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CURRENT ZONING FORMULAR FAVOURS THE NORTH -EBERENDU, PDP CHIEFTAIN

By NBF News
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Ahead of this week's presidential inauguration, Mr. Uzoma Eberendu, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP in Abia State, says in this interview conducted in Abuja that it would be in the interest of President Goodluck Jonathan to insist on getting the zoning arrangement right. Eberendu says an arrangement that leaves the Vice-President, Senate President, and chairman of the ruling party in a single power block is not only historically unprecedented, but also leaves the President vulnerable.

Zoning of key offices by your party has dominated political discourses these past week. How can this controversy be resolved?

We have just come out from a general election that involved everybody in this country, and it has been concluded. What is in the front-burner now is the sharing of opportunities which is called zoning, which concerns largely PDP because it is the predominant party in the country. And it will be worth while to make an input into the discussion, not for the fun of making an input, but with the hope that the leaders of the party and those who have been elected leaders of the country will be very, very circumspect in their decision as it affects zoning of offices.

If you can take a look at the current democratic dispensation which started in 1999, you will notice that the PDP has been ruling and PDP produced zoning for the better management of the country and to give every bloc a sense of participation, a sense of belonging in the management of the affairs of Nigeria.

The zoning has always assumed a pattern. The pattern is that the presidency  has always come with the control of the legislature, the party secretary, the deputy speaker and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. If you look at that, while the Vice-President has always come with party chairman, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Deputy Senate; it started right from 1999 and was the pattern throughout Obasanjo's tenure.

When President Yar'Adua also came on board, it also took that trend.

Unfortunately, the unanticipated exit of the former President created what I may call a transition in the in the power equation. It only affected the North-West and the South-South. Every other zone had to run out their offices for eight years. Even now that President Jonathan has been elected, if for instance, one should touch the zoning arrangement which has been in place, it should follow the old order, and that old order is that with him coming from the South, the Senate President should go back to the South, the party secretary of the PDP should go back to the South, the deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives should go back to the South, the SGF should go back to the South, while the North which already has the vice-president should take the Speaker of the House of Representatives, take the Deputy Senate President, if he wants to maintain a pure and patriotic zoning arrangement.

But where he doesn't like what the rumour mills have, is that the chairmanship of the party is being zoned to the North, no problem about that; but then it has to be exchanged with a commensurate office, not the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but the President of the Senate. The implication of the arrangement that is trying to come up now is the concentration of power or offices in a certain section where the Vice-President, the Senate President, the chairman of the party is coming from one block. It leaves the presidency at the mercy of this block should there be any crisis. And two, I believe that the chairmanship of the party is more serious an office than that of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and if the party chairmanship has to be sacrificed, it should not be in exchange for the Speaker. In which case, follow Obasanjo's pattern, follow Yar'Adua's pattern. The presidency is protected by the control of the legislature. That is why in their wisdom the protagonists or founders of the zoning arrangement zoned the office of the overall leader of the National Assembly (Senate President) to the block that produces the president.

So right now, it's either the president accepts to go with the Senate President in the South or he takes the chairmanship of the party to the South; but not a situation where both the Senate President and the chairman of the party and Vice-President come from the same block. It is abnormal, and it is dangerous for the well-being of the political management of this country. And worse still, and this is a very dangerous thing to fear, is that if you look at the pattern of voting, you will notice that the North is not happy with the loss of the presidency and they did not mince words in expressing their unhappiness to the world through the election, because if you noticed, the CPC headed by Buhari even defeated PDP governors in PDP states. If you look at the Nigerian map, he won from Kebbi down to Niger, through the trough, up to Borno.

That shows absolute and unquenchable crave to take back power; they are not happy with the untimely exit from the control of the presidency, you get it?

So if you now concentrate these control valves, the strategic positions in one block, that is craving for power, then it calls for a re-think. That means the presidency is not insulated. If there is any slip down where he is, obviously he is exposed.

PDP appears to have concluded its zoning arrangement, what do you think it can do now?

For now, there is no decision that had been made public, and so long as it has not been made public, it can be reversed.

You tend to ignore the power of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, but he is number four Nigerian. In what way is he inferior to the chairman of the party?

Most times, people don't understand the power nerves of the current political dispensation in Nigeria. The party is the umbrella, it's the father. It also guides the polices of the government; it also directs the activities of her members and largely the government. In which case, the chairman of the party runs at the same level with the President. It's the party that calls the President to order - ''President, you have not done well, you are not working according to our policies, our objectives''.

They might be saying to the legislature, no, you have to tow this line, do you get it? If there must be an exchange between the South-East and the South-West, then it is understandable, the chairman of the party then should go to the South-West. If a consideration of their performance in the last elections is why they should not hold on to the speakership, then if the South East is to get the speakership, let the South-West get the chairman, so that it will be an intra-block exchange rather than putting the chairman of the party, the Vice-President and the Senate President in one block. It could portent a very, very dangerous development for the management of this country, and I am certain about it, but we pray that heavens don't allow it.

But now the South-East feels despised by the PDP. Right now, nobody it talking about the chairmanship of the party which was originally zoned to them, and nobody appears to be listening as they clamour for the speakership of the House of Representatives.

No, no. it is not contempt for the South East. Our leaders largely may not have possibly thought about the scenario already created with the loss of the chairmanship of the party. Right now most of them also look at the thing from the periphery. They say, ah the Speaker of the House is the number four citizen, but you now come to think about it, to what extent can he influence the affairs of the country?

You mean the Speaker?
Yes, largely. And when it goes to the entire zone, you see that his area will largely be his constituency. Let us look at the out-going Speaker, you saw that there was continuous struggle between him and his governor because of constituency projects. It wasn't constituency projects in the entire South -West, it was in Ogun state, his own section of Ogun state. So that is largely where his interest will reside, unlike the chairman of the party that can influence the decision of the President, influence the decision of the Senate President, and can also bring all of them together and say, this is what is to be done.

So the chairman of the party has a moderating influence on the executive and the legislature. So it is more consequential than the Speaker in this context. And let me also say this, that it is very important that for the past 12 years, no block has had the control of the chairman of the party, the control of the legislature through the Senate president, and the Vice-president at the same time.

You are looking at the North as if it is single zone, it is not. No, the North is a block subdivided into three; the South is a block subdivided also into three to get the six geopolitical zones.

The North is also saying that since 2009, they have occupied the office of the President for just three years.

Yes, today the North is at the receiving end, if we must be genuine. But I want to tell you, if you have not seen it, the North is going to run this country for 16 consecutive years after 2023.

How are you saying 2023, who takes it in 2015?
In 2015 it goes to the North. Once Jonathan steps down, it must certainly go to the North if we actually mean well for this country. So after the next four or eight years, depending on the prevailing circumstances, that will be 2023, it goes down to South East.

You think the North will not want to do eight years on a stretch after 2023?

No, not immediately. After the South East might have taken eight years, there will be left two zones of the North that have not had a shot at the presidency, and nothing will morally stop them from running for 16 consecutive years.

You think they will wait for the South East before that?

In all honesty they will do that.
You think anybody cares about the South East in this country?

Sure. What has been happening to us has also been that we have not assumed the presidency in this country is our own making. Now let me just give you example.  Who formed PDP? It's Ekwueme that could have been President in 1999.

Maybe he comes from the wrong ethnic group?
Not wrong Ethnic group. The beginning of Ekwueme's loss of presidential nomination started with Okadigbo. If you also watched subsequent developments, you would have noticed that at the Jos convention in1999 or 1998, the South-East did not vote for him. Look at this comment, if you will not allow me to be the National Secretary of the PDP which has been zoned the PDM, you will now go and shop for a presidential candidate. That was how that slang came in, and they had to go and shop for a presidential candidate and got it in Obasanjo. It was the making of an Igbo man. You may not believe that, but I am telling you.

No, sir. The military were looking for a way to placate the South West which was aggrieved by the annulment of the 1993 election won by Chief Abiola. Have you forgotten that they had to go to Obasanjo who was serving jail term in prison and granted him state pardon?

Read Nwodo's interview sometime last year. Nwodo eventually became the secretary of the party that ran that convention. Even Obasanjo was not qualified to participate in that convention. Look at the beginning of the crisis, even before that time, it had started between him and Okadigbo. Don't forget that Ekwueme was what I would call the interim chairman of the party and handed over to Solomon Lar. Before then, what had happened between him and Okadigbo? Then you will get that from Okwesilieze Nwodo's interview.  Then another thing is, if we must also face the fact, look at the eight years of Obasanjo's rule, the South East managed the legislature, it was one crisis after the other.

One had expected after being number three citizen, if anyone of them had done exceedingly well, he would have been recommended to take a shot at the second slot. But if you were in Obasanjo's shoes and the position of the ruling party, what would you have done? Who amongst them would you have recommended?

At a certain stage, even Ahmadu Ali, the national chairman of the party, had to call the Senate President of South East extraction a rebel because didn't make himself a team player. At that level, the President, the chairman of the party, the Senate President, the Speaker, since they came from the same party, ought to run the affairs of the country as team, and someone was rebelling, saying, let me stay at the gallery and shine.

So, you mean he should have disregarded the yearnings of Nigerians and support a Third Term for Obasanjo in order to be a good team player?

It is the issue of the Third Term, but the point is that even in that process, which of course you called constitution amendment, he should

have donned the cap of wisdom like Masari did in the House of Representatives. Masari said, look, this clause that talks about the extension of tenure for the President is obnoxious, it's causing problem in the country, let's keep it aside and discuss other vital issues that are of importance to this country. And I can tell you, such issues that affect  so many of us in this country included increase in derivation formula which would have prevented militancy in the South-South and in the oil producing areas. Two, additional state creation in the South East, but eventually you noticed what happened - the baby was thrown away with the bath water in the Senate.