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MUCH ADO OVER ZONING

By NBF News

Zoning. That is the in-talk in Nigeria today. Everywhere you go, a simple gentleman's agreement in the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), dominates public discourse and, invariably, the media.

The heart of the matter is that the PDP had a gentleman's agreement that the presidency would stay in the North for eight years after eight years of the Obasanjo government.

Possibly, that arrangement might not have become contentious if the late president, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, had not died before the end of his first term in office.

Unfortunately, he died, and his Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, has become president, as provided for in the Constitution.

Will Jonathan then run for the Presidency, come the 2011 polls? Is he qualified to run? Should he do so, if it is given that the post has been zoned to the North for eight years by the PDP?

Should Jonathan step aside in 2011 for a Northern candidate? Since he is completing Yar'Adua's first term now, was Yar'Adua's first term guaranteed to the extent that he would have had it, whether he performed in his first term or not, to justify the claim that a Northerner must emerge for the second term?

Questions, questions and more questions. The polity is virtually boiling over the PDP zoning affair that one must wonder if Nigeria's presidency had been eternally 'zoned' to the PDP.

Is the 2011 presidential election not an all comers' affair, open to all those who are qualified under the Constitution to vie for the office? Why all the hoopla on this informal zoning arrangement of the PDP.

A number of factors are responsible for this. Key among these, of course, is the chicken-heartedness of most of the opposition parties in Nigeria, which has made the presidency of the country an affair to be determined in the bedchambers of PDP chieftains.

In a country with a vibrant democracy, and with many opposition parties that are worth the name, and are ready to challenge the current PDP presidency for the nation's No 1 seat, the people should not be getting into paroxysms over an alleged agreement in one of about 50 political parties in the country.

The reason everyone is getting worried, and many Nigerians are catching cold over the convulsions on the zoning issue, is that there are hardly any viable alternatives to the PDP, at least at the moment.

Instead of a virile opposition, what Nigeria has today is more or less a band of acquiescing political jobbers, masquerading as an opposition, but ever willing to jump ship to ' 'come chop' on the PDP lollypop train.

The prospect of an opposition party toppling the PDP in next year's presidential election is almost unimaginable, hence, the hoopla on the zoning arrangement in the PDP, and what candidate it is likely to throw up for next year's polls.

Ibrahim Babangida, ex-president and a presidential hopeful in next year's polls, is one of those who have been bellyaching over the zoning imbroglio.

He has been canvassing the benefits of the zoning arrangement as one that promotes stability in political parties and country, and asked Nigerians not to lose any sleep over the matter.

It is obviously in his interest today to keep to the alleged zoning arrangement which has been interpreted to mean that a Northern candidate must emerge to complete the second term of late president, Umaru Yar'Adua, next year.

The zoning or no zoning controversy has once again underscored the fact that Nigeria is not a nation in the real sense of the word. When top politicians become ethnic and zoning jingoists, and are less interested in the quality of individuals to be saddled with the leadership of the country, it becomes obvious that the nation has not taken its first tottering steps towards nationhood.

It is sad, but Nigeria is only a little better than an orphan state. Nobody cares about our dear country, whether it goes down the drain or survives on a limb. What our top politicians agonize over is the part of the country from which a leader comes.

It all goes to show that we are not serious as a nation. All problems besetting our country are of little concern to the ruling class. Of greater interest to them is what will accrue to them, and to their zones.

This attitude is already heating up the polity. The effect of this attitude is that every politician sees himself as representing a zone, and is all the hell bent on delivering dividends of office to his zone. Hence, juicy political appointments are allocated to the zones of top political office holders, choice institutions are located there, major road and other contracts are awarded there.

And when does that leave our poor orphan country? The country continues to go downhill, while those in power display a winner-takes-all attitude, like a conquistador, or one who has no stake at all in the national project.

This type of schism, which manifests in each zone or region seeking its own interests, and not that of Nigeria and the ordinary people in the country, is inexpedient.

Is this article some kind of treatise against zoning, or in support of Goodluck Jonathan's candidacy in 2011? Not at all. For this writer, it is neither anti-zoning, nor Pro-Jonathan. Of course the president has a right to contest next year's polls if he so wishes. That is his constitutional right, which should not be taken away from him, under any guise.

But, whether he should excercise that right or not is another matter entirely. It is up to him. In taking the decision, however, he must be careful about pressures from sycophantic hangers-on who want him in office only because of the opportunity it affords them to hold certain offices, and to feather their own nests. As he has said once, he should be guided by what he is able to achieve with the presidency that fate has so freely thrown in his laps, before he seeks an extension of his mandate. He should forget the zoning affair. Abi na zone we go chop?

What Nigerians should be concerned about at this time is not the zone from which the next president should come. If we are serious as a nation, we should be assessing the man Jonathan, to see if he possesses the attributes of the Messiah that Nigeria needs to rescue her people from the numerous physical, social, financial, technological problems besetting them,

At this auspicious time in Nigeria's history, with less than three months to the nation's 50th independence anniversary, Nigerians should concern themselves more with finding a candidate who can make a difference in the history of the country, and not an ethnic flag bearer who will be in office to occupy the slot of his zone.

Nigeria has several daunting challenges. Problems with energy, infrastructure, education, health system, roads, electoral system – you name it.

Solving these problems requires more than a person who is in power to represent a zone. It requires a visionary personality, who is rabidly committed to actualizing the Nigerian dream. Is that person Goodluck Jonathan? Is it Babangida? Or any of the other candidates?

The first major challenge before Nigerians is to have a credible electoral process that could produce the man that Nigerians want to be president in 2011.

The second is for the people to put on their thinking caps to seek out and support one credible candidate that can give the country a break, if we are to break away form the present agonies of our jaundiced nationhood. Zoning of the office of president can never be the answer to the nation's seething problems.

And, President Jonathan should forget the zoning card in his gambit for 2011. If we Nigerians have our heads properly screwed on, zoning should not come into play in the assessment of the president's quest for election in 2011. The president's performance, in office, and the prospects of future good performance, should be the determing factors. Nigeria does not need a president for decoration. We need one who can make a difference in the country's fortunes.