By Emeka Mamah
KADUNAâ€” FORMER Governor of old Plateau State and pioneer National Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Solomon Lar, has said that the zoning arrangement which produced President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1998 was principally to assuage the Yorubas who were aggrieved by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by their son, late Chief MKO Abiola.
Chief Lar, said in an interview with newsmen in Kaduna, weekend, that between 1998 and 1999 when efforts were being made to restore democracy, there was a gentleman agreement that power should shift to the South-West to appease the area and other Nigerians who felt sad about the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangidaâ€™s administration and the eventual death of Chief MKO Abiola, the winner of the election.
He said: â€œIt is true we had that sympathy for annulment. In fact it was a peculiar situation. The North had wronged the South, particularly the South West, and the country was on the verge of collapse.â€
The elder statesman, however, argued that the agreement to cede power to the Yoruba was made purely because of the prevailing circumstances at that time stressing â€œin any agreement, whether written or unwritten, whether international or national or local, there may be a time of unforeseen circumstances or situations might arise that will warrantÂ changes in an agreementâ€¦â€
Lar, however, said that northern politicians would meet in Kaduna on July 15 to review the current political logjam over zoning, pointing out that a way forward must be found for the country to move on.
His words: â€œBetween 1998 and 1999, the South west said they won an election but it was annulled by the North, so they were not very happy and they felt that Nigerians did not like them. So they were sad and aggrieved, so to speak.
â€œThey were not too keen in participating further in any political arrangements and you know that that time, we were trying to restore democracy from the military and we did not want any problem to come our way because we wanted democracy to be restored.
So we had to think of a way out. We said ok, if that is the case, let us allow power to go to the South particularly to South-West because of the annulment of the June 12 1993 elections and the subsequent death of the winner of the election, Chief MKO Abiola.
â€œSo many Nigerians were not happy over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the death of Abiola. We were boxed into a corner. So we had to sit down with some of my colleagues to see what we will do. Adamu Ciroma was there, Prof. Jerry Gana was there, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu was there and a few others.
So we said for the sake of Nigeria and for the sake of unity of the country, let us concede power to the south west.
â€œWe felt that it was a demand that would cure the problem and keep this country as one. As far as we were concerned, Nigeriaâ€™s unity was our ultimate concerned. So we could sacrifice any position for the sake of Nigeria and we agreed that power should go to the South.
The southern candidates filed their nomination papers. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Alex Ekweme who is a very prominent and respected member of the PDP filed their nominations.
â€œTo cut the story shot, we gave Chief Obasanjo the ticket at the convention and the primaries of the PDP which held in Jos. What we had was just a gentleman agreement.
It was out of sympathy for a situation. I told you that some people complained that they had been hurt so much and that they were feeling the pain and they were not willing to participate in political activities at that time.
â€œIf the west had boycotted the 1999 election, there would have been a stalemate. So the agreement was not a written document. It was a gentlemen agreement. Of course there were some northerners who wanted to contest, but we pleaded with them not to disturb this zoning arrangement.
I remember my bosom friend of blessed memory, Alhaji Mohammadu Abubakar Rimi who wanted to contest. It was at the last hour that he agreed to step down.
â€œThey said the North had ruled the country for too long. They said Tafawa Balewa, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Gen. Murtala Mohammed, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Gen. Abacha and Gen. Abdulsalami were Nigerian leaders all of who came from the north and when the South won the June 12, 1993 election, we, the North, annulled it.
â€œWe said no, we would not sit down and allow things to degenerate. We could do everything to solve the problem. During the second tenure of Obasanjo, we were still looking at the zoning, but it was not too strict because at that time some people in the north also contested.
I remember my good friend, Atiku Abubakar contested as a candidate, Barnabas Gemade also contested from the north. But principally, those of us who were the leaders supported the zoning at that time.
â€œSo to that effect, you have to look at the agreement in view of the circumstances at hand. How do we doâ€¦? I think that was precisely what the governors of Nigeria did.
There was a situation which we did not foresee. So politicians have to seat down and negotiate. This is why we are planning for a northern political summit which is coming up on the 15 July here in Kaduna. So we will discuss. We will put it open. Let us see which way forward.
â€œWe should consider Nigeria above any other interest. Nigeria is more important than any position. Nigeria is more important than the presidency because if there is no Nigeria, there would be no president. Nigeria is more important than any position of power.
The beauty of democracy is negotiation. We will seat down and negotiate and discuss. Those issuing such threats are not democrat.
â€œNigeria is bigger than a region or state. We are looking at the country. You see, you people (referring to the younger generation) have short sightedness. You talk of North and South. I donâ€™t want to use that, but because of your understanding, I am using the words north and south. Nigeria is very paramount.
â€œMind you, I was at the conference where Nigeria was declared an independent country. So we have been in love with this country for a long time. This is about 50 years agoâ€.
He then cautioned politicians against statements that are capable of causing disunity in the country, adding that the national interest supersedes any individual or sectional interest.