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ZONING WAR: CRAZY AND DANGEROUS

By NBF News

Before anything, we must agree on one immutable fact:  Ibrahim Babangida, a general and former military president of this country,  holds the historic record of conducting Nigeria's freest and fairest election ever.  In the same vein, he goes down in our black book as the man whose administration annulled that same election and by so doing, etched his name somewhere not exactly edifying in the hearts of his countrymen. Quite ironic and anti-climatic, you would say, for one who always had his eyes on a place in history!

Seventeen years after, the man, fondly called IBB by his admirers and crowned 'evil genius' by his adversaries, is still trying to offer explanations and in a sense, apologies, for the pain that annulment caused Nigerians. 17 years after, Nigerians still romanticise that golden era of Nigerian polls, when the whole country united for one man, not giving a hoot  if he was a Yoruba from Southern Nigeria or a Muslim running on a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

17 years after, it would seem, the ghost of June 12 is yet to leave us. Reason: June 12 defines  our  nationhood. The way we thought we could be: a nation governed by the sanctity of the ballot box. A nation where votes count and determine who gets what in the political process. A nation where no man plays god over others, and decides in his bedroom with a few court jesters in attendance, who wins and loses elections even before it is held.    Whenever we get elections right[it's increasingly becoming tough recalling such moment], we remind ourselves we once had a largely credible poll on June 12; when we get it wrong, we condemn it as unacceptable because it falls far short of our June 12 expectations.

Some Nigerians, I am sure, and for reasons that are certainly self-serving, would want us to consign that historic date to the dustbin, but how can we? How can we deny the ideal we once got to almost miraculously before the tragic flop?  Even they themselves, that tiny clique of parasitic power elite, can't be serious about this, because every of their action brings to the fore the immortality of June 12 and the violence which the annulment of that election has continued to wreak on the nation and the psyche of Nigerians.

Think of the raging controversy over zoning in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the mind immediately races to June 12, and you can't help thinking that if that election wasn't annulled, we wouldn't be today gripped in the crazy and dangerous battle over zoning. If June 12 was allowed to stand,  the PDP wouldn't be splitting hairs over a president of northern or south-south extraction or it's our turn to produce the next president.

With June 12, before our very eyes,  Nigerians simply forgot about ethnic or religious sentiments and rallied behind one man,  a man of all seasons, a man of the people for the people, who seemed encapsulate their dreams and hopes.    Across the nation, the Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Ibibio, Kanuri, Kalabari, Bini, Bachama, Egba, Ijebu, Ogoni, Calabar,  every tribe, tongue and religion, saw one good man whom they felt had what it took to lead the country and gave him their mandate.

Moshood Abiola's selling point was hope and change. He sold hope to millions of our impoverished countrymen and women.

He told them that if they voted him as their president, he would restore hope to the hopeless, provide an environment where many wouldn't have to go through hell before assuaging the basic necessities of life. He himself was a living testimony to the possibility of hope. Born without any spoon[wooden or golden] in his mouth, he knew the meaning of poverty, that tragic seven-letter word. He also understood what hope represented: with hope no mountain was too high to be surmounted. With hope, comes determination; and a combination of hope, determination and hard work, often led you to achieving whatever you set your mind to.

Nigerians, in their millions, cutting across all segments and all social strata, keyed into Abiola's message and defied all odds to cast their votes for him and his running mate, Babagana Kingibe. It was dramatic, enchanting, simply incredible. A  Muslim from the South scored popular votes in Eastern Christian strong hold, Muslim Northern majority and a landslide in the South-South, traditional allies of the North, dazing Bashir Tofa, his opponent in his Kano backyard.

Since Abiola, no Nigerian has ever achieved that feat. But the powers-that-be then cancelled the results of that historic election, citing alleged irregularities. Of course, Nigerians know the rest of the story: an illegal contraption was put in place, but the dark-goggled one knocked down the house of clay; clamped the winner of that election into jail for rightly proclaiming himself the duly elected president/commander-in-chief. Abiola lost his life and his mandate. Since then, Nigerians also lost the chance to be counted amongst civilised nations where citizens are voted into power by the citizenry on the basis of their preferences, not on the basis of zoning or rotation. 17 years after, we seem to have so regressed in our thought process that all we can offer the world in the 21st century is some jaded democratic lingo called zoning/rotation.

17 years after Nigerians gave Abiola a pan-Nigerian mandate, we are still talking about zoning, about rotation, about an agreement to zone offices to particular sections of the country. What went wrong? How can we get out of this mess?  Please, keep a date next week.

….Dele Momodu and the race to Aso Rock!
Of course, if you are a Nigerian living in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world, you would  have heard of the name: Dele Momodu. Even if you haven't, you would certainly have come across his celebrity magazine, OVATION.  Dele is the publisher of that highly successful African journal, a must-have for top celebrities and all those who seek to connect with their African roots.

Of recent, the man popularly called Bob Dee, has been crisscrossing the country and other parts of the world. Not to interview  one of his celebrity guests, but to convince his audiences why he's the right man to occupy the Aso Rock presidential mansion as the No. 1 citizen of the country.

Everywhere he's gone,  Momodu has been preaching the message of generational change. He wants the young people of Nigeria to rise and vote for one of their kind who understands the dynamics and needs of a country in a hurry to catch up with the rest of the progressive world. He has challenged his countrymen to break away from the decadent past which has manifested in the recycling of old, tired men who have lost the creative ideas on how to get our country out of the woods of retrogression and  tunnel-vision leadership.

Wherever he has gone, his audiences have been captivated.   Dele speaks the language of change, change from hopelessness to hope; from decadence to a renaissance. Brilliant, articulate and focused,  the youthful publisher has a can-do spirit which saw him surmounting all odds to the zenith of his career. The presidential aspirant says he's not joking, that he intends to give the race his all and by so doing, make a statement that his  is not a wasted generation. That there abound young men and women with prodigious talents and abilities to lead Africa's most populous [ permit me to add, most problematic] country.

We can only wish him well. We must also commend his courage in deciding to swim in the shark-infested waters of Nigerian politics, and by so doing make a case that in this knowledge-driven century, many young men and women are excelling in their professions and are certainly mature to lead Nigeria at this point in time.  Dele has chosen to be standard bearer for this group of young Nigerians. And we should be proud of him.  For me, it doesn't matter whether he eventually wins or loses. He has made the point that a man has to live by the courage of his convictions. So, be it.

Zoning war: Crazy and dangerous (2)
By Eric Osagie
Monday, July 19, 2010
In the heat of the third term battle, former defence minister, Gen. Yakubu Danjuma, was asked by the Daily Sun what he thought of his estranged friend, President Olusegun Obasanjo's ambition of plotting to tinker with the constitution in order to achieve his dream and possibly transmute to a life president.

I watched the General's face contort into a hard knot before blurting out his famous statement: 'We did not fight the civil war and build this country for one man!' Interpretation: Obasanjo does not own Nigeria, neither does Nigeria belong to him.

But, what Danjuma and many Nigerians either forget or fail to acknowledge is that if there is one man who has had the best of his country, that man is certainly Obasanjo. Either out of sheer luck, providence, Machiavellian manipulation or whatever, this man has often been at the right place at the right time and in the process, got what many laboured painfully but failed to achieve. Check this out: he received the Biafran surrender after Col. Benjamin Adekunle, the Black Scorpion of the dreaded 3rd Marine Commando, had almost completed the routing of the Biafrans. Then, as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, he became head of state after his boss, the revolutionary Gen. Murtala Mohammed, was snuffed out by reactionary forces led by Col. Bukar Dimka. Obasanjo ruled for three years and then handed over to a civilian dispensation headed by Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

His lucky run was not over. In 1998, shortly after the then maximum ruler, Gen. Sani Abacha, expired and Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar became head of state, Obasanjo was spirited out of jail where Abacha had dumped him for alleged complicity in a coup plot, cleaned him up for another shot at the presidency.

In the logic of the Nigerian power brokers, especially from the north, Obasanjo would be made president to assuage the South-West for the denial of Moshood Abiola's June 12 mandate. Abiola was himself still cooling his heels in the gulag Abacha kept him and Abdusalami was pussyfooting what to do with the winner of the popular election.

Scared of the opposition from his South-West zone and indeed, many parts of the country, and not wanting to wear the tag of a mandate usurper, the freshly released Obasanjo was said to have told those who came to recruit him for the presidential project: Gens. Danjuma, Aliyu Gusau and the late Chief Sunday Afolabi, 'Please, leave me alone, how many presidents do you want to make out of me?' A month later, the Abiola issue was 'resolved.' The June 12 mandate holder died in questionable circumstances and the man who didn't want to be president soon began to run all over the country campaigning for the No. 1 office, after being adopted by the newly formed People's Democratic Party, PDP, under a curious zoning arrangement.

Obasanjo was from Abiola's South-West, Abeokuta specifically. He was also perceived as a friend of the north, a lackey in the view of his southern brothers. So, those who made Obasanjo's second coming possible in 1999 certainly envisaged a pliant, compliant and manipulative president who would serve the interest of those who brought him to power. They must have had the mental picture of Obasanjo of 1976-1979, when he was virtually a figure head head of state with real power residing in the duo of Gens. Shehu Musa Yar'Adua and Yakubu Danjuma.

It was a grievous error of judgement and grievously did the north, indeed all Nigerians, pay for it. The Obasanjo who came in 1999 showed loyalty to only Obasanjo. He dealt harshly with all who brought him to power and equally with Nigerians who swore he would not be president. He dealt with the East, North and the West. He descended on Nigerians with a vengeance of one who had an axe to grind with everyone for his stint in prison. For a man who was allegedly broke after prison, he must have sworn never to have anything to do with poverty anymore. His eight year rule is eloquent testimony to his success in that regard.

But this piece is not about Obasanjo, but an exposition of the genesis of a quick- fix that now haunts the nation. Zoning, from what is easily discernible, was the self-serving quick- fix approach adopted by the PDP and the northern power bloc to tame the restless ghost of the June 12 election annulment. A simplistic solution to a complex problem. By giving power to Obasanjo, the vociferous South-West or Southern Nigeria was expected to keep quiet for eight years and then, return power to the north for another eight years, before other sections can have a go at the centre. That was naivety at its best.

The PDP, that behemoth of confusion, had thought that zoning would bring respite to a combustible nation often trapped in a cyst of power struggle. That if a section or zone gets power, it would act as 'gentlemen' and pass on the baton to the next zone. They forgot the human elements of greed and self-centredness. Obasanjo, the first beneficiary of zoning, was literally chased out of power in 2007, after eight years in power.

The late President Umaru Yar'Adua, whatever anyone may argue to the contrary, was a product of zoning, OBJ's zoning. Even though others ran the primary against him in the party, it's clear that the party skewed everything in his favour to emerge as president, with the headmaster, OBJ, as the leader of the orchestra. It is debatable if the north would have given up power after eight years of Yar'Adua in 2015. Does any group ever willingly give up power? Well, that's subject for another discourse.

The sum total of my argument can be put in three perspectives. First, power is never granted, it is taken, according to Chairman Mao. The South-West fought for power after the annulment of the June 12 and the rest of the country had no choice than to concede power to them in 1999. In 2003, Obasanjo simply bulldozed his way through, using the power of incumbency to continue in office for another term. At that time, it wouldn't have mattered if there was zoning or not. After 1999, Obasanjo, as the Supremo of the PDP, effectively consigned zoning to the dustbin. Zoning was now between Obasanjo and Nigeria. He, it was, who zoned power to Yar'Adua in 2007. He wasn't the north's candidate, but OBJ's.

The second point: zoning is a lazy approach to forging nationhood. We either make up our minds to remain as one or go our separate ways. When those who aspire to leadership want power zoned, it simply means they intend to remain regional or zonal leaders. We must kill zoning if we want Nigeria to live. In 1999, as pointed out earlier, zoning was adopted as quick-fix to resolving the intractable issue of the June 12 annulment. Quick-fixes have never replaced well-thought out solutions.

Thirdly, zoning is a product of fear. The fear that elections conducted by incumbents can never be free and fair.

If candidates or aspirants believe that elections will be credible, that votes will count, then everyone can go to the field, canvass for votes and let the voters decide who will lead them at every stratum of governance. But, over the years in this country, votes have never truly counted. So, those who are used to hunting in the same parks of rigging, ballot box stuffing and official manipulation are afraid that elections can never truly be free and fair. It is Prof. Jega's duty to now calm all edgy nerves and assure Nigerians that this is a new era. If there are assurances that elections will be free and fair, it is certain that the clamour for zoning and this crazy and dangerous war will die a natural death.

In conclusion, it is my humble submission that all candidates to the highest office stop this bickering over zoning. Let them canvass their programmes, how they intend to solve the nation's myriad issues: unemployment, electricity, destitution, housing, hunger, insecurity, amongst others. Let the electoral umpire and the government provide a level-playing field for all aspirants. Let the votes of the people decide who rules them. Isn't that what Americans call the majesty of democracy?

Those beating the war drums of zoning in the north, the south-south and other parts of the country, must be told in clear terms that this is a new Nigeria, a Nigeria that knows neither north, east, west nor south, a Nigeria of all ethnic nationalities, a Nigeria that needs men of vision and character who are able to deliver democracy dividends to the people. Since poverty is not zoned, leadership shouldn't be zoned. Zoning only promotes ethnic champions and zonal messiahs. And that's not what our country needs now. Are the PDP and the other parties listening?

•Concluded
…Sons of dog and the hapless journalists!
It's been shock, anger and outrage since the news of the kidnap of four journalists in Abia State spread through the country. The journalists, leaders of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Wahab Oba, Emeka Okereke, Aldophus Okonkwo, Shola Oyeyipo and their driver, Abdurauf Azeez, were seized on their way from Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, where they had gone for their National Executive Council meeting. The sons of dog have been making ridiculous demands since the forceful capture of the four hapless men. From the initial demand of a staggering N250m to N150m, the kidnappers, as at the time of writing this column, are now asking for N30m as ransom for their victims.

And while the negotiations for the release of the journalists are ongoing, their families have been worst hit. Traumatised, they live each day in fear, not having heard a word from their spouses,fathers, brothers and sons. Are they okay? Will they be freed alive? When will they be released to rejoin their families, friends and colleagues? When will they be freed to continue their journalistic crusade for a better Nigeria; a Nigeria guaranteeing the basic necessities of life for all. A crime-free Nigeria, where misguided citizens will not look at kidnapping as a means of livelihood or engage in this criminal act for whatever reason.

Almost a week after the journalists lost their freedom, the Nigeria police and the security agencies haven't been able to rescue the unwilling hostages. There is a lot of hot air and plenty 'grammar' going on. The police gave the kidnappers 24hours to release the men or face hell. No dice. The traditional rulers in Ngwa have been told to give up their wayward sons or face the wrath of the law. Nothing.

What kind of country is this? A country whose police will be treated with levity by common criminals? A country whose security agencies can't track criminals within the same country? What if we faced enemy attack or foreign invasion, how are we going to rise to the challenge?

Harm must not come the way of Wahab and the three men. They were only on their legitimate duties when the men from hell struck. If the police can't track the criminals, then we should admit that we have no police in this country. Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonnaya Onovo, says he will live up to his words and his rank, that the journalists will be freed. We hope so and quickly too!