The geo-political zone to produce the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, after President Muhammadu Buhari's exit in 2023, is now an issue. The two major political parties: All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are yet to make pronouncement on the issue.
However, there are divergent views by stakeholders on the geo-political zone to occupy the seat. The general opinion, is that the South should produce the next president, but the view is not shared by some critical stakeholders, especially in the North.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF), at a recent meeting in Kaduna, in which Prof. Ango Abdullahi, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, among other where present, did not endorse zoning for the 2023 presidency.
According to them, democracy is essentially the freedom to choose a good leader and everybody should be allowed to choose the person he wants.
"We want a President with the vision and the capacity to retrieve the country from the verge of collapse," they said.
In a keynote address titled "Rebuilding the North," Baba-Ahmed, who is the Director, Publicity and Advocacy, NEF, chronicled the challenges facing the North and Nigeria's constitutional democracy.
"We have a democratic system that progressively benefits only a handful of leaders and politicians, and leaves millions of our people to wonder how it could be the best option available to terrorised and poor people.
On zoning and 2023 presidency, he was philosophical.
"Changes in the quality of leadership starting from the 2023 elections is beyond question.
" This is why the North should support major amendments of the electoral process, and improvements in the capacities of INEC to reduce rigging and vote-buying and violence.
"For most of what the North needs to do, the centre is important. The successful campaign to defeat the damaging narrative that no Northerner should aspire to contest for the presidency of Nigeria is a credit to committed democrats and those who believe in justice, equity and fairness.
"It is important to emphasise, however, that this was not a campaign that sought to bestow any favours on the North and shortchange the rest of Nigeria.
"It was essentially meant to avoid restricting the political space, as well as the danger of the emergence of a president who bears all the hallmarks of limiting identities and the stamp of a victory of the part over the whole.''
Chief Raymond Dokpesi, though a Southern is spear-heading the emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as the presidential candidate of the PDP.
Dokpesi who is the Head, Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign, assured that the former vice-president will only complete one tern and handover to Igbo candidate of South-East extraction.
He stressed that if elected, Atiku would rule for a single term of four years, which would pave way for the South-East to produce the president in 2027.
Dokpesi, who spoke recently in Umuahia, maintained that Atiku, who hails from the North-East geo-political zone is the right person to wrestle power from the APC.
Dokpesi revealed that the PDP zoning arrangement was not honoured during the 2015 presidential election, and consequently, the party went into the election with a divided house and lost.
He said that the PDP had to give the North another chance to complete its four years in the presidency in order to wrestle power from the APC in 2023.
He said: "Our party believes in rotation of the office of president between the North and South for two-term of eight years.
"That was why former President Olusegun Obasanjo handed over to late Umaru Ya'Adua, but after his death, former President Goodluck Jonathan took over and completed his first term.
"Jonathan also asked for another four years which was given to him, but when he started asking for another term in 2015, the North felt it was against the zoning agreement of the party.
"So we went into the election with a divided house and we lost. That is why we have reasoned that for us to wrestle power from APC we need a strong presidential candidate from the North
"Since it's believed that North-East and South-East are the two geo-political zones that have not produced the president, we felt that Atiku, coming from the North-East is a strong candidate for the job."
Elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai, however, differed from Dokpesi and NEF.
He said that it would be unjust for the North to still take a shot at the presidency in 2023 in spite the agitations for power shift to the South at the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari's tenure.
He stressed that it would be injustice to the South for a Northerner to replace President Buhari in 2023.
"How can it be that it is always we the Northerners that will rule? There is no justice in this matter, we rule, they (South) rule that is justice.
"Even though we didn't do much in all the years that the Northerners ruled, what will we say to the people? What will we show to the citizens of Nigeria that they benefited or will benefit in order for them to give us their votes?
"It is my opinion that when President Muhammadu Buhari's tenure is over, the North should stop. He (Buhari) is finishing his eight-year tenure, and how can another Northerner contest and also go for another eight years, since each term is four years and the candidate allowed to run twice? Honestly, this is not justice."
However, majority groups from the South and politicians are insisting that the position should be zoned to the South.
Leading the pack, Leaders of Though from the Southern and Middle Belt zones of the country, at a recent meeting in Abuja, resolved that the next president of the country should come from the South.
Though the elders did not micro-zone, they however warned that any political party that does not zone its presidential ticket to the South should not expect support from the four regions.
The communique issued after the meeting reads inter alia: "The meeting extensively discussed various issues on the state of affairs in the country, particularly the security situation, restructuring, preparations for the 2023 general elections and zoning.
"Cites that the northern part of the country would have fully enjoyed the Office of the Presidency of the country for the full statutory period of eight years by 2023, hence, the presidency should rotate to the South.
"Therefore, unequivocally, and in full resolve call on all political parties in the country to zone their presidential ticket to the South.
"Advises that any political party that does not zone its presidential ticket to the South should not expect support from the four regions."
The National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr Jare Ajayi, in an interview restated the stand of Southern and Middle Belt leader on zoning.
"First of all, the presidency in 2023 must shift to the southern part of the country. We insist on that. For whether it should be South-East, South-South or South-West, we want the best person, who will do the job, correct all the anomalies that the country is going through, and ensure that Nigeria move forward to where other countries are in the 21st century and beyond.
"That is the kind of candidate that we are looking forward to. To be specific, when we get close to that time, we will decide.
" As far as we are concerned in Afenifere, whoever that emerges as president in 2023, will have problem in running the country if Nigeria is not restructured.
"There must be serious tinkering with the present structure in such a way that it will be pro-people, rather than how it is now.''
Though the PDP has not zoned the presidency, a group, Vanguard for Justice, has warned the party not to zone it to the North.
The group, in a statement by its Chairman, Emmanuel Nduka, submitted that zoning the presidency to the South would not only engender national unity, equity and justice, but was consistent with the mood of the nation.
The group warned that if the PDP zones the presidency to the North "it may be the end of the PDP in Nigeria's political space."
The Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze has remained consistent that the next president of Nigeria should be of Igbo extraction from the South-East.
Igbo elders at a recent meeting "mandated the President- General to work in close consultation with the Igbo socio-cultural and political intelligentsia to pursue the task of ensuring that the Igbo take their turn in producing the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come 2023 general elections."
They, however, acknowledged that the Igbo presidency is only achievable in consultation with other ethnic nationalities.
They urged every Igbo man or woman with the needed capacity to show interest in the 2023 presidential race.
On rotation, Prof. George Obiozor, has this to say in his capacity as the President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide:
" It is important to remind all the parties, particularly the two major parties- APC and PDP the idea of North/South political rotation in Nigeria. It is a historic principle holding Nigeria together that was bequeathed to Nigeria's future generation by the founding fathers.
" Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (East), Sir Ahmadu Bello and Alh. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa( North), Chief Obafemi Awolowo ( West) among others.
"It was instituted and reinforced by further instruments even in the 1999 Constitution such as the federal character and other acts of legislation.
"I call on the present generation of political leaders of Nigeria to avoid the present trend or temptation of throwing away institutions and political conventions and customs that is holding the country together.
" These institutions are there to ensure harmonious or peaceful coexistence among all Nigerians.
" The institution of North/South rotation is a critical element in the maintenance of peace and unity of Nigeria.
" We must always remember the precarious balance involved in the making of the governance or history of Nigeria since the amalgamation of 1914.
"All patriotic Nigerians or those who wish Nigeria well must join hand in preserving Nigeria unity by taking reasonable and desirable actions to preserve Nigeria unity. "It is important to state categorically, that attempt to do away with North/South rotation is an attempt to throw Nigeria into a political crisis and clearly a denial of Nigeria history.
"We have a federation as a system of government and in federation throughout the world, rotation and fair sharing of power is imperative, and Nigeria is not going to be an exemption.
With no decision taken on zoning by the major political parties and agitations raging, it is expected that the voice of reason will triumph. Sages in their various thoughts were unanimous in their views that equity, accommodation of divergent views, unarguably boost peaceful co-existence.