By Henry Umoru additional report byÂ Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor and Uduma Kalu, Deputy Features Editor
ABUJA â€” THERE are indications that the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP ahead of the release of its guidelines for its primaries, is set to dump its zoning arrangement at least to accommodate President Goodluck Jonathan.
However, as the debate on the PDP zoning arrangement,Â ragesÂ some leading Nigerians have criticised the policy if it exists.
According to the eminent citizens, including Third Republic Senator Uba Ahmed, leading scholars, Prof. Anya . Anya and Dr. Uma Eleazu,Â the zoning arrangement is irrelevant, undemocratic and meaningless.
Some of them, such as the Elder statesman Zikist Nationalist, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, went ahead to say that even if zoning presidency should be adopted, then the South East and South South geo-political zones that have not had a fair share in ruling the country should produce the person for the number one seat.
Third Republic Senator Uba Ahmed told Saturday Vanguard that the 1987 NPN zoning system, unlikeÂ the present arrangement, was not based on sectarianism as the North would have voted for any southerner.
What is happening today is part of the distortions of the Obasanjo era and it is the creation of Obasanjo himself. There was a misconstrued perception of what democracy is all about. In fact, what is happening is an abuse of the process of democracy…. Zoning does not mean sitting down in one place to just decide on one person.
There must be congress, primaries for a candidate to emerge. There was nothing like preferred candidate. Zoning is losing its substance. It was not the kind of zoning we had in our time that we have now. It has lost meaning and content., â€œhe said.
But President General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue said that though President Goodluck Jonathan has not declared his intention to run for the 2011 elections, Nigerians, including the Igbo, should support him. However, the Igbo ethnic group, he went on, is fine tuning a strategy that would help it realise its political goals in the country.
PDP Set to put aside zoning for Jonathan
Meanwhile, the National Auditor of the PDP and member of the National Working Committee, NWC, Dr. Samuel Ortom who noted that though there is zoning formula in PDPâ€™s Constitution, it is notÂ rigid as it may be subject to change when the need arises, adding that it was a flexible arrangement by the founding fathers of the party.
Speaking with journalists in Abuja, the PDP National Auditor stressed that since the inception of the party and when conventions were held, no one from any zone had ever been excluded from vying for positions, especially, the most exalted one which is the president of the country. He said that former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, Chief Barnabas Gemade, late Abubakar Rimi had contested for the presidency, even when the party zoned it to the West during ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo.
â€œSo, I am calling on Nigerians to put this thing to rest, that at no time did we as the National Working Committee discuss and zoned the position of presidency. What the National Chairman said last time was just a clarification on what was done before in the past regime and not during our current tenure.
â€œThe whole thing is flexible and President Jonathan is a Nigerian, and by all standards and qualifications that the party and the constitution require, he is free to contest the election.
â€œIt has become imperative for me to make this clarification. Though there is position of zoning in PDPâ€™s constitution, it is not a rigid arrangement. It is a flexible arrangement made for the forefathers of this party who wrote this constitution.
â€œBut I want to let the public know that since 1999 when this party came into existence and started election and appointment of political offices, there has never been a time that anyone has been excluded who is interested in vying for any position in this party, whether you are from the South or East or from the North or West.
â€œFrom 1999, you will recall that the election was keenly contested by Ekwueme and Obasanjo who come from different zones and in 2003, the election was keenly contested by the incumbent president, Chief Obasanjo and Barnabas Gemade who was from the North Central and at no time did the PDP screen them out.
â€œThey were allowed to participate. They went through the process as enshrined in the constitution and the guidelines and a candidate emerged at the end of the day and we jointly worked together for the success of our party.
â€œSo, I want to make it very clear that the controversy about 2011 zoning or no zoning, Article 7.2 (c) of the PDP constitution talks about rotation and zoning but it is not rigid. And so, President Goodluck Jonathan is free to contest election if he so wishes or desires at any time. If he decides to contest, nobody can stop him. He is free to do that; the constitution allows him because the constitution of our party is subject to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
â€œThough there can be zoning arrangement in the PDP constitution, which is an internal arrangement, the most important and ultimate thing is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which allows every Nigerian the freedom to associate and the freedom to express himself and so, every Nigerian is free to contest not minding the zone he is from. Zone is not going to stop anybody from contesting.
â€œSo, those who are heating the polity unnecessarily about zoning or no zoning should stop and allow Mr. President to face the challenges that we have in this country. I think that instead of wasting energy talking about zoning, we need to jointly put our hands together and pray and support the President to ensure that he brings dividends of democracy to the Nigerian people.
Uwechue, Anya, Amechi, Eleazu, Obi kick
For former university don, Prof. Anya O. Anya, saidÂ zoning is undemocratic. The competition should be thrown open so that the best candidate will emerge.Â Even the zoning arrangement that is being done in PDP, he said, was a gentlemanâ€™s agreement and did not have the backing of the people.
Former Zikist Leader, Chief Mbazulike Amechi said if the presidency must be zoned, the South East and the South South should produce the next president come 2011.Â Senator Ben Obi advised the PDP to reconsider its zoning formula if it is no longer is no relevant.Â But another scholar, Dr. Uma Eleazu, wrote off zoning, preferring instead, a federalism based on the ethnic nationalities.