By Hugo Odiogor, Deputy Politics Editor& Abdulsalam Muhammad
The debate on President Goodluck Jonathan’s political future has put the country on the tenterhooks as the debate for and against the principle of zoning put in place by the ruling People’s Democratic Party has polarized the country along North-South divide. In this interview with Vanguard, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai gives a deep insight into the genesis of the controversy.  Excerpts :

Why is this debate on where the presidency should go rather than the competence and  ability to render services from the presidency?

The debate is brought about by the dishonesty, and insincerity of some people in the political class. The rotation and zoning was first introduced in the Nigerian politics officially in 1978/79 when National Movement transforms into the defunct National Party of Nigeria.

NPN adopted Zoning and rotation between the North and the South and agreed that each side would hold power for two consecutive terms. It was on the basis of that the former President Shehu Aliyu Usman Shagari was elected and it was on the basis too  that the late Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye from the South, became Chairman of the party.

Dr. Alex Ekweme became the Vice President of Shagari from the South -East, Chief Joseph Wayas from South-South became the Senate President. The agreement was that after the second term of the Shagari administration, power will move to the South and they will decide who will be the flag bearer of the party.

In respect of the presidential candidate, the North was asked to produce three candidates, I was a delegate to that meeting.

We conducted the primary to selected three candidates, unfortunately the three front runners were all Muslims, but we felt that since there were people like Chief J. S. Tarka among those who contested it will be unfair to take the list of the three  Muslims all together to the South, so it was agreed that the six candidates should be  forwarded to the convention.

This was how Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Maitama Sule, Olusola Saraki, Joseph S Tarka,  Adamu Ciroma and Iya Abubakar came to vie for the position.

The convention eventually voted for Shagari, and that was the beginning of the official adaptation of zoning, and rotation in the history of Nigerian politics.

The issues of zoning and rotation were suspended until General Sani Abacha organized Constitutional Conference in 1994/95. During the conference, Southern delegates led by Dr Alex Ifeanyi Ekweme, and Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu insisted that the conference should adopt zoning and rotation, and entrench it in the constitution.

Alhaji Tanko Yakassai

The Northern delegates declared that they had no objection to the question of zoning in principle but they felt that in the interest of the future  it should not be entrenched in the constitution because it be will difficult to  amend it when the country decides that it is no longer interested in zoning and rotation.

The Chairman of the conference, Justice Karibi Whyte decided to set up a special committee of 37 made up of equal numbers of delegates from North and South ,and I happened to be a member of that committee, Late General Yar Adua, Adamu Chiroma, Lawal Kaita, Ismaila Isa Funtua , Emir of Ningi, one traditional ruler from Rivers, Osile of Abeokuta, were all members of that committee.

We went in to slug it out and eventually the Emir of Ningi declared that it will be a shame that the committee refused to agree and decided that the royal fathers put their heads together and come up with resolution that zoning and rotation should be entrenched in the constitution and it should be done between North and South and eventually everybody agreed out of respect to the royal fathers.

The Southern Delegates insisted that there should be 6 zones, that is 3 zones from the North and 3 zones from the South so that when power is going to rotate it will not only between North and South; it will be among the six geo-political zones.

It was part of the recommendation submitted to General Sani Abacha and he adopted it, but went ahead to modify it against our recommendation for one vice president which he change to accommodate two Vice Presidents, that is, one from the zone where the President comes from and the other zone out side the incumbent president.

So that in event of death of the president the Vice President from his zone will automatically takes over and we all agreed to that.

When General Sani Abacha came to promulgate the constitution in 1995 he inserted in addition the office of Prime Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister so that if you add up the principal officers you end up having key positions shared among the six zones, and that was adopted.

Unfortunately for us when the General died, General Abdulsalam who succeeded him appointed Justice Niki Tobi to review the constitution for its own reasons, and recommended that all the stabilization recommendation be dropped and it was dropped.

When the G34 transform into PDP, they revisited the idea, adopted it but at the time I was a founding father of APP. We were faced with 12 candidates at that time, 10 of them were from the South; they included Dr Joseph Wayas, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyaywu, Rufus Ada George.

We then felt that if we don’t adopt zoning we will loose the support of heavy weight from the South  and  so we were forced to agree that northerner should not vie for the presidency of APP, because the PDP had already chosen their standard bearer from the South; that was how APP settled for Chief Ogbonanya Onu as our presidential candidate.

For the purpose of defeating PDP at the poll we decided to from an electoral alliance and ceded the presidency to South-West and the dominant party in that region adopted Olu Falae for the joint ticket with Shinkafi as a running mate.

That was the history of the current zoning and rotation policy.

Elder statesmen like Edwin Clark had participated in all these conferences you mentioned, what do you think informed his opposition to the zoning arrangement?

You ask him but let me tell you what you are going to ask him; why didn’t he raise eyebrows when he was in NPN on the impropriety of the zoning?  Clark and I have been friends since 1972.

Ask him why he did not raise objection in 1983 and 1984 but  now that his tribesman is at the helm of affairs?  And the same thing goes to my good friend Anthony Anenih.

He was also in NPN, I remember when they were having trouble with another friend, Tayo Akpata which I tried to reconcile to bring peace and tranquility in the party; they were staunch members of the NPN, non had ever questioned the morality, impropriety of zoning and rotation .

There are those who hold the belief that Jonathan is trying to complete the tenure he started with late Yar’Adua, don’t you consider that view point proper ?
Unfortunately, the arrangement was based on North and South, and Jonathan is neither from the North, how then can he complete the Northern tenure.

Most people thought when people insist that zoning must be retain,  we don’t like Jonathan.

Any sensible person who is conversants with the dictates of presidential system knows that the Vice President or the Deputy Governor are in position to succeed their bosses should the unexpected happened, if people don’t want Jonathan right from the beginning they will have opposed his candidature as running mate to Yar’Adua.

We are not talking about the personality, we are talking of principle . Goodluck Jonathan could have surmourned a convention of the PDP, give notice of his intention to change the constitution. Umar Yar’Adua was opposed to changes in the PDP constitution; so when he became President he sumourned a convention of the party, introduced changes and removed himself as party leader as adopted by Obasanjo.

President Jonathan  can equally do that, he can be honest about it , by engaging his party men in a dialogue over his intention to effect changes on certain aspect of PDP Constitution. The dishonesty about it is that people are trying to use his incumbency to extend his tenure.

But he declared that he has not made a decision to run; why all the opposition?

You are a media man, you read the mind of the politicians more than politicians themselves. Politician are clever people, so judge them in some cases from outside what he has said.

He said why he is not going to make declaration, adding that if he declares tomorrow then one governor will declare and others will follow suit, and that will detract attention from governance, which means in the final analysis he will  declare and stand for an election at the last minute, if by tomorrow he say he is not in the race why should the Governors do .

He is simply trying to give example to the Governors of declaring his interest which means he is withholding his declaration, he has the intention settled in his mind ,he is only waiting for an opportunity and enjoining the scheming that are going on.

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