2023: Controversy Trails El-Rufai Statement Arguing Against Power Rotation



Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai has come under attack for asserting that zoning of key political powers in the country should be discontinued, as according to him, competence ought to take precedence in leadership selection.

El-Rufai, who alongside former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, were said to have been the arrow head in the quest for power return to the North after President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure in 2007, and who was indeed one of the leading campaigners for power shift to the North in 2015, had noted in a prologue titled, ‘Defeating a Determined Incumbent – The Nigerian Experience’, which he contributed to a book: ‘Power of Possibilities and Politics of Change in Nigeria’, written by the Director-General of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, Salihu Lukman, that zoning of political offices is a barrier to political equality.

According to him, Nigeria could not afford to continue on the same path of zoning positions based on regions.

Highlighting the factors that led to the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2015 presidential election, the Kaduna governor argued for a new funding model for parties as a major way of curtailing the excesses of political godfathers, while insisting that the present method of funding parties was opaque and unhealthy for democracy.

“Even with our success in the 2015 elections, there is room for improvement,” he said. “Barriers to political equality, such as our seemingly entrenched though informal rule for zoning candidacies according to regions of origin, need to be de-emphasised and ultimately abandoned in favour of an emphasis on qualification, competence and character.

“The financing of parties, candidates and campaigns remains opaque. Many African countries are marked by savage inequalities, and a handful of individuals have the wherewithal to hold the process hostage.

“We must work towards funding parties via capped and fully disclosed donations and annual dues payable by every registered party member.”

El-Rufai called on politicians to stop resorting to self-help by instigating violence and engaging in “ethnic and religious mobilisation”, noting that the experience of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2015 showed that it was possible to defeat a determined and well-resourced incumbent under certain conditions.

The governor listed four conditions, which according to him, were irreducible minimums strengthening the democratic process.

These, he said include, “A unified opposition preferably merged into a single and well-structured political party well ahead of the next election cycle, and with transparent processes and progressive policies.

“A presidential candidate widely seen as credible and reformist to provide a sharp contrast to incumbents usually fattened by years of lazy, incompetent and corrupt rule.

“Honest elections that guarantee that votes count, using a mixture of competent electoral commission leadership and, crucially, deploying technologies for voter verification that drastically reduces electoral fraud.

“Credible elections are enemies of voter apathy. They enhance democratic legitimacy and citizen participation.

“Continuous engagement of the international community, particularly in the leading stable democracies as well as in multilateral institutions, to supply a crucial external fillip to the electoral process,” governor stated.

But many were quick to point out the governor’s “hypocrisy” and “true intentions.

“He is talking to (Bola) Tinubu and he is also conveying their determination not to relinquish power forever,” noted Chief Tola Adeniyi, author, veteran columnist and former MD of the Daily Times of Nigeria. “They boasted before that once power comes back to the them, nobody will take it again.”

Chief Adeniyi argued, however, that the Kaduna governor did not deserve his attention.

Although not written, key political offices at the federal and state levels, particularly presidency and governorships are rotated among the various zones or groups.

The return of democracy in 1999 saw the emergence of Obasanjo from the South West as president. At the end of his second tenure in 2007, the North, particularly El-Rufai and Ribadu who were said to have stamped their feet on the ground and insisted on power return to the North amid speculations at the time that former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili had the then president’s blessing, ensured that the late Umaru Musa Ya’Adua became Obasanjo’s successor.

Ya’Adua’s unfortunate demise in 2010 saw then then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan from South South zone emerge president. Jonathan having completed Ya’Adua’s tenure in 2011, won his full first term of four in the presidential election of the same year.

In 2015, he sought a second term under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but political leaders in the North insisted on power return to the region. The agitation birthed the All Progressive Congress (APC), which was essentially an alliance between the North West and the South West. The party eventually took power from Jonathan in 2015 with Buhari from Katsina State, North West, emerging president.

In February 2019, Buhari won a contentious second term, defeating former vice president and candidate for the PDP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who is from the North East.

Buhari’s second and final term ends in 2023, and there are already talks about power returning to the South, with the likes of Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State governor and leader of the APC alliance in the South West seen by many as the front runner.

Elements in the South East, which has not produced an executive president in the country’s history, have also continued to make a case for a South East president.

El-Rufai’s argument, for political observers, is therefore, an attempt to change the narrative from power rotation with a view to keeping power in the North after Buhari, himself being a potential aspirant.

“What El-Rufai is campaigning for is actually a continuation of what took place in 2015. In 2015, the emphasis of the ruling cabal in the North is that power must return to the North and stay with the North,” noted Chief Goddy Uwazurike, senior lawyer and president emeritus of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga.

“But they didn’t add staying in the North then. In 2019, they said it was four plus four. Ahead of 2023, the campaign has shifted from power returning to the North to power staying permanently in the North.”

Uwazurike described the Kaduna governor’s assertion as mischievous, pointing out that while the governor had insisted on zoning when the North did not have power, he is now trying to change the narrative because power is in the region.

“The real character of a man is known when he is in power or when he is in possession of money. Before El-Rufai became governor, he was among those seriously insisting on zoning. But as a second term governor now, we are seeing the true colour of the man,” Uwazurike said.

“First and foremost, in Kaduna State, he disregarded the zoning structure of the state between the Christians and the Muslims. And for the first time in donkey years we have a Muslim governor and a Muslim deputy governor.

“The same man who acts with impunity has moved to the national stage because he now wants another Northerner, possibly himself, as the president after Buhari or Atiku.”

Uwazurike said the governor’s statement should be condemned by people of good conscience, even as he described his likes as people with wicked heart.

“I condemn it as a conscientious man, and I call on other people who have conscience to rise up because the penalty for staying quiet is that we are going to be sentenced to perpetual slavery.

“People like El-Rufai are extremely dangerous. They are the ones who will lead you to hell while smiling. They are the ones who will lead you to destruction while still smiling with you.

“This country is fragile. At the moment, it sits on six zones. But one man, because he is in power as a governor wants to send us to an endless trouble.

“Since 1999, we know how power has been shifting. Today, it is only North West that has had it two times. South West had it first, North West followed, then South South. Now instead of saying it should go to the South East, North Central or North East, they moved it back to North West. And what he is campaigning for is that power should remain in perpetuity in the North. That shows the mind of a wicked person. This country must be respected. Zoning must be respected. When all the six zones have had it, then we can change if there is need for change.”

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