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ONLY NORTH-WEST, SOUTH WEST BENEFITED FROM ZONING

By NBF News
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For some time now, the impression, that President Goodluck Johnathan, by exercising his right to contest the 2011 presidential elections, is taking away the right of the North to a 'second term' of an eight-year zoning 'arrangement,' said to be have been an agreed to by to the PDP during ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo's tenure, has been so foisted on the public mind that it has come to assume the semblance of the truth. That 'arrangement' has been disputed by President Obasanjo. In any case, there is no provision for an eight-year zoning arrangement in the PDP constitution.

However, this notion has so gained ground in the public consciousness of a section of the country, that it is now assuming the dangerous and unacceptable form of misguided mob attacks on the president's campaign train in some areas of the northern states, obviously by misguided elements who have come to believe this assertion as gospel truth. A few days ago, the president's campaign office in Gombe was vandalised by supporters of General Mohammadu Buhari, for which act, General Buhari has already publicly tendered his apology on behalf of his followers. On Saturday, March 12, 2011, two vice presidential candidates in the forthcoming elections, during the vice presidential debate on NN24 TV channel, publicly encouraged voters to go to the polling booths on Election Day with jerry cans in one hand and matches in the other.

Incitement to violence has become a favoured campaign strategy. Another vice presidential candidate, at the same event, spoke glibly of the Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen option of mass revolt, in the event that his party is not satisfied with the outcome of the elections. Those who speak glibly of revolution and encourage mass violence, as a substitute for informed electioneering campaigns in Nigeria, should be prepared to do the street fighting themselves, and leave the people out of it. The National Broadcasting Commission has a responsibility to sanction any TV or radio station that allows the use of its channels to advocate violence and social unrest in any form.

No democratic change can come out of violent social unrest. Recently, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent publication - 'Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week': From the Entrance to Jerusalem to the Resurrection,' - condemned violent revolution and insisted that it must never be carried out in God's name. I refer to these caveats, in order to warn those who appear to glory in violence, and hold up the recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East as something worthy of emulation; that they should wait and find out the end result of the unrest in the Arab states, and be better informed on what powers are behind the unrest in the region, bearing in mind that revolutions never fail to consume their perpetrators.

I have decided to address these issues because it is becoming obvious that the zoning debate has taken a violent turn, with the loss of life Katsina, violent vandalisation of President Jonathan's campaign office in Gombe and the bombing of the PDP rally in Niger State, etc. In all these cases, the PDP is the target, obviously a reaction of misguided elements acting on the misinformation fed to the public on the zoning issue.

Although there have been escalating incidents of violence, intimidation, and brigandage, involving the campaign rallies of all parties, and sometimes even in intra-party disputes, I have focused this discourse on the attacks on President Jonathan's campaign rallies and tours in the northern states. This is because his have been the only ones attacked among all presidential rallies in Nigeria; and also because the president is an embodiment of the nation, and any maltreatment meted to the presidential campaign of any party poses a grave threat to the Nation's stability, especially as there now appears to be a gang up of parties on this zoning issue.

Zoning appears to be the issue in this campaign and this is as unfortunate as it is tragic. It is, therefore, necessary to set the records straight on the issue of zoning the presidency. The idea of zoning the presidency, along with the twin idea of rotation, was developed by the late Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe at the beginning of the Second Republic.

His idea, which he captioned 'We Zone to Unzone,' involved zoning the presidential candidacy of the party, on a regional basis, in rotation, among the constituent regions of the federation. The zoning and rotation idea was to be for a period of 30 years, the purpose of which was to establish in the public consciousness that every Nigerian citizen, no matter his ethnic origin or religious persuasion should be seen to be entitled, as of right, to aspire to the Presidency of this country, with the support of his fellow country men and women, and in an orderly fashion that respects the rights of all to occupy the highest office in the land.

The NPN (National Party of Nigeria) to which Dr. Mbadiwe belonged, bought the idea and implemented it at the NPN presidential primaries that produced the party's standard bearer for the 1979 elections. I was present at the 1979 party convention, held at the Casino Cinema, Yaba, Lagos, where only candidates of northern origin contested the party's presidential primaries and they were as follows: Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Dr. Ibrahim Tahir, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Maitama Sule, Dr. Joseph Tarka, Professor Iya Abubakar, Dr. Olusola Saraki and others.

The Shagari Presidency was, therefore, the first term of a rotational presidency 'arrangement' zoned to the North on a regional basis, and contested for in the NPN, only by candidates drawn from all parts of the North. No southern candidate contested the presidential primary in the 1979 NPN Presidential primaries.

In the 1979 election proper, the NPN won the following governorships: From the far North: Sokoto, Niger, Bauchi States; from The Middle Belt: Kwara and Benue states; from The Southern Minorities States: Rivers and Cross River states. Dr. Azikiwe's Party, the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) won the governorships in Anambra, Imo and Plateau states. Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim's Party the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) won the governorships in Borno and Gongola states. Alhaji Aminu Kano's party, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), won the governorships in Kaduna and Kano states. While Chief Obafemi Awolowo's party, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), won the governorships in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, and Bendel states.

In 1980, Chief M. K. O. Abiola, then an NPN stalwart, who had founded the Concorde Newspaper to give the NPN a voice in the dominant South-West press of the country, announced his intention to contest the presidency on the NPN platform, under the rotation and zoning arrangement, once President Shagari's tenure ended in 1983. However, the 1979 constitution gave the incumbent president the right to contest the election for a second and final term, if a he so wished. President Shagari decided to exercise that right.

For Chief Abiola, there were several challenges to be faced in his pursuit of the NPN presidential ticket. First, President Shehu Shagari had decided to exercise his constitutionally provided right to seek a second term in office. Second, the party was yet to decide, to which region of the South the presidential ticket was to be zoned for 1983 elections.

To put arrangements for zoning beyond controversy, and also respect the nation's constitution, it was agreed that President Shagari should take his second term, and the performance of the NPN in the various southern states, in the 1983 general elections, would determine where the party would zone the presidential ticket in 1987. On this understanding, the NPN went into the field and came out in 1983 stronger than it had been 1979.

In the North, the GNPP was routed from Borno and Gongola. The PRP also lost in Kaduna, holding on only to Kano. The NPP won only Imo and Plateau states while the UPN lost Oyo and Bendel states. Everyone wanted to climb on to the winning bandwagon at the center. As President Shagari was sworn in for his second term on October 1, 1983, it was obvious to all members of the NPN and all politically conscious elements, that come 1987 the president to be elected on the platform of the NPN would emerge from either the former old Eastern Region, where three of the four states, namely, Rivers, Cross River and Anambra, had produced NPN governors or the Mid-West, which also produced an NPN governor. The West, which had three UPN governors and only one NPN governor did not have a ghost of a chance of producing an NPN president in 1987; and the NPN had become, post 1983 elections, the only party that had the capacity on ground, to produce a winning presidential ticket for the country in 1987.

Bearing in mind the fact that the Northern and Western military had fought to defeat the secession of Biafra, and of the Mid West and successfully reunited the country by January 10, 1970, there were strong misgivings in the military about handing over national power to areas which, in 1967, had tried to secede, and which had forcibly been brought back into the national fold by January 1970. Thus the idea of scuttling President Shagari's second term tenure took root.

In the absence of any tangible evidence to justify the coup makers' allegations of corruption, on the basis of which, General Mohammadu Buhari spearheaded the violent overthrow of the Shagari government on December 31, 1983, the inescapable presumption is that the Buhari coup of December 31, 1983 had but one major objective in view, namely to scuttle the rotation and zoning of the Presidency to the East or Mid West by the NPN in 1987.

Many did believe and still do that zoning and rotation of the presidency is undemocratic, and that the 'majority' should rule in perpetuity, to the total exclusion of the 'minority,' the 'minority' being understood in purely ethnic, sectional and regional terms.

'Majority' as an analytical construct of democratic governance is constituted by the majority of voters drawn from all over the country, state or constituency and not majority viewed in tribal, ethnic or regional or sectional terms. Here then lies the crux of the zoning problem. In the course of the zoning debate, a pro-zoning stalwart argued that a 'minority' cannot rule. Democracy, truly understood, stipulates that a candidate chosen in a free and fair election, by the majority of the eligible voters of a country, should rule as the democratic choice of the people. To that extent, the candidate, regardless of his/her origin or antecedents, has become the democratic choice of the 'majority' of the people and therefore represents them. He does not have to come from the majority tribe, religion or whatever.

The point should, however, be borne in mind that the zoning arrangement in democratic Nigeria was scuttled by a military coup led by General Buhari on December 31, 1983. He thereafter, unleashed on the country a draconian dictatorship which led to his own overthrow by his fellow Generals in August 1985.

From 1983 to 1999, this nation was ruled by a succession of military heads of state/ presidents until the restoration of a democratically elected president on May 29, 1999. This time, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) emerged the winner under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Here again, the PDP adopted the old NPN concept of zoning and rotation with respect to the party's presidential candidacy which was zoned, this time, to the West.

This did not mean that candidates from other parts of the country could not contest. In the 1999 PDP primaries, candidates from the North, West and East contested, but the party having zoned the ticket to the West, gave the flag to General Obasanjo, who in keeping with his new status as head of a civilian government preferred to be addressed as 'Chief Obasanjo.' The zoning was again for four years, because there is no provision in the PDP constitution for the zoning of the presidency to any part of the country for a longer term than four years. This is because the party constitution could not include any provision that is in conflict with Nigeria's constitution.

An eight-year zoning 'arrangement' would be in absolute conflict with the nation's constitution, which stipulates a four-year presidential tenure. Consequently, every four years, the PDP must convene a special convention for the election of its presidential candidate.

This was why Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who was Chief Obasanjo's vice president (1999 - 2007) tried to contest the presidency in 2003. As in the case of President Shagari in 1983, President Obasanjo chose to exercise his right to contest for a second term in 2003. Again, some party leaders contested the primaries and Chief Obasanjo won the right to a second four-year term to which he was duly elected. At the end of his second term – which as we have seen is the prerogative of the incumbent, if he wins the party ticket a second time, and wins the election a second time - the Obasanjo tenure came to an end and in line with zoning and rotational arrangements the ticket was zoned to the North and the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua emerged the winner of the PDP flag, as well as the national elections proper. Unfortunately, he took gravelly ill in November 2009 and passed on to the great beyond in May 2010. Had he lived, he probably would have also opted for a second term. He had the constitutional right to so opt. If, however he chose not to go for a second term, for whatever reason, it would have been unconstitutional for anyone to suggest that his vice president be debarred from contesting the office while another candidate is brought form his zone to take his place.

Under our constitution, in the event of the incapacity of the president, only his vice president can succeed him. However, in the case of the Yar'Adua/Goodluck administration, the vice president was prevented from functioning without undue stress for seven months while a faceless 'Kitchen Cabinet' exercised power and held the nation to ransom. Only the 'Doctrine of Necessity,' which the National Assembly invoked, enabled Vice President Jonathan to be invested with power, in the capacity of 'Acting President;' a title unknown to our constitution; thus, enabling him to function as Acting President during the incapacity of his principal.

On the unfortunate passing of President Yar'Adua on May 5, 2010, the constitution automatically invested the office of president in Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Consequently, the PDP in consultation with Dr. Jonathan selected. Namadi Sambo, ex- governor of Kaduna State as vice president and both of both were sworn into office. Incidentally, Sambo, as governor of Kaduna State, was drawn from the same zone as the late President Yar'Adua; and please recall that Katsina State, the home of the late President Yar'Adua was carved out of the old Kaduna State. Yet the 'pro-zoning' brigade was not be satisfied. They went to court and lost. They went to the PDP National Executive Committee, National Working Committee, Board of Trustees and finally the party's presidential convention and still lost. The party voted overwhelmingly for Jonathan to fly its flag. Now the 'pro-zoning' brigade appears to have taken the fight to the streets through thuggery, violence and brigandage.

In reviewing these events, let us bear in mind the following incontrovertible facts.

From the foregoing, its is clear that zoning of the presidency has been going on since 1979. This is incontrovertible!

Since 1979, the old Northern Region has produced the elected president and he has been sworn into office, twice under President Shagari and once under President Yar'Adua.

The old post 1963 Western Region has produced an elected president for Nigeria twice, under President Obasanjo.

The old Eastern Region - which now encompasses the present day South South and South East regions - and the old Mid West Region have never produced an elected President for Nigeria since zoning arrangements came into effect in 1979.

The dramatis personae in the zoning controversy has been the same since 1979. Alhaji Adamu Ciroma – who today leads the pro-zoning brigade in arguing that it is once again the turn of the North, which has already taken three turns since 1979 – was an active member and leader in the NPN in 1979, and contested the presidency under the Northern zone's turn in 1979. He also contested the presidency in 1992 and today he argues that it is still the turn of the North. When then does it become the turn of the old East and Mid West regions? President Jonathan would be the first elected president to occupy that exalted office from either the old Eastern Region or the present day South-South zone of Nigeria.

I personally prefer that we choose our president on the basis of competence, proven ability and acceptability of his programmes of action to the nation. Even so, in the few months that Dr. Jonathan has served to complete the term of office of his principal, the late President Yar'Adua, as stipulated by the constitution, he has proved himself capable, purposeful, and result oriented.

Everyone talks of a North/South axis of rotation, and the axis of rotation has been from the North West to the South West, to the exclusion of all others. Presidential power, during military rule has been dominated by the same axis, so that for the last 51 years, the old Eastern Region and the Mid-West Region, on which the nation has depended for its resources have suffered palpable neglect and deprivation. As I write, the Benin-Ore road, the only road link between the Mid-West, East and Lagos - the nation's commercial hub and main port - has been virtually impassable for the past 13 years. The road link between the East and the Mid-West on one hand and the nation's capital, Abuja, remains the old two lane accident prone roads, choking with heavy traffic and crying to the high heavens for dualization. The East and the Mid-West have remained hostage to crime, banditry, kidnapping, militancy and acute unemployment. Then by a pure historical accident, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan coming from the smallest, and one of the richest states in Nigeria, (Bayelsa State, which has only eight out of 774 local governments), became President..

In his few months in office (since May 6, 2010), Dr. Jonathan has won the hearts of Nigerians. In the South-East zone, where I come from, no other presidential candidate stands any chance of upstaging Dr. Jonathan because he is seen as a president, who has a unique opportunity of saving this Country from self-destruction.

As Nigerians we must denounce violence and address issues in this campaign, whatever is left of it. Violence, intimidation, and distortion of history will not do anybody any good. History has shown that those who sow the wind, inevitably reap the whirlwind

We reminded all those who find it convenient to forget, that zoning and rotation did not begin with the PDP. It goes back to the NPN in 1979. We have also made it clear that the North, having taken two turns at zoning under President Shagari, had their second term scuttled by the military under General Buhari, and thereafter settled down to enjoy power for another 16 years, (1983 - 1999), after the initial 13 years of military rule (1966 - 1979) in addition to the first five years of power under an executive Prime Minister (1960 - 1966). Even so, the North took a third term at zoning under President Yar'Adua (2007 - 2011).

In effect, with the exception of two four year terms of the Obasanjo presidency; one tenure of three years and seven months of Obasanjo military rulership, and 91 days of Chief Ernest Shonekan's rule as an appointee head of state installed by General Babangida, the North has always been in power since 1960 when Nigeria attained independence; and even after the introduction of the concept of zoning and rotation, it is always the turn of the North to rule Nigeria, so that power will always rotate on one spot. This appears to be the thinking of the 'pro-zoning champions' of this novel definition of zoning and rotation.

Being a treatise by Dr. Ofonagoro, former information Minister, on zoning.

• Dr Ofonagoro is a former minister of information