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Pioneer National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Solomon Lar

Northern political leaders will on July 15 converge in Kaduna, Kaduna State to discuss an amicable end to the controversy over the zoning of political offices by the Peoples Democratic Party.

An elder statesman and the pioneer National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Solomon Lar, made this known during an interview with journalists in Kaduna on Saturday.

Lar, who recalled the circumstances that gave rise to zoning, reminded all proponents and antagonists of the idea that all agreements, whether written or unwritten, were subject to changes.

He, therefore, advised politicians to be cautious about their comments on zoning, saying that national interest should supersede any individual or sectional interest.

Lar spoke just as South-East governors said none of them was interested in vying for the presidency in 2011.

The elder statesman argued that the zoning agreement was made purely because of the prevailing circumstances of that time.

Noting that in any pact, whether international or national, unforeseen circumstances or situations might arise to necessitate some changes in the spirit and letters of such an agreement.

He said, 'So to that effect, you have to look at the agreement in view of the circumstances at hand. How do we do it? I think that was precisely what the governors of Nigeria did. There was a situation which we didn't foresee. So, politicians have to sit down and negotiate.

'This is why we are planning a northern political summit which is coming up on July 15 in Kaduna. So we will discuss. We will put it open. Let us see which way forward.'

Lar recalled that between 1998 and 1999 when efforts were being made at restoring democracy in Nigeria, a gentleman agreement that power should shift to the South-West was forged to appease the people of the area.

He added that the agreement was also meant to placate other Nigerians who were aggrieved over the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and the eventual death in detention of the winner of the poll, Chief MKO Abiola.

Lar, who is also a former governor of Plateau State, added that the zoning arrangement was reached to right the wrongs done by the North to the Southern part of the country, particularly the South-West, over the annulment of the June 12 poll.

He said, 'Between 1998 and 1999, the South-West said they won an election but it was annulled by the North, so they were not very happy and they felt that Nigerians didn't like them. So they were sad and aggrieved, so to speak.

'They were not too keen in participating in the political arrangement and you know that time, we were trying to restore democracy from the military and we didn't want any problem to come our way because we wanted democracy to be restored. So we had to think of a way out.

'We said ok, if that is the case, let us allow power to go to the South, particularly to the South-West because of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections and the subsequent death of the winner of the election, Chief MKO Abiola. So, many Nigerians were not happy over the annulment of June 12 and the death of Abiola. We were boxed into a corner. So we had to sit down with some of my colleagues to see what we will do.

'Mallam Adamu Ciroma was there, Prof. Jerry Gana was there, Dr. Iyorcha Ayu was there and a few others. So we said for the sake of Nigeria and for the sake of unity of the country, let us concede power to the South-West. We felt that it was a demand that would cure the problem and keep this country as one.

'As far as we were concerned, Nigeria's unity was our ultimate concern. So we could sacrifice any position for the sake of Nigeria and we agreed that power should go to the South. The Southern candidates filed their nomination papers. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Alex Ekwueme who is a very, very prominent Nigerian and respected member of the PDP filed their nominations.

'To cut the story short, we gave Obasanjo the ticket at the convention and the primaries of the PDP which was held in Jos. Of course, there were some Northerners who wanted to contest, but we pleaded with them not to disturb the zoning arrangement. I remember my bosom friend of blessed memory, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, who wanted to contest; it was at the last hour that he agreed to step down.

'So, it is true we had that sympathy for annulment. In fact, it was a peculiar situation. The North had wronged the South and the country was on the verge of collapse.

'They said the North had ruled the country for too long. They said Tafawa Balewa, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Gen. Murtala Mohammed, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Maj.-Gen. Mohammadu Buhari, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Gen. Sani Abacha and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar were Nigerian leaders who came from the North and when the South won the June 12, 1993 election, we (the North) annulled it.

'We said no, we would not sit down and allow things to degenerate. We could do everything to solve the problem. During the second tenure of Obasanjo, we were still looking at the zoning, but it wasn't too strict because at that time, some people in the North also contested. I remember my good friend, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar that contested as a candidate. Chief Barnabas Gemade also contested from the North. But principally, those of us who were the leaders supported the zoning at that time.'

He maintained that politicians should be wary of utterances that could be injurious to the unity of the country.

He said, 'We should consider Nigeria above any other interest. Nigeria is more important than any position. Nigeria is more important than the presidency because if there is no Nigeria, there would be no president. Nigeria is more important than any position of power. The beauty of democracy is negotiation. We will sit down and negotiate and discuss. Those issuing such threats are not democrats.

'Nigeria is bigger than a region or state. We are looking at the country. You see, you people (referring to the younger generation) have short sightedness. You talk of north and south. I don't want to use that, but because of your understanding, I am using the words north and south. Nigeria is very paramount. Mind you, I was at the conference where Nigeria was declared an independent country. So we have been in love with this country for a long time. This is about 50 years.

'What we had was just a gentleman agreement. It was out of sympathy for a situation. I told you that some people complained that they had been hurt so much and that they were feeling the pain and they were not willing to participate in political activities at that time. If the West had boycotted, there would have been a stalemate. So the agreement was not a written document. It was a gentlemen agreement.'

In Enugu, South-East governors rose from a meeting, saying they will back any candidate with the best programme that will address the marginalisation of the geo-political zone.

They said, 'On the matter of national politics, the governors have resolved in the interest of the zone, to stand and work together irrespective of party affiliations.

'In that vein, the governors resolved that none of them will vie for the post of the president or vice president of the nation in 2011. We will support for presidency, a candidate with the best programme that will address the marginalisation of the South East zone and political imbalance in Nigeria.'

Meanwhile, Shinkafi has said that zoning is no longer useful. He told journalists in Lagos on Saturday that there were times and circumstances when zoning was good and bad.

Shinkafi, who was in company with his wife, Hajia Aishat, said, 'This zoning sometimes is a political trick to have power; this zoning is only for the PDP. Maybe as at the time PDP opted for zoning, it (zoning) was good for the PDP to get power.

'There are times and circumstances when zoning is good and there are times and circumstances when zoning is not good.'