By NBF News

Governors of the 19 northern states on Tuesday finally showed their hands on the controversial issue of zoning with ten of them sticking with the clamour for the presidency to remain in the North while seven of them want the position thrown open to politicians from all the regions in the country.

The governors that insisted on zoning are those of Jigawa, Kebbi, Gombe, Katsina, Sokoto, Niger, Kwara, Kano, Borno and Zamfara while the governors of Kaduna, Adamawa, Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa and Kogi want the presidency thrown open.

During the meeting that lasted for over six hours, the governor of Yobe abstained from voting while Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, who happens to be a son-in-law to the late President Umaru Yar'Adua, was absent at the meeting due to the demise of the Emir of Bauchi.

Interestingly, the northern governors' decision came a day after their South South counterparts decided to consign zoning to the dustbin of history.

The outcome of the Tuesday meeting suddenly threw open the debate on where governors from South East and South West geo-political zones stand on the matter. Governors of the South East states have however ruled themselves out of the equation as they said none of them would contest for the number one position in 2011.

But are the governors cutting deals for personal cum political survival or taking position based on altruism? What makes the presidency so powerful and alluring that occupants of the office don't want to let go?

'Be courageous, take a stand on zoning' was one of the several messages on the banners displayed by a group of northern youths, who stood strategically on the road to the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna State seat of power and venue of last Tuesday's Northern Governors Forum (NGF) meeting.

At the end of the meeting, the governors noted the constitutional right of President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 election like every other Nigerian, but reserved their decision on zoning for another day. Going by the outcome of the meeting, it was clear that by sheer simple majority, the governors were for zoning.

The beginning
It started on July 1 when the governors met in Kaduna. At the meeting, they received in audience two separate groups of northern extraction. One of the group's paraded the likes of Professor Jerry Gana, former Information Minister, Chief Solomon Lar, pioneer national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and another former national chairman of the party, Chief Barnabas Gemade among others. This group can be regarded as anti-zoning. They want zoning discarded to allow Jonathan run unhindered. They made their presentations to the governors in that light. And they also told and invited the governors to the Northern Political Summit they held two weeks later.

The other group can be regarded as pro-zoning. The group wants zoning to be retained to allow the North complete its eight-year tenure regardless of the demise of the former President Umaru Yar'Adua. The group was led by former Inpsector General of Police, Mohammed Dikko Yusuf, former Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu, and former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Lawal Kaita.

After addressing the meeting, the governors decided that they would go into consultation, and that by July 22 a decision would be taken on zoning. The July 22 meeting did not hold, but it held last Tuesday.

Interestingly, before last Tuesday's meeting, the Gana group held its summit and resolved that zoning should be discarded to pave way for President Goodluck Jonathan to complete Yar'Adua's remaining four years, since according to them, it was a joint ticket. They passed their resolution to the northern governors.

The other group too, Sunday Sun learnt, met and issued a position statement, warning against the dangers and consequences of dumping zoning. Like the Gana group, they too passed their position to the northern governors, all of which formed the basis of their last Tuesday's decision.

Sunday Sun learnt that the position of the governors favoured the pro-zoning group more than the Gana-led anti-zoning group. This, it was further learnt, may have been responsible for the press conference addressed by the Gana group in Abuja last Thursday, two days after the governors' position was made public, threatening that there would be 'chaos' if the North used zoning to prevent Jonathan from running in 2011.

Hear him: 'Since by divine providence, a son of the Niger Delta has become President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, any attempt to use zoning to hinder the fulfillment of a perceived God-given opportunity to lead Nigeria would only lead the nation into deeper crisis. We must not allow other considerations to trivialize this threat to national security.'

IBB, Jonathan, Buhari or Atiku?
Before the governors' meeting, a few states had held stakeholders' meeting in their respective domain and voiced out their support either for or against zoning. Prominent among these states were Kogi, Benue, Plateau, Niger, Kano, Kaduna and Adamawa. Of this group, only Niger and Kano were for zoning.

But as it later turned out, during the meeting, the governors of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Kwara, Kano, Borno, Katsina, Gombe, Niger and Jigawa were all said to have argued in favour of zoning, insisting that the agreement that the North should produce the President was still valid, while the governors of Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Kaduna, Kogi and Nasarawa were all said to have argued against zoning. However, the Yobe State governor refused to join in the argument, insisting that it was a party affair, while his Bauchi State counterpart was still mourning the death of the Bauchi Emir and did not attend. Yobe is controlled by the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).

Sokoto: Aliyu Wamakko became governor of the state at the behest of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. But, as things stand, Sunday Sun learnt that his support for zoning might not be unconnected with alleged plans by Obasanjo's men in the PDP to dump him, in favour of his deputy and former Water Resources Minister, Alhaji Muktar Shagari. Sunday Sun can authoritatively reveal that Shagari only missed being Vice President after the death of Yar'Adua by whiskers.

However, on the issue of zoning, Shagari and his boss are operating on different wavelength. Whereas Shagari is anti-zoning his boss is for zoning. Wamakko may have therefore supported zoning to secure himself politically, in case he does not scale the legal hurdle to his election at the Supreme Court, especially because his arch-political rival and immediate past governor of the state, Attahiru Bafarawa, is an IBB man. Besides, former Kebbi governor and immediate past FCT minister, Adamu Aliero, who was instrumental to Wamakko's getting the PDP ticket in 2007, has since made up with Atiku who is expected to declare his intention to run soon.

Kebbi: The governor, Saidu Dakingari, is son in-law to late President Yar'Adua and he is for zoning. But he is facing serious challenges on the home front. Aliero, who installed him, is already plotting his fall ahead of 2011. Therefore, if he had argued against zoning, it would certainly have hastened his sentence to political oblivion.

Zamfara: The governor, Mahmud Shinkafi, is IBB's in-law and is expected to support his father in-law's presidential ambition. Besides, he has former governor Sani Yerima to contend with. With the Kano governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, already declaring his intention to run for the presidency, the ANPP would end up giving Shinkafi some headache in the state. He is one of the latter-day pro-zoning converts.

Kwara: Bukola Saraki used to be close to Atiku, but they have since gone their separate ways. Sunday Sun's findings revealed that none of the current presidential aspirants enjoys Saraki's sympathy for now. But he will surely go with the North if the region decides on a consensus candidate, which may not necessarily be a PDP candidate, if Jonathan decides to run.

Kano: The governor is interested in running for the presidency. Unfortunately for him, Buhari's newly registered Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, is gaining ground in the state. Should the North decide to back anyone else other him, it is not clear yet if Shekarau would be willing to drop his ambition, especially if the consensus candidate turns out to be Buhari, as being touted in some quarters.

Borno: Sunday Sun learnt that the decision of the Gvernor Ali Modu Sheriff to turn a pro-zoning governor at the NGF's meeting surprised many. This is so because it is on record that he was the only non-PDP governor that sent a delegation to the July 15 Political Summit in Kaduna, ostensibly to drum support for Jonathan. In fact, he sent a 60-man delegation led by the state ANPP secretary, Alhaji Yusuf Adamu.

However, a former member of the House of Representatives and an erstwhile ally of Sheriff, Dr. Haruna Yerima, attempted to justify his recent political somersault. Yerima told Sunday Sun last Wednesday in Kaduna: 'The man (Sheriff) is only using it to bargain. You remember what he did in 2007; he struck a deal with Obasanjo, thus blocking genuine PDP members in the state from having access to the President then. So that was how he won the state. And if you remember, the result was announced from Abuja while counting was still on in Maiduguri. So I see his latest position as that of an avenue of seeking audience with Jonathan again.'

Sheriff is interested in returning to the Senate after eight years as governor.

But he is also concerned about who takes over from him. He knows he can't do all that alone. He is neither with Buhari, Atiku nor IBB for now. He will only pitch his tent with any one that can guarantee his continued reign in Borno politics. Therefore, he may switch camp to Jonathan's side, once there is assurance that the PDP in the state would go to sleep and let him have a field day.

Katsina: The governor came very late into last Tuesday's meeting. If performance alone is what is required to get a second term in office, Governor Ibrahim Shema has nothing to fear, deal or no deal. He has been able to transform Katsina far better than he met it when he took over in 2007.

And like his late boss and mentor, former President Yar'Adua, Shema does not believe in opening the state's crypt to some loquacious elders and politicians, who believe that performance is only when their pockets are lined with money meant for development of the state.

However, the recent defection of former House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Bello Masari, from the PDP to Buhari's CPC should give Shema some concern. This is even as he has some formidable forces within the PDP to contend with. Therefore, his support for zoning is both strategic and instructive, as to do otherwise would amount to digging his own grave. He will go with the North once the region decides.

Gombe: Governor Danjuma Goje is in firm control of the state. He has been consistent on zoning, probably because he is also allegedly eyeing the presidential seat. But he is not likely to be considered for the plum job, his alleged interest notwithstanding. It is on record that he won his first election as governor at the behest of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. But it is difficult to place him for now.

Niger: The governor, Aliyu Babangida, is a cousin to IBB, but Sunday Sun can confirm that he did not support zoning because of IBB. He was alleged to have supported zoning as a way of spiting those who had promised him the Vice Presidency slot after the death of Yar'Adua only to ditch him at the last minute. But as things stand, he has to stand by whatever the region supports and push it to fruition. While it may difficult to decipher whether or not he has any sympathy for Buhari, if his utterances in recent times is anything to go by, it would be safe to conclude that he is not likely to support either of Atiku or IBB.

He was once said to have challenged President Jonathan to name one governor he (Jonathan) thinks enjoys his support and he would tell him where the governor belongs.

Jigawa: Sule Lamido has apparently captured the hearts of Jigawa people for 'liberating them.' As things stand, if he contests an election in the state 10 times he would win. One may not like his guts, but his mastery of political situations in the country coupled with his sagacity stands him out among his colleagues. He was probably in politics before many of them. As a team player, he would certainly go with the North, provided he can place such a candidate ideologically.

Taraba: Danbaba Suntai may have voted against zoning for political survival as he is not in good terms with his predecessor, Reverend Jolly Nyame, who has already pitched tent with Senator Abdulazeez Ibrahim for the purpose of unseating him. Suntai's opposition to zoning may have been influenced by General TY Danjuma, who is one of the brains behind Jonathan's bid to run in 2011.

Adamawa: The governor, Murtala Nyako, appears to be speaking from both sides of his mouth. Though he declared support for Jonathan even before last Tuesday's meeting, in one breath he would ask Jonathan to respect the party's position and in another breath he would say something different. Sources however told Sunday Sun that his support for Jonathan may not be unconnected with the fear of the EFCC. As at the time of filing this report, some of the state's officials were already answering questions at the anti-graft agency. He has never wanted Atiku in the PDP, so he may end up with Jonathan.

Kaduna: Whatever affects Jonathan would rub off on Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, the Kaduna governor. This may have been responsible for his argument against zoning. Therefore his position may have been informed by the need for political survival.

Kogi: The governor is on his second term and like Nyako, he is afraid of the EFCC. Some of his commissioners and council chairmen have been in and out of the EFCC headquarters in recent times.

Nasarawa: The governor, Aliyu Doma, is close to Lar, who is one of the leaders in the 'Project Jonathan,' a project that is seen more as a Middle Belt agenda. Doma needs a second term and as such may be afraid of the party. Like several others, his decision to dump zoning is for political survival.

Plateau: Plateau is part of the Middle Belt. Jonah Jang, like Doma, needs a second term and as such cannot do otherwise, hence his anti-zoning stance.

Benue: The state presents a funny scenario. Although the governor, Gabriel Suswam, is anti-zoning, there are several other prominent indigenes of the state that are more experienced politically and capable of turning the tide against the governor that are pro-zoning. Incidentally, but for some of the experienced politicians, he may not have emerged governor in 2007. He also needs a second term as such believes that his anti-zoning posture would fetch him a second term. However, he has to strive hard to balance that with the opposition at home who are set to rubbish him.

Last Line
Although the Bauchi governor was absent at the last Tuesday's meeting, the threat he is already facing from within the PDP, ANPP and the newly registered CPC might not make him contemplate taking an anti-zoning position so as not to jeopardize his second term ambition. Besides, like the Kebbi governor, he is also an in-law to the late Yar'Adua.

As for the Yobe governor, who refused to participate in the debate, he may have decided to toe this line because of the uncertainty surrounding his political future.

The North West states apart from Kaduna are at the moment the bulwark of the pro-zoning agitation in the North although Jonathan appears to have made inroad into the North Central. But generally it is not yet Uhuru for the President.