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Okechukwu: Any party that breaches zoning convention will lose presidency in 2023

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Osita Okechukwu


APC Chieftain and Director General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu told LAWRENCE NJOKU that any political party that breaches zoning convention would lose Presidency in 2023.

How true is the claim that the All Progressives Congress (APC) was behind President Muhammadu Buhari’s third term agenda that made waves recently?
It is a blatant lie to insinuate that our great party was behind such undemocratic and unpatriotic act. It’s trite law that any crime has a motive. In this instance, what on earth will be the motive of our great party to jettison history and follow a serially failed route?

We are students of history. Therefore, we know how the chase after third term agenda, more than any other factor, tainted the image of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, in spite of the denial. So, why should we taint the integrity quotient image of Mr. President? Especially, when President Buhari, the number one leader of our great party, is not a pretentious person, but a system’s man, who believes in adherence to standards, conventions, spirit and letters that govern the 1999 Constitution.

For the avoidance of doubt, the truth is that we have abundant qualified and potential presidential candidates in every geopolitical zone. Most importantly, there is subsisting rotation convention between the northern and southern belts, a ligament that binds our fractious and fledgling democracy together. That’s why the rude rumour was quickly debunked and cogent rebuttal issued immediately by the Presidency.

There are allegations that the third term gambit was flown as part of the ploy to drive home the seriousness in the campaign against Presidency going to neither the Southeast nor any other zones in 2023…
My over 40 years in partisan politics taught me that in the absence of any major issue in the front burner, some actors go out of their way to float one. This is more so in the digital age of social media, which has no gatekeeper. As we approach 2023, we will be bombarded second by second, minute by minute, with all manner of fake news like this one. Fake news like this is the downside of social media.

In all simplicity, the allegation is false, because the zoning convention was a child of doctrine of necessity constructed for peace and harmony in 1999 by patriots. I don’t think we will casually dump the zoning convention, especially now that the country is highly divided by ethnic and religious bigots. It will be dangerous to throw away the safety net or in other words, cut the ligament, which as I said earlier, binds our fledgling democracy.

So, the simple truth is that, going by the zoning convention, it’s the turn of the southern belt. And in the southern belt, it is the turn of Ndigbo or the Southeast, because we are the only geopolitical zone in the belt that has not presided over Nigeria, since the birth of the zoning convention in 1999.

It would be recalled that the foundation for zoning convention was laid by patriots, who reasoned that power should rotate from northern belt to southern belt in 1999. This was consequent upon successive military regimes, with Heads of State, mostly from the north. And to heal the wounds emanating from the annulment of June 12 presidential election won by Chief M.K.O. Abiola of blessed memory, the zoning convention started from the Southwest geopolitical zone.

One remembers vividly how Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Dr. Olusola Saraki, Adamu Ciroma, Umaru Shinkafi and other prominent northerners were dissuaded from contesting for president in 1999, whereby their personal ambitions were sacrificed for collective interest of all.

This healing balm made only Chiefs Olusegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae the contestants. And to spice it, and to demonstrate that the option was mainly for national interest, Chief Obasanjo that won got scanty votes from his Southwest constituency and more votes from other geopolitical zones. That’s the uncommon spirit of the oneness exhibited.

A former National Auditor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ray Nnaji, recently said APC is not interested in handing over power to Southeast, but is willing to continue marginalisation of the zone through some anti-people policies…
I read carefully the interview of my big brother and senior counsel, Ray Nnaji and can sum up his thesis, that he is more or less a fanatical supporter of His Excellency, Atiku Abubakar. He added that the Southeast has no political structure to bid for Presidency, and one asks upon which political structure did Obasanjo stand to become a President in 1999? It was all based on consensus, which is the essential ingredient of participatory democracy.

Some of us, the Buharists, do make such grandiose statements, but we restrain ourselves to serious matters that concern the corporate existence of our dear country. Ironically, this is a senior counsel, who in the same interview, narrated accurately how PDP lost the 2015, because they fielded ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, against zoning storm, hence breaching the zoning convention.

Methinks that any of the two major political parties — APC and PDP— which breaches the zoning convention will lose the 2023 presidential election, no matter the ethnic or religious card.

But Nnaji’s position came on the heels of some statements from some of your party leaders, especially from the North, who expressed serious desire to continue retaining power in the North…
As I said earlier, with the social media, we must brace up for more outlandish and grandstanding statements from the serious and unserious political actors from Northern and Southern belts in the public domain.

This is the spice of democracy, with its attendant freedom of speech, which by law we are compelled to accommodate. The only solution is sieving as much as possible the genuine news from the fake ones, as we march on to 2023. My only concern is the survival of our nascent democracy, which may be imperiled by continuous misconception of Nigeria, wittingly or unwittingly by major political actors.

What do you mean by misconception of Nigeria?
My thesis goes thus: First, we Nigerians exhibit crass misconception of our dear country by erroneously allocating undue premium to our particular ethnic nationality above the multi-ethnic nationalities, which Almighty God endowed us with.

Secondly, the truism is that in every ethnic nationality, we have abundance of the good, the bad and the ugly. Therefore, the state resources should be distributed evenly. Thirdly, the credo is to look for good people in every ethnic nationality at each moment and at every corner, especially if you’re a good person. Accordingly, thinking that the development of our particular ethnic nationality is the only important assignment is naive and not progressive.
The bad news is that in 59 years as an independent nation, we have been unable to develop in the true sense of the word any town, talk less of any geopolitical zone.

The gospel truth is that we’re daily teaching our children that we are not brothers and sisters; that the person from the other ethnic nationality or religion is your eternal enemy, who visited poverty and hardship on you. What we regrettably practise is the ‘we versus them,’ which stifles vision, initiative and prosperity.

So, we must consciously, if not change, at least drastically minimise this negative attitude of ours, if we are to advance as a nation state. I wrote a pamphlet where I documented how divided my hometown, Eke is. This is a town of not more than 100,000 people, of one parentage by oral history, one ethnic nationality, one Igbo dialect and 98 percent Catholic Christians. Sincerely, looking objectively inwards, most towns like Eke are more divided than Nigeria.

In summary, it means that if Eke town is a ‘region’ if true Federalism being advocated as the only panacea to our dysfunctional state of affairs by some pundits and quasi-patriots, the solution will still be far-fetched. Eke town case study shows that the solution is not our collective amnesia, but what Professor Chinua Achebe of blessed memory dubbed dearth of good leadership.

It would appear the APC government has closed its eyes to the cry of marginalisation from the Southeast, going by some of its actions that did not put the zone into consideration…

Far from it, APC is not closing its eye, if there’s an eye in the first place. In the political domain, what is required is how best to build national consensus with other ethnic nationalities. My lesson in the Buhari camp for over a decade is the resilience and passion to build national consensus.

In the 2003, 2007, and 2011 presidential elections, President Buhari showcased his uncommon 12-million vote-bank, but couldn’t win, because his bank was located in mainly two geopolitical zones — Northwest and Northeast. In 2015, we changed tactics and entered into a merger, which was a political bridge across the Niger. The merger made the Southwest to provide the critical supplement for victory.

For the Southeast to harvest the rare advantage we have in the southern belt, as the only geopolitical zone that has not presided over Nigeria, we need to urgently build national consensus. We need to plead with our brothers and sisters who are fanatical Atiku supporters and those sentimental ideologues, who wallow in amnesia to join the lobby train.

Who are these sentimental ideologues?
One wouldn’t want to bandy names. All one is saying is that it is sentimental for one or group of persons to canvass that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is false, and that unless it’s discarded or we return to the defunct 1963 Constitution, no need for Ndigbo to seek the office of President.

This is sentimental, for it’s neither rooted on principle nor on pragmatism. Granted that our Constitution is not perfect, the pragmatic position is to lobby those who seem advantaged by the Constitution and convince them why we need amendments.

Have we been able to explain to the Northerners, for instance, that they stand to benefit more, if we devolve more powers to the states and local councils, because they have more? We must convince others on the imperative to foster the collective interest of all to build equity and natural justice.


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