By NBF News

Obinna Uzoh
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former governorship candidate in Anambra State, Dr. Obinna Uzoh, has praised his party for affirming its constitution as it relates to zoning. According to the lawyer and business mogul, zoning guarantees fairness and equity.

In this interview, he talked about next year's elections, the aspiration of General Ibrahim Babangida and the position of South-East in the country's polity, among others.

You appear to have been missing in action in politics for sometime now. What is going on?

It will not be right to say that I have been missing in action. On the contrary, I have been involved in politics at the state and national levels. It is just that it's not my style to start shouting in the press about what we have been doing. Some of us joined politics in order to contribute our quota, in a positive way, towards the growth of Nigeria. Although I am not holding an elective position, I have, to a large extent, contributed to ensure that our people enjoy the benefit of democracy. I am a member of PDP and we relate with the party's leadership and others.

Now that you have mentioned PDP, let's talk about the zoning controversy. Your party last week said that zoning stands. Also, it cleared President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 poll. Some people see this as contradictory. What is happening?

The debate generated by zoning underlies the seriousness of the matter.  I know that zoning, as a party concept, was not lightly conceived. A lot of thought was invested in its conceptualisation and the larger and peculiar Nigerian picture was taken into account there. This was why it was a written component of the party's constitution. Let me quote Section 7.2(c) of PDP's constitution, which explicitly states: 'In pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels.'

Notwithstanding the political challenges, fears and reservation from some quarters, that principle should be respected. By declaring that zoning stands, it follows that the PDP will implement it, as specified by the party's constitution. For the avoidance of doubt, the PDP constitution said that the party's leadership must enforce the principle of zoning. As the party has said that zoning stands, for 2011 election, it therefore means that the leadership will enforce it. As a faithful PDP member, I don't expect anything less. We made the constitution to obey it. if we start breaching the constitution we made, it will not say well of us.

Having said that, I want to believe that the top echelon of the PDP decided that President Goodluck Jonathan can run for the 2011 presidential poll because there is no way you would deny anybody his constitutional right. The constitution said that everybody is free to contest for elective position. That applies to President Jonathan. But in saying this, I must add that Jonathan also knows that there is a law in his party, which he is party to.  As a member of the PDP, he is bound by the party's constitution. As log as he remains in the party, I don't  want to believe that he would go out of his way to breach its constitution. He has not said whether he would contest or not. If he would, it may just be that he would do that outside PDP, because I don't want to believe that the Jonathan we know, who is part of a government that is amplifying rule of law and internal democracy in political parties, would want to be the one who would tend to break his party's law.

I must commend the PDP for still recognising the imperative of zoning policy. This sets the stage for next phase of political engagements that will shape the future of PDP, as the nation's ruling party and possibly determine its viability or otherwise.

But some Nigerians say that zoning is not practised elsewhere?

I don't know about that. What I do know is that, as a concept, zoning enjoys universal application. For example, that  FIFA gave the nod to Africa to host the latest World Cup has its roots in the principle of zoning. The same applies to the United Nations picking its Secretary General from Africa. Egypt's Boutros Ghali and Ghana's Kofi Annan became UN's secretary generals because of zoning. Without zoning, Africa could not have dreamt of these privileges.

On the home front, recall that the successive replacements of Senate presidents, during the Obasanjo regime, came from the South-East zone because that position was zoned to them. Senator Ibrahim Mantu was deputy to successive Senate presidents because that slot was then zoned to the North-Central. Zoning is an enduring concept, both locally and universally.

General Ibrahim Babangida recently declared his aspiration to run for the presidency next year, just as other eminent Nigerians. What do you think about Babangida's aspiration?

General Ibrahim Babangida is not a political neophyte, by any scale of evaluation. He did not lightly signal his intention to contest the 2011 presidential poll. I think it was a product of deep introspection, a trademark trait of his. One thing is clear, Babangida wants the best for Nigeria. He has done quite a lot for the country. Therefore, coming out to say he wants to contest shows that he has more to offer the nation. I believe that Nigeria will benefit a great deal if he is given the opportunity to, once again, be the chief executive of the country. Much have gone wrong in the country. We need somebody in the stature of Babangida to get things back on track.

But some Nigerian think otherwise..
That is the unfortunate part of it. However, you don't expect that everybody would support him. This is democracy, the majority will have their way, while the minority will have their say. In any case, Babangida enjoys wide followership in the country, despite the efforts of paid propagandists to paint a contrary picture. From what I know, Babangida is ready to submit himself to the electoral verdict of Nigerians. This position was further, clearly reinforced when he formally declared his presidential interest recently. He has that fundamental right. Nigerians, in effect, must decide who their next president should be and this process must be fair this time. The era of impunity; the era of electoral outcomes without electoral processes is over.

Why do you want Babangida back?
I know that Babangida's aspiration stems from clarity of the articulation of his vision and strategy. He wants the best for the country. Given the opportunity, he would restore the glory. If we look at what he did as head of state, you will agree with me that he would do more as civilian president.

But he said he would do only four years…
That is the point. He has formulated a programme that would cause a turn around in four years. And he has said that he would hand over after that, so that his successor will continue from there.

Talking about handover, Babangida said he would ensure that somebody from South East succeeds him in 2015…

That is the vision I am talking about. He already knows where he is going.  For the sake of accuracy, let me quote from his recent statement, which was widely published. It said: 'In 2015, I will love to see that an Igbo man becomes president of this country so that it will fully put an end to the civil war matter and fully integrate them into Nigeria. After the civil war, they need to completely feel like Nigerians.' Nobody will deny the fact that the Igbo need this. An Igbo man as president will end the talk about marginalization. Since democracy was enthroned, no Igbo man has been president, through election, as Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo or through constitutional succession, as President Jonathan, who became president when Alhaji Umar Musa Yar'Adua died.

Babangida said that his advocacy for zoning is not a war against President Goodluck Jonathan, but a crusade for equity, justice and fair play as well as peace and unity, which General Yakubu Gowon fought to keep the country together.  He further stated that the idea of zoning would only be complete after an Igbo man becomes the president of Nigeria in 2015. I am happy by what he said. He said: 'If we must make every one believe that he belongs to this country, then it is after an Igbo man has been given the opportunity of being president in 2015 to complete the programme of fighting for the unity of this country by General Gowon.'

But the South East summit said the Igbo would prefer Jonathan's presidency. How do you react to that?

The question to ask is: Who are the people who attended that summit in Enugu? Among all the people who attended the meeting are only three known names. That does not represent the Igbo. I hope you are aware that the true Igbo leaders met last week and said there was need to retain zoning. Prominent Igbo leaders attended that meeting. In that meeting, there were former governors, ex-Senate president, political kingmakers, prominent community leaders. That is the meeting that spoke the mind of the Igbo nation.

Besides, there is no way the Igbo would want to be politically irrelevant  in a country, where they had played major role in its polity. I recall that Dr Ekwueme, in a keynote address he gave to a meeting of South East people at Presidential Hotel in Enugu, in 1994, before going to the constitutional conference, gave an analysis of those who had held power as heads of government since independence, starting with Tafawa Balewa, from the North-East, Bauchi, 1960 to January 15, 1966. According to him, Ironsi, from South-East held power from January 15, 1966 to July 29, 1966 - that is barely six months; Gowon, North-Central, from July 29, 1966 to July 29, 1975 - exactly nine years; Murtala Muhammed, North-West, from July 29, 1975 to February 13, 1976 - barely seven months; Obasanjo, South-West, from February 13, 1976 to September 30, 1979 - three years and seven months or thereabouts; Shagari, North-West, from October 1, 1979 to December 31, 1983 - four years and three months; Buhari, North-West, December 31, 1983 to August 26, 1985 - that's 20 months; Babangida, North-Central, August 26, 1985 to August 25, 1993 - that's eight years less one day; then Shonekan, 82 days, from the South-West; then Abacha, who was there at the time he was doing this analysis, from the North-West. At that time it was only the South-South that had not produced a head of government. Today, the zone has produced an elected president for several months and counting.  The South-East has not produced an elected head of government. That's why I would rather support a cause that would ensure this. That cause is the best for the Igbo.

What gives you the impression that Babangida will honour this promise?

I know Babangida. He is a man of his words. He knows that this is democracy and that trust is the hallmark of democracy. He would do as he has said.

But Babangida may not be president. Remember that the PDP said President Jonathan can also run in 2011. How does this square with the aspiration of Babangida?

President Goodluck Jonathan, no doubt, a child of providence, has on several occasions admitted that he is under tremendous pressure. The country's constitution says yes he can contest. But the party constitution says no. The PDP has pronounced what appears a middle ground that appears to accommodate everyone. The people who put him under pressure to dismantle the Super Eagles, following the teams' dismal World Cup outing, which he later reversed, are also the same people who put pressure on him to sack the service chiefs. He wisely resisted that latter counsel. I believe these are the same forces egging him on. But intuitively, I feel the man has his own wisdom, notwithstanding swimming among sharks.  Ultimately, a man takes decisions that can impact his future. Should Jonathan bow under the pressure he spoke about and run? Rev. Father Matthew Kukah's counsel to Jonathan, I believe, best captures it all. Let me quote Kukah: 'Should President Goodluck run next year? Why not? In doing so, he will be taking over the steering of his life from God's hands and will have to foot his own bills.'

The South-East zone is clearly going to play an important role in determining who becomes president in 2011. As these elections draw closer, what should be the position of the South-East?

I would want a president of Igbo extraction in 2015. The South East could produce a vice president in 2011 poll, but the ultimate is to produce a president in 2015. This can only come about if they work with the North in 2011. The North cannot make it to the presidency next year without the Igbo  support. I am more inclined to that support.

Babangida has clearly articulated this strategy. The South-East should totally support Babangida on this account. Naturally, this support would be negotiated with Babangida, in clear recognition of the strategic realities facing Ndigbo. We must not allow ourselves to be subdued into treading a path that will reinforce the erroneous notion that the zone is politically disorganised and don't know what is  good for it.

Since General Yakubu Gowon's egalitarian 'no victor, no vanquished' mantra, after the war, the South East is clearly marginalised. We have five states, while other zones have six/seven each. The implications, in terms of revenue allocation and other fundamentals, are clear. There are also other forms of marginalization, which  has done injustice to Ndigbo. These must be ended.