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Zoning Pragmatically

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ONE of the complications thrown up by the death of the late president Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua is the debate on the political future of his successor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, President, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The debate has to do with whether he should run for president in the 2011 general elections or give way to a presidential candidate from the Northern part of the country in line with the zoning arrangement of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

This question was pointedly put across to him during his official visit to the United States shortly after being made the Acting President. As at that time the late president was still alive. Asked what his political future would be by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Dr Jonathan said there were three possibilities before him. Number one was to run for president. Number two was to become vice president again under a northern presidential candidate. Number three was to serve out the remaining term of office according to the mandate given him and the late President Yar’ Adua. He said he was yet to decide which option he was going to take.

As far as we are concerned there are only two sensible options before President Jonathan: complete the term of office and vacate in 2011 or run for president. The third option of taking up the vice presidency all over again is untidy, childish and smacks of political opportunism without minding its effect on the dignity of his person.

If Jonathan decides not to run for president, some argue, he will be in a better position to give Nigeria a free and fair election next year, which appears to be uppermost in our national scale of priority, since credible election will finally bring about the good leadership we have never had till date. However, it will not allow the country to discover if Jonathan is actually the messiah we have been looking for.

One year is not enough for anybody to do anything tangible, especially as most of that time will be spent on politics, campaigns and preparations for election. If the reason Jonathan will not run is because of the PDP zoning arrangement which demands that since the presidency resided in the south for eight years, it is equitable for it to go north for eight years too, then we will be subjecting the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the PDP gentleman’s agreement.

If, on the other hand, Jonathan runs, as some have argued, the general elections of next year will likely suffer some credibility problems because it is not in our character for a sitting president to be “humiliated out of office” by losing an election.

We want to advise Jonathan to consult, pray and decide what he wants to do. Whatever he decides to do, let him proceed with it. The PDP zoning arrangement was created to ensure that every section of the country has access to the highest office in the land in order to create a sense of belonging after years of sectional monopolisation of power. Now that, by divine providence, it is in the Niger Delta which has never had it before, it should be allowed to stay there. A Niger Deltan should be formally elected into the presidency next year. Once it goes back to the north after a full tenure and returns to the South East, the zoning arrangement should be abolished because the purpose of creating it would have been achieved. Nigerians should then be free to vie for the highest office irrespective of their background.

Zoning should not be made to seem like something that must conform to a set number of years. For instance, Yar’ Adua’s death after thirty months in office means it is no longer possible for the North West to have the presidency for eight years. Anybody elected into that office from 2011 will insist on his constitutional right to two terms, and if it is a northerner, that will translate to ten and half years.

Let us be pragmatic in our attitude to this zoning matter and place a greater emphasis on the need to get good leaders and build a nation in which it will no longer matter where the person in the office of the president comes from.

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