Development Capable Of Leading Our Party To Doom – Bode George
The ongoing zoning permutation and discussion in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is giving serious concerns to critical stakeholders in the country.
With the PDP having zoned its chairmanship ticket to the north leaving its presidential ticket open and with the same scenario likely to be replicated by the APC ahead of the 2023 general elections, there is apprehension that the two major parties may use the ‘lopsided zoning politics’ to drag the country into serious crisis, especially where it appears that the north is being given a seemingly preferential political treatment and advantage over the south. Specifically, there are presumptions by observers that the situation might further aggravate the division between the north and south.
The idea of zoning critical elective and appointive positions, especially the President, Vice President, President of the Senate, Speaker House of Representatives, chairman of party, Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) and other critical positions, is a way of giving all the six geopolitical zones a sense of belonging in the political arrangements of the nation.
Although zoning is not stated in the 1999 Constitution, under the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), the then ruling party, PDP, handled the zoning arrangement with equity, fairness and justice. The founding fathers of the PDP carefully arranged the zoning pattern such that each of the six zones that make up the country had a sense of belonging.
Unfortunately, the first clear violation of the gentleman zoning arrangement occurred in 2011 when some elements in the then major opposition APC, which as at then was still Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), collaborated with some northern elements in PDP to shortchange the Southwest zone, which was to produce the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mulikat Akande. Instead, the speakership of the House of Representatives as at then was conceded to north.
The emergence of former President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 election was also regarded by the north as a betrayal of zoning arrangement by the south. After Obasanjo’s two terms in office from 1999 to 2007, the presidency shifted to the north. Unfortunately, President Umaru Yar’Adua died three years into his first term and his vice president, Jonathan took over to complete the tenure.
Ordinarily, it was expected of Jonathan to step down in 2011 to allow the north present another candidate to complete their term but some powers-that-be truncated the arrangement. The north was said to have been livid with anger that it was cheated. The issue was, however, resolved and Jonathan re-contested in 2011 and won.
In 2015, he (Jonathan) argued to run for second term. Many northern power brokers both in the PDP and other platforms were said to have been opposed to the move. The development strengthened the formation of the APC, which also caused some powerful northern forces and others in the PDP to dissent, forming the nPDP to join the APC merger arrangement in 2014. That arrangement upstaged Jonathan and put an end to PDP’s 16 years in power.
However, since 2015, the flagrant disregard for the zoning political culture appears to have gained momentum, especially when the Southwest, which was to produce the Speaker lost out to Yakubu Dogara from the north while the Southeast and South South were left with no major political office. The explanation was that “no APC elected officials were elected to fill the necessary positions to balance the equation as at then except for Ike Ekweremadu who emerged Deputy Senate President under controversial circumstances in the Senate.”
In the APC too, for instance, by a combination of factors, for over one year now, there has been some distortions to the zoning arrangements following Adams Oshiomhole’s exit, with the President and the Chairman CECPC of the ruling party coming from the north.
Although, the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) had been clamouring that the presidency should move to the south after the expiration of President Buhari’s tenure in 2023, observers are of the view that the PDP is also planning to introduce the same template to the political arrangements in country. “APC is already practicing it in the last one and half years whereby the chairman of the party and the president will come from the same zone. With this arrangement, it is unfortunate that the PDP has boxed the ruling party into a tight corner and APC may find it very difficult to come out of the position in a long political dispensation,” a commentator said.
For the PDP to zone the national championship to the north while leaving the presidency open between the two zones, the interpretation among political observers is that the north intends to have a grab of both the presidency and national chairmanship of the party in 2023.
Initially, expectations were that the major opposition party would automatically give the national championship position to the south and retain the presidency in the north. As a result, some Southerners had begun jostling for the position. The names of former governors of Ekiti and Osun, Ayo Fayose and Olagunsoye Oyinlola as well as the gubernatorial candidate of the party in the 2020 Ondo State governorship election, Eyitayo Jegede had emerged among those interested until the zoning committee, headed by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, turned the table by zoning the position to the north and leeving the presidency opened.
In a reaction, a former Deputy National Chairman of PDP, Chief Olabode George said the development is capable of leading the party to doom and may as well cost it the coming 2023 presidential election. He said the development was completely opposite to the principle of equity, fairness and justice upon which PDP was founded by its founding fathers.
According to him, “There is an old, enlightening principle laid down by the founding fathers of PDP since 1999 that six key positions must always be zoned to the six geo political constituents of our nation to ensure equity and orderly balance of power. The six key positions are the president, vice president, national chairman, senate president, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
“Naturally, this means that if the presidency goes to the North, the chairman goes to the south and vice versa. All these positions are zoned because of the necessity of national belonging and accommodation. Every section of this nation must have a sense of equitable participation in our national life. This has been the enduring pivot of our democratic experience since 1999. There is now a threat to this unwritten doctrine. The zoning arrangement which gave the north the chairmanship of our party and leaves the presidency open is incongruous, unwholesome and a recipe for disaster.
“Once the chairmanship is now in the north, the presidency must come to the south. There must not be any ambiguity at all. Hanging the presidency in the air like a hovering craft without a landing zone is dangerous, unfair and wrong.”
The former chairman of Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) added that in a nation reeling with divisive politics, marred with discord and ethnic distrust “it is rather inexplicable that the stakeholders of PDP cannot be firm and decisive about an issue that will inevitably affect the party and by large the nation itself.
According to him, “This is not the time for uncertainties and half measures. Our vision must be clear. Our goal must be certain. Our resolve must be sincere. We can only reclaim the centre in 2023 only if every section of this great nation is treated as co-equal and a significant partner in the national voyage. There is no other way. Zoning of all the six key offices will continue to ensure a strong and healthy democratic nation anchored on the fairness doctrine.
“I am using this opportunity to call on all stakeholders to come together and reaffirm this great vision of our founding fathers. Let us do what is right. Let us do what is proper. Let us revisit the precedents that have sustained us and put us in good stead among Nigerians. This is my advice to all the rank and file of the party. And this is the only way we can appeal to the generality of our people and win the presidency in 2023.”
IN APC, some stakeholders are still watching the events, saying, it doesn’t matter for now where Mala-Buni is from since he is not a substantively elected national chairman. They also said since the jostle for the national chairman has started, it is only northern candidates that have shown interest.
A source said it is too early for the south to start complaining or worry until when the party holds it national convention later in the year.
The Guardian learnt from multiple sources that the Southwest is best positioned to get the APC presidential ticket in 2023 but the only caveat is how the zone will organise itself such that internal intrigues will not affect its chances.