By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
There were some suggestions that the erstwhile Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida was relieved by his loss in the consensus arrangement. His loss in the view of some folks was the honourable exit required for Babangida to escape the harsh criticisms and attacks that had trailed his adventure in the political terrain.
Such suggestions were, however, thrown off course this week after the former President wrote the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) reaffirming his conviction in the principle of zoning, the very plank upon which he and four other fellow Northerners had based their bids for the Presidential ticket of the PDP.
In his letter dated December 6, 2010 Babangida quoted profusely from the High Court judgment instituted by a party loyalist Aminu Dutsinma against the PDP over its decision to open competition for the presidential ticket of the party to all comers including President Goodluck Jonathan.
Justice L. H. Gummi the Chief Judge of the FCT who presided over the case in his judgment was quoted in Babangida’s four page letter as deposing thus:“… PDP as a party has since conceived and agreed to the principle that the party shall zone key offices between the various groups of political interest.
I do not think that the provisions of Art. 7.2(c) are capable of any other interpretation. That provision is clear and unambiguous and it would be unwise to attribute any other meaning to it other than what the framers of the constitution sought to achieve in the interests of equity and justice and to reflect the adverse nature of the Nigerian society.
Building on the judgment, Babangida had requested the national chairman of the PDP to apply the judgment to wit, by ensuring that only northerners were allowed to compete for the PDP presidential ticket.
The letter was a surprise to those who thought that Atiku’s victory in the consensus arrangement had provided Babangida a good excuse to remove himself from the continuous bashing he had received from civic society and political foes since his declaration for the presidency.
The letter was also surprising given the orchestrated attempt by forces suspected to be aligned to Jonathan to rope the Atiku campaign into the smear adverts that were launched against Babangida prior to the announcement of the consensus result by the Ciroma committee last month.
Indeed the recent spate of newspaper adverts had sought to give the impression that the winner of the consensus vote was behind the newspaper adverts that sought to smear the former military President prior to the announcement of the result of the Ciroma committee.
Babangida was, however, not fazed by such suggestions as he apparently stuck to his guns on the issue.
Citing the judgment of the Abuja High Court, Babangida had in his letter thus requested the PDP NEC and the President to obey the court judgment.
“In the light of the above, whatever doubts the National Executive Committee of the Party may have had have now been removed. Every member of the party is required to comply with the provisions of the Party Constitution. And so is the President who is the leader of the Party. As great as the office of President is, we should never forget that it does not precede membership of the Party. On the contrary, it is membership of the party that precedes the office of President of The Federal Republic so far as the president was not elected as an independent candidate.”
“And so I urge the National Executive Committee of the Party to enforce the constitution of the party in its totality in the forthcoming election. To do otherwise is to condone this attempt at a gross and deliberate violation of the constitution of the party. To do otherwise is tantamount to a declaration that the National Executive Committee of the Party reject the principles of equity, justice and fairness enshrined in the PDP constitution.”
“It means that they reject the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices and that they are not prepared to enforce it in so far as it relates to the office of President. It means that they are opposed to the creation of socio-political conditions conducive to natural peace and unity by ensuring fair and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.
It simply means that they reject and are therefore not prepared to conform to the principles of power shift and power sharing by rotating key political offices amongst the diverse peoples of our country and devolving powers equitably between the Federal, State and Local Governments in the spirit of federation.”
In concluding the letter, the former military President declared his readiness to leave the party if his views were not positively considered.
“If the Party has become so helpless in the face of these gross violations of its own constitution by its officers and its highest elected representative, then many of us shall have no alternative but to reconsider our continued membership of the Party.”
The letter immediately brought to fore the Babangida question all over again.
Considering the fairly eloquent nationalistic credentials of the former Military President which his involvement in the consensus arrangement seemed to have blurred, Babangida’s determination to pursue his course is indeed remarkable.
Eyes are now on the General on whether he would carry out his threat of leaving the PDP. Should he do so and pursue his presidential ambition on the platform of another party it could undermine his own agreement with the other three losers to support Atiku in the PDP presidential primaries.
The temptation to carry on is indeed tempting considering the standing offer from some other political parties including the National Democratic Party (NDP) which since it was formed in 2002 had permanently reserved its presidential ticket for Babangida.
There are also suggestions that Babangida could be on his way to the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) to achieve his presidential aspiration. The party, however, already has three presidential candidates namely, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, Chief Harry Akande and Alhaji Bashir Tofa. Whereas Babangida could be considered to be able to prevail over Tofa, his ability to prevail over Shekarau is presently unknown.
However, ANPP officials including erstwhile national secretary George Moghalu have said that Babangida would have the same opportunity with the other three presidential aspirants in any contest.
The Jonathan/Sambo Campaign in its reaction to the Babangida letter was scathing in its criticism of the former military President lamenting what it described as his resort to regional jingoism unexpected of a former leader of the country.
Reacting through a statement signed by Mr. Sully Abu, Director, Media and Publicity of the organization and titled ‘What is IBB Talking About?, the campaign said, “Contrary to the claim by IBB that the Federal High Court in Abuja had given a ruling on zoning and rotation in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that should be enforced by the Chairman of the party, no such ruling exists”.
“When Atiku Abubakar emerged as the consensus aspirant of the NPLF, IBB and two other aspirants accepted the verdict and pledged to give full support to the aspiration of Atiku. Now, IBB is singing a totally new song”.
“If IBB and his cohorts had taken their time to read and understand the judgment, they would have seen that the judge, while accepting that zoning and rotation exist in the PDP constitution declared that the provision was too vague to be enforceable”.
Affirming that there was nothing to enforce from Justice Gummi’s judgment, the campaign said: “There is, therefore, nothing new to enforce. While zoning and rotation remain cardinal principles of the PDP, they, by no means vitiate the right of any person, from any part of the country, to contest”. “Having lost to Atiku in their so-called consensus arrangement, he must have been thrown into confusion and desperation at the prospects of impending political oblivion”.
“Clutching at the straw of zoning seems attractive to a drowning man. But regional jingoism is unsuited for a man who once held the highest office in the land”, he said.
“IBB should learn to live with his changing political fortune and not further diminish himself by playing games which only political novices should play. If he wants to go to another party, he does not need to blackmail anyone to do so. He should just go. The PDP has taken a decision on zoning and rotation; IBB can either live with it or leave the party”.
The writing on the wall from the President to the erstwhile Military President is plain, submit or leave. How Babangida responds would indeed be eventful. If he submits to Jonathan’s aspiration he would have eaten his words. If he fights by leaving the PDP for another political platform the consequences would equally be eventful. He would be fighting for his dignity and his destiny in history and his last dance in the political arena could be momentous.