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How Jonathan participated in zoning agreement, by Iyorchia Ayu

* ‘Why zoning is the only option for stability, fairness now’
* ‘How power sharing agreement  was reached’
* Says Nigeria’s democracy is too fragile

It was Atiku Abubakar who, penultimate Saturday said, “these  are unusual times”. The former Vice President was right; dead right. In the build up to the 2011 presidential election, the body language of President Goodluck  Jonathan suggests that he would join the presidential race.He has a constitutional right to do so. But his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, according to our guest, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, has an agreement which bars Jonathan from contesting. “What then happened was that 47 of them, at an expanded caucus of the party, after the national chairman raised the issue and decided to call for a vote, 45 voted in favour; there were two abstentions  and two voted against the retention of the zoning.  So, there was overwhelming support for zoning to be retained for eight years in the South and eight years in the North.  “It was voted and it was passed, chaired by Chief Ogbeh on December 2, 2002. “So, at least within the PDP, there is an agreement that was democratically passed by the expanded caucus of the party”. This is the new political game in town: Zoning or no zoning. Excerpts:

By Jide Ajani ,  Deputy Editor

Some people have expressed sentiments that at some point the North would respond to the growing speculations that President Goodluck Jonathan may  seek re-election as President.  This response of the Northern Political Leaders Forum, how did it come about?
Politicians all over the country always interact and exchange ideas.  If you notice, about a year or two into the presidency of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, he became very sick and there were concerns about his health.  When it became a bit clearer, that he might  not likely finish his tenure; but people were not particularly worried because the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is very clear on succession.  And if you noticed at that time, you would have discovered that it was politicians from the North who largely facilitated what became popular as the Doctrine of Necessity.  Political leaders from the Northern part of the country visited the then Acting President to pledge their continued support. So it is not a matter of the North being hostile to Dr. Jonathan.  When Yar’Adua ultimately died and Jonathan became president, there was no concern neither was there any worry in the North.  I think this issue started emerging when his body language and that of some of his key subordinate started suggesting that he would  again run for president after this one year of which he’s completing Yar’Adua’s presidency.  People became concerned that it was going against the grain of the gentleman’s agreement which had been reached within the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Let’s even agree that there was an agreement, is it not within the PDP?  So why worry in the North?
You can not just ignore the PDP.  PDP controls 28 states in the country and of course the presidency and whoever emerges as candidate in the PDP stands a very good chance of becoming the president. So many northern leaders became concerned that that agreement is being breached and that it may precipitate an unnecessary situation.

Dr. Iyorchia Ayu

People keep referring to an agreement being reached; at the height of the impeachment attempt against Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002, one of the things we heard was that there was an agreement.  What is this agreement about?
First of all, in 1998, after the death of General Sani Abacha, we formed the G-34  together with a few other colleagues of ours. We  came together to form the PDP. Most of us from the North met  in Professor Jerry Gana’s house and decided that we should allow the South to produce the next president.  At that meeting, the only person who dissented was the late Abubakar Rimi. At a point, the late Sunday Awoniyi, who was a key figure among us, became so emotional that he broke down and cried.

Cried over what?
Good.  He was so emotional and he had to ask whether Rimi didn’t understand that we were talking about the unity and stability of Nigeria?  In fact, the late Awoniyi was so emotional that we had to stop the meeting for about five minutes for emotions to cool down.

We continued our meeting and we all agreed that we were going to allow the  South to produce the next president – this was at the formative stage of the PDP. We finally zeroed in on candidates, particularly Olusegun Obasanjo, who was recommended to us, mostly by our friends,  the army generals.

At that point, was it agreed that Obasanjo would be President for just one term?
No!  At that point when we zeroed in on Obasanjo, we didn’t say Obasanjo would be president for just one term – no, we didn’t say that.

Those who have always argued that it was agreed that Obasanjo was meant to be president for just one term never told the truth. The truth is that there was nothing like that saying Obasanjo would be president for just one term. Of course, there were some who had the feeling that judging by his stature in Africa, he should try to emulate Nelson Mandela by  serving one term after stabilizing the polity.

But by the time Obasanjo was made president, there were consultations and discussions between President Obasanjo and many northern leaders then, regarding the return of the presidency to the North after the presidency of Obasanjo.

This was an understanding that is there.  Personally, President Obasanjo denies  that he never reached any agreement, particularly when he sought a second term.  The build up to the 2003 primaries, Obasanjo and his supporters who wanted Obasanjo to continue in office, argued strongly that the South should hold the presidency for eight years by way of an Obasanjo presidency after which it would come back to the North for another eight years.

I think this was in 2002, just after the attempted impeachment gale had swept over?
Yes!  This issue became so contentious that the national chairman of the party then, Chief Audu Ogbeh, had to table it at an expanded caucus meeting of the party which was made up of the President, Vice President, national chairman, state governors, and significant party leaders and governors – people like Chief Solomon Lar, Dr. Alex Ekwueme and, incidentally, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was in attendance.

What then happened was that 47 of them, after the national chairman raised the issue and decided to call for a vote,  45  voted  in favour  there were two abstentions and two voted against the retention of the zoning.  So, there was overwhelming support for zoning to be retained for eight years in the South and eight years in the North.  It was voted and it was passed, chaired by Chief Ogbeh on December 2, 2002.

So, at least within the PDP, there is an agreement that was democratically passed by the expanded caucus of the party.

Let me tell you  what annoys people in Nigeria today.  When you say ‘we decided to allow the presidency to go to the South’, the  feeling is that  of repulsion because it is as if  a few individuals just sit down somewhere to decide the fate of millions of fellow country men.  It sounds patrimonial in a way – as if you people own the country?

If you understand Nigeria’s politics or the politics of any country, there are leaders who guide their followers, they interact with their followers and they also help to guide their followers. These discussions were not just from the blues, they were based on the concrete history of Nigeria. This federation had tethered some times on the brink of collapse.  In the 1950s and 1960s, the issue of allocating resources was  at the heart of our federation and it is this contentious issue that drew us to a civil war between 1967 and 1970 to the extent that the federation had to be restructured from three and four regions to 12 states to make for a more balanced federation where the centre would be stronger because the regions were too strong and it was as if we had a confederation.

Between 1960 and 1976 when Obasanjo emerged as president, leaders of Nigeria had always been of northern extraction, apart from the brief interregnum of Aguiyi Ironsi.  There was already a feeling of northern domination and the media and intellectuals had already started talking about this domination and when Obasanjo, though took over from Murtala Muhammed – at the instance of predominantly northern officers – he handed over to Shehu Shagari.  After Shagari, we again had two or three successive leaders of northern region and the issue of domination by the North became dominant again and it began to threaten the nation again.

Was that why at the Jos convention of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, in 1993, the North backed Chief M K O  Abiola?

I was in the SDP at that time and at the convention. We backed Abiola against a northerner, Babagana Kingibe because without that our backing, there was no way Abiola could have won that presidential primaries.  At that time, General Shehu Yar’Adua played an active role, together with Atiku Abubakar.  Here were three major contestants Abiola, Kingibe and Atiku.  Abiola came first, Kingibe second and Atiku third; it gave room for a runoff.  Atiku had to subsume his interest because whoever Atiku supported would win and it is on record that after consultations between Atiku and some of us from the North, we decided to swing for Abiola, against a fellow northerner, Kingibe. As of that time, the North was already sensitive about that issue.

In the general election, Abiola did very well in the North. In  fact, Abiola defeated Tofa in Kano and many areas in the North.  It is that same spirit that we conveyed into the PDP. When Abiola’s election was nullified, we went through a very terrible crisis in Nigeria after that annulment.

When Abacha passed away, we had to be sensitive to that issue again because we needed a country that is stable before we can begin to talk about economic development. So, this is the background to our coming together to take that decision.

I asked that question because the people out there too would want to know why a few people would just sit and say they are deciding or they have decided…?
Mind you, the issue of zoning had been there since the days of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, when you had Shagari from the North as president, Adisa Akinloye as party chairman, Joseph Wayas from the South South as senate president, Ume Ezeoke as speaker from the East and so on it was just to ensure that each zone of the country felt a sense of participation.  After the NPN, it became the turn of the SDP and the National Republican Convention, NRC, and it was on the basis of that that I emerged from the North Central as senate president and Kingibe, from North  East and Tony Anenih, SDP chairman from South South.

As politicians we have a way of improvising ways of managing our federation to avoid crisis and we don’t want to go back to the crisis of the past.

We’re only saying that the agreement that exists should be respected and after four years, this presidency is still going back to the South and I believe that since the South West has already produced Obasanjo for eight years, in 2015 when it goes back, I believe that Nigerians are clever enough to believe that it is either South South or South  East and for people like me, I have always stood for justice: I am not a bigot and I don’t believe in parochial positions. I backed Abiola to the point where I lost my senate presidency.

I believe it is the right thing to do at this moment.  Let the North have its eight years and in 2015, I will also defend that it should go back.  Let it go round, even if it is all the six geo-political zones.

From the way you have spoken, some people may believe you.  If by 2015, at the end of the supposed tenure of that northerner, wouldn’t that person be justified to want to seek re-election as constitutionally provided for and which, in this case is also a right of President Jonathan’s?

Then the debate will open again and I can bet you the same right thing I am talking about now is what I will talk about again. I can not talk for others but the right thing would always remain the right thing.

But some of your brothers from the Middle  Belt have come out strongly to say the Middle Belt is not part of this movement?
The position of the Middle Belt, like every other zones in the country is not going to be unanimous.  But to those of my brothers – and some of them are actually my leaders – in the Middle Belt; that they don’t respect zoning; it’s unconstitutional; or some of them who have this anti-Hausa/Fulani sentiment or anti- Islam sentiments are missing the point. I respect their position but they are missing the point. What they are missing is, for example, geo-politically, we are located in the North as ethnic nationalities that are in the minority.  And when people sat and agreed that the presidency should be in the South for eight years after which it should return to the North for another eight years, they did not say that we should go and be part of the South because we are minorities or Christians from the North.  We are still part of the North. The point they are missing is that they are refusing to bargain within the North, for their rights to also produce a president; that if the presidency comes to the North, it must not be to the North West or to the North East it must also come to the Middle Belt, or  a minority nationality.

But for that to happen, you must put an argument across that as northerners that we are, we also demand as of right the presidency or our share. But it is wrong to take what I consider a slave mentality. A slave mentality runs like this: a slave wants to be free but he doesn’t want to be the master.  So when you release him as a slave he says Ha! I am a free man but he still wants to depend on his master for survival because of that his mentality.  He is not able to overcome his slave mentality. That was what black Americans suffered for so many years as minorities in the United States, as an enslaved people and they couldn’t see themselves as possible candidates for the presidency of America.  In fact, when the Reverend Jesse Jackson came out to say he wanted to contest, they thought he had gone round the bend to think that in a white country a black man can become president.  It took an African, with a completely different frame of mind and thinking, to come and show them that in fact, a black man can become the president of America.  Thank God President Obama has liberated black Americans from that slave mentality.

Any hope the way Nigeria is structured?

Yes! There is hope that someday, in the future, a Christian minority like myself will come and argue with the North that today is the time of the Middle Belt to produce the president; we have been backing you for so long so now is the time for you to also support our aspiration.  When that happens, a northern Christian minority will be presented.  And I believe that our colleagues in the far northern part of the country who are Hausa/Fulani, Muslims, or Kanuri will support us as they supported Chief MKO Abiola.  If they could  support Abiola, a Yoruba man, why won’t they support a Tiv man or an Igala or a Nupe.

They supported Chief Obasanjo.  You can say Abiola was a Muslim but Obasanjo was a Christian and yet they made him president.  So why won’t they back us and they have done this in the armed forces – they supported General Gowon in the Army. I think certain categories that we are carrying are not correct and that is why  say they are missing the point. If it is the turn of the North for unity, let it be the turn of the North. Remember, we minorities, we need this rotation more than the majority ethnic groups; we will benefit more from this type of accommodative arrangement than the Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa/Fulani. We need to argue within the context of the North and understand that the psychology of our northern brothers is shifting such that they supported Abiola and Obasanjo to become president.  When I was growing up, it was unthinkable that the North would vote for a Yoruba person; it was like an Awolowo expecting votes from the far North.  A few years later, the same northerners voted for Abiola and when the
thing failed, they went and brought another Yoruba man from Abeokuta in the person of Obasanjo and voted overwhelmingly for Obasanjo.

So, I have the confidence that today, if a Nupe or Igala or Igbira man contests for presidency, the  North would support the person.

In 1993, when you stood in favour of Abiola’s election as senate president, things were not as bad as they are today?
Look in 1993 when I backed Abiola’s election, I was very unpopular in many parts of the North, that I was backing a Yoruba man against the North but I stood my ground. Not only did I support Abiola to the point of losing my senate presidency, even when I was in Abacha’s government after he had promised that he would stabilize the polity and hand over to Abiola, Abacha did not like what I was doing because of my closeness to Bola Tinubu and because I always made it clear that the agitation of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, agitation was justified, there was nothing wrong with it, I lost out.

During the June 12 crisis, I know for a fact that at some point you were being searched for by the authorities.  How true was that incident; that they just wanted to pay for your conscience?
Well, I wouldn’t say I ran away; I wouldn’t say they were searching for me. But yes, I was under pressure from different powerful people in this country, to support the nullification of Abiola’s election and I resisted the pressure.

What about the issue of bags of money?
Some of the pressures were coercive and some of them were by way of carrots and I know that is what you are referring to. I felt that election was free and fair and Abiola won it squarely and it was the mandate of the Nigerian people and I was not going to compromise it in any way but if the Nigerian people said they wanted to compromise, that would be for them but as far as I was concerned, I did what was right at that time. I didn’t want to sacrifice that election.

But in the senate of which you were the president, you had problems with some of your colleagues over this same issue of annulment?
Yes!  But I am also happy to say that of the 90 senators at that time – we lost a senator from Kebbi – at a point only 25 of us supported Chief Abiola’s election. The rest had gone against my position. At that point, my immediate constituency in the senate, I lost support.

Why was it difficult for them to find a way round your resistance?
No!  The senate has rules and procedures.  It’s a very organized place and it’s not a lawless place; it’s a respected place.

I know there are rules.  When Evan(s) Enwerem was to be removed as senate president in 1999, he had presided over the affairs of the senate that day, adjourned and immediately he left the chambers because the quorum could not be formed, those who wanted to remove him from office as senate president who had gone to hide in some areas of the National Assembly complex simply surfaced, formed the quorum, sat, with a presiding officer and quickly voted for Enwerem’s removal.  By the time Enwerem and his loyalists rushed back, Chuba Okadigbo had taken over as senate president?  There were rules too?

(Laughs) I don’t know what happened in the case of Enwerem.  For us there were clear procedures on how to remove a senate president and to remove such, you had to follow the laid down procedures.  Most removals have to do with wrong doing and during my own time, as far as running the senate was concerned, there was nothing they could say I had done wrong financially or in any other way and I am very proud of that so the only way my colleagues could change my leadership was to vote against me and say they had lost confidence in me and, therefore, I should resign; or to bring some motion saying they wanted  the executive dissolved.

I’ve heard people say you were impeached or removed?
No!  I was never impeached.  I’ve seen people write in the papers that I was impeached but that is not true. They brought a motion that the entire executive should be dissolved. After debating it for two days, as the presiding officer, I called for a division, so they voted and the majority won. And at that very moment when I announced the result,I told them ‘thank you very much,I am no longer your president;where is my seat as a senator?

At that point they became disorganized because in the euphoria of getting rid of me, they had forgotten that if I was  removed as a senator, I would still be a senator but they didn’t provide for my seat.  They had to go and look for a seat for me.  That was what happened. I can also say that there was tremendous pressure on some of my colleagues from outside of the national assembly by vested interests who wanted the June 12 election nullified.

I don’t know if you’ve heard people insinuate that all you were doing at that time was for pecuniary considerations, that Abiola had settled you massively and you were not interested in whatever other people were offering to support the annulment?  When did you first meet Abiola?
I never met Abiola before the SDP politics.  I met him when he came in to contest the primaries.  That was the first time I met him. I was not a business man; I came into politics from the university via Daily Times. I had no business; I had no money; my only money was my intellect.

I got nothing from him.  As far as I was concerned, it was purely politics and principles.

After all that you went through during the June 12 crisis, and how the Babangida government hounded you, when you now sit at a meeting of the Northern Political Leaders Forum with an Ibrahim Babangida, talking about fairness and equity, how does that make you feel?  Because this issue of zoning or no zoning is about justice, fairness, equity?

Watch out for part two to get the response to this answer and many more.  For instance, how did Babangida become helpless – Ayu says with or without Babangida, June 12 presidential election would have been annuled? What is his response to Jonathan’s statement in Canada  labelling leaders of the northern political leaders’ forum bigots? Why and how was Obasanjo who never formed part of the embryonic PDP smuggled in as presidential candidate? How did Ayu himself become the D-G of  Obasanjo’s campaign team in 1999? Why did Obasanjo sack Ayu  in 2000?
Iyorchia Ayu: Bio data
Ayu, born November 1952 in Gboko Local Government of Benue State, graduated in Sociology at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; and did post-graduate studies at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. Before moving into partisan politics, he lectured Sociology at the University of Jos. As a University teacher, he was an active member of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); and was for several years the Chairman of the union at UniJos. He wrote regularly on politics and society, and contemporary culture. In 1991, Dr. Ayu spent time as a member of the Editorial Board of Daily Times, and left the following year to contest for the Senate on the platform of the then Social Democratic Party, SDP. He was elected to the senate to represent Benue North West Senatorial District; a seat hitherto held by the late Senator J.S.Tarka.

At the Senate, Senator Ayu was overwhelmingly elected by his colleagues as the 4th President of the Senate of Nigeria, where he demonstrated that there is honour and principle in politics by defending the Hune 12 mandate of MKO Abiola – he lost his senate presidency to the struggle.

Therefore, he can not understand the bigotry in somebody else labeling others a bigot in a country where agreements are meant to be respected.  Since leaving the Senate he has at various times served as the Federal Minister for Education and Youth Development; Industries; Internal Affairs; and Environment.

He was a member of the G9 which expanded to G18, and later G34 that finally mid-wifed the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. After a brief sabbatical from active political involvement, Senator Ayu is today an active member of the Northern Leaders Political Forum which seeks to maintain power rotation in Nigerian politics for unity, stability and sustainable development. He signed their first statement.


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