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2011 Election Series (1) Requiem for PDP zoning

Acting President Jonathan and PDP Chairman Ogbulafor

This is the story of the bad blood being generated by on-going moves to scuttle the PDP zoning arrangement which concedes the presidency to the north until 2015.  The plot to kill the zoning formula is to pave the way for Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to contest next year’s presidential election. But will the plan succeed?  The report traces how the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, introduced zoning as a principle of political office allocation.

By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor & Luka Binniyat  & Henry Umoru

Oddly, the evil deed happened on a day that was meant for holy deeds.
Then Vice President Atiku Abubakar had been deliberately sent out of Nigeria to avoid a counter action.  Then President Olusegun Obasanjo could have sent just any other person.  But because the latter knew exactly the game he wanted to play, he chose his deputy for the diplomatic mission to the Central African Republic, CAR.  Then on that fateful Sunday, Obasanjo invited Chief Audu Ogbeh, the then embattled National Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who also doubled as Obasanjo’s Special Adviser on Agriculture to the Presidential Villa for a private meeting.

Once Ogbeh got inside the president’s wing of the villa, Obasanjo waved off his security aides who were around.  The task at hand was as simple as it was ridiculous.  Because some days earlier, just as tension enveloped the polity this past week, the nation was on edge that January 2005 just before PDP held it’s National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting.  Just as it happened this past week when Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was pitched against party chairman, Vincent Eze Ogbulafor, Obasanjo in 2005 was pitched against Ogbeh and more than half of the state governors of PDP extraction.

The major domo in the opposition within the PDP at that time was Atiku Abubakar, Obasanjo’s deputy.  But because the compromise that was reached in 2005 and which saved both Obasanjo and Ogbeh from public embarrassment was that the latter would resign ahead of the party’s national convention, which effectively meant that he would be leaving office ahead of the expiration of his tenure, Obasanjo, known to always operate like a locomotive engine whose break system has gone kaput, wanted Ogbeh’s resignation on the spot.

Therefore, right there in Aso Rock Villa, Obasanjo made available to Ogbeh all he needed to produce his resignation.  It was an act of unmitigated show of presidential power by Obasanjo.  Ogbeh, who was alone, could neither reach Atiku, who was already in CAR, nor establish telephone communication with any other leader of PDP.

He resigned there and then as directed by Obasanjo.

Like a rain-beaten chicken, Ogbeh announced the following day that he had resigned as national chairman of PDP.

For an Obasanjo who took delight in warehousing offences committed by government officials and party leaders, what, perhaps, appears to be playing out in the present case of the arraignment of Ogbulafor by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, is no different from the Obasanjo-style warehousing of offences.
So, what was Obasanjo’s reason for acting in that manner?

That removal of Ogbeh, was the very first signs that Obasanjo was about to tinker with the zoning arrangement of his party by elongating his own tenure beyond the constitutionally stipulated two terms of four years. For, had Obasanjo sailed through with his Third Term Agenda that would have effectively been the nunc dimitis of the zoning arrangement in PDP?

Today, it is Acting President Jonathan who is breathing down the neck of Ogbulafor for daring to insist that the party’s zoning formula would be adhered to for the 2011 elections.

With that statement, Ogbulafor foreclosed any growing ambition in Jonathan to vie for the presidency next year.  But pro-Jonathan forces in the presidency and the polity would have none of that and, therefore, went for Ogbulafor’s jugular by exhuming a 2004 corruption case against the PDP chairman.

But Who Owns The Zoning Rights?
It was in 1979, during the formative years of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, that the idea was suggested. For the NPN, the fable goes that it had been assured of the presidency by the out-going military junta then led by Obasanjo. But what punctures this fable was an incident which happened immediately after the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, elected the late Chief Philip Umeadi as his running mate.

Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that once Awolowo chose Umeadi as his running mate, Obasanjo sent words to Awolowo to change that choice.  Obasanjo’s argument was that the choice made by UPN did not in any way take into cognizance Nigeria’s peculiar ethno-tribal balancing.  But Awolowo and the UPN refused to shift their ground.  Their counter position was that there was need to ensure that merit was not sacrificed on the altar of federal character or quota system.

But the NPN, peopled by politicians whose main advantage bore all the signs of pragmatism ended up with Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari, from Shagari Village in Sokoto State.  The party then went all the way down, as if slightly diagonally to the left across the Niger River, to Anambra State to choose Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme.

Still disputed in some quarters, the NPN won the 1979 presidential elections.  Though Awolowo went all the way to the Supreme Court, he lost to the calculation of a constitutional provision which states that whoever would emerge President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigeria Armed Forces needed two thirds of the total votes cast in two thirds of the states of the Nigerian Federation.  This provision itself lends itself to the ethos of national spread and, by implication, the need for participatory mandate.

The NPN did not stop there.  It also ensured that it zoned party offices across the groups in the country vis: Yoruba, Igbo, Southern Minorities, Middle Belt, North (East and West).

Flowing from that arrangement, its national chairman, Augustus Meredith Adisa Akinloye emerged from the Yoruba West and the Senate President, Joseph Wayas from Southern Minority Cross River State. The Speaker, House of Representatives, Edwin Ume-Ezeoke came from the South-East, having been nominated by the Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP, which had a working relationship with the NPN.  But where did zoning lead the NPN and Nigeria?

Most Nigerians at that time did not understand the principles behind what NPN called zoning.  Bashorun MKO Abiola wanted the NPN presidential ticket in 1983; but the NPN zoning arrangement was bound to put paid to that.  Abiola persisted but the leadership of the party simply went ahead with their national convention in Kaduna.

Despite his enormous resources and his contributions to the NPN, Abiola was muscled out of the race, with the then powerful Transport Minister, Alhaji Umaru Dikko saying the party’s presidential ticket was not for sale to the highest bidder. Although with his resources, MKO could have sprung a surprise on the NPN leadership, they did not want to take any chances hence their strategy of not even allowing him to participate in the primaries which held in Kaduna.  He read the handwriting clearly and kissed the party bye-bye.

Enter PDP’s Zoning Arrangement
Consequent upon the war of attrition waged by the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, and some pro-democracy activists across the length and breath of Nigeria on account of the injustice arising from the annulment of the election of MKO Abiola as president on June 12, 1993, and the unwritten concession that for Nigeria to know peace, there was the need for a conscious effort to placate the Yoruba South West geo-political zone, the presidency should be given to the Yoruba, the out-going military junta of Abdulsalami Abubakar surreptitiously ensured that the PDP was the party of choice to win the presidential election.  It did not stop there.  It then went ahead to deploy resources of all sorts to ensure that Obasanjo, a Yoruba man, emerged as the party’s presidential candidate.

And as if the Nigerian nation agreed to the zoning arrangement in 1999, even the Alliance for Democracy, AD, and the then All Peoples Party, APP, now All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, went into an alliance which meant one of the parties would subsume its interest.  APP was the senior partner in the alliance and, therefore, was expected to produce the presidential candidate while AD was expected to produce the running mate.  But by one curious yet inexplicable twist, the alliance handed the presidential ticket to the junior AD’s Olu Falae, who emerged via the decision of a few old men sitting in an apartment at D’Rovan’s Hotel in Ibadan.

Ogbonnaya Onu, who was the APP presidential candidate was not even taken into confidence in giving away his ticket.  But his prospective running mate, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, the Marafan Sokoto, ran with Falae, a Yoruba man.  Therefore, for the first time in the history of Nigeria, the presidential election was a straight fight between two sons of Oduduwa, the Yoruba progenitor.

Requiem for Zoning?
Lately, however, there has been a plethora of opinions challenging the propriety of zoning or national character or quota system.  Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida had made statements to the effect that national character might not take Nigeria very far.  Senate President David Mark has been known to extol the virtues of meritocracy.

In fact, Chief Richard Akinjide, Second Republic Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, insisted that “the talk about turn by turn would not do us any good in that context.  Look, isn’t it ridiculous, that whenever we want to talk of the presidency of Nigeria we talk in terms of Hausa Fulani, Yoruba or Igbo.  Totally unfair!  In the US, Obama comes from a minority of the minority but look at him now, because he was the best man for the job, the people of America said he should go and do the job.

“The truth we must understand is that in a particular circumstance or at a particular period, the area you zone the office to may not have the best man for the job.

“One of the flaws in our constitution is the matter of this geographical spread things and candidacy or national character thing.  This national character or zoning thing is nonsense.  That doctrine was introduced in India, we are not the original owners of that doctrine but it is subject to quality in India.  It doesn’t mean that if the geographical spread must apply to your area and you then bring a buffoon or a nonentity then it must be imposed on all of us, no.  It’s not right, it’s been abused.

I would advocate that this national character thing should be abrogated as regards certain offices.”
To compound the woes of the apostle of zoning, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua suddenly developed serious health challenges that have kept him away from office since Monday November 23, 2009.  It took the creative legislative acumen of the Senate, in consultation with other segments of the leadership of the Nigerian state, to pronounce Yar’Adua’s deputy, Jonathan, as Acting President, relying on the doctrine of necessity.

But once Jonathan took over, a new breed of forces emerged in his support and defence and has since been putting pressure on him to contest the presidency next year.

Therein lies the problem
First, since Ogbulafor dared to re-echo the position of PDP on zoning, that the presidency would remain in the North for next year’s election, he became a marked man.
Besides, once it was discovered that a few former state governors had enormous resources that could stop a Jonathan-for-president project, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, sprang into action again and made James Onanefe Ibori the first target.  Ibori is at large and is being looked for.  Then came the PDP Reform Forum which is insisting that merit should be the order of the day as against the usually whimsical approach of PDP as a political party.

An Anti-Climactic NEC Meeting
This explains why PDP’s 50th NEC meeting which was held last Tuesday after an injunction and counter injunction was sought and quashed, respectively, ended up as an anti-climax of sorts.  The main decision of the NEC meeting was the proposed amendments which the party believes would do it a world of good.

The issue of reforms was not discussed as expected.  The Acting President made preachments on the need for caution, respect for due-process and rule of law, as well as the halting of the vaulting ambitions of some politicians ahead of next year’s general elections.  The party is amending the following sections of its constitution 12.14, 12.46, and 12.48.  The parts of the PDP amendment deal with number of delegates to elect flag-bearers of the Party at various levels, just as it noted that the current provision which makes the number of delegates in a Senatorial Congress more than those electing a Governorship Candidate was an anomaly

A communiqué at the end of the meeting read by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali said, “the 50th meeting of the National Executive Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party just ended here at our National Secretariat.

“NEC passed a vote of confidence on the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan for his heroic role in stabilizing the polity since his assumption of office as the Acting President.
“NEC also passed a vote of confidence and commendation on the National Assembly for their steadfastness in ensuring the stability and good governance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“In the same vein, NEC also unanimously expressed a vote of confidence on the National Working Committee, led by the National Chairman, Prince Dr. Vincent Eze Ogbulafor and encouraged the National Working Committee to continue along its current line of organizing the Party and ensuring its growth and stability.

“NEC received a report on progress on the new National Secretariat and expressed its delight that the contractors have fully mobilized to site and work has commenced in earnest. NEC commended the Acting President for the pivotal role he has played in the realization of the project”.

Will The North Agree?
To be fair, the north as an entity, the core north may not buy this argument about meritocracy.  The simple reason is that after Nigeria had gone through the eight years of Obasanjo, and the north having just enjoyed (if that is the word) barely two and a half years of the presidency via Yar’Adua’s headship, would it be fair as a federation to now re-order the arrangement and chant the mantra of meritocracy as against the gentleman’s agreement of zoning.

Yet, for anybody to argue safely on the matter, it should be made clear that zoning is purely a PDP arrangement of convenience.

The north which is kicking and would kick forever against the re-ordering of the zoning arrangement knows that the ladder to the presidency is the PDP.

In any case, for all the ills and vices of PDP, which political party can stand in its way?

PDP Reps on zoning formula of the partyHon. Aminu Shehu Shagari (PDP/Sokoto)

Let the PDP keep to its words on zoning.  The zoning formula was an agreement reached by the PDP long ago. I want the PDP to be a keeper of its words. If we say something, we should abide by it.

Hon. Clever M. Ikisikpo (PDP/Bayelsa)

There is no constitutional provision for zoning.  Zoning, as currently arranged by the PDP, is not provided for in the constitution. It was an agreement reached by the party after the consideration of some issues. But it behoves  on the PDP to look into the current zoning arrangement and decide whether it is in the best interest of the country, because what matters in the end is how to improve on the well being of the electorate. But, as a faithful member of the PDP, whatever the PDP decides on, I shall abide by it.

Hon. Elizabeth Ogbaga (PDP Ebonyi)
We have to be careful and wise on this issue. I believe that zoning should be done in a manner that minimises conflicts.
There should be places where zoning should be applied, and some places where it may not be applied. But, I know that in the past, it has helped to reduce all kinds of problems.

And, as a member of the PDP, I am bound to respect the decision of the party at all times, and I don’t want to think that I would have problem with that.

Don’t contest, Fayose to Jonathan

Former governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose says: ‘’l will personally advise the Acting President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan not to heed the advice of those in the ruling PDP asking him  to  run for 2011 presidential election, his mission  should be on  how he would organise a credible election for Nigerians without himself taken part.
‘’He should not allow the sycophants around the Presidential Villa  to mislead him ,l think Mr acting president should remains tactful and watchful

‘’But l must admit that Dr  Jonathan being a Nigerian has an inherent constitutional power to stand for any election on the platform of any party.  I know he is a sensible person , he would do the right thing.

Former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope – PDP will continue with zoning

“Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has not told anyone that he wants to run for election. His speech to the PDP National Executive Committee, NEC meeting, was a great speech from a great mind and from the way I look at it because I was present at the NEC meeting, Jonathan was guided by the highest interest of the PDP. I am convinced that Acting President Jonathan will never do anything that is detrimental to the zoning arrangement of the PDP.
The PDP will continue with the zoning because it is in the best interest of the party to do.

Already, Jonathan is establishing himself as a hero of Nigeria who acted to save the country at this very time. I am sure that when the rotational presidency moves down to the South, Acting President Jonathan will be the automatic choice”.

Zoning should not stop Jonathan -Dr. Goodnews Agbi, former Delta State governorship aspirant and PDP Chieftain

“Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has not come up to tell Nigerians that he wants to contest for the position of President of this country, but if he wants to contest, it is in order because every Nigerian who is capable, intelligent and very resourceful should be allowed to aspire to any office of the land. The idea of zoning at the initial stage was to allow disadvantaged zones to contest for the highest office in the land, but now, every thing in the world and Nigeria evolves, Nigeria has got to a stage where anyone who is capable to address the problems should be allowed to do so.

“As a PDP chieftain, I believe that if Jonathan wants to contest for the Presidency, he should go ahead. For example, the South South has not had a taste of the Presidency before.  It is the time for Acting President to contest.  After all, other political parties provide candidates for elections, with or without the zoning arrangement of the PDP”.


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