Southern Presidency Gathers Momentum as Ortom, Middle Belt Endorse Demand

Adedayo Akinwale, Udora Orizu in Abuja, John Shiklam in Kaduna, Seriki Adinoyi in Jos and George Okoh in Makurdi

The quest for southern presidency in 2023 gathered momentum yesterday as Benue State Governor, Mr. Samuel Ortom, the Middle Belt Forum (MBF); and the members of the House of Representatives from the 17 Southern states backed the demand by the Southern Governors’ Forum for the next president to come from the region.

The lawmakers also backed the governors’ rejection of certain provisions of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) passed by the National Assembly.

However, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has urged advocates of power rotation to exercise their discretion on which zone produces the next president, in line with the 1999 Constitution that reserves the right to sponsor candidates to contest elections for political parties only.

Speaking yesterday in Jos, Plateau State capital, President of the Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, said: “We agree with them (Southern governors) fully that the president should come from the South. Given the kind of situation we find ourselves in this country, it is only good to allow fairness and equity in this nation.

“By 2023, the North would have finished serving for eight years. So, it should go to the South. It is not for us to tell the South which side it should go in the South; they can decide to give it to the South-east, South-south, or South-west. But it should go to the South. We know that they are also rational in their consideration; so they should be able to determine among themselves, which side it should go in the South.”

Pogu added that going by the exigencies of time, it would only be right to zone the presidency to the South, adding that the moment calls for seriousness in terms of equity.

Ortom commended his colleagues for their position on power rotation, saying only equity, fairness and justice could strengthen the unity of Nigeria, give all citizens a sense of belonging and reduce tensions in the country.

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His Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Terver Akase, quoted him as describing the decision of the Southern Governors’ Forum to enact laws to ban open grazing of livestock in the region as a bold and patriotic move that will end the lingering crisis caused by armed herdsmen.

Ortom lauded his colleagues for backing their May 11, 2011 Asaba Declaration against open grazing with the resolve to legally prohibit nomadic cattle rearing

He said the resolution conformed to the global best practice of animal husbandry.

Ortom re-echoed his call on the federal government to respect the 1999 Constitution as altered on fundamental human rights, the rule of law and federal character.

He restated his commitment to speak out against injustice, quoting Reverend Martin Luther King Jnr., who stated: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Spokesman of ACF, Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, mentioned that the 1999 Constitution gives only the political parties the right to sponsor candidates to contest elections in Nigeria.

“The ACF is a socio-cultural group and not a political party, therefore, it will be against the spirit and letter of the constitution if we start dictating to the parties which part of the country a presidential candidate should come from.

“However, when the parties hold their primaries and candidates emerge, we would interact with them and find out their idea about the North. In that way, we can help the Northern voters to make their choices,” Yawe stated.

Also, the members of the House of Representatives from the 17 Southern states endorsed the resolution of their governors on power rotation.

They also described the attempt to tamper with the 2010 Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021 by removing the clause on electronic transmission of results as a malicious and unpatriotic act to emasculate the electoral system, undermine democracy and destabilise the country.

The Chairman of the House of Representatives Southern Caucus, Hon. Victor Nwokolo, in a statement yesterday, said the alleged attempt to remove electronic transmission of results clause from the bill could not be condoned or justified under any guise whatsoever.

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The lawmakers said the resolution by their governors reinforced their stance that the nation must and should exist on the pillars of justice, equity, fairness, peaceful co-existence and mutual respect, particularly in the political, economic and structural management of its national diversity.

According to them, the demand that the next president should come from the South represents the opinion of the majority of Nigerians across the board, and is in tandem with the already established rotation of presidency position between the South and the North.

They stated: “Furthermore, against the backdrop of our commitment towards free, fair, credible and transparent elections, the members of the House of Representatives from the South also backs our governors in rejecting the moves to outlaw the electronic transmission of election result in the Electoral Act, as well as the confirmation of exclusive jurisdiction in pre-election matters on the Federal High Court.

“The attempt to tamper with the Electoral Act to remove electronic transmission of result is, therefore, a malicious and unpatriotic act aimed to emasculate our electoral system, undermine our democracy and destabilise our dear country, and such cannot be condoned or justified under any guise whatsoever.”

The lawmakers described the electronic transmission of results directly from the polling unit as a firm step towards the elimination of result-collation-related malpractices, including alteration of figures, mutilation of documents, snatching and diversion of ballot materials on transit to collation centres, among others.

On the PIB, the lawmakers affirmed the governors’ rejection of the proposed 30 per cent share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins.

They also rejected the moves to vest the ownership structure of Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC) in the Ministry of Finance and backed the governors in their resolve that such should be held in trust by Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) since all tiers of government have stakes in that agency.

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They added: “As lawmakers, we insist that the 30 per cent share of profit as well as vesting ownership structure of the proposed NNPC on the ministry of finance instead of the NSIA do not reflect the desired essentials of justice, equity and fairness.”

The lawmakers, however, supported the five per cent share of the oil revenue to the host community as recommended by the House, while assuring their constituents that every effort would be made to sustain their position at the harmonisation level.

On security, they reiterated their support for the establishment of state police and ban on open grazing by Southern states, adding that governors, as chief security officers in the states, must be duly informed before the execution of any security operation in their states.

Meanwhile, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has rejected the position of the Southern governors that the 2023 presidency should be zoned to the Southern part of the country.

The forum’s position was made in a statement issued yesterday by its Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed.

NEF said as far as the North was concerned, the idea that it would be threatened, intimidated or blackmailed into yielding an office which ought to be settled democratically is not acceptable.

“We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest,” it said.

The forum explained that the southern governors come from the two dominant parties: APC and PDP, saying that they must have some influence in those parties.

NEF urged the southern governors to influence their parties to zone the presidency to southern states and then work to convince Nigerian voters from all parts of the country to vote for that candidate. 

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