Zoning: Court Dashes The Hope Of Atiku & Co

Atiku in deep reflection at the launch of a book, yesterday in Lagos.

•Atiku in deep reflection at the launch of a book, yesterday in Lagos. PHOTO: IDOWU OGUNLEYE.

Hopes for judicial backing by former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar and other  campaigners for the zoning of the candidacy for presidency to Northern Nigeria, were  dashed this morning in Abuja, by a Federal High Court.

Atiku Abubakar

Justice Lawan Hassan Gunmi, Chief judge of the Federal Capital Territory High Court  gave a definitive ruling on the controversy over zoning and rotation of public  offices as enshrined in Article 7 (2 c) of the constitution of the People’s  Democratic Party, PDP,

In his  judgment delivered in a suit filed by Mr. Sani Aminu Dutsema, a presidential  aspirant under the PDP, the FCT Chief Judge held that although zoning and rotation  of public offices were enshrined in the PDP’s constitution, the party’s constitution  failed to specify how they should be applied.

Dutsema had approached the court to challenge the candidacy of President Goodluck  Jonathan in the forthcoming party primaries for the selection of the party’s  candidate for the presidential election in 2011.

The applicant through his counsel, James Obiahor, called on the court to hold that  the North was bound to produce the presidential candidate for both 2007 and 2011  elections in accordance with the zoning principle of the party since the South had  enjoyed two terms in 1999 and 2003.

Dutsema also called on the court to hold that the PDP will be in breach of its own  constitution if it sponsored any other candidate outside the North for the 2011  presidential election.

Further, the PDP presidential aspirant sought for an order of the court mandating  the party to comply with its constitution.

In its opposition to the suit, the PDP contended that the issue of nomination and  sponsorship of a candidate for any election “is an internal affair of the political  party which the court has no jurisdiction to interfere with.”

PDP’s lawyer, Mr. Wole Oke, also argued that the plaintiff lacks locus standi in  instituting the matter.

In its judgment, the court disagreed with the PDP on the issue of locus standi and  noted that the plaintiff having exhibited his membership card with proper  endorsement of payment of deposit fee “is clearly a bonafide member of the party and  as such has his locus to instigate the action.”

However, it agreed with the PDP that the rules of the court did not empower it to  interfere where the issue for determination is an internal affair of a political  party.

The court also held that the minutes of the enlarged national caucus of the PDP  which deliberated on the issue of zoning as exhibited by the plaintiff did not carry  the signature of the national chairman and national secretary of the party. And as  such carried no weight in law.

The same applied to the letter purportedly written by a former Chairman of the Board  of Trustee of the party to the national executive committee of the party on the  principle of zoning and rotation of public offices which was also exhibited by the  plaintiff.

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Though the court agreed with the plaintiff in relation to Article 7 (2) (c) of the  party recognising zoning and rotation, the Chief Judge stated that he cannot hold  that the North should bear the presidential ticket of the PDP as that is a political  question which is not justiceable.

Consequently, the court declined to hold that the PDP will be in breach of its  constitution if it sponsored Jonathan, as the article did not indicate or specify  how zoning and rotation should be conducted.

Jonathan’s candidacy has sparked some Northern irredentism, with some fellow party  members urging him to abandon the idea, as the North, going by the party’s  constitution, should produce a candidate for the party. Jonathan’s predecessor,  Umaru Yar’Adua died suddenly in office, without completing a possible eight year  term. He had spent about three years, when he died after a protracted illness last  May. His emergence in December 2006 was in fulfilment of the party’s zoning spirit,  as his own predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo comes from the South West.

Not comfortable with Jonathan’s emergence as a candidate, a group of leaders under  the aegis of Northern Political Leaders’ Forum, mounted a spirited campaign to make  Jonathan change his mind. And when he did not, the group made the aspirants from the  North to unite forces and accept the nomination of one of them as the joint  candidate.

The consensus building yielded the selection of Atiku Abubakar last week Monday,  thus ending the aspirations of Ibrahim Babangida, a former dictator, Aliyu Muhammed  Gusau, the veteran intelligence chief and Bukola Saraki, the incumbent governor of  Kwara state.

It is believed in some circles that the case spiked by the court today was sponsored  by political interests, with affiliations with the NPLF.

With this ruling, the coast is now clear for President Goodluck Jonathan to contest  the PDP presidential ticket with the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the  consensus candidate of the Mallam Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leaders Forum,  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 his  presidential ambition on the platform of the Action Congress (AC). He got a special  waiver to contest for the presidential ticket of the PDP after an initial reluctance  by the Adamawa chapter of PDP to readmit him.

On returning to PDP, he was said to have suggested the idea of a consensus candidate  among all the northern aspirants so as to present a united front. The suggestion led  to the elimination of other presidential aspirants like Ibrahim Babangida, Aliyu  Gusau and Bukola Saraki.

Atiku’s immediate task now is how to justify the confidence reposed in him by the  nine-man selection committee.

—Felix Nnamdi

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