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The Northern Political Forum that took place last week in Kaduna was a significant attempt by the Jonathan camp to win the PDP ticket that will enable him continue with his presidency until 2015, presumably. The meeting was attended by some notable figures from the three northern zones who, though short of rejecting zoning totally, unanimously approved the PDP ticket for Jonathan in 2011, according to what was shown on the national television. On the one hand, their decision raised hopes for Jonathan and, on the other, generates some fears about his ability to deliver on his promises.

After the welcome address by the Governor of Kaduna State who spoke the usual official language of Nigerian unity, the ball was set rolling by Solomon Lar who argued that zoning was adopted as a temporary measure which was meant to be disposed of when our democracy has matured, literally saying now is the time. Coming at his heel was Hassan Adamu. After affirming that no one can win the Presidency without the support of the North and recalling how the North has made sacrifices before to ensure that the country remains united, he posited that this is another opportunity where the region will exhibit its large heart. But this time, in return for its support, the President must be given what Adamu called a "northern agenda" which will protect the interest of the region. Adamu's stand was strongly supported by the Sokoto Prince, Shehu Malami. The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bayero Nafada, also called on the North to make sacrifice for the sake of the unity of the country. He was practical in his argument. The North, he said, would have sought the same ticket were it in Jonathan's shoes.

Then came the turn of zonal representatives of the PDP. Barnabas Gemade started by presenting the position of the North central. He drafted God into the equation, saying zoning the presidency could be man-made as it was in 1999 or God ordained as it is in the case of Jonathan. Impliedly, Gemade is asking: Who are we to act against the wish of God then? But more than that, Gemade hinted the core argument of the pro-Jonathan group: the ticket of Yar'adua and Jonathan were joint and inseparable. So Jonathan should continue in 2011 as if he were Yar'adua. Kaulaha Aliyu from the Northeast joined the choir by arguing that zoning was a child of necessity and it is not required now. Ibrahim Ida presented the view of the Northwest PDP. However, the NTA transmission became inaudible and he was cut short. But with Shagari and Shehu Malami at the summit, I once can pretty right predict what Ida said.

Women, for the first time were called to express their opinion in such a gathering. They said, in the words of their spokeswoman, Mariam Waziri, that they are indifferent to zoning as "they" were not consulted when it was introduced in the first place. Pubic office, she said, should be given based on merit regardless of one's religious and ethnic background. Jonathan merits it, in short, according to "northern women."

So came the communiqué, read by Jerry Gana the foremost propagandist of Obasanjo's third term bid, affirming the support of the gathering to, one, free and fair elections; two, the development of the North, promising a seminar to be held shortly on how the North would be developed economically; and, three, Jonathan's ticket in 2011 election. The voice was Gana's, but the logic was Gemade's: the zoning ticket that produced Yar'adua and Goodluck as President and Vice-President respectively was a joint ticket that is inseparable; "the demise of one does not invalidate the other", said Gana. Shi ke nan.

Of course, I forgot to mention the names of people like Mantu, Muhammad Abba Aji and so on. What these people said was obvious. I am rather more concerned by those I did not see, Adamu Ciroma, TY Danjuma, Iyorchiya Ayu, Waku, Atiku and other proponents of zoning. Part of the problem is the misappropriation of names where any group today can claim to be representing a region. Are we therefore likely to see a counter-summit of pro-zoning supporters from the North and the Southeast? Or have they been beaten to submission? It is curious to note how appeal to national unity and patriotism is used now to repeal zoning just as they were used to introduce it in 1999. If you have opposed zoning in 1999 you were unpatriotic; if you support it now you are still unpatriotic! Mhmm. Politicians can be good philosophers, I think. Even Aristotle cannot argue better.

It is logical for a summit like this to arrive at this conclusion given the track record of the politicians who gathered there and the nature of the country's economy. I cannot remember any of the politicians at the summit who owns a surviving factory from which he earns a living. If anything, they have only helped to ruin the few in the North established by Lebanese and other northerners. Our political class, generally, is completely dependent on government, a reality that makes them compliant to the wishes of any incumbent. That is why coups were the only channels through which undesirable regimes could be removed for most part of African history. Jonathan, therefore, must not see their effort as genuine. It is rather an expression of their dependency on whoever is in power.

For now, their support will sound like music to his ears, but he must not forget that the same class were responsible for the failure of all previous leaders. They rundown the Shagari government and rigged the 1983 elections (Shagari attended the summit); they toed the path of IBB in ruining our economy to non-recoverable levels and participated in his ill-fated transition program. They served as ministers of Abacha and approved his actions until when he failed to handover power to them. They brought Obasanjo to power and assisted him in running the most corrupt government and the worst civilian dictatorship. They conscripted Yar'adua knowing very well that he was terminally ill after failing to convince Nigerians to allow Obasanjo a third term. (One can say that majority of those who attended the summit were pro-Obasanjo, reincarnating the fear that Jonathan represents Obasanjo's third term) And now, they are racing to support Jonathan by doing everything possible to deny the zoning they enacted ten years earlier when they wanted to sell a southern ticket to Northerners.

It is understandable and expected that the President is becoming expedient in his bid to win the PDP ticket. However, I have a number of fears. First, I am afraid when I heard them speak at the summit about a "northern agenda" that will take care of the interest of the region which they will present him with. Are they genuinely expecting Jonathan to correct the injuries they inflicted on the North or are they using such expression as subterfuge to make us believe that they have the North at heart? When in the communiqué they said they support free and fair elections, we are bound to ask when did any of them ever in his life practiced free and fair elections? Did not they rig in the NPN? Did not they abandon June 12 and followed Abacha? Did not they rig in 2003 and 2007? Only a fool would believe a person that has been rigging for fifty years but who suddenly claims to be a prophet of free and fair election.

Secondly, I see a lot of danger in their argument, for Jonathan, for the North and for the so-called zoning formula. They have created a room for further confusion in future in order to return and use the North again as a bargaining chip with the President in 2015. By hinging their support to Jonathan on the argument of "joint ticket" with late Yar'adua instead of issuing a totally new one to the incumbent, they created a room for the argument to be revisited at the expiration of the eight years of Yar'adua/Goodluck ticket, i.e. in 2015. The President will then need to come back and beg them for another term. Then we will be taken again through another circle of arguments and summits on zoning, allowing charlatans to raise emotions of religion and sectionalism again. The Yar'adua/Goodluck ticket is a northern ticket, they said. When it expires in 2015, are we expecting a bonafide southern ticket? Why did they find it difficult to declare the demise of zoning, once and for all, by accepting Baba Lar's argument that it was only a temporary measure which does not suit Nigeria today and forever? Incidentally, they are free to do so because no other party is supporting zoning. I hope the PDP will be bold enough to scrap zoning in their NEC meeting this week such that the matter dies, once and for all, though not without some implications for the future of politics in the country.

Thirdly, the methods of Jonathan in gaining the ticket leaves a lot to be desired and I hope they are only short-term. The manner in which he sacked the PDP chairman portrayed him as bereft of any superior talent than Obasanjo. Power is the end. The type of people he recruited as foot soldiers in his ticket campaign suggests that he can hardly lead the reform needed by both his party and country. This inevitably leads to the fourth fear: that he may not be committed to free and fair elections, after all.

Going by the above, which people and methods would Jonathan employ to garner his winning votes in 2011? We all know that it takes more than Jega's INEC to achieve that. In fact, most of the work remains with the President who must contain the military, the police, and security agents who in the past have been at the forefront of election malpractices. He must convince the 27 PDP governors to respect the votes of citizens bearing in mind that none of them was voted before freely and fairly. He must subdue his party to give up rigging, its greatest strength and largest constituency. He must abandon people like Obasanjo who tells him that nobody can conduct a free and fair election. Finally, in case the elections are rigged on his behalf, he must allow the judiciary a free hand to decide on his fate and that of his PDP governors. I am beginning to feel that this is a tall ambition. Jega cannot do this on his behalf. I have raised this doubt in a previous article when I said that the chances of free and fair election are bright only if Jonathan himself is not running.

In conclusion we will advise the President to urgently review his methods if he wants to live above the level of mediocrity of many past Nigerian leaders. It is difficult in politics, admittedly, but not impossible. But merit always comes with sacrifice. He can still reach out to credible people – even within his PDP – in all parts of the country, run an open campaign and genuinely win if he is able to achieve the confidence of the majority. His present approach and companionship, however, compel us to start entertaining the fear that under him business will remain as usual. We have so advised his immediate two predecessors. None of them listened. Would he make a difference? Only time can tell.

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