The hornet’s nest stirred last Wednesday by the new PDP National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, has raised the stakes on the controversy regarding which zone produces the next president in 2011
Okwesileze Nwodo, the new Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) National Chairman had at a media conference in Abuja, observed that the supposed zoning arrangement made by the chieftains of the party in 1998 had been jettisoned, and now moribund. However, he also noted that the issue can be re-visited.
According to him, despite the gentleman’s agreement, the late Abubakar Rimi, in 2003, threw his hat into the ring against Olusegun Obasanjo, but was stopped. He also noted that many politicians on the platform of the party from various zones had in 2007, indicated interest in the post despite the fact that the PDP had decided to field Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (now late). “There is no zoning on ground right now. Absolutely, there is no zoning. In 1999, there was zoning and only one northerner insisted on his inalienable right to contest against the zoning arrangement of the PDP,” Nwodo noted.
The latest observation was at variance with the views of the immediate past national chairman of the party, Vincent Ogbulafor. Ogbulafor had allegedly got his hand burnt when he said the PDP was not going to change the status quo. His observation was seen by some elements within the party as an anti-party approach to a sensitive issue. It would be recalled that the former PDP boss made the remark at the nation’s most trying moment when pressure was on the National Assembly to proffer a political solution to the crisis foisted on the country by the heath condition of Yar’Adua and his inability to let go of power to the then vice-president.
Political pundits and analysts believe that Ogbulafor’s hasty exit from the PDP power stool and the web of allegation of financial misappropriation woven around his neck have their origins in his sensitive utterance and alleged unfavourable disposition towards a Jonathan-presidency.
Rotational presidency is a political arrangement allegedly entered into by the chieftains of the PDP in 1998. The zoning arrangement presupposes that power shall rotate between the Moslem (Hausa/Fulani) – North and Christian (South). Going by the grouping of the nation into six geo-political zones, North has three (North-East, North-West and North Central) and the south also has three. These include South-East, South-West and South-South). However, in a country where there are over 30 political parties, opponents of the ruling party have continued to insist the zoning arrangement is undemocratic.
Following the death of Yar’Adua and the assumption of office by Jonathan as president, speculation was rife that the PDP would bend its rules for the Bayelsa-born Jonathan to run in 2011, but the latest official ‘grenade’ thrown at the only impediment to that ambition has put a cloak of truism on that conjecture.
Nwodo’s stance is in tandem with that of Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, former Aviation minister, who said Jonathan would contest the 2011 irrespective of whatever arrangement the PDP said it had with the North. He believes it is the South-South’s turn to rule the country the next time around. By the same token, Robert Audu, a former permanent secretary in the Presidency and secretary to the Presidential Committee which played a vital role in the formation of the National Political Reform Conference, observed that Jonathan had the right to contest since the South-South zone had not produced a president.
“Using the co-efficient of tenure enjoyed previously in the zones under both military and civil governance as yardstick, the South-South would come next since no president, head of state or head of government has ever emerged from there. The South East will follow since the late Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was head of state and commander-in-chief for six months complimented by the Nnamdi Azikiwe’s ceremonial Presidency in the First Republic. In other words, whenever Presidency shifts to the South from the North, the South-South zone should produce the president,” Audu said.
Moreover, Isaiah Balat, political adviser to the President on Special Duties, shared the same sentiment when he suggested that Jonathan should be allowed to run in 2011. In the same vein, a political pressure group, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), expressed dismay at the continued clamour by the Northern leaders for the sustenance of the zoning arrangement. The group alleged that the power rotation in a democracy amounted to neglect of the wishes of the generality of Nigerians, since it was exclusively a PDP arrangement.
A recent meeting between the Northern governors and elders on the issue of zoning was deadlocked. While the governors could not adopt any position, opting instead to consult properly with their subjects, the Elders’ Political Forum insisted on zoning. The elders believed it was immoral to jettison the power rotation arrangement because of Yar’Adua’s death.
“It is only fair that after President Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency, which was facilitated by the North for eight years, the arrangement should not be truncated just because our son, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died. We believe that the North should produce the next president after which it will then go back to the South. It is for the unity and stability of this country and if that is truncated, it will affect zoning in the states where it takes place,” Iyorchia Ayu, former Senate president and spokesman of the group, said.
This then begs the question: to what extent has the zoning arrangement fostered the development of the Nigerian nation? A political analyst and cleric, Leonard Umunna, believes the zoning arrangement has never done the country any good. In his estimation, “Zoning was a creation of the PDP; it is assumed to have succeeded because the party has assumed the status of an octopus. Since 1999, it has continued to swallow other smaller parties. What we have seen is a situation where people joined the party to share the booty, not to serve the interest of the common man. Let’s ask ourselves, has the nation moved forward since 1999 as a result of the arrangement?
“The most important thing is to insist on good leadership. It does not really matter where the person comes from. What we need is a detrabalised Nigerian. Give a bad leader a fantastic constitution, he will not make anything out of it, but give a good leader a bad constitution, he will perform wonderfully. I think it is the emphasis on ‘grab-grab’ style of governance that is responsible for the clamour. We should rather choose our leader through the power of the ballot box.”
On October 1, 2010, the Nigerian nation will be celebrating 50 years of civil rule. Within this period, 13 individuals have held the reins of power. Out of these, nine were of the North (Tafawa Balewa; Murtala Mohammed; Yakubu Gowon; Shehu Shagari; Mohammadu Buhari; Badamasi Babangida; Sani Abacha; Abdulsalam Abubakar and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.), while five came from the South(Nnamdi Azikiwe; Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi; Olusegun Obasanjo; Earnest Shonekan and Goodluck Jonathan).