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2023: Southern, Middle Belt leaders meet, demand power shift to South

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THE SOUTHERN and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) rose from a meeting in Abuja with a declaration that it is the turn of the South to produce the president of Nigeria in 2023.

The meeting was chaired by Edwin Clark, Ayo Adebanjo, George Obiozor and Pogu Bitrus – leaders of Pan Niger Delta Forum, Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum, respectively.

The southern and Middle Belt leaders met on January 13, but a communique from the meeting was made available to The ICIR on January 14.

The communique, which was signed by Clark, Adebanjo, Obiozor and Pogu, said the meeting resolved that power must shift to the South in 2023 when Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari would leave office.

The position of Nigerian president has been rotating between the North and the South in line with a power rotation arrangement that has been in place since the country returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Buhari, from the North, will leave office in 2023 after completing eight years as president and going by the power rotation arrangement, a southerner is expected to succeed him.

But northern politicians have indicated interest in running for president and there are suggestions within the major political parties – All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – that the 2023 presidential election will be thrown open to all the regions.

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But the southern and Middle Belt leaders, in the communique released after the Abuja meeting, demanded that all political parties should zone their presidential tickets to the South.

“The northern part of the country would have fully enjoyed the Office of the President 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 (we) call on all parties in the country to zone their presidential tickets to the South,” the communique said.

The southern and Middle Belt leaders warned that any political party that did not zone its presidential ticket to the South should not expect support from the four regions represented in the meeting – South-East, South-South, South-West and Middle-Belt.

“The basis of any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country such as Nigeria, is fair and even sharing of power,” the communique added.

The leaders further noted that Nigeria’s Constitution and structure were grossly flawed and lopsided and as a result demanded the fundamental restructuring of the country through the enactment of a new constitution that would enthrone equity, fairness and justice.

“It must be One Nation, One System,” the communique said.

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The meeting equally condemned what the communique described as “the continued senseless killings of innocent citizens across the country by terrorists and criminals,” especially in the North-West and called on the government and security agencies to redouble efforts to safeguard the lives and property of Nigerians.

In the same vein, the National Assembly was advised to only give consideration to bills that would promote equity, justice, peace and national cohesion instead of issues that would exacerbate conflicts and crisis in the country.

While urging governors and members of the National Assembly of the South-East, South-West, South-South and Middle-Belt to commit themselves to the subject of restructuring, the southern and Middle Belt leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the unity of Nigeria, “situated on the tenets of equity, fairness, justice, and the principle of federalism.”

The communique explained that the meeting was attended by delegations from four regional socio-cultural organisations – Afenifere for the South-West, Ohanaeze Ndigbo for the South-East, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) for the South-South and the Middle Belt Forum (MBF) for the Middle-Belt.

The meeting was also attended by former governors, ministers, federal and state legislators, top politicians and professionals from the southern and Middle Belt regions.

The demand by the southern and Middle Belt leaders is in line with the position of the Southern Governors Forum, which is insisting that the South should produce Nigeria’s next president in 2023.

The Southern Governors Forum, comprising governors of 17 states in the South, adopted the position at a meeting in Enugu in September 2021.

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However, the Southern governors’ demand that power should shift to the South was opposed by the Northern States Governors’ Forum, the umbrella body of governors of the states in Nigeria’s northern regions.

The Northern governors, at a meeting in Kaduna in September 2021, said the demand by the Southern governors was unconstitutional.

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