Zoning: Stick in PDP's throat

2010-07-11
THE PUNCH Newspaper

Given the declaration made by the Peoples Democratic Party‘s National Chairman, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, on Wednesday that PDP had since 2002 jettisoned zoning, the coast, as it were, is now perhaps clear for whosoever wants to vie for the nation‘s presidency on the party‘s platform.



He said, ”There is no zoning on the ground right now. Absolutely, there is no zoning. In 1998, there was zoning and only one northerner insisted on his inalienable right in the 1999 Constitution to contest against the then zoning arrangement of the PDP.



“The PDP took its rule down and I wrote a letter to him and returned his cheque. That is Rimi of the blessed memory. In 2003, after four years of Obasanjo, candidates sprang up from across the country. They paid, they canvassed. Nobody returned their money.



”Nobody wrote them that there was zoning. In 2007, there were more candidates from Southern Nigeria than Northern Nigeria and I think if that election was allowed to hold without interference; may be anybody among Peter Odili, Donald Duke or Sam Egwu would have won.”



Indeed, before now the argument among stakeholders has been which geo-political zone will produce the PDP presidential candidate in the 2011 poll and the debate had generated a lot of comments and attention pitting some northern and southern politicians among one another.



Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; former National Republican Convention presidential candidate in the 1992 elections, Umaru Shinkafi, among others have consistently preached that PDP should keep to its zoning arrangement.



In their arguments, the eight-year rule of former President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007 was the product of the intra-party arrangement. They further posit that the late Umaru Yar‘Adua leadership and by extension the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan administration that started in 2007 is a continuation of that unwritten pact. In their calculation, therefore, since Yar‘Adua, a northerner, did not fully end his reign, another of his kinsman, as it were, should be allowed to complete the tenure which second term is expected to end in 2015.



But there are politicians and analysts also from the other divide who hold the view that zoning has never been respected by the party. They point to such candidates as the late Abubakar Rimi, among other northerners who slugged it out with Obasanjo in 1999 and 2003 contrary to the party zoning formula. In fact, the former National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Solomon Lar, admitted that Rimi was in the race until the last minute.



Others who also allegedly breached the party‘s zoning initiative in 2007 were former governors Peter Odili, Donald Duke and Sam Egwu as well as Chief Rochas Okorocha. They were said to have deployed enough resources and material in pursuit of the poll that eventually brought Yar‘Adua to power in 2007.



But the former Governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, is not looking at the argument from the North or the South perspective. As far as he is concerned, the issue is far beyond any section of the country.



He said, ”It is a question of the whole Nigeria. Zoning as much as we dislike it, is not democratic, but it is the safety valve to maintaining the stability in the country for now. This is supported by the Federal Character provision of the Constitution.”



In the same vein, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Yusuf Alli, who implored members of the PDP to endeavour to amicably resolve their internal problems, noted that zoning was akin to admission of lack of unity.



He adds, ”I hate anything like zoning because it is an admission of non-integration of the constituents of the nation. Leadership should be about merit, the ability of the individual to deliver the tangibles associated with the demands of his office.



”Zoning connotes the failure of a polity to admit each and every capable member into the leadership structure may be out of fear of domination or marginalisation.”



Toeing the same line with Alli, a Lagos lawyer, Fred Agbaje, described it as constitutionally heretical. Agbaje who said the country needed her best hands in leadership, also lauded Nwodo for the bold statement.



The lawyer cum human rights activist said of the PDP chairman, ”I like him. He is courageous. Any party member who wants to react negatively to this is doing so at his own peril. As the party chairman, he has spoken the official position of the party.”



But Emeka Ngige (SAN) thinks otherwise. While positing that the matter should merely be seen as a PDP issue, he declared that the PDP did not have the right to impose its agreement on Nigerians.



He further stated, ”PDP believes that anyone who has its ticket will automatically become the president. Let there be a free and fair election and I tell you, the PDP will not win any election in the country. It is a party that does not respect the law, the Constitution and decent behavoiur.”



He also frowned on the way Nwodo spoke on the issue, saying that he had expected the party‘s National Working Committee to have deliberated on it first.



Said he, ”As it stands, it sounds like his opinion and not the party‘s position. Moreover, some people are already disputing that and this may cause the North to vote against the PDP in 2011.”



In fact, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Joe Daudu, said the issue was purely a PDP internal matter.



He argued, ”It is becoming too much of a distraction to the nation. Nigerians are asking for good leadership that will bring about development and industrialization. The issue should not concern the average Nigerian but should be resolved by PDP who made the agreement.”



However, a social commentator and former military administrator of old Borno State, Col.Abubakar Umar (retd), who canvassed for caution, equally enjoined all the divergent groups in the fray to thread with caution.



According to him, both sides in the argument should not overheat the already charged polity.



He said, ”We should be mature in addressing the issue. Power belongs to God and He gives it to who He desires. We should exercise caution whether we support or kick against zoning. Really zoning is not the problem with Nigeria. We should be talking about the crushing poverty in Nigeria.”



Nonetheless, even as this argument is on, other commentators and analysts are saying that the issue of zoning has been far entrenched in the nation‘s political space.



According to them, beyond the disagreement at the national level, the issue is equally manifest at the local, and the state levels and so it will be difficult to dismiss it with a mere pronouncement.



For instance, an analyst who craved anonymity wondered how the row would be resolved in councils and may be, states where this system of political accommodation has been in use for many decades now.






 

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