The current debate about zoning within the PDP ruling party has the potential to become quite explosive and portends grave danger to the body politic of Nigeria as a nation. This danger will persist regardless of whether President Jonathan decides to run in the 2011 elections, unless the issues are carefully handled.
And in many ways the danger could be possibly greater in the event that the President decides not to run especially if it is widely perceived that he was hounded out of office by a misconstrued application of the PDP “zoning” formula and/or on the basis of a false dichotomy of a North/South divide in Nigerian politics.

The PDP’s policy on this matter as enshrined in the Party's constitution is contained in section (7.2.c) which reads:

 “In pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels” [emboldened and underlined for emphasis]

The important thing to note is that this policy comprises of two constituent parts namely rotation and zoning. What does this proposition mean in practice? Answer: In order to promote fairness, equity and justice for all, power must rotate and zoning is part and parcel of that power rotation. For example, if the Presidency is “rotated” to the South-South, the Vice-Presidency must then be “zoned” to an alternate zone in order achieve equity and fairness.

The policy objective behind this provision is not only clear and obvious but is laudable especially in the context of Nigeria's rich diversity as well as her chequered (if not troubled) political history. And, any policy objective that seeks to promote political cohesion together with a sense of inclusiveness must be welcomed. Of course, legally, this provision cannot override nor can it be given precedence over the constitution of The Federal Republic Nigeria and therefore any citizen of Nigeria retains the legal and political right to seek to aspire to any elective office in the country despite the governing rules of any political party.

The current controversy regarding this matter is being fuelled by deliberate and/or ignorant distortion of the PDP’s policy of power rotation and zoning as detailed above. The chief protagonists who just happen to be the main potential beneficiaries if the “South” is technically prevented from fielding a candidate in 2011 are consistently presenting the debate as a purely "zoning" matter under the guise of a superficially imposed North/South dichotomy. This is wrong!

The North/South toga is one that only had relevance from the prism of the British Colonial administrators who amalgamated the two separate Protectorates in 1914 for their own administrative ease. The North/South dichotomy has never had any real political, social, or economic relevance to the ordinary people of Nigeria – absolutely none! In fact, the dichotomy as a “carry over” from the Colonialists serves no purpose other than to service the narrow interests of the elite and aristocrat classes of the three main ethnic groups who “inherited” power in 1960. Since Independence, this small clique have duly sought to exploit this North/South “arrangement” to the detriment of masses and to the total exclusion of all minority groups in both regions.

The 1994-1995 National Constitutional Conference was the first serious attempt at recognising the limiting anomalies of the North/South dichotomy and proffered the solution of having six geo-political zones. Indeed, it was eventually given formal status in the proposed 1995 constitution. However, today, those six geo-political zones as identified by that Conference are now recognised and accepted nation-wide.

Zoning under the PDP constitution is a natural consequence of power rotation in that zoning must go hand-in-hand with power rotation in order to achieve the policy objectives. Rotation and zoning are NOT mutually exclusive and to speak of zoning as a stand-alone policy is a misnomer! For example, at the Federal level the actual PDP policy would suggest that power must rotate between the six geo-political zones namely South-West, South-South, South-East, North-West, North-Central, and North-East. But at the same time zoning must be applied in tandem i.e. if the President happens to be selected from the North-West (i.e. rotation), then consequently the Vice President should ideally be selected from any of the three south geo-political zones (i.e. zoning) and then the Speakers and their deputies of the National Assembly should equally selected from alternate zones so that ultimately each of the six zones is represented in the top six offices of state. That is the equitable, just, and fair thing to do. Therefore, the real policy issue for PDP at the national level is not one of “zoning” but that power MUST rotate between the six geo-political zones!

Zoning is not a policy objective in itself but rather is an integral twin element of the power rotation policy. It needs to be noted that rotation whilst prescriptive can only ever be loosely sequential; consequently any attempt to impose a strict sequence to the rotation policy will inevitably lead to an unacceptable perversion of the democratic principle. For example, if a given zone is unable to produce a credible candidate is the party expected to field a sub-standard candidate simply because it is their "turn"?

Had circumstances not intervened, it was almost certain that late President Yar'adua would have been supported to seek a second term with the full support of PDP if he so desired, after which power would have been "rotated" to another political zone. In that vein, it is equally possible that the late President might not have sought a second term and the PDP could conceivably have favoured rotating power to another geo-political zone other than the late President's. Of course, many would suppose that even in such a scenario the likelihood is that power would have remained in one of the other Northern zones but therein lays the vulnerability of this superficially imposed North/South dichotomy.

Let us assume that the late President Yar'adua had survived until 2011 and decided not to seek a second term due to his ill-health. The PDP in all likelihood would have produced an alternative Northern-based candidate to succeed him. The question is: what would have stopped such a successor candidate from seeking his/her own second term in office in 2015 thereby retaining power in the “North” for three successive terms?  Answer: nothing! It would have been well within the provisions of the party's provisions and there might have been a debate about it but ultimately the principle of rotation would not have been breached.

Now, the current debate suggests that power might "rotate" to the South-South in the person of President Jonathan in 2011. There is absolutely nothing about this proposition that is in breach of or at variance with the PDP's constitution! In fact, it can be argued that by rotating power to the South-South the party is in full compliance with the PDP's constitution. Of course some would argue that the "North" have not had their "two terms" but that is NOT the point as the PDP's constitution is not prescriptive about “terms”!

The PDP’s constitutional provisions on power rotation ostensibly seek to promote inclusiveness and harmony amongst the diverse peoples of Nigeria. And in this context, it can be argued that the party's policy is not in conflict with Nigeria's constitution because the Party will NOT prevent or hinder any person (including the President himself) from seeking the Party's nomination as evidenced in 2003 and 2007 (1999 was an exception because of the lingering unease in the South-West regarding the June 12 controversy); whether such a person will get the actual support of the party is another matter and one which may very well be influenced by the party's policy of power rotation but ultimately that will be the democratic choice of the party!

The PDP’s actual constitutional provisions and their contextual implications are clear and President Jonathan will NOT be in breach of them if he decides to run in 2011. In fact, a Jonathan candidacy in 2011 will be a genuine litmus test for the power rotation policy of the PDP.

The North/South politicisation of “zoning” is a false dichotomy that only serves to deny the existential identity and voice of zones like the South-South by reducing the six geo-political power blocs to a simplistic two. The old North/South two bloc topology is no longer relevant in today’s Nigeria and any attempt to hold on to, or to perpetuate that failed paradigm will only fuel old prejudices that now need to be put to rest. Even the loudest proponents of “zoning” know in their hearts that there is neither a homogenous North Nigeria nor is there a homogenous South Nigeria. Nigeria consists of six nationally recognised geo-political zones not two!

In the entirety of Nigeria's 50 year post-independence history, the South-South is the one and only zone that has NEVER produced a President/Head-of-State of its own accord - now is as good a time as any. Of course, circumstances and providence may very well have caused it to come unexpectedly but so it has happened.

Ultimately, the critical issue is one of perception! Any impression that President Goodluck Jonathan (as the first ever South-South President) is hounded or forced out of office on the basis of a distorted and highly politicised concept of “zoning” together with a superficially imposed North/South dichotomy would send a very dangerous message to the people of the South-South i.e. they are not allowed to hold or exercise Federal power because it is the “exclusive preserve” of others. Such an insinuation of itself not only runs counter to the very policy objective that the PDP's constitutional provision attempts to address but if not carefully handled the resultant long-term fallout could haunt the corporate make-up of Nigeria as country for years to come.

Simon Ochuko

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