By NBF News
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In the last few weeks there has been intense national debate on the Presidential candidacy of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is rightly a national debate because it involves two important institutions of our country- the Presidency and PDP. It is about who becomes the Presidential flag bearer of the ruling party in the forthcoming election.

Therefore it should no longer be a matter exclusive to the political party though it remains a decision and choice that the party alone should make. Clearly the making of that decision has become so difficult whichever way you look at it.

It is imperative that any discuss on this should in the interest of the motto of our country be devoid of sectional or self-serving interest. There should be Fairplay, Unity and Progress.

It is a fact that the Peoples Democratic Party is one of the largest political parties in the country cutting across every corner of the land. Instructively the party controls both the Executive and Legislative arm of government. President Goodluck Jonathan is a member of the party and was elected along with our late former President Musa Yar' Adua under the umbrella of PDP.

The election of Yar' Adua and Jonathan was for a term of four years and the subsisting Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria allows a maximum of two terms in the office of the Presidency. With the most unfortunate ailment and subsequent death of Musa Yar' Adua, it was inevitable that the Vice President should ascend to be the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed forces. That transition was undoubtedly a tense and trying time for our country, but we overcame that and Acting President Jonathan was sworn in as our President. The conduct of President Jonathan and most of the leading members of government throughout these periods demonstrates that Nigeria has come a long way. We have certainly grown and learnt from our past mistakes and adventures. A reflection that we all need each other as one united and indivisible entity Nigeria. And that we cannot always have our wishes through all the time. Tolerance and compromise by all is needed given that we are a hugely pluralistic society. Lots of credit has to be given to President Jonathan for carefully and wisely steering the affairs of the country during the time that we were so exposed to all sorts of temptations. We emerged from the uncertainty, a stable united and progressive nation.

The year 2011 is upon us. Election to the office of the President of the Republic is due to take place and the victorious candidate should be sworn in for a term of four years. Undoubtedly PDP faces a difficult and novel situation. The Party has never been confronted with this kind of scenario, prompted by the death of former President Yar' Adua and seemingly never envisaged. Like all the political parties in Nigeria, there is a Constitution, which guides the conduct of members and operation of the party.

Quite acceptably, because of our history, tradition and attitudes, a process by which everyone will have a sense of belonging and opportunity to one day in the foreseeable future lead the party to Aso rock is most welcome. There is no section of the country that is incapable of producing the President of the country. This premise of having all of us feel equal and participatory must not be faulted. Being 50 years as an independent nation does not vitiate this at all. And it does not breed incompetence nor mediocrity. However this Party provision should not deprive the statutory rights of any Party member. This therefore raises a very pertinent question. Why should anyone disobey the constitutional provision of his or her party. I do not think that this is a sticking point. The leadership of the party should take a position based on the Constitution and Conventions of the party, advice members, impress on delegates to vote along the party's position and allow free primaries to takes it's course.

Conveniently, the country has been divided into six zones - South west, South east, South south, North west, North central and North east in no particular order. The Peoples Democratic Party entrenched this premise in their constitution on the concept of Zoning. This allows the rotation and therefore mixtures of officers from the various zones. The Party has given the mandate to Yar' Adua's Northwest and Jonathan's Southsouth for the 2007. As a consequence of that, the President of Senate came from Northcentral, Deputy President of Senate Southeast, Speaker of the House of Representative Southwest with his Deputy from the Northeast. This equitable distribution of officers goes beyond government officials to party officials. This was preceeded by the previous eight years when President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Abubakar Atiku were from Southwest and Northeast respectively.

I invite every Nigeria particularly members of the Peoples Democratic Party and especially delegates to the Party Convention this year to spare a thought on this very important matter. The issue before us is; in the overall circumstances, who is the most appropriate Presidential flag bearer of the Party.

We have an incumbent President who is serving his term. He is from the Southsouth and serving out the Yar' Adua/Jonathan mandate. We also have some candidates from the North who have expressed interest in being the PDP flag bearer.

President Jonathan has not declared his interest to run for the office of the President for another term. The main argument for those who persuade him to run seem to be that, he is a sitting President who has done no wrong. Also that he is serving his first term and should be allowed to serve a second term. These proponents also argue that he is from a zone in the country that has not yet produced a President.

Opposing President Jonathan emergence are several groups that believe strongly that it has been and still is the turn of the North to produce the President. That the unfortunate death of former President Yar' Adua does not confer that turn to the South. This position they hinge on the Zoning and rotational policy of the PDP. It is their position that the rules of the game should not be changed at the middle of the game or for anyone's convenience.

It goes without saying that both sides of the argument have their plausible points. The party's highest decision-making body has pronounced that Zoning in PDP is in place and President Jonathan or any interested candidate could contest. Much as this is ambiguous, it is a position of compromise. This is an attempt to satisfy everyone. The party could not be courageous enough to take a definite position one way or the other. That is not good enough but at the least, it maintains the peaceful fragile cohesion in the party.

Who are those founding members of the Party, the National Executive Council members that could be bold enough to tell us the truth on the intention of the drafter's of the PDP constitution. Who are those that will rise to the challenge not minding having their jobs at stake or being out of favour, to tell Nigerians the spirit of the party's Constitution.

It seems quite clear that the true intention of the zoning icy of the Party was to allow power to rotate to different parts of the country. That being the case, starting with the South who had to be in that position for a maximum of eight years and then reverts to the North followed by the South again. It must therefore be the intention of the Party for Power to rotate between the South and the North. This is assuming that the entity PDP remains as one political party and continues to win the elections.

Considering this particular circumstance alone, the Party's Presidential candidate for the 2011 election should come from the North. The party did not further clarify how this spirit of rotation of power should be earmarked amongst the different zones in the North or the South. I will not dwell on that because it is beyond the scope of this article and not relevant to the main point currently in issue.

The other factor is that apart from the Party's Constitution, there are Party's Conventions and Traditions, which has binding effects on members of the party. In the past, whilst the zoning policy of the party has been alive, members who are not from the zoned region has put themselves up for the contest. An instant in point is that of Abubakar Remi in 2007. On the basis of this precedence, any member of the party could put himself up for the Presidential contest. In 2003 the same happened, but the party insisted and returned the fee paid by the contestants who are not from the zoned South. It therefore follows that any qualified member of the party should be allowed to put him or herself forward for the election.

The third factor is that the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria ascribes every citizen of the country, the right to aspire to the office. Therefore any party member could rely on this statutory right to lawfully contest. No one should be delayed by going through the courts in order to be accepted for the contest.

It is expected that the party should take an unwavering and firm position considering the Conventions, Traditions and upholding her Constitution. The party should canvass for that position and every loyal party member ought to tow that path.

Given all these, it is obvious that the fair and best approach to this is for the People's Democratic Party to pronounce and hold, that her Presidential Candidate for the 2011 election is zoned to the North. In the same breath, the Party should not disallow any other qualified member of the party from contesting for the same position. The contest should be open and democratic. All contestants should have equal opportunity to seek support. They should not be discriminated upon and choice of candidate should be based on approach to issues. The party through their delegates should then elect her candidate for the 2011 Presidential election at the party's convention(s).

I am not oblivious of the fact that this would not be easy for the party to pronounce and hold, but that is the best way forward. Some people will still be aggrieved but the party and the country has a much better opportunity to move forward and make progress. All the members of the party would not be pleased on this matter just like on many other party issues, but the overall interest of the party should be foremost in their minds.

Any improper or self serving compromise on this for whatever reason will consign the party to very difficult times, at a crucial period leading to a nationwide expectant free and fair election. A situation that could potentially affect us all.

Dr Emeka Onwuelo.