Babachir Lawal, a former secretary to the Nigerian government, has asked Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo not to expect preferential treatment on the question of who will succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.
Mr Buhari secured a second term last last month. The campaign was replete with arguments that voters in the south should give Mr Buhari another four years in order to create the earlier opportunity for the presidency to return to their region.
The debate repeatedly pitted members of the ruling All Progressives Congress from the Southeast against their counterparts from the Southwest.
APC leaders, Osita Okechukwu and Joe Igbokwe, have been amongst the most vocal voices in support of a Southeast presidency in 2023, while Mr Osinbajo and Babatunde Fasola have insisted the presidency would be going to the Southwest, with the vice-president being the favourite to clinch the party’s ticket.
But Mr Lawal, a long-time associate of Mr Buhari, said the APC did not promise Mr Osinbajo its ticket for 2019, and no law compels the party to favour the vice-president.
“It is not in the constitution, so it is not a principle,” Mr Lawal said while rejecting the zoning formula in an interview The Sun published Saturday. “Principle of what? It is not in APC constitution, it is not in the national constitution, it is not in the Bible, I don’t know whether it is in the Koran; I don’t know. So, I don’t see how it became a principle.”
Mr Lawal said he was not opposed to southerners vying for the office, but neither should any interested northerner be disqualified as a consequence.
“Being a cosmopolitan man, I know Igbos not less than 10 that can successfully run this country.
“I know Yorubas that can do, I know Ijaws that can do, I know Hausas that can do, I know even Kilba.
“Hey myself, my friend, I can be president of this country. I consider myself quite competent to do so from a small tribe of 300,000 people,” Mr Lawal told The Sun.
Mr Lawal, a Christian from Adamawa, was the government secretary from 2015 until October 2017 when he was fired after a government investigation found him culpable of fraudulent diversion of funds earmarked for internally-displaced victims of Boko Haram.
Although he was later charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over the allegations, he has remained politically associated with the president since his dismissal.
He has also remained a member of the APC, and played official roles as a top strategist in the party’s presidential campaign.
While zoning arrangements are not in the Nigerian Constitution or the electoral statute, political parties have used them to unify their ranks.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) consistently consolidated its base with the zoning formula while Nigeria’s ruling party from 1999 and 2015.
The party rotated power from Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Christian who spent two terms of eight years between 1999 and 2007, and Umar Yar’Adua, a northern Muslim who succeeded Mr Obasanjo in 2007.
The 2023 election would be the first of such test for the APC, which was created in 2013 from a merger of at least for political parties.
A spokesperson for the APC declined comments Saturday, telling PREMIUM TIMES there was no need commenting on Mr Lawal’s politically-charged assertion at this point.
Mr Buhari would be sworn in for a second term on May 29, and political analysts anticipate the battle to succeed him 2023 would commence shortly afterwards.