OBASANJO, PDP AND THE GRAND RALLY TO EMBRACE 'ZONING'

By NBF News
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THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) decided to use the occasion of the conclusion of its presidential rally to revisit the issue of power shift and rotation. Finally, there was an agreement on the party's position on the issue, which some months ago had threatened to implode the party.

Incidentally, it was former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who once said that there was no zoning in the party that now cleared the air on zoning.

As President Goodluck Jonathan waited to address party faithful, Obasanjo, who read from a prepared speech, changed the tempo of the rally. Every other speaker had spoken about the impending victory of the PDP at the April polls but Obasanjo took up a critical issue in the party, which not many members of PDP would even want to mention for obvious reasons.

The issue of rotation and zoning of political offices in the party had claimed some victims apart from polarising the PDP. The first casualty was the party's former national chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor. Ogbulafor, after a meeting with the party's governors shortly after the burial of the late president, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, said that the party's zoning arrangement implied that his successor should also come from the North. Soon after, the wheels were set in motion for his ignominious exit. He was soon slapped with a criminal case. He is still in the courts.

Ogbulafor had based his position on Article 7[2] [c] of the PDP constitution of PDP which states that: 'In pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and elective public offices and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels.'

And despite his earlier position, Obasanjo admitted that the constitution remains in force and should be applied. He claimed that the matter the Board of Trustees (BOT), which he heads, had met on the matter.

According to him, the issue was 'tabled by Mr. President himself and I was mandated to take up the matter with three distinguished members of our party on the issue.' He identified the three distinguished members as Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku.

He said: 'I took up the matter with Gen. Ibrahim Babangida who explained to me that the issue is not an accident of history, rather, the issue has been on the front burner that federal character, zoning and rotation have been jettisoned and finally cancelled.'

Speaking on behalf of the BoT, he said, 'what I am saying simply is that federal character, zoning and rotation in our party is alive and kicking. I, personally, say that federal character and zoning of key political offices will not only be respected by PDP, even if it will continue to be the only political party in Nigeria, it will not be jettisoned.

'PDP should be commended for being the only political party that enshrined zoning and rotation in its constitution. PDP encourages stability and we shall continue to promote that.'

He also cleared that the emergence of Jonathan was an accident and should not be misconstrued as an attempt to jettison zoning even as he endorsed him for presidency, aware that he would serve only one term. Obasanjo warned on the consequences of the bickering over the zoning formula of the party.

He continued: 'The accident of history of our recent past should be understood for what it is; an unexpected situation. I do not know who will be the president of Nigeria after Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. That is in the hands of God. But with PDP policy and practice, I can reasonably guess in terms of section of the country from where the successor to President Jonathan will come. And no internal democracy or competition will be thereby destroyed. The recent resort to sentiment and emotion of religion and regionalism is self-serving, unpatriotic and mischievous, to say the least. It is also playing on dangerous emotive issues that can ignite uncontrollable passion and can destabilise, if not destroy our country.

'This will make oblivious of the sacrifices others had made in the past for unity, stability and democracy in Nigeria in giving up their lives, shedding their blood and in going to prison. I, personally, have done two out of these three sacrifices and I am ready to do the third if it will serve the best interest of the Nigerian dream.''

The statement have been seen as a vindication of the members of the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF), who based on the principle of zoning in the PDP nominated Atiku Abubakar as the northern consensus candidate. With series of reconciliation moves going on in the party, the question is what will be the implication of this late admission to the chances of Jonathan in the North. Will the acceptance by Jonathan to serve for only one term pacify the North and others?

Meanwhile, the president's camp believes that Jonathan will secure victory with 75 per cent of votes nationwide. Said the president's aide on Research and Documentation, 'even in the North East, we will get the votes we need. There wont be any need for a run off election.'

The conclusion in the president's camp is that enough work has been done and victory is certain.

The Director in charge of Research and Strategy, Mike Omire expressed optimism that the door-to-door campaign has been successful as many Nigerians have either called on the telephone or sent text messages lauding the innovation. He added that while some presidential candidates are indulging in campaigns of calumny, the PDP candidate is selling ideas that 'will transform the country from divisive politics to politics of development in line with the vision 2020 agenda.'

Omire added: 'It is clear that President Jonathan and his running mate, Namadi Sambo have added value to politics in this country. While some other candidates are busy throwing brickbats in the name of campaigns, our candidates have dwelt on issues that can take Nigeria to the next level. We have shown that even in politics, there should be morality. Despite glaring attempts by our opponents to drag our candidates into mudslinging campaign, they have remained focused.

'We have raised the bar of politicking and that is what we expect people to emulate. When there were attempts by some people to limit the campaign space, Jonathan and the PDP leadership moved in and opened the space by asking those who attempted to do so to ensure that all parties are allowed to carry out their campaigns unhindered. This is the first time this is happening in this country and our opponents have acknowledged that. By extension, our opponents have to realise that a Jonathan presidency means equal opportunity for all; a fresh air in the country and above all, a new dawn in politics in Nigeria.'