By TONY IREDIA
Does Nigeria’s ruling party-the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-have a policy which reserves political positions for specific zones?
This has for some time now been the topical question in the nation. It has in fact been elevated to an election issue making it necessary for the party’s aspirants for the position of President in the 2011 elections to wade into the controversy one after the other.
The aspirants from the North were the first to speak and they expectedly insisted that in 2007, the party zoned the position of President to their zone till 2015. Thus for them, it would be patently unfair to cede the position to an ‘outsider’.
Perhaps the heat of the argument became too intense that President Goodluck Jonathan, an aspirant for the same office from outside the zone in question had to join issues with his rivals- the aspirants from the North.
According to the President, it is only a position like Party Chairman or Senate President where the party has a majority that can be zoned. As the President asserted, since the PDP has no power to determine who Nigerians would vote for, the party can thus not zone what it does not have power over.
The President’s argument probably has some measure of logic but it is obviously incorrect from the PDP viewpoint. This is because that the PDP has always zoned the Presidency is not in doubt.
Indeed, it is a notorious fact. For the 2007 elections, the entire nation knew the man- to- beat among the party aspirants. The day he emerged to pick-up his nomination form, Abuja stood still. He was later zoned out of the contest. So, there is zoning in the PDP.
In addition, the policy, a strategic elimination principle has an advantage because it reduces with ease, the large number of party aspirants by excluding from a contest those from a zone other than the one to which the party reserves the position.
However, the debate on whether or not the policy exists and which zone has the ticket for the 2011 Presidential elections is myopic and annoying for several reasons.
Firstly, those who are insisting on zoning appear to mean that what should matter to Nigerians today is the zone of origin of an aspirant and not his competence or personal qualities. Under the circumstance, the nation may be distracted from looking for visionary leaders who can alter our 50 years of poor governance.
It aches more that those who hold so rigidly to the zoning argument or for whose sake protagonists heat-up the polity daily are supposed to be national and not sectional leaders.
Of what use to an electorate is the zone of origin of an aspirant who had previously served as President or Vice President and whose antecedents as well as the level and nature of his performance are within public knowledge?
Secondly, if care is not taken, the zoning argument may return Nigeria to the First Republic era when our political leaders were like war-lords, each holding tight to his fiefdom and none was acceptable beyond his area. Thirdly, there is also the impression that the PDP zoning policy is inflexibly cast in iron.
The party itself has not helped matters as it has remained ambivalent on the subject. When the party declared that it would abide by its policy which zoned the Presidency to the North, it simply meant that the party will present only a Northern candidate for the 2011 elections.
When the same party said that President Jonathan could contest the same election, the party obviously expects him to do so through another party since by virtue of its zoning policy to which it was adhering; it was the turn of the North.
What most people do not appear to realise however is that the PDP acted as it did because it knows that its zoning policy is temperamental. It has no force of law or morality and no one who breaches it is expected to face any reproach. It has always been so.
That is why the Presidency was contested in 1999 and 2003 by aspirants from different zones despite the fact it was supposedly reserved for one zone. Barnabas Gemade from North Central, Abubakar Rimi-from the North West and Alex Ekwueme from the South East were allowed to contest against Chief Olusegun Obasanjo notwithstanding that the position was reserved for the latter’s South West zone.
When I asked one of my friends in the PDP the other day, if the principle of party supremacy could not be used to compel membership acceptance of the policy, he simply assured me of how that would not work even in the days when the party was run as a garrison command. So, those who say there is no zoning policy may be correct after all.
This viewpoint becomes clearer when it is realised that although it was the turn of the South West in 2003, Vice President Atiku Abubakar would have displaced President Obasanjo as the party’s candidate if he had consummated the instigatory conspiracy of the Party’s Governors’ Forum. What then is the worth of zoning?
Neither zoning as a concept nor its contentions are new. It is not a word in a dead language like Latin. It is dynamic and therefore subject to the vagaries of political weather.
In fairness, it is more difficult at this point than before to adopt one side of the argument against the other on the issue of zoning the Presidency. It is an issue in which the PDP cannot afford to pick head or tail now.
To dump zoning would show inconsistency; to stop Jonathan means to rubbish the party’s current national leader and more importantly to lose the leverage of incumbency.
Accordingly, the PDP would understandably continue to speak from the two sides of its mouth on the subject until D-Day. It will still win elections because it is the ruling party in a nation where there is no opposition party.
All that the party needs to do is to create a controversy close to election time on a subject like zoning and keep the people busy with its primordial and mundane nature- its efficacy can be greater than a Political Party Manifesto.