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Zoning politics: Atiku in trouble
•Sued over Electoral Act breach
By Daniel Alabrah
Sunday, December 26 , 2010

Proponents of the zoning arrangement in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have pushed the presidential ambition of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar into troubled waters following fresh indications that the proposition contravenes the extant Electoral Act.

Sunday Sun learnt at the weekend that another round of legal battle is about to commence that might not only end Atiku's quest for the presidency but could also see him and the advocates of zoning sent to jail if found guilty of contravening the law.

A concerned Nigerian citizen, Mr Paul Abbey, has fired a letter to the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Inspector-General of Police demanding the prosecution of Atiku and all those pushing for zoning, saying they have breached Section 102 of the Electoral Act.

Section 102 of the Act states: 'Any candidate, person or association who engage in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal or sectional bias for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N100,000 or imprisonment for twelve months or both.'

The Abuja-based businessman and public affairs commentator accused the former vice president and some northern leaders of embarking on a biased and tribal campaign aimed at stopping President Goodluck Jonathan from contesting the PDP primaries and the 2011 presidential election.

Citing a letter dated September 17, 2010 written by Atiku, Adamu Ciroma, Yahaya Kwande, Bello Kirfi, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, Lawal Kaita and Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim to the PDP National Chairman, Abbey said the writers opposed the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan on grounds of his tribe and promoted the candidacy of any aspirant from northern Nigeria solely on grounds of sectional bias.

'(These) persons have continued to prosecute political campaigns with tribal or sectional bias to imbue in Nigerians a sense that classes of Nigerians with different political rights do exist,' he stated, adding that by their alleged action, they are not seeking for the emergence of the 'best possible administrator from any part of Nigeria' but have insisted that Nigeria be divided into North and South and the next presidential election be the exclusive preserve of the 'northern candidates.'

In the letter to the AGF and the IGP entitled: 'Demand to investigate criminal acts committed by Atiku Abubakar, Adamu Ciroma, Yahaya Kwande, Bello Kirfi, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, Lawal Kaita and Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim,' Abbey through his counsel, Offia Valentine, demanded that the aforementioned persons be investigated within seven days to ascertain their alleged culpability.

'The offices of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Inspector General of Police have the duty to the public to investigate and prosecute crimes. It is my client's view that these virulent political campaigns tinged with sectional and tribal bias contravene the Electoral Act, which prescribed appropriate penal sanctions. My client, therefore, demands that the offices of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Inspector General of Police investigate these acts within seven days of the receipt of this letter to ascertain the culpability of these persons.'

Sources in the two offices confirmed that the letter was received on Thursday and that appropriate action would be taken on it 'if it becomes necessary.'

The legal practitioner warned that his client would file proceedings in court against the AGF and IGP if they fail to investigate Atiku and the northern leaders at the expiration of the ultimatum. 'Mindful of the violence hinted at by Atiku Abubakar at a recent political campaign if his biased sectional campaign is unsuccessful, my client will file a suit against the offices of the AGF and IGP if the said public officers do not commence an investigation within seven days of the receipt of this letter and notice to that effect is hereby given.

'My client will also file a suit against these persons to compel them to commence campaigns on how to proffer solutions to national problems and stop their extant illegal campaigns,' the lawyer stated.

The Atiku presidential campaign organization, however, refused to comment on the matter when contacted.

Its Director-General, Senator Ben Obi, who spoke on the telephone, said he cannot comment because he has not seen a copy of the letter nor have information on the claims therein.

Presidential spokesman, Mr Ima Niboro, also gave a similar response when he was contacted on the telephone. He simply said: 'Sorry, I cannot comment. Let the AGF and IGP be allowed to do their job if the petition is valid.' Last month, Atiku emerged as the consensus candidate of the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) ahead of former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, former National Security Adviser, Aliyu Gusau, and the Kwara State Governor, Dr Bukola Saraki.

Since then, the Adamu Ciroma-led NPLF and some aggrieved members of the PDP have continued to insist that President Jonathan was not eligible to vie for the presidential ticket of the PDP in the January 13, 2011 primaries on the ground that his aspiration runs contrary to the zoning principle in the party's constitution.

Last Monday, an Abuja Federal High Court fixed January 4, 2011 as hearing date in the suit filed by three members of the PDP and supporters of Atiku – Kwande, Kaita and Dubem Onyia – asking the court to bar the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from accepting Jonathan as the party's flag bearer in the 2011 presidential poll.

They also want the court to restrain the PDP National Chairman, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, from presenting Jonathan as the party's candidate for the election. The fresh plot to stop Jonathan is sequel to a November 30 ruling of another Abuja High Court that the President can contest next year's election. Although the court upheld the zoning arrangement enshrined in Article 7.2(c) of the PDP constitution, it however refused to declare that the North was entitled to produce the President in 2011.