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How goes the 2011 presidency?

By Rotimi Fasan
MY point of departure begins from an sms text sent in reaction to last week’s edition of this column from Ralph Gabin, a reader based in Abuja.

His text message raises certain issues that have been highlighted and would not be wished away in the wake of recent happenings in the Nigerian polity.

I next quote the message with all contractions and abbreviations written out in full: “Re: Jonathan living history. I subscribe to your thoughts in that beautiful piece but feel his (Jonathan’s) decision not to contest will amount to subscribing to the zoning mediocrity by PDP.

I’m a Northerner but do not in any way agree to zoning. Thanks. Ralph Gabin. Abuja”.

The gist of that message is a response to my call in a part of last week’s column that President Goodluck Jonathan would be doing both himself and Nigerians a lot of good if all he does in the months left between now and the 2011 elections is to create an environment conducive for a free and fair election in a true federation in which all Nigerians can aspire to any position and expect to be treated as equals on the basis of merit.

Which is to say that as far as I can see it, President Jonathan already has his task cut out for him. He need not set for himself any agenda beyond this. Time is too short for any such ambitious project. That for me is the selfless as opposed to the selfish thing to do. Anything else, including standing in the next election, would amount to a little bit of over-reaching and calling into question the many good things that God has done for him. Which leads me to another point touched upon in Gabin’s text message: the question of zoning.

Whatever are the merits of the zoning formula as are those of either the quota or federal character principles that gave it birth, zoning as a political system has outlived its usefulness. It serves no useful purpose at the present moment and the limit of its usefulness has been reached in the aftermath of the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua and the political permutations that have since followed that.

When President Yar’Adua ascended the presidency in 2007, nobody could have imagined he would not serve out his term, despite his health issues. The concern then was that it was the turn of the North to produce the country’s president.

Even less likely from the not-too-distant remove of those early days of the Yar’Adua presidency was the possibility of Jonathan emerging president after Yar’Adua’s second term to say nothing of his becoming the substantive president three years into the administration. The fact that he had been Vice President would have been no guarantee that he would be his party’s flag bearer in 2015 as we saw with Obasanjo and Abubakar Atiku in 2007.

A more formidable obstacle, which hopefully has now been consigned to history, is the fact that Jonathan belongs to a so-called minority ethnic group that had never produced a Nigerian president for the very fact of its relative numerical weakness.

Thus, for no other reason than that over which they cannot be counted criminally culpable, to wit, their numerical weakness and in spite of their contribution to the revenue and thus economic wellbeing of this country, the minority groups in Nigeria were not supposed to produce a Nigerian president until the bigger groups had done so. But now we have a President Jonathan that, in the period since becoming acting president and now, has not done worse than Yar’Adua did after same number of months in office.

What is more, Vice President Namadi Sambo has emerged out of the shadows to assume Jonathan’s former position. All of this has made nonsense of the PDP zoning formula without Nigeria being any worse for it. The moral? We don’t need zoning to survive as a political entity once merit and justice are given enough room to flourish.

It has generally been taken as an unspoken truth, at least outside the areas north of the Niger and Benue rivers of Nigeria, that the affirmative action principles of quota system, federal character or zoning as they are variously called were largely enacted to disfavour the Southern zone of Nigeria.

This view has been strengthened no doubt because of the invidious and barely concealed antagonisms of certain Northerners who have tended to behave in manners suggestive of what some of them have come to see as their divine right to certain privileges that the Nigerian state provides.

Whereas this view might neither have changed nor might enough have changed in zonal preferments or the allocation of scarce state resources to warrant its being discarded, its truth is however now open to being questioned and might in fact be far more attenuated than many southerners realise or care to acknowledge.

The above sms text from Ralph Gabin testifies to this as was the recent assertion by the current chair of the Northern Governors’ Forum and governor of Niger State, Aliyu Babangida, to the effect that the presidency is not the birthright of northerners.

That a person of Aliyu Babangida’s standing would say this should tell us that enlightened members of the northern establishment might no longer be satisfied with the current that presently identifies the north with mediocrity. And there is no reason why they or anybody else should be satisfied with being seen as the undeserved recipients of state largesse.

In the same sense as it can be said that the North does not have the right, divine or natural, to the presidency so too can it be said that the South does not hold the patent to talent, knowledge or economic productivity. Thus what should be our concern is the entrenchment of justice, fair play and guarantee of a level playing field for all Nigerians irrespective of their ethnic, political or religious affiliations etc.

This is the task for President Goodluck Jonathan who is well-advised to resist the attempt in certain quarters to see him as the candidate of the Niger-Delta. No, Jonathan is not and cannot be the ‘messiah’ of the Niger-Delta. Neither time nor history will favour such impertinence on his part.

He has his task cut out for him and, as I have insisted in the last couple of weeks, it is no greater than ensuring electoral integrity and a true and less corrupt Nigerian federation that is respected alike by Nigerians and foreigners.


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