By: ISMAIL OMIPIDAN and GARBA MUHAMMAD

…Says all parties must present Northern candidates

After weeks of dilly-dallying, initially saying the debate on zoning was a Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) affair, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, yesterday made a U-turn and unanimously agreed that the existing zoning arrangement between the North and the South must be respected.

This was part of the decisions reached after a stormy session of the group’s joint meeting of its National Executive Council (NEC) members and those of the Board of Trustees, BoT, in Kaduna, which saw the BoT Chairman, Lt. General Jeremiah Useni (retd), almost walking out on the meeting, but was prevailed upon to remain and preside over the gathering till the end, which he did.

To this end, the ACF has equally called on all the parties in the country to ensure they present presidential candidates from the North for the 2011 Presidential election, just as it happened in 1999, where only Southerners contested the general election as presidential candidates. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Chief Olu Falae, were the two presidential candidates during the 1999 presidential polls.

According to insiders at the meeting, the decision to insist that all political parties must endeavour to choose a northern presidential candidate was reached to ensure that Nigerians are given the choice to choose from the array of presidential candidates of Northern extraction that would be presented to them, so as to allay the fears that the zoning principle would deny them the opportunity of having the best to lead the country from the zone.

Daily Sun further learnt that although the meeting, ought to have been jointly chaired by the ACF chairman, General IBM Haruna and Useni, only Useni presided, as Haruna was said to have been “unavoidably absent.”
Incidentally, both Haruna and Useni, as individuals, have always held the view that the issue of zoning was purely a party affair, and as such, ACF should stay away from the matter.

Sources revealed to Daily Sun that the above position was equally canvassed at yesterday’s meeting, with Useni supporting, but majority of those present at the meeting insisted that ACF must not only discuss the matter, but must come up with a definite position.
The majority’s position, Daily Sun further learnt was in tandem with the position of the group’s Political Committee, headed by Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Gusau, who incidentally made a presentation to the Joint Committee meeting of the ACF yesterday.

In his presentation, a copy of which was exclusively obtained by Daily Sun, Gusau threw some posers to the gathering, chief among which were: “as we are very much aware that there are presidential candidates from the North that are likely to emerge from other political parties, i.e, the CPC, the ANPP, e.t.c, the poser here is, should President Jonathan emerge victorious during the PDP primaries, what could be the reaction of the ACF under the circumstance? Presently, there appears to be clear divisions within the 19 states in the North, what could ACF do to bring unity and understanding in the North regardless of religious and tribal differences which will enhance our victory, should the North adopt the zoning formula?

“If we look at this issue from another perspective, are we saying that if the zoning formula is adopted, whoever emerges President of the country from the North, irrespective of his political affiliation, will he serve for only four years? On the other hand, if President Jonathan becomes the President by 2011, has he the right to re-contest after 2015? Some people are of the view that for this zoning arrangement to remain without any violation by the so-called gentleman agreement and the provision of 2009 PDP’s constitution, the North should call for a constitutional amendment to insert the zoning principle in the constitution, will this solve our problem?
“In view of the foregoing challenges, posers and observations, the Joint Committee of the ACF is hereby invited to brainstorm and critically examine all the issues raised above, with a view to coming up with a clear position that the North could stand on.”

In spite of the Gusau’s presentation, Daily Sun further learnt, those against discussion on zoning, almost had their way, before the Youth Leader of the Northern Union (NU), Mohammed Alhaji Abu, was said to referred the gathering to the provisions of the ACF constitution, which gave it the powers to discuss and take decision on contentious issues like the zoning matter.

He was said to have directed the gathering to section 4 (2) and (4) respectively, of the ACF constitution, which states that the Forum shall among other things “set up machinery for regular dialogue to ensure that issues likely to cause breach of the peace are settled amicably and promptly,” and “to establish linkages and contacts with political and community leaders in order to harmonize approaches towards finding solutions to peculiar problems facing the northern states and the country as a whole.”
That, Daily Sun further learnt, did the magic, as the gathering was moved into taking a definite stand on the matter. One thing that did not, however, feature in the communiqué, but which Daily Sun authoritatively learnt, was agreed upon was the fact that whoever emerged from the North as President in 2011, would not run again in 2015.

In the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting and signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Anthony Sani, a copy of which was made available to Daily Sun, ACF resolved that “all political parties should endeavour to field northern candidates for the 2011 presidential elections.
“This is very important and necessary to ensure the principle of federal character, which has become part and parcel of our political culture.
“All political parties and public organizations should continue to uphold the practice of zoning in the interest of social justice, equity, fairness and stability of a united Nigeria.

“The meeting also commended the government for appointing credible persons, such as Professor Jega at the helm of affairs of INEC.
“These have gone in no small measure to rekindle the hope and confidence of Nigerians in INEC capacity to conduct free and fair election.
“The meeting urged government to provide INEC with all necessary support for the 2011 elections.”
Prominent among those who attended the meeting were former ACF Secretary, Colonel Hamid Ali (retd), reinstated Bauchi Deputy Governor, Alhaji Garba Gadi, Generals Magoro, Ali Akilu and Wushishi (retd), Alhaji Umar Abdul-Mutallab, former First Bank Plc Chairman, and Alhaji Saidu Bada among others.
Meanwhile, two youth groups from the North, Coalition of Northern Youth Organization and the Arewa Youth Development Foundation (AYDF), stormed the venue of the meeting to press home their support for the retention of zoning ahead of the 2011 presidential election.

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