Much has been said and written about zoning system entrenched in Section 7 (2) (c) of the People Democratic Party’s Constitution (PDP) as to why Presidency must remain in the Northern part of Nigeria and why the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan who is completing the mandate jointly given to him and his predecessor due to the unfortunate death of the latter must not contest in the 2011 elections.
Arguments have gone back and forth, the protagonists of the so called zoning system have argued that after the eight years of former President Obasanjo who is from the South the Presidency must automatically revert to the North for the following eight years. They claimed that it is wrong for Goodluck Jonathan who is from the South to fly the flag of the Party in the coming Presidential election, contrary to this provision. Some also contended that there was a “gentleman agreement” reached by the stakeholders that the Presidency should go to the North for eight years after Obasanjo’s eight years.
The antagonists on the other hand have argued that zoning arrangement was never part of the reason the Presidency came to the South, but that the Presidency was given to Obasanjo a kinsman of Moshood Abiola from the South West and the winner of the annulled June 12 1993 presidential election to pacify that aggrieved section of the country. They argued further that, a few Northerners contested with Obasanjo both during his first and second term elections and nobody cried wolf.
They also wanted to know if the zoning/gentleman agreement recognizes only one term or two terms, if it recognizes one term, Jonathan is about completing a joint ticket of the deceased President from the North. If it recognizes two terms why then did the Northern PDP resisted Obasanjo’s second term so vehemently in 2003 based on the same gentleman agreement.
This controversy has been going on for too long and has indeed overshadowed the necessary questions that the electorates should be asking at this time concerning good governance and accountability. The issue therefore calls for a legal appraisal of both the letters and the spirit of the Constitution vis a vis their presidential candidateship.
According to the notorious Section 7 (2) (c) of the PDP Constitution in pertinent part…”in pursuant of the principles 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” it stated in the preamble that:
“to create socio-political conditions conducive to national peace and unity by ensuring fair and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, to conform with the principles of power shift and power sharing by rotating key political offices among the diverse peoples of our country and evolving powers equitably between the federal, state and local governments in the spirit of federalism”
The letters and the spirit of this Constitution clearly stated that the party shall adhere to the principles of rotation and zoning in pursuit of “the principles of equity, justice and fairness”
It is trite and a common understanding generally among Nigerians that there are six zones in Nigeria, namely, the North West, North East, North Central, South West, South East and the South-South. The question begging for an answer right now is where in the PDP Constitution did it state that the principles of equity, justice and fairness shall only be available to the incongruous concept of North /South dichotomy?
Where is the recognition of only two zones for purposes of elections and to ensure equity, justice and fairness stated in PDP Constitution when it is clear that there are six zones in the country? Where in the PDP Constitution did it state that the zoning will go to one zone in the North and then one zone in the South, then back to another zone in the North and so on? What is there in PDP Constitution that seeks to ensure equal participation of the minorities of the North and the minorities of the South? Shouldn’t the principles of equity, justice and fairness be extended to the minority zones? If there was a “gentleman agreement” can such agreement supersede the letters of the Constitution?
What is unequivocal in the letters and also unmistakable in the spirit of PDP Constitution is that zoning is not for the sake of North/South dichotomy but for equity, fairness and justice.
Whatever rule of interpretation we may seek to adopt in the circumstances whether golden, plain or mischief we will only arrive at one meaning for that subsection, equal opportunity for all the recognized six zones of Nigeria. North/South dichotomy as basis for zoning is alien to that Constitution for all intents and purposes.
President Olusegun Obasanjo was from the South West, the heads of State that ruled the country for the preceding twenty years, from 1979 to 1999 were all from the three Northern zones, North West, North East and North Central apart from Shonekan who was there for only a few months. Therefore, in interpreting Section 7 (2) (c) which sought to ensure equity, justice and fairness, and not to lend credence to some North/South dichotomy which has remained in the imagination realm of some people,. PDP Presidency should equitably go to either the South-South or the South East, the zones that are yet to have a shot at Presidency since 1966. If indeed there was a gentleman agreement among certain individuals on zoning based on North/South, but did not give consideration to “equity, justice and fairness” as stipulated by the Constitution, such agreement is null, void and of no effect whatsoever. The Constitution privileged equity justice and fairness over all other considerations as the basis for it s zoning.
The argument about moving from South to North, is put forward mala fide, it is nothing but a self-serving argument of those who stand to benefit from the shenanigan and not in the context of what the PDP Constitution seeks to redress. Is the South –South not a zone recognized by PDP Constitution? Is the Southeast not a part of the zones recognized by PDP Constitution? has anybody from these zones held the Presidency position in the last 40 years? Then where is the equity, justice and fairness that the Constitution is talking about? It looks like equity and justice have a different meaning for those who seek to benefit from the injustice.
It is my submission that only candidates from Southeast and South-South should be eligible to contest under that Constitution. If I were Goodluck Jonathan I would be filing a counter-motion against a case already instituted against me to challenge the eligibility of any candidate from the North to contest under this dispensation based on the unambiguous letters and the spirit of the same section 7 (2) (c) of PDP Constitution.
Ayo Turton is a United States based Legal Practitioner.