Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar on Tuesday said President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration to pick the Peoples Democratic Party’s ticket for the 2011 presidential election came to Northern elders as a ‘rude shock.’
Addressing a news conference in Abuja on his selection as the compromise aspirant of the Northern Leaders Political Forum, the former vice-president said this was because Jonathan was aware of an existing agreement within the party to rotate power between the North and South. He said zoning had become part of Nigeria’s political culture, adding that this was why the PDP zoned the office of President to the South in 1999.
In 2002, Abubakar said an expanded caucus of the PDP reaffirmed the zoning of the Presidency to the South for another four years, after which it would be the turn of the North for eight years.
“Our current President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was present at that expanded caucus meeting and voted in support of zoning. It, therefore, came as a rude shock to most Nigerians, including Northern leaders in the PDP, when indications emerged that Dr. Jonathan would, in utter disregard of the PDP constitution and extant agreements, offer himself for election to the office of President in 2011.
“We were alarmed that the progress that we had made as a nation to address our diversity in relation to power-sharing would be jeopardised, with consequences that might be catastrophic. It was that concern that led to the formation of the Northern Leaders Political Forum, which immediately began wide-ranging consultations across the country to alert Nigerians to the dangers inherent in one man, just because he feels he could, casually abandoning agreements painstakingly reached by broad sections of the country on the critical issue of power sharing.”
He said those opposed to zoning were not concerned about the stability of the country. He also told the audience that anti-zoning elements, in their desperation, resorted to a dangerous strategy of ethnic and religious politics to advance their selfish agenda. Zoning, he said, was not new to the country as it was also adopted during the First Republic.
“That was why in the First Republic, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe from the South was ceremonial President, Tafawa Balewa from the North was the Prime Minister and other key positions went to people from various ethnic and religious groups. We maintained that tradition under military rule and through all civilian administrations.
“Zoning and rotation have never been perfect, but we have always recognised their importance for peace, unity, fairness and justice in this country. It is the mechanism which, at this stage of our development, ensures that every segment of the country, especially minority groups, have a chance of producing the occupants of the most important offices in our country.”
He said it was ironic that the country’s foreign reserves were being depleted while funds in the Excess Crude Account were reducing.
He said, “Why are our budgets not being implemented? Why has the money in our Excess Crude Account disappeared at a time when oil prices have been way above the benchmark used for our budget estimates?
“Why are our foreign reserves being depleted to dangerous levels leading to rating agencies downgrading our status? Why is this government quickly dragging us back to indebtedness after we worked so hard and sacrificed so much in the past to pull ourselves out of debt slavery? Clearly we need a new leadership in this country. That is why I am in this race.”
He pledged to work tirelessly to achieve victory for the PDP and lead the effort to build a Nigeria of his vision. This vision, according to him, is of a country which “creates conducive conditions and incentives for productive investment in the industrial sector, agriculture and social services; investments that will create massive numbers of jobs which will keep our youths gainfully employed and help to tackle the high level of insecurity in the country.”
Among those who were at the briefing were the Directors-General of Abubakar Bukola Saraki Campaign Organisation, Gen. Aliyu Gusau Campaign Organisation and Ibrahim Babangida Campaign Organisation, Dr. Udenta Udenta, Senator Ben Obi and Dr. Raymond Dokpesi respectively.
Others at the briefing included former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo; erstwhile Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani; Mr. Chris Mammah and Chief Musa Elayo.
The Director, Media and Publicity of the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation, Mr. Sully Abu, told our correspondent on the telephone that “there was nothing in what Atiku said on both economy and zoning.
“On zoning, the PDP has said the President is qualified to contest and every loyal member of the party has to abide by the party’s position. Atiku may not know anything about loyalty since he has been in and out of the party.
“Concerning the economy, he is not sure of his facts. There are rating agencies that have rated the Federal Government high and we do not know why he is using his pre-determined position to react. He is, however, free to pick any of the agencies he likes for the purpose of campaign.”
Meanwhile, the Deputy Director-General of the Ibrahim Babangida Campaign Organisation, Senator Kanti Bello, has described the selection of Abubakar as ‘irrational.’ Speaking on the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation monitored in Kaduna on Tuesday, Bello argued that the committee’s choice did not go down well with him.
But media spokesman to the former vice-president, Mallam Garba Shehu, said the senator had the right to his opinion since he had to please his boss (Babangida). [PUNCH]