The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) comprising Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Middle Belt Forum, and Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), has commended PDP Governors from the South-South and southwest as well as National Assembly members and other key stakeholders of the party in the two zones on their commitment to the quest for fairness, equity, and justice in the power equation of the country.
In a statement on Thursday, the SMBLF said the reaffirmation of the declaration of the Southern Governors at Asaba, Delta State, in May last year, on the zoning of the presidency of the country to the South by the PDP leaders at their recent meetings in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State and Ibadan, Oyo State respectively, is a reassuring demonstration of the unanimity and resolve that the next President of Nigeria should come from the South, in the national interest.
“It must be noted that zoning had been practiced in the Nation’s polity since independence and remains sacrosanct. When Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in 1960, was the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was Governor-General.
“The zoning of political offices, particularly the presidency of the country is the best panacea for peace, unity, and progress of the country,” the SMBLF declared.
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According to the forum, this is why recent contentions by certain Northern politicians, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, on the issue of zoning, are most disappointing.
“Atiku’s comments while reportedly addressing some PDP leaders are symptomatic of desperation and somewhat arrogance. His supposition that the APC has a moral obligation to zone the presidency but that the PDP does not is self-serving and illogical.
“PDP already has a National Chairman who is from the North, in the person of Distinguished Senator Iyorchia Ayu, from Benue State; the opinion that Senator Ayu would relinquish his position for somebody from the south if someone from the North emerges as the party’s Presidential candidate is preposterous. Ayu was elected at the party’s convention with the expected consideration that the presidency would go the South.
“The PDP as a political party had always adhered to the principle of zoning since its formation. In 1998, the PDP zoned its presidential ticket to the South and the Chairmanship to the North, and Chief Solomon Lar from Plateau State became the pioneer National Chairman of the party.
“The APC has also been religiously following the zoning or rotation system between the north and the south. In 2014, the All Progressives Congress, APC, zoned its presidential ticket to the North, and the Chairmanship of the party to the South, Chief Bisi Akande emerged as the party’s first interim National Chairman.
“Subsequently, all those who contested for the party’s presidential ticket were from the North, including President Muhammadu Buhari, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso, and late Sam Nda-Isaiah, except Senator Owelle Rochas Okorocha who has been a habitual presidential aspirant since 2003. Buhari won the primaries, Kwankwaso was second and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar came third.
“In 2011, this same Atiku was one of the leaders from the North who canvassed that Goodluck Jonathan should not contest the presidential election in 2011 that the position was zoned to the North. Atiku went on to contest the PDP presidential primaries with Jonathan and he lost.
“So, there has been no time that Atiku has ever gone against zoning but now because it does not suit his purpose. If he has forgotten that there is zoning in PDP, we can forgive him, because he has been changing his party at all times, wanting to be president of Nigeria.
“It is worthy to also note that in 2018, only Northern candidates, including Jonah Jang, David Mark, Atiku Abubakar, Kabiru Turaki, Sule Lamido, Attahiru Bafarawa, Ahmed Makarfi, Ibrahim Dankwambo, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Bukola Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal, and Datti Baba Ahmed, contested the presidential primaries of the People’s Democratic Party that was held in Port Harcourt. Why was no southern involved in the contest, if not because it was zoned to the north? Was it a coincidence or by hook or by crook?
“It bears recalling that we, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum, earlier in 2018, before the party primaries, had individual interactive engagements with presidential aspirants of various political parties, to ascertain their agenda for Nigeria, and whether or not, they were in support of the restructuring of the country.
“Sixteen presidential aspirants including all the PDP candidates besides Aminu Tambuwal, David Mark, and Datti Baba Ahmed, participated in the process. It was after those interactions that we decided we threw our weight behind Atiku Abubakar.
“We all worked for him; he won the PDP primaries but lost the main election. And he left for a holiday in Dubai while people were here fighting for him. Now, he wants to contest again. If he fails again, would he still argue that the party’s ticket should remain in the North or remain open for him to contest?
“The violent riots that took place in Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe, Borno, Adamawa, and other parts of the North in 2011 after Goodluck Jonathan’s victory were a result of incitements that Jonathan was taking the position of the North at the time.
“The impression of Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State that PDP must win the election first before zoning should be considered is not only irrational but shameful, coming from someone like him.
“It is putting the cart before the horse. Tambuwal need not be apprised that zoning of key positions in the polity like the Presidency, Vice Presidency, Senate Presidency, Speakership of the House of Representatives, National Chairmanship of Party and even Secretary to the Government of the Federation, is always decided, by any serious political Party, before going into an election. And that has been the convention of the PDP and even now the APC. Little wonder, the PDP has already constituted a Committee on zoning.
“It is also reckless and insulting to the people of the South for Aminu Tambuwal to ask the PDP to choose between zoning and winning the 2023 presidential election. Suggesting that persons who can win the election are only in the north.
“The question Mr. Tambuwal needs to answer is, are there more qualified, credible, and fitting people in the North than the South? Tambuwal should know that better persons, in terms of education, exposure, competence, and capability, are available in all parts of the country, particularly in the South.
“By 2023, the north would have fully enjoyed the Presidency of the country for the full statutory period of eight years, under President Muhammadu Buhari, whether the president has been from APC or PDP is of no significance; it‘s the presidency of Nigeria, hence, the presidency should rotate to the South.
“Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 to date, the north has governed Nigeria for about 45 years, including the five years and three months of Abubakar Tafewa Balewa; nine years of General Yakubu Gowon; six months of General Murtala Mohammed; four years and three months of Alhaji Shehu Shagari; one year and 8 months of General Muhammadu Buhari; eight years of General Ibrahim Babangida; four and half years of General Sani Abacha; the eleven months of General Abdulsalami Abubakar; three years of Umaru Musa Yar’adua, and the eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari by May 2023.
“Whereas, the South has only had it for about 16 years: six months of General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi; three months of Ernest Shonekan; three and half years of Olusegun Obasanjo as military Head of State and eight years as democratically elected President and the five years of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
“Whether it was military or civilian, head of state or president; democratically elected or not, it does not diminish the fact that they were all Heads of the Government of Nigeria.
“It must be noted that the basis of any viable democracy, especially in a diverse and complex country such as ours, is fair and even sharing of power. We, therefore, urge all patriotic Nigerians to shun ambitions and arrangements that would exacerbate the crisis in the country but rather should support resolves that would engender national cohesion and concord,” the SMBLF enunciated.
The forum further restated its recent call on all lovers of peace and equity in Nigeria, particularly people from the Southern and the Middle Belt region to reject any political party that fails to zone presidential ticket to the South.
SMBLF further stressed that the PDP needs to be mindful of its actions in order not to infringe established protocols and truncate the nation’s democracy as “THE YEAR 2023 WILL BE VERY DECISIVE FOR NIGERIA!”
The communique was cosigned by Dr Edwin K. Clark, Chief Ayo Adebanjo (Afenifere), Professor George Obiozor (Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide), and Dr. Pogu Bitrus (Middle Belt Forum).