No honesty of purpose once followed PDP’s interpretation of its own party constitution since 1999.
The party’s long-running dishonesty is now the cause of its current crisis - ignited to induce “zoning of the presidential office to the north in 2015” by other means.
Two years ago, northern Nigerian elites had warningly protested PDP ruses they saw trending. “Nothing has taken place in the nation’s political arrangement on the issue of zoning to warrant any shift in the position of the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF). The NPLF therefore wishes to state categorically that it continues to believe in the propriety of its cause, that the 2011 presidency be zoned to the North, until justice is done,” NPLF had said in a communique issued on 15th February, 2011.
But the problem since then has been the rabid mutation of the interpretive meaning of “zoning”.
By creative explications of the term "zoning", quite a few PDP officials have come up with definitions opposite to NPLF's understanding of the zoning clause in PDP's constitution. As it is, "zoning” now means just about anything inside PDP. For example, on November 12, 2012, “zoning” was given an entirely new and astonishing meaning by a federal Senator from President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state of Bayelsa; Senator Nimi Barigha-Amange.
According to him, “At the end of President Jonathan’s tenure, the next people to rule Nigeria should be the Igbo of the south-east. When we say power must shift, why are we restricting it to the North and South? We have six (6) geo-political zones and power must shift from one zone to the other; not from the south to the north. It can never be from the south to the north. When the south-south finishes its tenure, the presidency must then go to the Igbo in the south-east. After the south-east tenure, the presidency can go to the north-east. The Hausa-Fulani states in the north-west should not even think of the presidency until the year 2031.”
By PDP’s own machinations, “zoning” thus becomes a weapon for ethnic fights rather than a benign policy of ethnic peace it was designed for. And now, worse of all, as PDP's interpretive crookedness mutates severally into virulent strands, the tragedy of Nigeria today is silhouetted, as each meretricious interpretation of “zoning” predictably fosters ethnic distrust in Nigeria.
Indeed, following the declaration of PDP's National Working Committee in year 2010 stating that “zoning” means the constitutional right of President Jonathan to contest the 2011 election, and by inference his further right to re-contest a second term in 2015, moreso on the back of a subsequent decision of an Abuja High Court on December 1, 2010, the PDP mutilates a gentleman’s agreement to rotate presidential office between the north and south of Nigeria amongst the zones in either region in turns - as an objective interpretation of “zoning”.
Tellingly, two years ago, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, at the time the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees gave an even more tortuous and mind-blowing interpretation of the “zoning clause” at article 7.2 [c] of the PDP Constitution, which Justice Lawal Gumi of the Abuja High Court had earlier declared on December 1st, 2010 as “binding on PDP despite that the zoning and rotation clause is not enforceable by a court of law since it falls within the internal affairs of a political party.”
According to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s own publicly-stated interpretation, “Zoning is un-constitutional. It is not part of our national (1999) constitution.”
Till date however, nobody inside the PDP has before or afterwards agreed with Obasanjo’s declaration of Article 7.2 [c] of the PDP Constitution as null and void - not even incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Since then though, ex-President Obasanjo has himself not repeated his declaration of the “zoning” clause in the PDP constitution as null and void.
The said article 7.2 [c] says:- “In pursuance 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," but this law was never once obeyed since 1999 - and that's what's now come home to roost as PDP risks implosion from the first transgression sown by two northern presidential candidates who'd ignored PDP's directive not to stand in the party presidential primary in the year 2003.
And now, for the first time in 14 years since monopolizing federal governance of Nigeria, PDP faces internal revolt it never experienced - except perhaps the party’s western split in 1999.
In 1999, the PDP had suddenly lost its entire south-west political leaders when Bola Ige led a walk-out of the party with the walk-away south-west leaders acidly deprecating PDP as “a political party functioning like a military barrack of retired ex-Generals and colonels.”
Last Saturday, 31st August, when 14 years later the PDP faced a similar walk-out but this time from its north-west members; four-fifth of which legislators on the party platform in the House of Representatives in the north-west including all eleven elected PDP members from Sokoto State, plus all legislators from Kano and Adamawa States, and some 46 others - including 11 out of the 13 legislators from Rivers State - it was déjà vu of a sort, although serious enough to weaken the party’s hitherto broad coalition.
For besides this legislative revolt, no fewer than five (5) north-west elected PDP state Governors also issued a similar public statement on 31st August, and went further to appoint a new PDP Chairman, all by themselves - ignoring all party procedures stated in the PDP constitution - requiring prior joint resolution for a national convention by both the party’s National Executive Committee and the National Working Committee.
“They are only trying to create an impression of factions in PDP so that all elected PDP legislators and Governors can then lawfully defect to another party without forfeiting their posts”, a PDP official hissed as he told the media that the dissenting north-west members are malicious in intent, although that was not saying anything new, since one of the five dissenting Governors, Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State had since last month made clear that their plan is “to help bury the PDP and give it a decent burial.”
Contrastingly, the south-west leaders who’d initially split the PDP in 1999, and almost wholly excluded the party from Yoruba-dominated old western region of Nigeria, announced no similar grand plan “to kill the PDP for a decent burial.” Hence, the initial 1999 south-west fall-out in the PDP, although serious and electorally costly till now, is totally unlike the present revolt from mostly north-west PDP members who seem viscerally bent on killing the PDP - at least, according to their own declaration.
But despite Nigeria’s local media getting ahead of itself, neither the north-west dissenting members nor those others from Rivers, Kogi and Adamawa, have yet announced any immediate plan to quit the PDP. Rather, their stated plan is simply to “kill the PDP, whilst remaining inside it as catalyst.” Their exiting the PDP for a formal alliance with any of the opposing parties is far-fetched, as current facts stand.
Getting serious to kill the PDP as sole objective, the north-west dissenting members have lately taken one more step. They’ve reportedly filed a lawsuit, oddly in a Lagos High Court, asking for judicial declarations that the PDP has split; that factions have arisen, that elected members are free to move into any other party without losing their posts, and that the putative PDP Chairman, Bamanga Tukur holds office illegally for having been previously expelled without undergoing a re-admission process, before his supposed election as current party chairman.
Not done, the north-west PDP dissidents have expressly sought to overthrow the existing PDP leadership and take over the PDP. They have thus asked the Lagos High court to declare their own self-appointed Chairman, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, as the lawful PDP Chairman - notwithstanding anything in the PDP constitution.
Notwithstanding that INEC itself had witnessed the unanimous election of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur as Chairman at PDP’s penultimate national convention, and approved Bamanga Tukur holding that office, the dissident north-west members still want a judicial declaration overriding all of these facts.
They press on regardless of the precedent of Nigerian courts never to interfere with a political party’s internal affairs - which include the admission by waiver of its own party members.
Local Nigerian media are reporting that the dissident north-west members have also separately delivered a 4-point demand to the PDP Board of Trustees Chairman, 80-year-old Chief Anthony Anenih. One of it is a demand that under no circumstances must President Goodluck Jonathan present himself for PDP primary election in 2015, despite last year’s Abuja court order that President Jonathan is legally entitled under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, to present himself.
This particular demand to bar President Jonathan from contesting the 2015 primary election must have sounded to President Jonathan’s cabinet members like an attempted coup, and likely infuriated them to harden their own position by threatening severe punishment for the dissidents who'd made this particular demand.
Perhaps a dis-proportionate reaction, but the demand itself hardly sounds like a negotiation position, to be sure, because short of asking for Jonathan’s head there’s hardly any benefit in the demand of self-ban to induce President Jonathan’s voluntary acceptance. To the contrary, this self-ban demand grates President Jonathan’s long-stated position.
Since 13th June last year, Ahmed Gulak, a political adviser to President Jonathan had said, “God has given us President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria. He is the President of Nigeria today. He is not going to stay in office as President for more than eight (8) years. Nigeria belongs to us all and not to any individual.”
But partly because “The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is an agglomeration of interest groups formed around persons of prominence and power, which are loosely tied together by a desire to remain in office and maintain access to the “national cake” or resources of the Nigerian state,” according to the United States Embassy Charge d’ affaires, Ms. Lisa Piascik, who'd issued this descriptive statement on October 19, 2007, the concept of “zoning” in the PDP Constitution has continually been observed in breach, and usually invoked contradictorily, even by its stalwart defenders.
For instance, earlier this year, on 17th January, 2013, the Adamawa State Governor, Rear Admiral Murtala Nyako, whilst refusing to abide the argument that “zoning” precludes a state governor of PDP and a PDP Chairman from emerging from the same senatorial zone, had said, “There is no provision in the Constitution of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that says the governor of a state must not come from the same zone with the party chairman. The zoning system in Nigeria is only valid to nominate officials for appointments; not for elective offices. The idea of zoning is a PDP arrangement - which is not above the Constitution or the laws of Nigeria. Zoning is for appointive and not for elected offices.”
With “zoning” being disparately interpreted by each PDP official, the party is now unlikely to ever agree on what “zoning” means; to enable it answer the second question of whose interpretation of “zoning” will then bind the party - especially given that Justice Lawal Gumi who’d pronounced “zoning” as binding on PDP, had also rightly recused himself from declaring what “zoning” and “rotation” mean under article 7.2 [c] of the PDP constitution.
“PDP’s laws keep changing at night,” a diplomat said.
…………………………….Seyi Olu Awofeso is a Legal Practitioner in Abuja