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'Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable but I pray we don't get there.' these were the words of former vice president and consensus candidate of the northern region in next year's presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, when he spoke in Abuja on Thursday at the stakeholders conference organised by leaders of the North, South-east and South-south geopolitical zones.

Earlier, both former military rulers, Ibrahim Babangida and former Senate president, Ken Nnamani, had warned of the dangers of not allowing zoning to be operational especially within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The ruling PDP has also not been able to clearly take a stand on the issue of zoning since the debate began shortly before the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as president of the country.

But yesterday there was a consensus by participants at the National Stakeholders Forum with the theme: 'Building Consensus for National Development' that whether Nigeria would remain united would, to a large extent, depend on how the current debate on zoning of political offices, especially the presidency, is handled. Right now a section of the North is insisting that the zone should produce the president in next year's election while the South-south zone insists that it is its turn to produce the president.

But former president Ibrahim Babangida said the issue of zoning and power rotation was beyond the northern region or the PDP. Rather, he told the audience that it was a national challenge. 'It is simply a national challenge to come up with an arrangement that guarantees to all sections of this country a sense of belonging. Jettisoning this arrangement, regardless of the excuse that is being bandied around, endangers not only the prospects of orderly political transition in the country but also its progress towards evolving into a single indivisible nation,'' Babangida warned.

He noted that the critical balancing fulcrum sustaining the PDP was the zoning arrangement and any attempt to disrupt it would not only affect the electoral fortunes of the party 'but more seriously endangers orderly political transition in the country. 'National unity is the fundamental value, which brings all of us together at this event. The history of this country provides a constant reminder that we can only disregard the issue of national unity at the risk of very horrific and tragic consequences,'' IBB stated.

He, however, added that the stakeholders' meeting attended by representatives of all the six geopolitical zones showed the determination of Nigerians to confront their common challenges. In his keynote address, former Senate president, Ken Nnamani, stated categorically that the North had been magnanimous to have allowed power to shift from it at all.

According to him, the northern region had about 51 per cent of the total number of delegates in the PDP 'and so if they are not magnanimous power will not get to any other part of this country. It is therefore important that we don't allow one person's ambition affect that of the entire people. Even places where democracy has succeeded, zoning is observed.''

He gave example of the United Nations and United States of America , Switzerland and Ghana, among others, while debunking the argument that zoning or power rotation was undemocratic. 'It is the right of the northerners to be president of this country. In fact, zoning itself is a consensus from the North. We must appreciate their magnanimity and if we truncate this process it will not mean well for this country.

'The tension we have now in the PDP is because some people want to circumvent the rule. Otherwise, the constitution of our party is clear on the issue of zoning and that has not been changed yet,'' said Nnamani.