Atiku-Wike feud: Debunking the “equity and fairness” narrative

The assumption that zoning or rotation of power exists as a subject or product of a national consensus is fundamentally flawed. It is strictly an affair of the internal dynamics of political parties (which started with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) and has never been a matter of national political agreement. In essence, each party has its zoning arrangement which is usually distinct in nature and practice from that of others. And for some other parties, it simply remains subject to political convenience.

Hence, it should be understood that there’s no zoning in the sense that after eight years of a northern presidency, a southern president must succeed him. There is only zoning in the sense that after eight uninterrupted years of a northern PDP presidency, the PDP presidential ticket must rotate back to the South by virtue of Article 7, Section 7.2(C) of the PDP constitution. Same applies to the All Progressives Congress, APC, although not institutionally backed as it is for the PDP.

Moreover, it should be noted that zoning obligations are only binding on political parties and not the general political landscape. This is the reason why apart from the 1999 presidential elections which had only two candidates Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae both from the South-west, all other succeeding elections were contested by candidates across different regions, according to the zoning agreements of their respective parties (for those that have one).

2003 elections, for example, had candidates like Obasanjo (South-west), Muhammadu Buhari (North-west), Odumegwu Ojukwu (South-east), etc.
2007 had Umaru Yaradua (North-west), Ojukwu (South-east), Buhari(North-west), Orji Uzor Kalu (South-east), Atiku Abubakar (North-east), Pat Utomi (South-south), etc. 2011 had Goodluck Jonathan (South-south), Buhari (North-west), Jimoh Momodu (South-west), Utomi (South-south), Nwangwu (South-east), etc. If there was any national zoning agreement, we would have consistently witnessed the streamlining of presidential candidates (from all parties) to a particular zone or region.

Emphasis on this initial caveat was extremely necessary for the fact that it remains instrumental in justifying Atiku Abubakar’s contest and debunking the faulty insinuation that power must rotate to the South by all means after eight years of a northern presidency regardless of party considerations as advocated by Wike, his supporters (including the newly-found ones in APC) and many others especially in the South.

To debunk this prevailing faulty narrative, it is necessary to do a bit of a historical review. As I narrated in another article:
“Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner, became president in 1999 and prevailed as president for two terms, representing eight uninterrupted years. In 2007, Umaru Musa Yar’adua was nominated to fulfill this zoning principle and rotation of power to the north, hence, he was supposed to also prevail as president for eight uninterrupted years.

“Unfortunately, he was only able to serve for about three years due to his ill health and subsequent death. President Goodluck Jonathan who was the vice-president assumed office as acting president through the invocation of the “Doctrine of Necessity” principle and completed the term which was supposed to be between May 2007 and May 2011.

“However, according to the zoning agreement, it was still the turn of the north, as a northern president was supposed to go for eight uninterrupted years. But Jonathan was not going to have it, he insisted on contesting the presidency thereby jettisoning the PDP’s zoning principle. A serious crisis erupted within the party and a section of the party’s membership was hell-bent on adhering to the zoning agreement and even went ahead to endorse Atiku Abubakar as the northern consensus candidate to complete the north’s uninterrupted eight years.

“The stalemate prevailed until a case was made that Jonathan would only be completing the Yar’adua ticket which he was originally part of. And it was agreed that Jonathan would only be going for a single term. The decision still contravened the zoning arrangement but Jonathan had his way, he contested and won the 2011 elections. Jonathan however went back on his promise and still contested for the 2015 elections even while it was supposed to be contested by a northern candidate as per the 2011 agreement and the broader zoning principle. And he lost.”

It could be seen from the above narration that of the 16 years of PDP rule, 3 terms plus 1 year which represents 13 years were administered by a Southern presidency while only 3 years were administered by the North. Jonathan by contesting in 2011 and 2015(even though he lost) sought to fulfill another 8 uninterrupted years of a Southern presidency. Does this sound fair and just?

That is why it is only fair that a Northerner also contests for two consecutive elections(whether he wins or lose). It justifies Atiku’s contest for the 2019 and 2023 elections for it is in fulfillment of the right to 8 uninterrupted years of a Northern presidency. And It doesn’t matter if he’d be contesting after 8 years of Northern presidency from a different party.

However, even while the above justifications remain obvious, Atiku Abubakar in his usual spirit of selflessness publicly expressed intent to withdraw from the race if and only if the presidential ticket gets micro-zoned to the South-East; a proposal Wike was said to have vehemently frustrated to the detriment of the ultimate Southern interest. The Governor Ortom Zoning Committee subsequently took a position subject to the unanimity of all 37 members of the committee representing each state of the federation including Rivers state; a position PDP NEC finally adopted which favoured throwing the ticket open to contenders from all 6 geopolitical zones.

Governor Wike also publicly proclaimed that he would support whoever emerges from the primary elections as the flagbearer of the PDP. Today he has reneged and resorted to demanding for the resignation of the party’s national chairman because he comes from the North just as the presidential candidate. He claims his demands are backed by principles of equity and fairness and advocacy for southern interests. However, he has continued to deliberately downplay precedents of similar characteristics.

It should be recalled that Yaradua contested and won the presidential elections while Col. Ahmadu Ali, a Northerner was National Chairman of the PDP. Similarly, after the death of Yaradua and the ascension of Jonathan himself a southerner to the presidency, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor was replaced by another Southerner, Dr. Ezekwesilieze Nwodo as the National Chairman of the PDP who administered the primary elections that delivered Jonathan in 2010 before he was ousted by a ruling of the Enugu High Court. The crisis that necessitated his sack had nothing to do with recalibrating the position away from being occupied by a person from same region as the president or presidential candidate.

These precedents are enough to establish that the prevailing situation in the PDP of having a presidential candidate coming from same region as the party’s chairman is not unprecedented and that the situation is usually rectified after PDP’s victory in the general elections. Wike is very much aware of this and the fact that replacing the national chairman would have to be ratified by a national convention. Is that what Wike wants? To weaken the PDP and compromise its preparedness by having a national convention just months before the general elections? For he surely knows that even if Ayu resigns today, Umar Iliya Damagum, another Northerner by virtue of the PDP constitution will take over.

Governor Wike is simply playing the “equity and fairness” card to subtly justify his personal interests(which is neither in genuine alignment with the party’s nor the South’s). What he craves is undue leverage over the party’s affairs and decisions of the presidential candidate. If granted, only God knows when his torrents of demands will stop. But Wike is not bigger than the party and certainly not indispensable especially if he continues to frustrate the party’s efforts towards uniting and consolidating support towards the general elections.

The South should understand that Wike does not represent their interest, he frustrated the single most viable attempt at a successful south eastern presidential ticket(which would have assured a predominantly southern presidential race) and has continued to frustrate South-East’s biggest chance at producing a president. An Atiku Abubakar presidency represents that chance, and failure of Atiku in the 2023 general elections would only push farther the chances of having a south eastern president by another 16 years. Wike’s supposed equity and fairness advocacy is simply but a faulty and fallacious narrative. As the presidential campaigns officially kickstart, the South (particularly South-east and South-south) must unite against this enemy at the gate.

Ringim, a political and public affairs analyst. writes from Zaria, Kaduna state via [email protected], @Pragmatist_AIR on Twitter.

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