By: Habeeb Pindiga & Muideen Olaniyi

The National Caucus of the PDP rose from a meeting early morning yesterday rejecting moves to initiate a process for the removal of provisions on zoning and rotation from the party’s constitution.

But the caucus agreed that President Goodluck Jonathan was free to stand for elections in 2011.At a meeting held at the State House in Abuja, members of the caucus refused to accept plans to include among the proposed constitution changes a proposal for the deletion of section 7.2 (c) which provides that the party should zone and rotate political offices in the interest of peace and unity of the country.

Although no official statement was issued at the end of the meeting, senior party officials who attended the meeting told Daily Trust that there were heated debates over whether the president should be allowed to stand for election in the light of the party’s rules that zone the presidency to the North.

Supporters of the president said since the major inhibition for Jonathan’s ambition is the party rules, the constitutional provision should be deleted during the forthcoming convention.

But pro-zoning party leaders rejected this, saying it would create crisis that the party would not be able to manage.

Some party leaders suggested that given that the Federal constitution gives the president the right to stand for election, there was no point changing provisions of the PDP constitution. They also argued that in 2002 and 2006, politicians from sections of the country other than where the presidency was zoned to did contest the primaries regardless of the zoning arrangement.

The meeting rose at about 2am affirming the president’s right to stand but also rejecting moves to delete the zoning and power rotation clause from the constitution of the People’s Democratic Party.

The caucus also agreed that the party should spearhead wider consultations with the board of trustees and the national executive committee of the party over the contentious power rotation issue. It also mandated the party’s leadership to initiate dialogue with the top party leaders from both sides of the zoning debate.

The meeting was chaired by national chairman Okwesilieze Nwodo. Those who attended include President Jonathan, Senate President David Mark and other principal officers of the National Assembly, as well as members of the National Working Committee of the party. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo did not attend even though he is a member of the caucus.

Obasanjo was billed to chair the BOT meeting last night, to continue with deliberations over the power rotation issue.

Also at the caucus meeting, supporters of the president raised issues with the new state-by-state presidential primaries style contained in the Electoral Act as passed by the National Assembly. They urged that this should be removed from the bill before the presidential assent. But Mark told the agitators that it was too late to make such changes to the bill, but added that even after presidential assent, amendments could be proposed.

The caucus is an advisory body for the party and its decisions would only be enforceable after ratification by the national executive committee.

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