`Zoning stays but president’s return bid valid’
By Henry Umoru
FORMER president and chairman, Board of Trustees, BoT, of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo declared, yesterday, that zoning of public offices in the party was “alive and kicking”, just as he said that the accident of history that threw up President Goodluck Jonathan as the PDP presidential candidate must be understood.
Obasanjo said Jonathan should be commended for agreeing to do one term if elected in the April general elections, to assuage the bitterness of the pro-zoning elements, saying the president should be encouraged to stick to the vow.
Speaking in Abuja during the campaign 2011 grand finale of the Jonathan/ Namadi Sambo ticket, the former president called on Nigerians to vote the PDP presidential ticket at the polls as that holds the key to actualising the Nigerian dream.
The former president, who said the emergence of Jonathan as the PDP presidential candidate must not be seen as a violation of the zoning and federal character principle of the party, stressed that the exigencies of the moment made it imperative that the president emerged as the party’s candidate.
Obasanjo said the dream of the PDP is that of growing the country, pointing out that there was no going back. He stressed that the party is the only one in the country which recognizes federal character in line with the nation’s constitution.
The view of the former president on zoning came barely seven days to the general elections and months after Jonathan emerged as the PDP presidential candidate which generated controversies especially from key party members in the north, even as it led to the formation of the Mallam Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, which has since made the issue a burning one in national discourse.
Speaking further, Obasanjo, who described Jonathan as the way for Nigeria, emphasised that voting for him on April 9 would entail unity, and commonality of the country which is the Nigerian identity. He added that if, Nigeria will achieve the goal of having a common dream as well as get its rightful place in the comity of nations, we must have a commonality.
Meeting with IBB, Gusau, Atiku
The former president explained that at the last PDP BoT meeting, following the issues Jonathan raised, and he (Obasanjo) was mandated to take up the issue of zoning with former military President Ibrahim Babangida, ex-National Security Adviser Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, (all former PDP presidential aspirants from the north) he made them to understand that federal character, zoning and rotation remain alive so long as PDP controls the reins of power in the country.
According to him, Babangida told him that the issue was not that of zoning, but perception from some quarters that zoning has been jettisoned. Obasanjo described as mischievous the resort to ethnicity, warning that playing up religion and sentiments is self serving. Those who have taken this dangerous road, he cautioned, must turn back.
“At the last meeting of the BoT of our party, last Saturday, the issue was tabled by Mr. President himself and I was mandated to take up the matter with three distinguished members of our party on the issue we discussed with Mr. President. I was mandated to discuss the issue with these three distinguished members of our party. They are: General Ibrahim Babangida, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and Abubakar Atiku,” the former president said.
“The following day, that was last Sunday, I took up the matter with General Ibrahim Babangida who explained to me that the issue is not an accident of history, rather, the issue has been on the front burner that federal character, zoning and rotation have been jettisoned and finally cancelled. I, on behalf of the BoT, promised a public report, while he briefs the other two members.
“What I am saying simply is that federal character, zoning and rotation in our party is alive and kicking. I, personally, say that federal character and zoning of key political offices will not only be respected by PDP, even if it will continue to be the only political party in Nigeria, it will not be jettisoned.
“PDP should be commended for being the only political party that enshrined zoning and rotation in its constitution. PDP encourages stability and we shall continue to promote that.’’
Obasanjo stated that Jonathan must be praised and encouraged for accepting to stay for just one term, adding, “With the PDP policy, I can guess, from the PDP constitution and practice, where Goodluck Jonathan successor will come from and no religion or sentiment will destroy it”. He urged Nigerians to shun religious and ethnic sentiments while playing politics.
The former president disclosed that what pushed him to work for the emergence of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as president was his conviction that the unity of Nigeria was paramount.
Obasanjo’s full Speech
‘’Mr President, we are here because we believe in what I call Nigerian dream. Mr President, we from the South West we were the first to collectively stick out our head to say this is the way, and what is the way? ‘’The way of Goodluck Jonathan for Nigeria. A Nigerian dream entails collective aspiration, collective hope, collective objective, collective target and collective fulfilment . It also entails our communality. And what is our communality in Nigeria? What is the communality between me and my brother from Sokoto? What is the communality between me and even my brother from Yenagoa? What is the Communality between me and my brother from Maiduguri? What is the communality between me and my brother from Badagry or even from Ekiti? It is Nigerian identity. Nigerian Identity! That is our communality.
‘’If you say the communality is that we belong to the human race, so do the Europeans, so the Americans, so the Asians. But we are one communality, one identity, Nigerian identity. If we have a common identity, then we can have a common Nigerian dream.
For me I see a Nigeria dream of land of unity in diversity. For me, I see the Nigerian dream in equal opportunities for all Nigerians; land of freedom and choices; land of prosperity, fairness, peace and justice; land of love, care, harmony among its people; land respected internationally and playing its rightful role within the comity of nations and land where no one is oppressed, discriminated against, enslaved or disadvantaged.
‘’For instance, let me go to an element of one of the aspects of the dream. When I was a young man, leaving secondary school, there was only one University in Nigeria. The opportunity for young men to go to university in Nigeria was then limited. Today there are 117 Universities in Nigeria expanded and enhanced opportunities. We have to match that with opportunity to access to employment and to good living standard. Your excellencies, this I believe is attainable and as a political party we in PDP have dreams. ‘’We have set about actualizing our Nigerian dream. You will see this in the formation of PDP. The history of the PDP speaks for its self. The constitution of PDP, the manifesto of our party and the performance of our party so far. We have set our hands on the plough and there is no looking back for PDP.
‘’Drawing from our national Constitution which upholds Federal Character, we are the only political party that enshrines Federal Character in our Constitution through zoning and rotation.
And we should be proud of that. For us and for the foreseeable future that remains sacrosanct, I am an apostle of Federal Character under Murtala/Obasanjo administration and I cannot now preach anything different. The accident of history of the recent past must be understood for what it is, an unexpected situation and PDP as a party has addressed that issue.
‘’At the last meeting of BoT of our party last Saturday, the issue was tabled by the president as it was raised by three distinguished members of our party a day before that BoT meeting with the President. I was mandated to take up the position of the party with the three distinguished members of our party who raised the issue. They are General Ibrahim Babangida, General Aliyu Muhammed and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku.
The following day, that was last Sunday, I took up the matter with General Ibrahim Babangida who expressed to me that the issue is not the accident of history but rather it is the issue of perception in some quarter that Federal Character, zoning and rotation as established and practiced by PDP have been jettisoned and permanently cancelled.
‘’I on behalf of the BoT allay the fear and I promised a public report while he briefs the other two party members with whom we saw the president on the eve of the BoT meeting.
‘’What am I saying? What am saying simply is that Federal Character, zoning and rotation in our party is alive and kicking. I personally see the practice of Federal Character, zoning and rotation of key political and governmental positions and offices by the PDP, if it will continue to be the ruling party in Nigeria, I see that position beyond my life time. It will only happen when unity, stability and democracy have been established with full confidence and trust by every body in the system and within the polity and among the participants for factors of competence, performance and track record to become predominant. PDP should be praised for being the only party that enshrined Federal Character, zoning and rotation in its constitution and also practicing it.
‘’PDP has brought stability and substantial predictability to the polity and to the system. I do not know who will be the President of Nigeria after Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. That is in the hand of God. But with the PDP policy and practice, I can reasonably guess from where in terms of section of the country from where the successor to President Goodluck Jonathan will come and no internal democracy or competition will be hereby destroyed.
‘’The recent resort to sentiments and emotions of religion and regionalism is self serving, unpatriotic and mischievous to say the least. It is also playing on dangerous emotive issues that ignite uncontrollable passion and can destabilize if not destroy our country. It is oblivious of the sacrifices others have made in the past for unity stability and democracy in Nigeria in giving out their lives, shedding their blood and in going to prison. I personally have done two out of these three sacrifices and I am ready to do the third if it will serve the best interest of Nigerian dream.
‘’Let me appeal to those who have embarked on those dangerous roles to desist from taking us on a perishable journey. A common identity as Nigerians there is more that binds us than separate us.
‘’I am a Nigerian born a Yoruba man and I am proud of those identities, as they are for me complimentary. Our duties, responsibilities and obligations to our country and citizens and indeed as leaders must go side by side in our likes and demands. There must be certain values and virtues that would go concomitantly with our dream.
‘’Thomas Payne said and I quote “ my country is a world.” For me my country I hold dear. On two occasions I have had the opportunity, thanks to God and thanks to the people of Nigeria, to work for my successors in the government of Nigeria. On both occasions, I never took the easy and destabilizing route of ethnic, regional or religious consideration rather I took the enduring route of national, uniting and stabilizing route. I worked for both President Shagari and President Yar’Adua to succeed me. Not just because they are Muslims, northerners or Hausa /Fulani, but because they could strengthen the unity, stability and democracy of Nigeria. We of course, with all the displeasure of ethnic chauvinists for doing what is right for our country, that is in the nature of the burden of leadership. A leader must lead no matter whose ox is gored.
‘’In the present circumstance, let me reiterate what I have said on a number of occasions, electing Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in his own right and on its own merit which is there to be seen as the President of Nigeria will enhance and strengthen our unity, stability and democracy and it will lead us towards achievement of the Nigerian dream.
‘’We are impressed with the report that Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has already taken a unique and unprecedented step of declaring that he would only want to be a one term President. If so whether he knows it or not, that is a sacrifice and it is statesmanly. Rather than vilify him and pull him down, we as a party should applaud and commend him and Nigerians should reward and venerate him. He has taken the first good step, let us encourage him to take more good steps to achieve what we need to achieve for this country by voting for him in landslide victory as the first elected president of Nigeria on basis of our common Nigerian identity and for the purpose of actualizing the Nigerian dream. God bless you all.’’