With the summoning of the principal parties in the acrimonious battle for the presidential ticket of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, by the party recently, it may be pertinent to look at an aspect which some of the groups have harped on so emphatically – zoning – which is the major cause of the current bitterness in some of the camps.
The way some politicians from the North are going about the idea of zoning, it is as if the South is an amalgam of people who are so dishourable, so untrustworthy that they do not respect agreements, unlike the North. By their insinuations, the North is the more dependable part of the country because it stands by agreements.
When President Goodluck Jonathan said that the principle of zoning as entrenched in the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party did not include the presidency as the occupant of that office has to be elected before all the other political officers held by the party such as Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, etc., are zoned, he was shouted down, virtually.
Opponents rushed to the press with the minutes of the meeting at which the decision on zoning was taken in 2002 and he was promptly called names – a liar, an untrustworthy man, and so on.
The agreement was that, according to the proponents of the claim that it is the turn of the North to produce a candidate now, the South was to produce a candidate that would hold the office of president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for two terms of eight years. Thereafter, it would be the turn of the North to do the same, beginning from 2007.
In fact, so strongly do many northern opposition leaders within the PDP feel about the perceived perfidy of President Jonathan in deciding to contest next year’s general elections that a group claiming to be Northern Leaders Forum led by Adamu Ciroma gave the Nigerian leader an ultimatum last week to either give up the dream or be removed from office.
Ciroma has threatened time and again that the heavens will fall should Jonathan go ahead with his intention to seek the nation’s highest political office next year. So also have IBB and Atiku.
General Ibrahim Babangida’s campaign manager, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, is passionate about his support for his principal as against Jonathan because he feels the president is not being principled by deciding to run for the presidency being a Southerner when it is supposed to be the turn of the North.
But a closer look at the evolution of PDP politics and the principle of zoning since 1999 shows that if indeed there is anyone who started flouting the agreement in its constitution, it is the North. Which is probably why some people insist that there is indeed no zoning in the party. What is worse, the disregard for the principle came from the least expected quarters, right from the ranks of those claiming to be the upright ones insofar as respecting agreements is concerned. The two most prominent of them are the two most vociferous in the call for the respect of zoning as contained in the PDP constitution – General Ibrahim Babangida and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
On 27 September 2002, THISDAY reported that two former heads of state, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, had begun talks to have then Vice President Atiku Abubakar vie for the presidency in the 2003 general elections.
The paper reported that the strategy being put in place by the two retired army officers was to encourage Atiku to challenge President Olusegun Obasanjo for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket later in 2002.
Here is an excerpt from the report: “Political calculations in the country on the 2003 presidential elections may soon change as two former heads of state, Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, have commenced talks aimed at persuading Vice President Atiku Abubakar to seek the number one post in the next elections.
“The united front being put up by Babangida and Abdulsalami as well as their supporters across the country was part of the plan to encourage the vice president to challenge President Olusegun Obasanjo for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket later in the year.”
This was a time when the presidency was supposed have been zoned to the South, even when it is known that even the so-called zoning was actually a logical ploy by the politically sagacious North to placate the South-west for the annulment of the June 12 1993 elections and the subsequent death of Chief M.K.O. Abiola.
Here, Atiku can say he wasn’t the one who initiated the move to have him contest against Obasanjo, that being persuaded does not mean that he accepted it.
But what of when the 2003 primary elections were in progress and the governors were pressuring him to run against Obasanjo? Did Atiku not announce imperially that he had three options before him: one was to run with Obasanjo; the second was to support a candidate opposed to Obasanjo while the last option was for him to personally compete against his principal at the time?
That Atiku did not eventually run for the presidency, at which contest he was tipped to gain the upper hand as most of the governors who were delegates and very influential were in his support, was because Obasanjo reportedly prostrated for him, a humiliation for a man of the former president’s calibre.
Now, see who is talking about President Goodluck Jonathan not being gentlemanly by failing to respect the agreement that the South should rule for eight years beginning from 1999, and the North to have its turn from 2007 to 2015. If IBB and Atiku were prepared to contest for the presidential ticket reserved for the South in 2003, what moral justification do they have in trying to stop Jonathan from exercising his civic right to constitutionally rule the land in 2011?
When Northern political leaders like Babangida and Atiku attempted to contest in 2003, no Southerner or anyone for that matter raised a voice that they couldn’t contest because of a clause in the PDP constitution that forbade them from doing so.
So why demonise Jonathan for deciding to take part in the race?
It is time places of origin were played down in deciding who rules the country; it is time primordial proclivities were also relegated so that the country could give its best the opportunity to partake fully in helping us get to el-dorado.
The gang-up being incubated by Adamu Ciroma, who at his age should be a statesman, not a tribalist or sectional leader is indeed needless as is obvious by the response he is getting.
God has blessed Nigeria. Let us not curse her with our own hands.