Abuja â€” President Goodluck Jonathan had kept mum while the debate on zoning or no zoning continued to rage. But he opened up on the issue yesterday at the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) headquarters in Abuja.
The president, who spoke during an interactive session with newsmen after submitting his presidential nomination form, said PDP did not zone the presidency because it had no control over it.
President Jonathan said the presidency is not like party offices like chairman, deputy chairman, etc which PDP had control over or the Senate presidency or House of Representatives Speaker which it had some control over because it has a majority in both houses.
He said the presidency had never been zoned to any part of the country in practice and that following PDP tradition, other positions at the federal or state levels were zoned only after the president and vice-president or governor and deputy governor had emerged.
President Jonathan wondered what the Northern presidential candidates were doing in the 2003 race when the presidency was allegedly zoned by PDP to the South.
He drew attention to political events in Kwara State saying if there was zoning Governor Bukola Saraki’s sister, Gbemi Saraki, could not be seeking to be governor in 2011 after her brother’s two terms in office.
The president also denied insinuations that he was using state funds for his campaigns.
Jonathan said: “The issue you asked about zoning. This is the first time I have to comment on zoning. I have decided to talk about it, but, at the appropriate time, you will know a little more. But either by virtue of the PDP constitution or in practice, the presidency of Nigeria has never been zoned to any part of the country. It has never been zoned or maybe I would read some sections of our own constitution too.
“There is the concept of zoning and rotation in the PDP constitution to encourage power to move from one part to the other and it is not limited to the office of the president. We will read from that section that from the least office (from councillorship to the presidency) PDP will encourage rotation and the issue of zoning. PDP does not zone the presidency but PDP zones offices they have absolute control or reasonable control over. The fact also is that the chairman of the party, deputy chairman, secretary, these are offices that PDP has absolute control and normally PDP will zone.”
He said further: “The office of the president and other elective offices like Senate Presidency, Speaker and National Assembly officers, PDP have reasonable control as long as we are in the majority. Those offices could be zoned. But, before you zone those offices, the president and the vice-president would have first emerged. I am saying this because I was involved.
“If you take the situation of the 2007 election for example, when Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and myself emerged, we met. Ali is here, he was the chairman of the party then, the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, our late president, myself, the secretary of the party then, Ojo Maduekwe, and Tony Anenih, we sat then down in the Glass House.
“The North would have a president who is from the North-west, we have a vice-president who is from the South-south, then, where should we place the party chairman, then we decided it has to go to the South-east. Where do we place the Senate president, we decided it has to go to the North-central. And now we zoned all these other offices. These are offices that PDP has some reasonable control. But before you zone them, the president and vice-president first must emerge.
“If you look at the tradition of PDP, after zoning those offices, if for any reason any of them resigned, then you call on that zone to pick a replacement. That is why when (Vincent) Ogbulafor resigned; the party had to go to the South-east to pick the current chairman (Okwesilieze Nwodo).
“When Patricia Etteh resigned as Speaker of the House of Representatives, the party had to go to the South-west. The party did not just go to the South. So, if anybody is making that argument, then of course, he can only say ok, the North-west, then, nobody from the North-central zone can even aspire to the presidency or the North-east. PDP operates on the six zonal structure.
“But, if you ask yourself, some of the other aspirants we are talking about.
“The concept of zoning has been in PDP from inception. We have in the PDP the 1999 constitution and if you ask the chairman, he will give you. This is the very first constitution and the zoning concept is there but not expressly stated. Then 2001 Constitution, it says in Article 7(2)(c) that ‘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 committees at all levels from councillor to the presidency’.
“Even at the state level, the PDP encourages the governorship position to be rotated. The other offices are zoned after the governor and the deputy governor have emerged. Let me take two states and give you example at that level for those who want to over drag this.
“And this was in 2001. Let me digress a little. Those who are arguing, especially those who are also aspirants who are arguing about this zoning, ask them, were they interested in contesting the presidency of this country in 2003? Were they interested in 2007?
“Of course if by our practice, PDP has a zoning arrangement that says the presidency will be in the North for eight years, then South for eight years, then North for eight years, in 2003 no Northern aspirant would have developed interest.
“But in 2003, you know that some of these people who are talking about zoning; it created a lot of havoc in the party because they wanted to contest, even against Obasanjo who had served only for one tenure then.”
He explained further: “Then, in 2007, we had about 28 aspirants. If it was purported to have been zoned to the North, then you wouldn’t have expected any Southerner but we even had about 16 Southerners that contested for the presidency. So, even in practice, the PDP constitution, the one I read, I decided to read from 2001 to tell you that it is not a recent issue. It has been a part of the party.
“This is 2009. The 2009 constitution, the current one, they lifted it exactly, no word is altered. The process of zoning is not limited to the presidency alone. The concept of rotation, at the councillorship level, the party encourages us to shift councillorship from one community to the other or one compound to the other or from one family to the other that make up the ward. At the local government chairmanship level, we encourage that the post should move from one ward to the other so that no one ward can monopolise the seat. It goes on for all the seats.”
Turning to Kwara State where Governor Saraki is also contesting for the presidency, Jonathan said: “In Kwara State, you see that (Bukola) Saraki whose term is ending, he is leaving because the Nigerian constitution allows for two terms but of course, the younger sister is contesting. If the party has zoned the position, definitely, somebody from that senatorial district cannot contest, except the younger sister is from a different senatorial district.
“If you look at the situation in Bayelsa State, you know my history. I am from Bras Senatorial district; I took over to finish Alamieyesiegha’s tenure, just like it has happened at the federal level. I was to go back and contest and the party had no objection. I even got the party ticket after the primary. But because I was now drafted to contest for the vice-presidency, the party set up a committee, Dr. Ahmadu Ali is here, and gave Timiprey Sylva who is from my senatorial district. The party would have said no, no, no, it had to go back may be to the Central Senatorial District where Alamieyesiegha comes from; let them bring the aspirant from there.
“It is when a governor, deputy governor emerge or chairman and vice-chairman of the council emerge and at the national level, when the President and the vice-president emerge then, you now zone other offices. And immediately that zoning is done, any replacement has to come from that zone, not North – South
“Whenever those people talking about zoning come to you again, ask them, especially if they are fellow aspirants like me, ask them about their political interests in 2003 and 2007. They are interested in 2011 and they are still talking about zoning. I will not do anything that is at variance with the constitution of the party. There is nothing like zoning presidency to the North, zoning presidency to the South.”
On the allegation that he is using state funds to run his campaign, Jonathan said: “I am a serving president. Most of my governors are facing the same accusation. The fact is that you cannot use state funds to run campaign. All over the world, we have electoral laws which stipulate how much an individual can spend at elections. But, I have never used public funds to run my campaigns. At the appropriate time I will publish the details of my campaign funds.”
President Jonathan arrived the PDP National Secretariat at exactly 3.15 pm in a white Toyota Hiace Bus with registration number BD 823 RBC and was received by the National Organizing Secretary, Prince Uche Secondus.
Earlier, PDP Chairman Okwesilieze Nwodo told President Jonathan that equally formidable aspirants were lined up against him in the contest for the presidential ticket of the party and that he should expect keen competition. He was optimistic that the next president would also come from PDP.
Vice-President Namadi Sambo and nine governors namely Isa Yuguda (Bauchi), Danbaba Suntai (Taraba), Ibrahim Shema (Katsina), Sullivan Chime (Enugu), Liyel Imoke (Cross River) Adebayo Alao-Akala (Oyo), Ikedi Ohakim (Imo), Akwe Doma (Nasarawa) and Segun Oni (Ekiti) accompanied the president on the visit.
Other PDP chieftains in the entourage were Police Affairs Minister Adamu Maina Waziri, Niger Delta Minister Godsday Orubebe, Minister of Women Affairs Josephine Anenih, two former chairmen of PDP – Chief Barnabas Gemade and Dr. Ahmadu Ali – former chairman of PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) Anthony Anenih, Senator Isaiah Balat, Alhaji Samalia Sambawa, Prof. Jerry Gana and Senator Jonathan Zwingina.