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2011 Northern Presidency: Zoning should decide it? No, please

The governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has a zoning formula by which Yar’Adua emerged from the North and Jonathan was picked from the South as…

The governing Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has a zoning formula by which Yar’Adua emerged from the North and Jonathan was picked from the South as Vice President in 2007. By that zoning policy, since fate has lifted Jonathan to Yar’Adua’s and by extension North’s place, whoever takes Jonathan’s and consequently South’s place, has to come from the North.

The North has thus since started a search for that northerner who will pair with Jonathan in the Presidency. In its search, the North, led by the PDP, is adopting its zoning principle. The PDP elite are  looking not around the entire North. They are instead trying to decide, first of all, which of its three geopolitical zones: North Central, North East, and North West, is qualified to present a candidate.

The North Central and North West are one in the argument that the North East which produced Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as Vice President for eight years beginning 1999 through 2007 should not be considered this time, but the North East is saying it is the one losing the presidency in the person of Yar’Adua and should be compensated with the vacant vice presidency.

By the time Nigeria begins earnestly to plot for the presidency that will replace the Yar’Adua-Jonathan mix through the 2011 elections, the North will be sitting down to decide who replaces Yar’Adua since the North still has up to 2015 to keep the Presidency courtesy of PDP’s zoning arrangement.

The question now is, will Nigeria be facing uncertainty from the northern elite over which North’s three geopolitical regions presents the expected Northern candidate? Is it better to see the North as one and for the elite to pick a candidate regardless of which state or sub-region he or she comes from or go into the arithmetic of which sub-region is qualified or not qualified to present a candidate?

“You can’t be absolute on either of the options because they come with their respective strong and weak points,” a political scientist and lecturer, Dr Akinyemi Salawu, offered.

Salawu who hails from Kwara State explained, “Zoning or power shift, or rotational presidency, whatever you like to call it, derives its strength from the complex background of the country. Most states are composed of several tribes of varying numerical strengths. Democracy favours the strong tribes because it is about how many votes you have and the votes you will have are the votes your tribe gives you. That is why most states have this common problem of minority tribes complaining of marginalization because they do not have their person as governor or even the smaller officers because the majority tribe governor will put his people in offices and ignore other people. We must face this thing because it is what is happening.”

Salawu who got passionate along the line, continued,” I am not in the PDP but I like the party’s zoning arrangement. I also liked the North when it decided via the PDP in 1999 to give the South a chance to produce the president after years of complaint by the South that the North was lording it over them when it comes to the question of where most of the presidents the country had had came from. By the same spirit of zoning the South is willing to let the North conclude its eight years in the presidency. I do not blame people who want to insist that the parts of the North which are behind in terms of how many of them have had opportunities to occupy high positions should be considered this time. So, since you are asking me, do support the idea of favouring the part of the North that has had the least opportunities in government.”

He added, however, that regarding the North as one people and disregarding ethnic considerations could work well. “The strongest merit I can think of is that when you spread your net wide, you will catch enough fishes to choose from,” he said. He added quickly, nonetheless, that politics in which people in government do not use the commonwealth to develop the state or country, or in which people in government use the commonwealth to favour ‘their own people to the detriment of other people’ will always attract sentiments that will continue to find expression in agitations for zoning.

The reaction of the Deputy National Chairman of Alliance for Democracy, Alhaji Musa Abubakar, to the segregated search for a likely vice president and possibly president in the near future, was this: “It’s PDP’s questionable way of doing politics, otherwise I don’t see why the search for any potential leader should be confined to a particular part of a homogenous sub-region. The concern should be who is the best material around the North, not which specific corner of the North the person comes from. North is North. Discriminations such as this don’t edify a people.”

Alhaji Musa who said religion and regionalism have acted to put the once closely bonded North apart, tasked contemporary leaders to seek to reunite the North rather than encourage further  parting of ways through such discriminatory practices as zoning appointive and elective public offices. He said the PDP needs opposition to push it out of government and from its controversial tradition of zoning public offices.

 “We will get the PDP out of office,” he said. “We have had enough of their approach to governance. They are not good for the good people of this country. They are not leading aright and the nation needs to be freed of them.”

Some northerners believe that a wise way to go about deciding who becomes president from the north is to get such regional bodies like the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to make an input, to join in fashioning out requirements that potential candidates must possess. They believe that by doing so, a popular person can emerge from any part of the North rather than restricting the search to any particular sub-region. They say it will pay off that way and prevent the emergence of somebody picked by one person based on narrow considerations.

Arguing in that light, a contributor to the debate who objected to being named said since the north is expected to present the next president and since Yar’adua is unable even to complete his first term, all northerners who are interested should be allowed to present themselves and let Nigerians vote for the most credible among them.

A prominent politician from the north, Dr. Yusuf Musa, feels that the issue of zoning the presidency to any of the three sub-regions in the north is too early to engage much attention. Musa who is the deputy national chairman (North) of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) said  nonetheless that those calling for the seat to be zoned to one particular region in the north are only expressing their own interests. He added that the call was an indication of eagerness by some individuals.

“The Issue of zoning the presidency to one geo-political region in the north should not really come up for now. I know that the position is zoned to the north, but I personally believe that it is too early to begin earnest consideration in that direction. We have to wait and study the situation before arriving at what to do,” he said.

For Dr Usman Bugaje, National Secretary of Action Congress (AC), Zoning can serve political interest but not national interest. He told Sunday Trust in a telephone interview, “Zoning can only satisfy the political interest of a few people, it cannot solve the country’s problems.”

Bugaje elaborated, “We should be looking for persons who have the capability to give Nigeria purposeful leadership. It’s time to shift from this retrogressive idea of zoning any position to any set of people. Anybody who is truly qualified should be encouraged to go for positions.”

Citing another ‘problem with zoning, Bugaje said, “Another problem with regards to zoning is that the person who is favoured will only focus his energy on satisfying the particular region that favoured him, neglecting other regions of the same country that he is expected to also serve.”

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