NOW THAT ZONING HAS BEEN INCAPACITATED
One word that got added to the vocabulary of most Nigerians between November last year when the then president, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, took ill, and May this year when he died, is 'incapacitated.' The debate was whether he could still continue in office while bedridden, or he should be declared unfit, incapable, and replaced by the then Vice President.
Well, Yar'Adua died, and another issue took the centrestage of public discourse. Zoning. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had an agreement to rotate power between the North and the South, on an eight-year basis. Olusegun Obasanjo, on the plank of that agreement, ruled for eight years. Yar'Adua was to utilize the slot of the North for another eight years, and if he could not last the distance due to ill health, then another northerner should complete the allotted time, if his party could still coast home after the elections. That would be the equitable thing to do. It would be fair, proper, even-handed.
But greed and lust for power stepped in. And fairness was thrown out through the window. Immediate past national chairman of the PDP, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, made the mistake of declaring that the zoning formula of the party stays, and pronto, corruption charges were conjured against him. The shadows of old sins just emerged from nowhere, and he was forced out of office.
Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo is the new party chairman, and he has been speaking from both sides of the mouth about zoning. First, he said the policy had been jettisoned since year 2002, and the next day he came out screaming blue murder, claiming he was misquoted. And now, the position is that eligibility for all positions has been thrown open. No more zoning. Anybody can aspire for anything, including Goodluck Jonathan. Fine. That is what the Nigerian constitution says, and a party's constitution cannot be greater than that of the country. So, in a manner of speaking, zoning has been declared incapacitated. It is disabled and rendered prostrate.
Let me restate what I'd written a number of times in the past. I don't like the PDP. I don't care for the party at all, and I wish it would both implode and explode, as I believe it is part of the country's problem. Eleven years in power at the centre, and no salutary impact on the lives of Nigerians. I will pop a bottle of wine the day PDP loses power at the centre.
But then, I'm frank enough to admit that while the zoning policy of the party lasted, they had railroaded the entire country into it. After eight years of Obasanjo in power, can you imagine any other party fielding a Yoruba or southerner as presidential candidate? It would not work. Why didn't the Action Congress (AC) field a Yoruba man in 2007? Why did the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) field a northerner, and not somebody from South-South or South-East? Or if Yar'Adua had lasted eight years, would you expect another northerner as president in 2015, even if from another party different from the PDP? That is the peculiar nature of Nigeria, a diverse country where zoning must feature willy-nilly. For us, zoning is a natural phenomenon, at least for now.
In the recent past, I wrote a series in which I asked the North to put its best foot forward in presenting a candidate for the presidency in 2011. I have not changed my mind. I still believe the North should hold power till 2015, whether it is PDP or not. Our democracy is so young, and the way to strengthen and nurture it is to allow power move from one zone to the other. In that wise, it is guaranteed that an Igbo, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Hausa, Yoruba, can be president. There will then be no hewers of wood and drawers of water, while some others claim they are born to rule. Equity and fairness will be the name of the game. And after power has rotated throughout all the zones, it can then be deregulated. We make it strictly a game of numbers, as democracy prescribes. Whoever can muster the higher vote gets it, but at least, there will no longer be talk of monopoly and marginalization, as every zone would have produced the president.
What would it take the North to get power in 2011, even if Jonathan runs? Yes, Jonathan has a right to run, but it is one thing to run, and it's another thing to win, if the election is free and fair. It is not fait accompli that Jonathan would necessarily win if he runs. A common front. That is what the North needs. I believe that only the North can bungle this power game, if they allow their ranks to be infiltrated. Of course, there will always be quislings among any people at any time, who can sell their mothers for a mess of pottage. The North must watch out for this kind of people, and isolate them if need be.
Again, the North must avoid the presumption that it can win election on its own strength alone, without negotiating with other parts of the country. We all need one another. The South needs the North and vice-versa to get the constitutionally required spread to produce the president. The South-East has been given the short end of the stick since we returned to democracy in 1999. The region stands to gain a lot from zoning, otherwise the civil war might not really have ended. The North needs to strike a deal with the South-East, I mean genuine deal strong on integrity, not the type by PDP which has now become will- o'- the- wisp. And of course, the fears of the South-South must be allayed. They must be made promises too, and those should be in concrete terms, as that will enable them have a sense of belonging. No group is more Nigerian than the other.
However, I have one fear. With the jettisoning of zoning, will the North still be required to give up power in 2015 if they win the presidency next year? Indeed, any zone that gets the presidency may now keep it for as long as it can. And we'll then be back to the murky past of dominance of one section over the others. That, I think is a very valid fear, as it holds more dangers than whatever the drawbacks from zoning might be. Zoning would have placed our democracy on terra firma and would have guaranteed fairness and equity, but short-sightedness has denied us the opportunity. May we not bite our fingers in regrets.