can easily win the trust of the rest of the country, unite the country, build a cohesive country and virulently work on the security and economic problems. A Nigerian President from the North Central has a point to prove. He needs to do so well to assure the rest of the country that they have not made a mistake and that they have just made a choice which they ought to have made all the while. The North Central leaders are working silently to ensure that the idea of a Nigerian President from the zone is acceptable to all and sundry from the zone and that it becomes a consensually accepted idea.
The North Central leaders are set to start sending emissaries to all the other geo-political zones where they will meet other leaders and persuade them to help make the idea of a Nigerian from the North Central zone possible the way they did in 1999 when the entire country was made or persuaded to elect a Nigerian President from South west. The gains of the unity, strength, and vigour built during that time show it was still the best since the return to democracy.
It will be recalled that earlier in January this year, the Niger State House of Assembly said the successor to the President Buhari should come from the North-Central zone.
Also, several groups under the aegis of the Coalition of North Central Groups (CNCG) have also said it is the turn of the region to produce the next Nigerian president in 2023, and has urged Nigerians to support its quest. They argued that with the region not producing a civilian president or vice president since independence, it was only fair for the zone to produce the next president.
There is no doubt that the North Central Zone is serious about lobbying, persuading, and influencing the rest of the country to make 2023 a year for electing a North Central president. Time will tell if this audacious bid will become a reality.