2011: FURORE OVER PDP ZONING, JONATHAN'S CANDIDACY
Political tension is building across the country. From North to South, politicians are strategizing and scheming on how to out wit each other in the forthcoming political dispensation. The bone of contention is President Goodluck Jonathan and the 2011 presidential election.
Should Jonathan contest next year's presidential election or should he not ?And what becomes of the zoning policy of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party( PDP) ? Those are the twin questions that are causing ripples in the political landscape of the country and heating up the polity.
But Jonathan has not always been the issue in the 2011 presidential contest. In fact, prior to November 2009, when former president, the late Alhaji Umaru Yar'Adua became critically ill and eventually died in May this year, President Jonathan was not in reckoning for the 2011 presidential race.
But all that changed following the assumption of office of the former Bayelsa State governor as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces after the demise of his boss. In recent times, there has been serious apprehension in political circles especially in the North that Jonathan may want to present himself as a candidate in next year's polls.
Though the President has not said whether or not he would contest, there has been covert and overt plots to draft him into the race. Reason: it is generally believed that Jonathan would contest the election. But not a few think that this would alter the zoning arrangement within the party. While political leaders in the Northern part of Nigeria believe that it would be morally wrong for the President to seek to contest the election because of the rotational policy of the ruling PDP, the President's kith and kin in the South-South believe that zoning or no zoning, Jonathan must continue in power beyond May 29, 2011. They are supported by scores of political pundits across the country.
The clamour for Jonathan's candidacy
Since Jonathan assumed office as President, there have been a grand clamour for him to contest next year's election. Different political parties are already seeking to adopt him.
The National chairman of the National Unity Party (NUP), Chief Perry Opara, told Journalists in Lagos recently that there was the need for the President to contest the 2011 presidential election. To actualize the project, he said a new group known as the 'Big Deal,' has been formed to drum up support for the President. According to Opara, no fewer than 20 political parties have expressed their readiness to adopt Jonathan as their presidential candidate next year should he decide to contest.
Besides, he stated that several religious groups and civil organizations are equally willing to support Jonathan for presidency.
People from the President's Niger Delta region have said it repeatedly that there is nothing wrong if the academic-turned politician decides to contest. Many of them contended that, he has no choice but to contest. For the Niger Delta leaders, 2011 is their year. Informed sources said the Niger Delta leaders are already reaching out to other interest groups in the Nigeria project especially the Northern leaders.
Jonathan seems to be yielding to calls that he should participate in next presidential election. Though he has not indicated interest, his body language depicts the fact he is very likely to contest the election. He is believed to be gradually entrenching himself in the party ahead of the party's primaries. The recent forced resignation of the PDP National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor and his replacement with Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo is believed to be part of the President's grand plan for the 2011 polls. Ogbulafor is known to be interested in maintaining the status quo as it concerns the zone that will present the party's presidential candidate in 2011.
Responding to a question during his maiden presidential media chat, Jonathan said he would not declare his interest in next year's poll yet, until it is very close to his party's primaries; an indication that he is interested in contesting but does not want to slow government's business with an early declaration. It is taken for granted that the President would contest.
Already, the North is jittery. The leaders of the zone hope he does not contest. To them, it would be the height of political treachery for Jonathan to present himself as candidate. They believe a northerner should emerge as president next year to complete their two terms going by PDP tradition.
Expectedly, they are clinging to the zoning principle of the PDP as the major reason Jonathan should contest.
Former Minister of Finance, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, stated recently in an interview that the PDP zoning principle which requires the North to do two terms as the South is still in place. The implication of that statement is that the president should be a gentleman by not rocking the boat.
The controversial PDP zoning policy
Daily Sun gathered that at the inception of the PDP, the party decided that the presidency should rotate between the Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria. It was zoning that made it possible for Obasanjo to emerge as the presidential standard bearer in 1999, and 2003 respectively. It was also the zoning principle that led to the emergence of the late Yar'Adua as the party's presidential candidate in 2007. The calculation was that the late president would serve out the North's eight years in 2015, before power shifts again to the South. That was the thinking before the death of Yar'Adua.
However, it would be noted that this zoning principle notwithstanding, the primary election of the PDP has always been contested by party men from across the various geo-political zones. For instance, in the 1999 presidential primaries of the party, Northerners like the former governor of Kano State, the late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, contested the primary alongside former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Obasanjo. In 2003, Chief Barnabas Gemade equally aspired to be the PDP presidential standard bearer.
In recent times, there has been a lot of hullabaloo about the PDP zoning policy. Obasanjo stirred the hornet's nest recently when he declared that there was nothing like zoning in the PDP. But not a few politicians have dismissed the former president as being economical with the truth.
Former Minister of Transport and PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, told Daily Sun that PDP indeed has a zoning policy which is enshrined in its constitution. He said the party in its bid to ensure that every segment of the country has the opportunity of occupying the presidency included zoning in its constitution. It equally applies to states and local governments.
He explained that the founders of the party initiated the zoning arrangement as a way of correcting past political mistakes in the country.
'There was a time in this country, when a group of people in the North believe that Nigeria is an extension of their private family compounds. And therefore, power in Nigeria is theirs in perpetuity.
'And two, the constitution of the party also states it clearly, section 7(2) c of the PDP constitution states unequivocally that rotation and zoning will be part and parcel of the operation of the PDP. So, I am saying that the founders of the PDP, the G.34 definitely sensed that something was wrong and therefore has to be corrected, that all areas in Nigeria must be made free, and must be prepared to have power one way or the other. That was why they felt that zoning and rotation must be part of the tradition and convention of the party.'
The former minister believes that any attempt to dump the zoning arrangement would be calamitous for the country. 'You have a political party saying power must go to all parts of the country, then you are talking of breaking the tradition, break what has been arranged to correct the historical anomalies of the past. That would be dangerous. It is possible of sending Nigeria into a period of political disaster or political tragedy. We must be very careful in the way we go about this matter.'
But a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN) demurs. He said the party's zoning has no force of law, and as such is not binding on anyone.
'The so-called zoning was a gentleman's agreement, so it cannot be upheld in any court of law. It was because the PDP's zoning formula was illegal, that was why some northerners like Abubakar Rimi and others contested alongside Obasanjo in 1999. The so-called zoning was a gentleman's agreement and it is not binding. That is the truth and what is true at that time is true today. The sovereignty of Nigeria in electing a President is vested in the people of Nigeria. It is not vested in any political party or any political group. It is the people of Nigeria who can decide who they want to be their president', he contended.
The National Chairman of the Igbo Youth Congress (IYC), Comrade Bright Ezeocha, said though zoning is an internal affair of the PDP, it is in the interest of the country that it is respected.
He said those clamouring for Jonathan to contest in 2011 should not forget what gave rise to the agitations for the rotation of the Nigerian presidency. 'My worry is why we are always quick to forget our past.
'We know that this thing is PDP affair. But what we are saying is that let that zoning continue some years back, all of us from the South began to cry, shout that the North had dominated presidency. And we said no, it would no longer be the same. They said no group of people should lay claim to the presidency; that it is their own, that this thing should rotate. So, that as the North rules, the South will rule. Now the South West started this thing through former President, Obasanjo. Now the power shifted back to the North. But unfortunately, Yar'Adua died. And Jonathan stepped in, one would expect Jonathan to respect that zoning formula.
Ezeocha believes that if Jonathan contests next year's election, power would naturally move back to the North after his tenure. He is therefore afraid that it may take many more years for an Igbo to be elected as president.' An Igbo man has not been able to taste power. But through the zoning formula, Ndigbo in PDP has hope of ascending to that presidency one day. But when you destroy this formula, what is the chance of Ndigbo to ascend to the presidency?' he queried.
The debate over the contentious issue of zoning would continue until President Jonathan makes his stance public. But one thing is certain. The days ahead would be very interesting.