From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja
Ahead of next year’s general elections, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, has expressed strong support for the emergence of a Nigerian president of southern extraction in line with the rotation and zoning convention guiding the composition of government at various levels in the country.
Ngige, who is a chieftain in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), argued that zoning and rotation of power create stability, unity, equity and progress of the country.
According to him, rotation engenders confidence and patriotism and ensures that no one ethnic group or section of the country, dominates the other.
The former Anambra State governor described those saying no such convention exists as not saying the truth.
He particularly berated the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for hibernating and waiting for APC to choose a Southern presidential candidate, so they can pick theirs from the North in clear breach of the rotation convention and even against the rotation principle enshrined in the PDP constitution.
‘Their top apparatchik thinks they are smart. They want to play a fast one. They are waiting for APC to say South. Their calculation is that when that happens, they will go North. Number one, that will be an act of bad faith because it will mean that they have taken the people in the South-South and South East that have all along supported PDP 90 per cent in all the elections, for a ride.
‘The PDP will be shocked the way the South East, the South-South and other minorities, in fact, Nigerians as a whole will revolt. I was a founding member of the PDP. I was in its National Executive Committee as the Assistant National Secretary, South East and served in many strategic standing committees. I was elected Governor on the platform of the PDP. I know that the constitution of the PDP is clear on the rotation of power and zoning of offices between the North and South.
‘So , if they are waiting for our great party the APC to choose a Southern candidate so they can quickly turn and present a Northern candidate at a point the dominant mood in the country is for power to shift to the South, then, they are deceiving themselves. Nigerians will shock them.’
Answering questions from journalists at his country home in Alor, Idemili South LGA of Anambra State, Ngige insisted that an unwritten agreement exists among politicians and political parties that rotation of offices should take place and in the case of PDP, written down in its constitution.
According to him, though the issue of the rotation of the prime offices in the land is not expressly written in the constitution of APC, it is by implications contained in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria (as amended).
He said: ‘First, Section 14 (3) of the constitution is clear on the composition of government at the national, states and even local government level, in such a way that there should be no actual or perceptions of domination by any single tribe or group of persons from one ethnic nationality so as to engender confidence and patriotism.
‘So, governance and equitable sharing of offices at all levels of the federating units stem from this provision. So in effect, we all agree, flowing from that constitution that government at any level, the legislature, the executive and even to an extent, the judiciary, should reflect national spread in a manner no particular group should dominate the other.
‘In political parties, when you have the chairman coming from the South, the secretary goes to the North. You also have the Deputy Chairman coming from the North. In some places, they have two Deputy Chairmen for North and South. So, all these put in a holistic basket of power, shows you that it is recognized that because of our diversity, we need to have a platform for unity in diversity.
‘In the same way, whenever the chairman of any political party comes from the South, every effort is made for the presidential flag-bearer to come from the North. In a similar manner, there is this deliberate effort to ensure that power shifts to the North whenever a President from the South has governed for eight years and vice versa.
‘I keep making reference to the past for those who just joined politics to know the root of some of the conventions. When we formed the PDP, it was agreed that the presidency should go to the South. But late Abubakar Rimi said no, that he must contest. I remember Audu Ogbeh, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Baba Solomon Lar and others, taking Rimi to a corner in Jerry Gana’s house to talk to him but Rimi still insisted on running. Sunday Awoniyi who we all loved and respected started crying. Awoniyi, in tears, said Rimi’s insistence was not what the founding be fathers of Nigeria envisioned for the country. You know he was private secretary to the then Premier of the Northern Region. We were new in politics then. I and Prof ABC Nwosu used to carry Alex Ekwueme’s bag to meetings. So, we are living witnesses to this.’
He recalled that Rimi went to Jos and insisted on running but was disqualified based on zoning, and withdrew his candidacy at the convention venue, leaving only Southern candidates like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alex Ekwueme, Jim Nwobodo and others, to slug it out for the PDP ticket.
‘Similarly in APP, we had Ogbonnaya Onu, Olu Falae and the billionaire from Ibadan, Chief Harry Akande, slugging it out. Umaru Shinkafi and other Northern aspirants stepped down. So, it is not novel in Nigerian political history that you rotate or shift power.
‘We formed the APC and I am still alive. I was then a Senator. We started the discussion even before I went to Senate in 2011. We started the discussion for the formation of APC between ACN and CPC. After the election, ANPP joined us. Then, I now brought APGA with Okorocha. Today, some people falsify issues to say that Okorocha brought APC to the South-East. It is not true. I and Ogbonnaya Onu were the fathers of APC in the South-East. I specifically brought in Okorocha, Annie Okonkwo and Osita Izunaso. They are the three leading people we brought into the formation committee.
‘After formation, we set up a 32-man Interim Management Committee, serving like working committee members. We were drawn from CAN as senior partners with six governors, ANPP had three governor’s, CPC one governor, APGA one governor and then, DPP with one Senator and some House of Representatives members.
‘I was the secretary at our first convention and I took all the minutes. We had an agreement that our flag-bearer would come from the North and after North, it would go down to the South. So, those who are talking today were not there when this agreement was made. But was it written down and signed by politicians from both sides? No. But we had minutes of the meeting. They are there. It was agreed that there would be a movement between North and South.
‘As we were doing the convention and filling in offices, we narrowed down our candidates to about two or three. But, among the candidates, General Buhari was topping. All of us from the ACN caucus had agreed that he was our candidate. CPC had agreed that he would be their candidate. ANPP was split into two. So, when we went to the presidential convention, he emerged with a wide margin. That is the truth of the matter.
‘So, we expect that our national chairman this time around will come from the North and our Presidential candidate will come from the South and it is left for the Southerners to decide the zone it will go among Southeast, South-South and South West but for equity and moral ground, the South East should being the only yet to produce the President since 1999.’
Ngige further warned the PDP that ‘they are waiting for APC, they are playing games. It is going to be a costly venture for them because during an election it is like a draft game. You anticipate the opponent to see the seed he wants to play next. That seed of PDP of going North will backfire. They better align with APC and if APC comes South, let them also come South. So, it becomes an all South affair. But if they go North, I can tell them that as it is today, they will lose the presidential election, no matter the candidate they bring from the North. The southeasterners will feel that they have been used and dumped. The South East, South-South will feel that they have been used and dumped. The South West too will feel it is the turn of South as the Southern Governors agreed and in the North Central, the minority sympathy in the Middlebelt will come in.’