By Clifford Ndujihe
Fresh facts emerged, weekend, on the reasons the hierarchy of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, after series of meetings, retained zoning as enshrined in its constitution and at the same time paved a leeway for President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 presidential polls.
In arriving at the decision, which has been variously dismissed as ambivalent, ambiguous and double-speak, sources said PDP leaders were guided by the need to ensure internal harmony in its rank and file, stem further heating of the polity occasioned by the zoning controversy, observe a subsisting Supreme Court ruling on the issue, side-step an obvious litigation, and most importantly, remain in tandem with the dictates of the 1999 constitution.
For over four days penultimate week, the partyâ€™s Board of Trustees, BOT; National Working Committee, NWC, and National Executive Committee, NEC; met variously and arrived at the same position.
Before the decision, the PDP was chiefly polarised along the lines of pro-zoning and anti-zoning elements. In the pro-zoning camp are mainly Northern leaders, who insist that Jonathan must step down by May 29, 2011 and allow a northerner mount the presidential saddle, in accordance with the PDP zoning arrangement.
On the pro-zoning divide are those who contend that Jonathan has the constitutional right to contest for the presidency aside the fact that his South-South zone, which produces oil that accounts for 80 percent of the nationâ€™s economy, had been short-changed before Jonathan emerged â€œby divine intervention.â€
It was after the decision that former Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, formally joined the race.
However, the PDPâ€™s decision is raising more puzzles in the polity and leaving an avalanche of questions unanswered. This is coming as a group of eminent Nigerians,
The Patriots, restated their clamour for adoption of a five-year single term rotational presidency among the six geo-political zones; and the South-East geo-political zone weighs political options available to it in the prevailing circumstances.
PDPâ€™s zoning retention
Speaking on the PDP decision, former National Vice Chairman (Southeast), Chief Nze Ozichukwu, told VanguardÂ that zoning was an internal matter of the party while political participation was a constitutional right.
He recalled that when the party kick-started zoning in 1998 and zoned the presidency to the South, the late former Kano State governor, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, insisted that he would contest, he took the party to court, got a verdict of the Supreme Court and was allowed to run before he lost at the primaries to Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who went on to become the president.
â€œWe donâ€™t want to go against that ruling. President Goodluck Jonathan has a constitutional right to contest. Besides, he is on the same ticket with the late President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™ Adua. So, we donâ€™t want to alter the equation. There is no conflict between our decision and the constitution,â€ he said.
There may be no conflict between the PDP decision and the provisions of the constitution but many puzzles remain unresolved. The jigsaw include: How long will the next president rule, whether or not he is from the North if the PDP wins the presidency?
Will Jonathan or whomever emerges be denied his constitutional right to go for second term? What about other offices shared among the six geo-political zones?
Former PDP National Chairmanship Candidate, Chief Sonny Iroche, outlined otherÂ puzzles succinctly.
In a telephone chat with Vanguard, he said: â€œThe NEC of our party, at its last meeting arrived at what could be termed a compromise on the issue of zoning and rotational presidency. Granted the NEC decision, that President Jonathan could run, what happens to the other offices?
Would zoning now apply to the other major offices within the PDP government and the party such as the NWC, principal offices of the National Assembly, that is Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and other zoned offices?
Can all senators, for instance be free to contest the presidency of the Senate and ditto office of the Speaker? These are some of the ambiguities that NEC decision may not have addressed.â€
Ozichukwu said that the issue was not closed, adding that the PDP leadership would look at all the scenarios and come out with a position.
Weâ€™re vindicated â€“ The Patriots
Reacting to the issue, leaders of The Patriots said the polity would have been saved the heat generated by the zoning controversy if the Obasanjo Administration had accepted their suggestion of five-year rotational presidency eight years ago.
A member of the group, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said The Patriots, proposal, which was packaged into a bill provided for a five-year power rotation among the six geo-political zones of the country, to give every part of the country a sense of belonging. â€œBut
Obasanjo refused and insisted on going for second term,â€ he added.
Adebanjo said the surest way out of the logjam was for Nigerians to sit down and re-draft the constitution into a purely federal one such that all the federating units would be equal stakeholders.
In like manner, Secretary of The Patriots, Chief Ladi Williams, SAN, said: â€œNow we are vindicated. If they accepted our point, these problems will not be there. A single term of five years would have ensured rotation and given everyone a sense of belonging. Even the South-West would have got the presidency back in 30 years after Obasanjo.
Eight years is too long and in the process, other zones become impatient. If Jonathan is contesting, he has the constitutional right to re-contest and be there for nine years.
â€œWe have to strengthen the tenure. Five years is long enough for anybody to accomplish his programmes. We should amend the constitution and make tenure of the president five years and rotational among the six zones. If a sitting president dies, another election should be held within three months so that his zone would not be short-changed.â€
Unusual southern unity
On account of the issues raised by the zoning question, there seems to be an unusual southern solidarity.
By omission or commission, the South appears united in its support for Jonathan. Apart from Rev. Chris Okotie of the Fresh Democratic Party, FDP, no southerner has declared his intention to run for the presidency in 2011.
The five South-East governors, recently said they were not going to run and offered to chart a political course for the area. And unlike the zone, no Igbo politician has joined the race as of now.
None of the South-South governors is running too. And nobody from the Southwest zone, irrespective of party affiliation, has come out.
Even Jonathan is yet to say officially that he is running. He is expected to do so next month.
By comparison, the North is suffused with aspirants. So far, four northerners have declared their aspiration. They are Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (PDP),Â Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Congress for Democratic Change, CDC) and Malam Ibrahim Shekarau (All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP).
As it were, the race is dovetailing into a Jonathan versus northern contest.
Northern aspirants woo South-South, South-East
Faced with an inevitable headlong electoral combat with Jonathan, Babangida and Abubakar have promised to do a term of four years and handover to the South, if elected. Specifically, Babangida said he would handover to the Southeast.
To win over the two zones, sources said Babangida and Abubakar are not averse to picking their running mates from the South-South or South-East.
Commenting on the promise, Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN) urged the South-South and South-East to reject the offer.
â€œIt is part of the old tricks. Now, there is no North at the moment. After Gen. Yakubu Gowon created 12 states, North was abolished. It is an insult for northern aspirants to talk about North and South-South. There are three zones in the North and three in the South,â€ he said.
At the South East Political Summit last Monday, Chairman of Champion Newspapers, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, urged Ndigbo to overlook Babangida and Abubakarâ€™s promise and back Jonathan because the promise was a political gimmick to secure Igbo support after which the ethnic group would be dumped, as usual.
The convener of the summit, Chief Mbazulike Amechi, said at independence, Nigeria was made up of three regions, which later became four regions that were further divided into four.
Amechi reiterated that the North had ruled Nigeria for 38 years and six months since independence in 1960, the West 12 years and three months, while the East and the South-South, which comprised the old Eastern Region, had ruled for 10 months.
â€œZoning or no zoning, rotation or not, the old Eastern Region shall produce the next president of Nigeria. The region that produce 90 percent of the wealth of the country should for a change have a prime position in the governance of the country.
Given the fact that what is now known as Bayelsa State used to be Brass District of Eastern Region, and that the eastern and western regions have been marginalised in the presidency of Nigeria, the summit has decided to endorse the presidential aspiration of Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan,â€ he stated.
Although, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo said it was yet to take a decision on the issue and a couple of Igbo groups and politicians, have distanced themselves from the Summitâ€™s endorsement of Jonathan, it is almost certain that the South-East will not field a presidential candidate for the 2011 polls.
Leaders of the zone and their South-South counterparts reached an agreement on Thursday to back Jonathan.Â Some leaders of the zone are still weighing their options and consulting with the South-South and other zones.
The South-East can regain their second fiddle status by backing any of the Northern aspirants or stabilise the former Eastern region by backing Jonathan, win or lose.
Survey, Igbo groups back Jonathan
Disturbed by the Presidentâ€™s delay in declaring his intention, a group, the Enugu State Patriotic League for Goodluck Jonathan 2011, ESPLGJ, has urged Jonathan to join the race.
In a joint statement by Chief Charles Uzochukwu, president, and Mr. Obumneme Nwani, secretary, he ESPLGJ, wants the President to declare his presidential intention urgently.
At this point in the nationâ€™s history, it said Nigeria needed someone who would re_write the wrongs of past leaders whose actions caused the country setbacks.
Urging the President to ensure that any past Nigerian leader indicted for corruption was brought to book, the group said it was calling on Jonathan to contest â€œbecause we are witnessing a sign of good omen and relief consequent upon various programmes and policies this present administration has designedÂ to assuage the feelings of the masses.â€
If a survey conducted by the Igbo Youth Movement, IYM, recently, is anything to go by, the South-East electorate is backing Jonathan for the 2011 polls.
IYM President, Rev. Elliot Uko, said the decision of respondents sampled in the five states of the zone was unanimously in support of the President.