1st December, 2010
Hopes for judicial backing by former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar and otherÂ campaigners for the zoning of the candidacy for presidency to Northern Nigeria, wereÂ dashed this morning in Abuja, by a Federal High Court.
Justice Lawan Hassan Gunmi, Chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory High CourtÂ gave a definitive ruling on the controversy over zoning and rotation of publicÂ offices as enshrined in Article 7 (2 c) of the constitution of the Peopleâ€™sÂ Democratic Party, PDP,
In hisÂ judgment delivered in a suit filed by Mr. Sani Aminu Dutsema, a presidentialÂ aspirant under the PDP, the FCT Chief Judge held that although zoning and rotationÂ of public offices were enshrined in the PDPâ€™s constitution, the partyâ€™s constitutionÂ failed to specify how they should be applied.
Dutsema had approached the court to challenge the candidacy of President GoodluckÂ Jonathan in the forthcoming party primaries for the selection of the partyâ€™sÂ candidate for the presidential election in 2011.
The applicant through his counsel, James Obiahor, called on the court to hold thatÂ the North was bound to produce the presidential candidate for both 2007 and 2011Â elections in accordance with the zoning principle of the party since the South hadÂ enjoyed two terms in 1999 and 2003.
Dutsema also called on the court to hold that the PDP will be in breach of its ownÂ constitution if it sponsored any other candidate outside the North for the 2011Â presidential election.
Further, the PDP presidential aspirant sought for an order of the court mandatingÂ the party to comply with its constitution.
In its opposition to the suit, the PDP contended that the issue of nomination andÂ sponsorship of a candidate for any election â€œis an internal affair of the politicalÂ party which the court has no jurisdiction to interfere with.â€
PDPâ€™s lawyer, Mr. Wole Oke, also argued that the plaintiff lacks locus standi inÂ instituting the matter.
In its judgment, the court disagreed with the PDP on the issue of locus standi andÂ noted that the plaintiff having exhibited his membership card with properÂ endorsement of payment of deposit fee â€œis clearly a bonafide member of the party andÂ as such has his locus to instigate the action.â€
However, it agreed with the PDP that the rules of the court did not empower it toÂ interfere where the issue for determination is an internal affair of a politicalÂ party.
The court also held that the minutes of the enlarged national caucus of the PDPÂ which deliberated on the issue of zoning as exhibited by the plaintiff did not carryÂ the signature of the national chairman and national secretary of the party. And asÂ such carried no weight in law.
The same applied to the letter purportedly written by a former Chairman of the BoardÂ of Trustee of the party to the national executive committee of the party on theÂ principle of zoning and rotation of public offices which was also exhibited by theÂ plaintiff.
Though the court agreed with the plaintiff in relation to Article 7 (2) (c) of theÂ party recognising zoning and rotation, the Chief Judge stated that he cannot holdÂ that the North should bear the presidential ticket of the PDP as that is a politicalÂ question which is not justiceable.
Consequently, the court declined to hold that the PDP will be in breach of itsÂ constitution if it sponsored Jonathan, as the article did not indicate or specifyÂ how zoning and rotation should be conducted.
Jonathanâ€™s candidacy has sparked some Northern irredentism, with some fellow partyÂ members urging him to abandon the idea, as the North, going by the partyâ€™sÂ constitution, should produce a candidate for the party. Jonathanâ€™s predecessor,Â Umaru Yarâ€™Adua died suddenly in office, without completing a possible eight yearÂ term. He had spent about three years, when he died after a protracted illness lastÂ May. His emergence in December 2006 was in fulfilment of the partyâ€™s zoning spirit,Â as his own predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo comes from the South West.
Not comfortable with Jonathanâ€™s emergence as a candidate, a group of leaders underÂ the aegis of Northern Political Leadersâ€™ Forum, mounted a spirited campaign to makeÂ Jonathan change his mind. And when he did not, the group made the aspirants from theÂ North to unite forces and accept the nomination of one of them as the jointÂ candidate.
The consensus building yielded the selection of Atiku Abubakar last week Monday,Â thus ending the aspirations of Ibrahim Babangida, a former dictator, Aliyu MuhammedÂ Gusau, the veteran intelligence chief and Bukola Saraki, the incumbent governor ofÂ Kwara state.
It is believed in some circles that the case spiked by the court today was sponsoredÂ by political interests, with affiliations with the NPLF.
With this ruling, the coast is now clear for President Goodluck Jonathan to contestÂ the PDP presidential ticket with the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, theÂ consensus candidate of the Mallam Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leaders Forum,Â who was picked on Monday, 22 November.
The zoning controversy became so devisive that it nearly tore the party apart.
Atiku rejoined PDP some months ago, having left the party in 2006 to pursue hisÂ presidential ambition on the platform of the Action Congress (AC). He got a specialÂ waiver to contest for the presidential ticket of the PDP after an initial reluctanceÂ by the Adamawa chapter of PDP to readmit him.
On returning to PDP, he was said to have suggested the idea of a consensus candidateÂ among all the northern aspirants so as to present a united front. The suggestion ledÂ to the elimination of other presidential aspirants like Ibrahim Babangida, AliyuÂ Gusau and Bukola Saraki.
Atikuâ€™s immediate task now is how to justify the confidence reposed in him by theÂ nine-man selection committee.