By NBF News

For the first time since the debate over zoning began, 1999 presidential running mate to Chief Olu Falae under the Alliance for Democracy/All Peoples Party alliance, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi has called on President Goodluck Jonathan to exercise some restraint, insisting that his campaigners appear to be stretching their luck too far.

Similarly, he has equally called on presidential aspirants from the north, to be prepared to make some sacrifices, saying that 'national interest should always override sectional interests in the quest for good governance, which is what our country sorely lacks but desperately needs.'

In a statement, entitled: 'A call for restraint by incumbents and sacrifice by aspirants,' made available to Daily Sun in Kaduna on Sunday, Shinkafi noted that contrary to widely held views in some quarters, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was not a product of zoning, but an 'exit strategy of the military.'

He further noted that 'from whatever point of view it is seen, the furore over zoning has shed more heat than light on the way forward. Regrettably, a political formula for engendering confidence among the entire people of the country is crumbling, leaving us in the grip of renewed geo-ethnic tensions. The situation we face today is akin to a dead-end and cross-roads as both sides of the zoning divide dig into their trenches of uncompromising posturing. If this quandary is not resolved amicably it will only complicate the process leading to the general elections which is already confronted by time and logistic challenges. What is required of us is a realistic appraisal of the situation and a bold resolve to end the impasse, build consensus and move on.

'The recent reality of an aspect of zoning as an improvised strategy for dousing tensions over geo-ethnic distrust which beclouded the political process in the aftermath of the June 12 crisis cannot be denied. Indeed, zoning as a practice of balancing the dynamics of control of political power predated the June 12 problem as it was adopted as far back as the second republic due to the same compelling circumstances. Since then, however, there has been an unmistakable manipulation of the strategy to suit the convenience of the moment rather than sustain its true essence for political leverage. Even rival political parties, notably the ANPP, never considered it worthwhile to exploit the incongruence of zoning in a democracy to their advantage. Rather, they abided with it in 1999. All this substantially enhanced the credibility of zoning.

'The choice of General Olusegun Obasanjo as the favoured presidential candidate in 1999, rather than zoning, was no more than the exit strategy of the military…The people of the South-West who were the supposed beneficiaries of the arrangement as a make-good appeasement for June 12 were instead outraged at PDP's unilateral choice and rejected it outright as an imposition of the northern/military oligarchs. History was to repeat itself in 2007 when President Obasanjo also took it upon himself to decide who his successor would be and chose the late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua who was alleged to be disinterested and unprepared and was also not the most popular candidate from the North. Thus, President Obasanjo subverted the raison d'etre of the zoning arrangement just as his military colleagues using an overrun PDP, did in this case.

'Today, the presumed proponents of retaining the zoning principle in the North are deeply divided about its relevance or necessity. At the heart of the dissent is the glaring absence of democratic choice and significant development advantage in the implementation of the principle. Ironically, disappointment with the ineffective Yar'Adua presidency is now the common reference point in debunking the so-called pro-zoning argument among Northerners. Equally disenchanting is the apparent domination of the North's political turf by 'recycled' politicians and their cheer-leaders whose predictable clamour for retaining the zoning arrangement is widely regarded as self-serving opportunism.

'In the circumstance, the intended long-term dissipation of geo-ethnic agitation against perceived economic and political marginalization, which led to the zoning arrangement has come to fruition much earlier than anticipated by default and design. Experience has dissuaded people from accepting zoning as an efficacious panacea because of the persistent negation of democratic considerations in operating it.

'In this connection, it is refreshing that a new third force has emerged in this debate, proposing the entrenchment of leadership based on merit and jettisoning the recurring and suffocating old order. This is certainly a welcome development in the quest for a level playing field and the ascendance of competence and credibility in leadership. Capacity to deliver the dividends of democracy built on a track record of skill and effective leadership ability will therefore become the fundamental yardstick for assessing candidates and voting for them; not where they come from.

'Even as zoning loses its high profile in the dynamics of political leadership in the country, it has left in its wake a rude reminder of the inherent dangers of pushing a geo-ethnic agenda in a nation of diverse people seeking a common destiny of peace, progress and prosperity. The sudden resort to threats of violent repercussions emanating from the Niger Delta in response to the legitimate expression of opposition to the promotion of a 2011 Goodluck Jonathan presidential ticket is ill-advised and counter-productive.

'If the potentially constructive outcome of the demise of the zoning arrangement is to be realized and exploited for the common good of all Nigerians it must be pursued with maturity and consensus facilitated by dialogue, not fuelled by desperation. Even the case for merit and competence in deciding the terms for democratic competition for political office must be responsibly canvassed to acquire national spread and gain the acceptance of majority of Nigerians. If the advocates of zoning are spurred by an opportunity slipping away, the promoters of a Jonathan candidature in 2011 are clearly stretching their 'luck' beyond its tenure, intent on capitalizing on the double-edged advantage of incumbency.

'Consensus building is indispensable in any democratic setting, more so when a contentious issue that inflames passions is involved. Everyone's right to express views and make a choice must be respected. The national interest should always override sectional interests in the quest for good governance, which is what our country sorely lacks but desperately needs,' he noted.