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Zoning splits Igbo

* S/East Reps-elect dare PDP over speakership
* Senators-elect insist on party chairman

By Emeka Mamah, Clifford Ndujihe, Ben Agande & Inalegwu Sheibu

A pre-election disagreement between two groups of Igbo leadership on whether or not to back President Goodluck Jonathan’s aspiration to return to office has been re-opened even before the incoming Jonathan’s presidency is consummated.

And the leaders seem to be on a cliff-hanger over how to respond to the refusal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) hierarchy to meet any of their demands as regards zoning of top positions to the South-East after the zone’s massive votes for the president at the polls.

In ‘we have been vindicated’ manner, those who kicked against Jonathan picking the PDP ticket because it would hurt the party’s zoning arrangement as well as the South-East’s goal of producing the president in 2015 are challenging Ohanaeze leaders and other groups that backed Jonathan to disclose the ‘political package’ the president promised the zone.

Given her massive votes for the PDP at the polls and returning  most PDP National Assembly members from the area, leaders of the zone had clamoured for the post of Senate president or speaker of the House of Representatives in the new dispensation.

It had earlier lost the post of PDP national chairman following the ‘forced’ resignation of Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo. It also lost a ministerial slot recently when Interior Minister, Capt. Emmanuel Ihenacho, was shown the exit door.

However, after  intense horse-trading, lobby and intrigues, national leaders of the PDP said on May 11 that they were sustaining the current zoning arrangement irrespective of how the PDP performed in each zone and allotted the prime offices thus: South-South (president), North-West (vice president), North-Central (Senate president), South-West (House speaker), South-East (Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF and deputy Senate president) and North-East (national chairman and deputy speaker).

File Photo: South East Group meeting with the President at the State House, Abuja, July 2010.

Indications have, in the meantime, emerged that the House of Representatives members-elect from the South-East are poised for a showdown with the PDP over the zoning of the speakership out of their area.

They threatened to team up with their colleagues from the North to elect House leaders of their choice. The senators and senators-elect from the zone, also at the weekend, endorsed Senators David Mark (North-Central) and Ike Ekweremadu (South-East) for the Senate president and deputy senate president respectively in the unfolding dispensation but insisted that the South-East should produce the national chairman of the PDP.

Speaking on the zoning arrangement, Nze Chidi Duru, a former member of the House of Representatives, who rooted for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar during the PDP presidential primaries, said: “Ohanaeze said they had reached an agreement with Jonathan before supporting him. Is the agreement for the deputy Senate president and SGF? There is no sector or arm of government that the South-East is heading in Nigeria now. The South-South has the presidency; North-Central leads the legislature and judiciary. Is that the bargain Ohanaeze said they reached with Jonathan? Ohanaeze should tell Ndigbo what they have bargained.”

No Comment
Contacted on phone many times, Ohanaeze president-general, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, was not available for comments, according to Abraham, his personal assistant.

However, Mr. Kalu Onuma, secretary of Ndigbo Lagos, which joined forces with Ohanaeze in the push to get Jonathan elected, said Igbo had not lost out in the arrangement as 2015 was on course and the posts being clamoured for were not of strategic importance to the 2015 project.

His words: “There is no mess for Ndigbo in that sharing. I disagree that we are losing out without the speakership. And it is still morning in the political lifespan of this administration and what you term as relevance is but patronage. 2015 is alive for Ndigbo and we are moving towards it. Don’t confuse setbacks with defeat. Ndigbo are learning from the Jews and other result-oriented groups, that when they appear most weak and vulnerable, as we are now, is when they are most dangerous and productive. Those positions are good but of what strategic importance to our goals are they?”

National chairman of the Citizens Popular Party, CPP, Chief Maxi Okwu, re-echoed his prediction that Ndigbo would be worse off under the Jonathan presidency because of the PDP zoning formula.

However, he said that Jonathan could make amends via massive infrastructure development in the South-East.

“I am on record as having predicted that Ndigbo would be worse off in a Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan (GEAJ) presidency going by the PDP zoning arrangement. As it is, the South-South, through GEAJ, has vastly improved its position and now jettisoned the SGF position for the South-East. It is likely that all other zones will keep what they currently hold except the South-East again that may lose the party national chair to the North-East. But there is a way out and it lies on GEAJ.

He owes his South-East cousins big time the way they massively voted for him. I think he can pay back by massive infrastructure development in the area. He could, by this, assuage years of neglect of the South-East by ensuring effective federal presence in the area. This, in my view, is even more tangible than a key position for one or two political fat cats,” he opined.

On his part, secretary of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) and Enugu State governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, Mr Osita Okechukwu, asked Ohanaeze Ndigbo, South-East governors and PDP leaders in the zone to apologise to Ndigbo, “for their failure to return home with a trophy in a game, in this instance the April 2011 presidential election, where they participated fully and contributed immensely –  25 per cent of votes – to the election of President Goodluck Jonathan. By the result, five million Ndigbo voted for Mr. President out of the 22 million votes he got.”

Apology call
Okechukwu anchored the apology call on the grounds that “wittingly or unwittingly, they put all the vote-eggs of Ndigbo in one basket without due diligence of negotiating our interest or firm commitment from President Goodluck Jonathan and consequently had enthroned and enriched the return of third term. We regard the failure of the leadership of the PDP and indeed President Goodluck Jonathan to reward five million votes from the South-East fairly as not only unjust but outright contemptuous.”

He continued: “We had warned earlier in 2010 before even the PDP primaries, when Ohanaeze Ndigbo, South-East governors and PDP leadership, with all manner of advertorials, cajoled Ndigbo into putting all their eggs into one basket – the Jonathan quest for presidency.

We hinted then at the old proverb that a wise man does not put all his eggs in one basket; especially when President Jonathan’s record depicts more of use and dump like that of his mentor, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. The South-East governors, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and indeed the South-East leadership of PDP must apologise publicly to Ndigbo for their failure to return home with the trophy of either the Senate president or speaker of the House of Representatives as irreducible minimum, when the president, vice president, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and president of Court of Appeal are not vacant.

“To our chagrin, we were appalled about the cacophony of voices; while Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his band are drumming for the retention of his deputy Senate president seat, some are canvassing for speakership, few are musing for Senate president and the food is ready group are okay with Secretary to Government of the Federation. The report emanating from the national caucus of the PDP zoned the South-East out of the Order of National Protocol – 1-6; that even the national chairman of the party eluded them.

“It is our considered view that the SGF zoned to the South-East is irrelevant when there sits on the throne of  the president an imperial Chief of Staff. More so the office is not listed in the order of protocol and can be fired at the whims and caprices of Mr President. To add salt to injury, they may not be allowed to nominate the SGF; as speculation is rife that an Obasanjo crony has been tipped.”

Okechukwu picked holes in the explanation that the speakership eluded the South-East because “in the expanded meeting of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, the chairman, ex-president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, said that it is better to retain Senator David Mark as Senate president and it is not fair not to accommodate Muslims in the line-up. In this, they argue that the South-West, unlike the South-East, has Muslims who will be made speaker.”

“When asked why not give Ndigbo the Senate president which we had while Chief Obasanjo was president?  Their answer sounds incoherent as they will add that President Jonathan made this commitment to Senator Mark, before the election and one is constrained to quip, what commitment was made to the over forty million Ndigbo who gave an unalloyed support that translated to 5million votes?

They will, in turn, refer you to President Jonathan’s letter of congratulation to Senator Mark, where Mr President said inter-alia, ‘I am confident we can successfully drive our nation’s transformation over the next four years, as we jointly work to reposition Nigeria for her God-ordained greatness,’” he added.

Members-elect threaten
Meanwhile, House of Representatives members-elect from the South-East have reportedly rejected the zoning formula as announced by the PDP leadership, insisting that they would team up with the North to elect leaders of their choice.

They said it was unfair to “award the South-West which voted for the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, (the speakership) instead of encouraging the South-East which voted massively for the party”.

Sources close to the Representatives-elect told Sunday Vanguard that although the South-East zone may not get the position of speaker because the zone cannot match the North in terms of the numerical strength, they have resolved to work with them (North) in electing a candidate from the area, expecting to get the position of deputy speaker.

The South-West zone has endorsed a two-time member of the House, Hon. Ajibola Saubuna Muraina, for the speakership position in line with the party’s arrangement that the zone should produce the occupant of the nation’s number four office but their counterparts from the South-East and the North said that the zoning arrangement was unacceptable to them.

According to the sources, those who have so far indicated interest in running for the position of deputy speaker from the South-East are Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwanyi, chairman, House Committee on Marine Transport and Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, the majority chief whip in the House.

Ugwanyi, a three-time member, represents Igboeze North/Udenu, Federal Constituency, Enugu State, while Ihedioha, also a ranking member, represents Ngor Okpalla/Aboh Mbaise Federal Constituency, Imo State.

Legislators from the North are also campaigning for the emergence of Hon. Aminu Tambuwwal for the speakership. Tambuwwal, currently the deputy chief whip of the House, represents Kebbe/ Tambuwwal Federal Constituency, Sokoto State and has just been elected for a fourth term in office.

A member of the House, who spoke on the issue on condition of anonymity, said that most members of the National Assembly rejected the zoning arrangement by the PDP leadership which, they said ,was meant to please the selfish interest of a former president, adding that the most important thing was to ensure that the process of electing the House leadership was transparent.

‘Give S/East PDP chairman’
A meeting of senators and senators-elect from the South-East, yesterday, endorsed Mark and Ekweremadu for Senate president and deputy Senate president respectively, saying they have discharged their responsibilities creditably.

The leader of the South-East Caucus in the Senate, Senator Uche Chukwumerije,  also insisted that in the spirit of zoning, the South-East should also produce the chairman of the PDP.

According to Chukwumerije, the decision of the caucus to endorse Ekweremadu was informed by the fact that, in the last four years, ‘his outstanding performance’ made him fit to continue as the deputy Senate president.

The terse three paragraph statement issued by Chukwumerije reads:

“The South-East Caucus of the Senate (comprising senators and senators elect) met this day (May 14, 2011) and resolved as follows

“That we endorse Senator Ike Ekweremadu to continue in his capacity as the deputy Senate president in the 7th Senate for his outstanding performance in that office in the last four years.

“We equally endorse Senator David Alechenu Bonaventure Mark to continue as the president of the Senate in the 7th Senate in appreciation of his excellent leadership qualities and his historic contribution to the stability of the National Assembly and the nation.

“That in keeping with the party’s decision to maintain the status quo on zoning, we insist that the post of  the national chairman of the PDP originally zoned to the South-East should be restored to the South-East zone till 2012 or when it expires”.

The leader of the South-East Caucus in the Senate was flanked during the briefing by Senators Ayogu Eze (Enugu), Nkechi Nwogwu (Abia) and senators elect, Hope Uzodinma (Imo), Igwe Nwakwu (Ebonyi) and Matthew Nwagwu (Ebonyi).


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