PDP, zoning, and doublespeak

 Casmir Igbokwe

 Speaking from both sides of the mouth has become some Nigerian public officials‘ pastime. Acting before thinking is another trait we are well known for. No doubt, a people must be known for something. But must we be known for the wrong reasons?

Last Wednesday, the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, told newsmen that his party had jettisoned zoning. He was quoted to have said, ”Yes, I said to BBC and I repeat to you again that zoning in PDP has been jettisoned. There is no zoning on ground right now. Absolutely, there is no zoning.”

He did also say that the PDP could revisit zoning. ”We have jettisoned it but we can revisit it. I‘m not afraid about revisiting it. If we think that we need to revisit zoning today, let us revisit zoning. But the one we did in 1999, no, no, no, no. It has been jettisoned by PDP itself.”

 Newspapers came out the following day with different headlines of the story. Some said that zoning in PDP was dead. As expected, some northern leaders slammed Nwodo over his stance. The former Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu, was reported to have said that the PDP machinery reaffirmed the principle of zoning in 2002. He then wondered why anybody, including the national chairman of the party, would say that the arrangement had been jettisoned. This, he said, was irresponsible and unbecoming of leaders.

This type of statement might have propelled Nwodo to change gear on his earlier comment on zoning. His spokesman, Ike Abonyi, said the PDP chairman never said zoning was dead, but that most of the editors picked their headlines from outside the body of their stories. What Nwodo said, Abonyi noted, was that the PDP would revisit zoning because it had operated in breach since 2003.

It is not my intention here to pander to semantics or interpret Nwodo‘s definition of sensational or non-sensational headlines. My understanding of the word ‘jettison‘ is to discard or throw away something that is not useful or needed anymore. Of course a headline could be interpretative.

 Moreover, from different media reports, Nwodo didn‘t say the PDP would revisit zoning. He only said the party could revisit it if it so wished. This is not a statement of certainty. We are talking of the current situation in the PDP, not what may happen in future. We know that the party can still change its stand tomorrow. That is its business because nothing in this world is constant except change.

 So, Nwodo should stand by his opinion. Many people will support him. Come to think of it, what have we even gained from the zoning arrangement we had in the past. Proponents of that system say it‘s good for a complex nation like Nigeria. If one section of the country dominates in leadership position, they reason, it will engender bad blood in the polity. They argue that for equity and for the sake of the minorities who may feel short-changed, rotation of power is inevitable.

And so you find people like Atiku Abubakar, Ibrahim Babangida and some other northerners insisting that zoning must be respected. It is the turn of the North to rule, they maintain.

But their agitation, I suspect, is not borne out of genuine love for their people. It‘s all for their selfish interests. Some of them are afraid to confront the incumbent president in an electoral contest. They prefer to be handed over the presidency on a silver platter. I remember that in 2003, Abubakar, Babangida and Abubakar Rimi wanted to contest against former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The first two backed out when they saw that the coast was not clear. But Rimi did not. He contested the primaries and lost.

 Now let‘s ask ourselves, what did the Southwest gain from the Obasanjo presidency? What benefits accrued to the northern masses for the length of time their elite were in power?

Zoning, rotation and similar words thrive in an environment enveloped in poverty and ignorance. The elite who want to benefit from zoning confuse their people by telling them that rotation would guarantee them a place and a say in government. They buy their masses over with peanuts but abandon them when they get to power.

The question is, can rotation truly guarantee peace and unity? It won‘t. Rather, it fuels sectionalism – the ‘they‘ and ‘us‘ phenomenon. In this case, what you hear often is, ”it is our turn.” Nobody reckons with merit anymore.

We are supposed to be one nation bound in one destiny. But does zoning, which emphasises our differences, encourage that? In Plateau State, people are killing themselves because they feel they are not the same people. Some are said to be natives while others are said to be settlers.

In some other states, local governments and even town or village meetings, people want their own person to be at the helm. Sometimes, religion comes to play. Being a Christian or a Muslim can either make one win or lose an election. I agree that our country is complex, but it is not the only complex country in the world. We will do ourselves a lot of good if we behave like brothers and sisters and stop this discriminatory tendency in us.

And let the PDP stop disturbing the entire country with this zoning noise. It is its internal affair. If another party that does not have zoning wins the presidential election, will the PDP stop it from taking over the government?

We should strive to join the league of civilised nations that deemphasise where one comes from. The PDP should emulate its Calabar South chapter which conducted aptitude test for aspirants into its council offices recently. It was to assess the mental ability of the aspirants.

The test became imperative because an informal screening of councillorship aspirants in 2007 reportedly recorded an interesting episode. Two aspirants were asked to mention three arms of government. They purportedly told their interviewers that the three arms of government included Mark IV, AK 47 and Pump Action. These are different brands of guns.

What we need are people who have sound intellect and leadership skills, where they come from notwithstanding.

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