Interrogator: What is your forecast for political elections in 2011?
Interpreter: I can see two major fears among perennial customers—the threat to the zoning culture and the weakening of the influence of political godfathers.
Zoning culture, being exclusionary, has for years foisted on the people a limited spectrum of choice (if at all their choice managed to count); while the influence of godfathers, who acted under the guile of “consensus” in the past, shoved political aspirants aside and substituted them with political protégés of the godfathers. The noises about zoning political offices such as president of the Nigerian federation to a particular region of the country underscore such fears. The 2010 Electoral Act has effectively threatened the awesome sprawling influence of political godfathers, who have gained the notoriety of kingmakers in a pretentious democratic setting. Besides the clamour for “zoning”, those fears find expression in the accusation by political parties of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for its insistence on “internal democracy”, deriving a fresh boost from some germane provisions of the amended 2010 Electoral Act.
Interrogator: Talking about zoning, some elders in the PDP are insisting that President Jonathan is a “stranger” and must withdraw from the 2011 presidential primaries of the party. A recent documentary on the Africa Independent Television (AIT) gave details of the historical evolution of zoning in Nigeria and its international practice in forums such as the United Nations. I think, for the stability of Nigeria, President Jonathan should withdraw. What do you think?
Interpreter: If there were any scientific or social evidence to suggest that there would be political or social instability in Nigeria should Dr. Jonathan insist on running for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2011, I would all but support the call by such elders on Jonathan to withdraw. But there is no scientific evidence because there is no scientific polling carried out within Nigeria to sample the views of Nigerians on the subject, which supports the wild claims. The only polling I have read about in the newspapers shows that the foremost presidential candidates in the views of Nigerians today are Jonathan, Ribadu, and Buhari. Furthermore, there is no social evidence to warrant fears for Nigeria, pinned on Jonathan’s running for the exalted office of president. Examining where those calls against Jonathan’s running are coming from, I see that the same old people of the old order are at their game again, having refused to accept that Nigeria is changing and has indeed gone beyond the hysteria of zoning. The frustrations of the generality of Nigerians about their social and economic estates have wiped away the sentiments of where the next president should come from.
Are there genuine concerns by some of us northerners that the office of the president has been and shall continue to be away from our zone for “too long”? Yes. It is usually a thing of pride to see your relation occupying a position of honour. But concerns alone do not make a nation. Justice and fairness do. Then, is it fair not to “zone” the presidency to the north in 2011? I am ashamed that some of our northern elders are embarrassing us. Has the north become so weak that it is now afraid of a fair contest? If Abiola, a southerner could win and beat a northerner, Bashir Tofa in his backyard in Kano, is the north so incapable of producing a presidential candidate (in primaries or main general election) that can win in Lagos or Port-Harcourt in the south? What does the fuss about zoning by those northern elders tell us about the region?
For months now, there has been talk about a PDP “consensus candidate” for the north. I must assure Nigerians that nothing serious shall come out of this. Those elders are just wasting their time. A fair contest is what the north, just like any other region in Nigeria, needs. We don’t want any elective political office zoned to the north; the true north doesn’t want a donation of elective offices without contest. We are a people with pride, and don’t we claim to have the political numbers; so what are we afraid of? The true north has never been this timid and given to such histrionics in the past (except by the same folks in 2002). What the north will never accept is to be excluded from running for any office just because it has been zoned to another region (and no region in Nigeria will accept this again). The constitution guarantees every Nigerian of age such rights. Agreements within political parties can never supersede the Nigerian constitution. No Nigerian is a “stranger” to any political office. Were similar claims of “an agreement” not raised in 2002 by some “northerners” to dissuade President Obasanjo from running in 2003? Lest some have forgotten; in 2002, some “northerners” claimed that President Obasanjo had signed a pact with some northern political power brokers in 1998 to rule Nigeria for only one term (1999-2003) and then “return power” to the “north”. Obasanjo denied the existence of such a pact. Those distractions continued, with threats that Nigeria would not stabilize if Obasanjo did not follow the “Mandela example” (that is to not run the second time in 2003). Do we remember? The same drama is playing out now! Talks about agreements and so on are a farce. Nigerians were not privy to such agreements; the constitution of Nigeria is what is in the open. We must abide by it. From now onwards, Nigerians should be wary of any pacts or agreements signed between nocturnal politicians to share the commonwealth of Nigerians between a few in the name of “zoning to the north”, “zoning to the south” etc.
The documentary on AIT about zoning was poorly made. But I understand such things; it was sponsored (at least I saw the red-lettered word “SPONSORED” on the screen). A balanced documentary should have included views for and against the issue of zoning. Besides, there is no correlation between federal character practises in allocating offices within the Nigerian civil or public service (as contained in section 14 (3) (4) of the Nigerian constitution) and contesting for elective offices. The constitution does not support zoning an elective office to a particular region to the exclusion of other regions, as the documentary sought to assert. The key adjective is “elective”; the Nigerian people will make a choice among “un-zoned” options in the case of political elective offices. Nigerians are not allowed to make a choice in matters of appointments as opposed to matters of elective offices. The following sections of the Nigerian constitution clearly set out qualifications for the respective elective offices, and zoning is never implied, and those sections are not subject to section 14 (3) or 14 (4): Sections 65, 66 (national assembly); sections 106, 107 (state houses of assembly); section 131(president); section 177 (governor). In making appointments into agencies, department, and ministries, relevant elected officers of state must have regard to section 14 (3), (4) in “composition” of government or any of those agencies, ministries or departments.
Interrogator: Who do you think will win the presidential election in 2011?
Interpreter: With the resolve of INEC to conduct credible elections and the provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act, which forbid consensus party candidates, and empower INEC to monitor party primaries and approve of or reject the emergence of such candidates, there is growing hope that Nigerians’ votes will count in 2011. If that is the case, then recycled faces will lose out, beginning at the party primaries. Candidates with bad reputation before Nigerians, rightly or wrongly, will not win at any level (in the primaries or main elections). The power of online newspapers also counts. Going by comments on issues by Nigerians on those sites, it is clear that Nigerians are more informed about issues today than they were few years ago. The discovery by some Nigerian researchers that there are fewer polling booths in Nigeria than the 120,000 that INEC has been telling Nigerians for years further validates the argument of growing vigilance of the Nigerian electorate. The Nigerian intellectual is slowly waking up from the lethargy of the past. We are getting involved at different levels in the political game without necessarily joining political parties. This is good for Nigeria. We are asking questions of our politicians about their vision and methodologies for achieving those visions; we are asking about the cost factor and means of raising the required revenue to finance such visions. We are beginning to put candidates to the task. That is why proponents of zoning had better rethink their strategies. Zoning is just not flying.
At this point, I must advise my friend, who seeks to become our president, to go beyond the theme of fighting corruption to articulate his vision for Nigeria. The fight against corruption is good. But such fight must correlate with improvement in quality of life of the people. I want to hear him speak up boldly against the deteriorating conditions in his home state of Adamawa state. Let him point out the aberrations of governance in Adamawa state. Some of us feel that if he had chosen to run for the office of governor of Adamawa state in 2011, he would have cut his teeth for the presidency in the future. When the late Gani Fawehinmi berated Adams Oshiomhole for not leveraging on his popularity to run for the office of president in 2007, even claiming that the Labour guru had devalued himself by opting to run for the office of governor of Edo state, Mr. Oshiomhole responded by appreciating the confidence Fawehinmi had in him, but insisted that he needed to gain experience at the level of governor first. I think Ribadu should consider this thoughtfully without sentiments.
Interrogator: Should Nigerians have hope going into 2011?
Interpreter: Hope is very essential for efforts. But it is of little value where efforts have taken the back seat. As we hope we must also strive. Nations are not built on hope alone, but on every effort anchored on every word that proceeds from the lexicon of justice, fairness, reward of labour and excellence, and integrity. If Nigerians successfully regain their power at the polls and those polls attain the reputation of integrity, then good governance will become a given and corruption shall take the back seat. Then, the quality of life shall improve within and the exodus of Nigerians in the Diaspora shall commence without. Then shall Nigeria, in the words of our first and only Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, take her position on the world’s stage.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ).
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