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PRESIDENTIAL TICKETS AND THAT ZONING NOISE

By NBF News
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Atiku http://sunnewsonline.com/webpages/opinion/index.htm

After nearly six months of a personally costly withdrawal of this column because of irritation over the manifested ignorance and disrespect for the constitution's provisions on presidential succession procedures, it is interesting that one has now been jolted back to action by the new major source of national political concern – the 'zone' that ought to produce the next president.

To begin with, the saying that 'where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise', appears relevant to the subject now under focus.

That saying most likely emerged in an age of intolerance of opposite views; at a time when, to honestly offer your own opinion on an issue, you had to first consider the possible reprisals from pedlars of falsehood and confusing ideas, widely divergent from your own perspective.

Obviously, no issue has created more tension and polarization in the polity especially within the past few months, than that of 'zoning' – the formula uniquely introduced by the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in 1998 and 1999, for determining who would be given mandates to key positions in the Executive and Legislative arms of government in the country.

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Vice – President who also had presidential ambitions in the year 2003, made it almost impossible for the then incumbent President Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo to return for a second term.

Now, of course, the characters are different, with the new players being the successor to President Umaru Yar'Adua – President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan – and all those members of the PDP who think or believe that the death of President Yar'Adua should logically be followed by the emergence of another president from the northern part of the country, because that was what their party's zoning policy suggested to them.

The major assumptions in the position held by such 'zoning warriors', if they may be so labeled, are, first, that all that was expected of erstwhile Vice-President Jonathan, was to complete the balance of President Yar'Adua's tenure, and then 'step aside' for a favoured candidate from above the Rivers Niger and Benue, to become president, with effect from May 29, 2011.

The second assumption on their part, as far as one can imagine, was that presidential positions are meant to be held by an incumbent for eight years, and since Yar'Adua is no longer around to serve for four more years, another northerner can take over that position.

Armed with such assumptions, those with that mindset had always harped on the point of zoning, insisting that the present president must pack his luggage from Aso Rock, perhaps for a more legitimate successor from 'the North' to finish the second leg of the power race, which death halted for Yar'Adua. Such calls on their part became really strident just before the presidential aspirants made their intentions public, particularly last month. Verbal missiles and insolent remarks have been hurled by some candidates against the others, notably some spokesmen of the Northern Political Forum and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF); Rtd. Gen. (President) Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, against the intentions and character of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Those of us who are decidedly non – partisan, have the citizen's responsibility of promoting peace in the land by stating the facts and the truth on issues, as dispassionately conceptualized. Back to the heading again, we should please understand 'noise' to have two meanings in this context: 'Information that is not wanted and that can make it difficult for the important or useful information to be seen clearly,' and ' a sound, especially, when it is loud, unpleasant or disturbing,' as may be found in the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, Seventh Edition.'

The 'useful information' on this issue of presidential tickets and the 'zoning' noise is contained primarily in Section 142, sub-sections (1) and (2) of the just – amended 1999 constitution, which states: 'In any election to which the foregoing provisions of this part of this Chapter (six) relate, a candidate for an election to the office of President shall not be deemed to be validly nominated unless he nominates another candidate as his associate from the same political party for his running for the office of President, who is to occupy the office of Vice-President and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of Vice-President if the candidate for an election to the office of President who nominated him as such associate is duly elected as President ……' They are very similar to Siamese or identical twins, in that respect.

In a nutshell, the clauses quoted above should be seen as 'the ticket' given by the political party's express permission to two of its reputable candidates to fill the two top Executive positions in the country. The ticket allows just the two candidates to ride around the country, seeking the people's votes and if successful in the elections, it remains valid for the numbers one and two men to still go on criss-crossing the country and move overseas, in search of a better tomorrow for the entire country, not just for the 'zones' that produced them.

As in all law – abiding societies, that ticket is not transferable. Definitely, the character and sweat of each holder, no less than the toils of party stalwarts and supportive citizens, made their joint presidential ride and victory possible. Not even the death of one of the candidates invalidates their alliance, as the succession clauses in the constitution prove.

Barring impeachments and the 'permanent incapacity of (the) President or Vice-President' which are covered by Sections 143 and 144 of the constitution, the ticket retains its validity for an indefinite period.

Section 146 tells us what happens '…… if the office of President becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or the removal of the President from office for any other reason…..', in accordance with Sections 143 or 144 of the constitution.

Section 146 (2) is interesting and must be closely watched: 'Where any vacancy occurs in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (1) of this section during a period when the office of Vice-President of the Senate shall hold the office of President for a period of not more than three months, during which there shall be an election of new President, who shall hold office for the unexpired term of office of the last holder of the office. (That was exactly what happened on May 5 and 6. Since then, some people's minds have been focused on the following questions: Will he (Jonathan), run or will he not run? The constitution allows eight years per zone: Why should another northerner not continue where Yar'Adua left off? Who shall we send, and who will stand for us? (The pro-zoning northern caucus, that is).

I am not interested in the merits or demerits of the 'consensus candidates' presented so far. Not at all. My concern is that those who had been regarded as leaders over the years must lead not merely by displaying their desires, emotions and sentiments, but through logical thoughts, words and deeds as well as respect for the rule of law, taking cues from the 39 other countries with which Nigeria shares the republican presidential democracy system of government.

They must also be empathetic: Why must a person who took an Oath of office as president to complete the first term of a predecessor's tenure, be pushed aside for another person whose character, temperament and general skills may not be suitable for the current geo-political and socio-economic peculiarities, challenges and needs? Who, to be precise, says we want an Emperor now (which is not in the constitution), when all we need is a humble and accountable president?

It must be stressed that zoning or no zoning, no presidential aspirant or incumbent in Nigeria or anywhere else for that matter, is guaranteed an automatic eight years tenure, spread over two terms. If a president does not meet the people's expectations by the end of the first term, support can be withdrawn. So, to have claimed a right to the presidential seat solely on zoning ground, was neither here nor there, more so when the second half of the presidential ticket was faithfully and constitutionally executing the electoral mandate.

The political drama now being played out on the Plateau by Governor Jang and Deputy Governor Pauleen Tallen, should underscore the seriousness which the present and future Executive Branch leaders must attach to relationships with their colleagues while seeking power, and after they have got it. Truly, in the light of the constitution, the cries for zoning and now resignation, amount to mere bombast, 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,' constitutionally speaking.

From the submissions above, and with another critical look at the constitution by the inadequately informed 'zoning warriors,' it should be obvious that we all ought to be working hard towards re-enacting the 1993 brand of credible presidential elections, not splitting hairs and jarring nerves over zoning, which had been well covered by the constitution's 'Federal Character' principle.

That provision had already even been so abused as to warrant calls for a restructuring of the country, remember?

Indeed, the less the noise made on zoning, the better our chances of collectively focusing on that more glorious objective of sanitizing the country's electoral process, because time is precious.