The politics of zoning

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BY OCHEREOME NNANNA

The processes that led to the zoning of the various offices  of the  ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was really a fierce battle, according to informed sources. President Goodluck Jonathan led the charge himself. And it had little to do with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who had spent time to lick his wounds after he lost all the five states of the South-West plus Edo State, which he won  from the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003. Obasanjo’s losing streak manifested in the loss of the re-election bid of his daughter, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, and his sponsored governorship candidate for  Ogun State, Major General Adetunji  Olurin (rtd).

Immediately after the election, the North realised that with the poor result in the presidential poll in the North-West and North-East, their stake in the PDP might wane.

They decided to come out forcefully to “own” the president. Some of their people who were locked in opposition to the emergence of Jonathan during the transitional processes, such as former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, former Vice President  Atiku Abubakar and the leader of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum (NPLF) Malam Adamu Ciroma, came forward with their congratulatory messages to  the president.

As soon as  Jonathan  made clear his preferred manner of zoning e rest of the six “first-class” political offices (Senate president, deputy Senate president, speaker  of the House of Reps and Secretary to the Government of the Federation), they were among the first to offer their approval. In fact, a prominent traditional ruler recently sent some top retired northern military officers to go and defuse the growing dissidence among elected northern federal legislators seeking to upturn the party’s declared zoning agenda on the  plenum of the parliament.     .

The South-West was rather pleasantly surprised at the offer of  speaker, House of Representatives to them after the PDP was roundly thrashed in the zone by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). They expressed their gratitude to the party at a recent enlarged National Executive Council meeting. Jonathan’s reasoning was that the South-West needed to be given the rope with which to climb back into the PDP in future.

The case with the South-East was a little bit more complicated. The governors of the South-East Zone had entered into apt with the president, where it was agreed that emphasis would be placed on appointments and policies that would impact on the people and put an end to the zone’s exclusion from critical aspects of power sharing in Nigeria.

Nothing was mentioned about which post would be zoned to it after the elections.

According to Chief Ojo Maduekwe, in a private chat with this reporter, the support Igbo gave Jonathan was “an unconditional one” made even more complete by their voluntary withdrawal from the presidential and vice presidential race.

When the final decision for the zoning was being made, there was hardly any senior Igbo within the top hierarchy of the PDP to be invited to Obudu.

This was where the loss of the national chairman by the South-East was felt. And it was the governors of the South-East who voluntarily gave up that position on the selfish account that they did not want their powers to be challenged from one of their own in Abuja. We gathered that Jonathan zoned the SGF to the South-East for several reasons.

The post has never been held by someone from the zone since independence, and it was the president’s way of breaking new frontiers in Igbo reintegration in the inner recesses of power at the centre.

The north always had one of its own in that position whenever a president or head of state of northern extraction was in power. Perhaps, the president also wanted to do same for the old Eastern Region. Yayale Ahmed, the out-going SGF, virtually runs the Presidency. Though a quiet and humble gentleman, he has been in the position to dictate the pace of policy implementation since the president is busy with so many other things. With an Igbo in that post, the people of the South-East will no longer be “outsiders”.

Choice before the president
With the high level of criticism coming from the South-East against the post of SGF  zoned to them, Jonathan tried to pacify its leaders by asking Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo to come up with some names from which the president might choose the SGF. Among the names that were thrown up were: Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence over 21 years ago; Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, a former president of the Senate; Professor Benedict Obumselu and Professor Timothy Nwala, both of whom are academics. Others  include the immediate past national chairman of the PDP, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, who quit his office just before the general elections. Also in contention but not within the Ohanaeze listing is Maduekwe.

The president is facing the dilemma of having to break from past norm and appointing an SGF from a list compiled by a vested sectional political interest such as Ohanaeze. He would like the Igbo to see him as carrying them along, but Ohanaeze might not give him the type of  material he needs for his administration. If that happens, he might be forced to choose outside their list or manipulate a “consensus” candidacy in favour of his own chosen person.

“No to politicians”
Another group of the Igbo elite is firmly opposed to the nomination of a politician and non-service products for this post. Their argument is that in the annals of the country, the SGF has always been appointed either directly from the federal civil service or from among those who were freshly out of the service. This is a position being pushed by an interest group made up of serving top Igbo officials in the various ministries. This group is not pushing the candidacy of any particular individual, but is for the appointment of an SFG of South-East extraction from the service.

Their main argument is that the Presidency is in deep maze, and does not require someone who would need years to adjust and learn its intricacies.

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