Jonathan, Zoning and 2011
When one reads the arguments about zoning and the 2011 elections, one cannot miss the feeling that all of the discussants are already agreed on one position: that Nigeria is a one-party state and that one party is the People's Democratic Party (PDP). The truth is that the PDP is just one party amongst many others that will present candidates for the elections of 2011, and the issue of being faithful to or violating the zoning principle, agreement or gentlemanly understanding, is an internal PDP matter.
The thrust to enforce zoning is from the north of the country, where lots of politicians, traditional leaders, elders, and especially governors and aspiring presidential candidates insist that President Goodluck Jonathan has no right to contest the elections of 2011 because of the zoning principle. They hold that the north is 'entitled' to a 'second term' of producing the president because of one party's zoning principle.
We could argue that since zoning is a PDP principle and the presidency is a Nigerian office, any private, sectional or gentlemanly agreements people have by the side, cannot override the right of any Nigerian to aspire to the office of president. This does not of course mean, that if there are any such agreements between people within their circles, they should not keep them. This argument has in fact already been put. Yet, so that we are clear, my contribution here is not about the PDP zoning. It is about President Jonathan's right, for various reasons, to contest the presidency; and about the lack of grounds for the north to bicker and threaten hell-fire about their 'turn' to produce the next president of Nigeria.
Those who front for, or claim to be fronting for, the north, argue that it is their 'turn' to have the presidency for a second term. They could still attempt to do this through other parties, as indeed they are doing, for example, Buhari and Ribadu. PDP is just one party. Their argument is, however, premised on the entitlement of the late President Musa Yar'Ardua to two terms in office. Again, within the PDP arrangement, which is not a national concensus.
There are, however, two realities that the north is ignoring. It could be an oversight, or it could be deliberate. The first is that President Yar'Adua is dead. A dead person cannot have a second term in office as, or a turn to stand for office to become, the president of a country. The second reality is that Goodluck Jonathan is the president, and a living and sitting president usually has the opportunity to stand for a second term in office.
Furthermore, Goodluck Jonathan was the vice-president to the late President Musa Yar'Adua. If Mr Yar'Adua had completed his term, or two terms, alive, the natural political progression for Dr Goodluck Jonathan would have been to contest the presidency after him. It is usual that the vice-president has priority to be nominated by the particular party as the next presidential candidate. Please discount the Obasanjo/Atiku case as part of the crassitudes of the Nigerian political scene. Where presidents have died in office, the vice-presidents have usually proceeded to take the office of president, and then to go ahead and contest the presidency on their own, if they so wished.
De facto , Dr Goodluck Jonathan is serving his first term, and is entitled, unlike a non-living president, to a second term in office. His right or privilege to contest for a second term in office at the end of his de facto first term should override a zoning principle that has been divinely derailed by the sickness and then death of Mr Yar'Adua. Once Mr Yar'Adua left office, however he left office, Dr Jonathan was entitled to move on to fill the position, and to go ahead and contest for his own second term. Otherwise his political career would just prematurely stop. Why should that happen? They cannot mean that Jonathan's political career should be interred with the late president.
Even if we go beyond these core arguments, we can still argue that the north has no basis, or locus standi , to insist on their 'turn' to produce the president again because of 'zoning'. We can also look at some of the key individuals pushing the argument about 'turn' and 'zone'. Since independence 50 years ago, Nigeria has had the following heads of government: Tafawa Balewa (north), Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi (south), Yakubu Gowon (north), Murtala Mohammed (north), Olusegun Obasanjo (south), Shehu Shagari (north), Mohammadu Buhari (north), Ibrahim Babangida (north) Ernest Shonekan (south), Sani Abacha (north), Abdulsalami Abubakar (north), Olusegun Obasanjo (south) and Musa Yar'Adua (north). That is nine northerners and three southerners.
We can even go on to say, indeed, that Nigeria has been ruled by nine northerners, one easterner (Aguiyi Ironsi) and two westerners (Olusegun Obasanjo and Ernest Shonekan). And that President Goodluck Jonathan is the only real southerner so far to have emerged as president of the country. He is also the only president so far that does not belong to one of the large three tribes - Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba. Some norhtern elders, shamefully former vice-chancellors and ministers, have sworn that Dr Jonathan is not at all qualified to be - and save for zoning - could not have dreamt of becoming president of Nigeria. One wonders what qualifications for the presidency of Nigeria the northerners Shagari, Babangida, Abacha and Yar'Adua had that Jonathan does not have. What they mean of course is that his minority ethnicity disqualifies him from becoming president of Nigeria by right.
We can also calculate the time, in the fifty years since self-rule, that the north and the south held office. Before the Yar'Adua/ Jonathan tenure the north ruled the country for 34 (thirty-four) years and two months and the south for twelve (12) years and six months. Aguiyi Ironsi spent six months and Shonekan only three months in office, before Ironsi was killed by northerners and Shonekan was over-thrown by a northerner, in order to take office from them.
Ibrahim Babangida, who wants to be president again, after having served as military president for eight years (two civil presidential terms), is one of the key people pushing for the north's 'turn'. He wanted to remain in office for life but for civil society action forcing him to step aside. He also annulled the election of a southerner, Moshood Abiola, in the June 12 elections that are reputed to be the cleanest in Nigeria's history so far, and thus prevented a southerner from taking office as president. Other key proponents of the north's 'turn' are retired military generals like Jeremiah Oseni and Gusau, who, with their ilk, held all conceivable offices at national level and ruled for several years, without thinking of zoning the offices. Babangida, in talking about the north's 'turn', has deliberately chosen to forget that he, a northerner, took over as president from another northerner, Buhari, who took over from yet another northerner, Shagari. Then he did not talk about turn.
Anyway one looks at it, President Dr Goodluck Jonathan is not encumbered by any tangible reason from contesting the elections of 2011. The north's 'turn' within the PDP has by divine intervention been brought to a stop by the demise of the late president, and that gives Jonathan, as the next in line, the right to seek the office. Jonathan is the president of the country today, and that gives him the right to seek the office for a second term. Jonathan is only the fourth southerner to be president of Nigeria, and that gives him and the south the right to seek the office for a second term since the north has had nine turns already. Jonathan is the only real southerner that has ever emerged in fifty years of independence as president of the country, and that gives him the right to seek the office for a second term starting 2011.
Dr Sowaribi Tolofari