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Nigerian presidential hopeful Duke to defy zoning tradition

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Donald Duke, right, in 2006 when he was governor of Cross River (archive image). AFP PHOTO/Puis Utomi Ekepei PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

A former Nigerian governor has told RFI that he will run in next year's presidential election regardless of the unwritten rules which see the presidency alternate between northern and southern candidates.


Donald Duke, the ex-governor of Cross River state, joins a growing list of potential challengers to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Since civilian rule was restored in 1999, Nigeria has rotated the presidency between Muslims and Christians in a process called ‘zoning’.

“Zoning is not a constitutional issue,” he told RFI. “I see it as political mischief. If you want to achieve a particular end, it’s really like divide and rule. Folks who harp on about zoning are just trying to push the candidature that will suit them.

“If you grow the economy, if you create jobs, nobody cares where the president is coming from.”

Party not decided

Duke is currently a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has already said it will field a candidate from the mainly-Muslim north.

He has yet to declare which party he would represent if the PDP rejects his candidacy on the grounds that he is a southerner.

He told RFI that the rules on zoning were flexible and had been worked around in the past.

“President [Muhammadu] Buhari [from the north] has run in every election since 2003 and never talked about zoning," he claims. "Goodluck Jonathan [a southerner] did not do eight years. He was kicked out after his first term. Nothing says that zoning is for two terms.”

Buhari slammed

The former governor has been linked to a movement backed by former president Olesegun Obasanjo. Both men have been scathing about the Buhari presidency.

“Buhari hasn’t done anything," Duke said, going on to list some of Nigeria's deadliest flashpoints.

"Boko Haram in the north-east, the insecurity in the Niger Delta, the herdsman crisis. It’s not about being reactive, that’s what his government has become. We need to be pro-active.”

The oil-producing Delta region has been plagued for years by pollution and anger among locals who see few benefits from the petroleum industry. Clashes between nomadic Fulani heardsmen and farmers in the country's middle-belt have left scores dead and tens of thousands displaced.

The 56-year-old is also the youngest candidate to declare so far, in a race where the age of the president is likely to be an issue.

President Buhari is 75 and has spent months outside the country in London being treated for an undisclosed illness.

Buhari's government recently lowered the age limits for the candidates seeking office at state and national levels.

Duke warned that if the next Nigerian president did not quickly improve the lives of ordinary people the consequences could be catastrophic.

“Someone has to get it right," he insisted. "Someone has to change the trajectory that Nigeria is currently on. Otherwise we are fast becoming a failed state. We need to pull ourselves back from the brink.

“We are 200 million people. In another 30 years, we’ll be 400 million, the third most populous nation on earth. We have to get our act together or we will become a major global problem.”