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Nigeria’s Ruling Party Meets to Decide on Zoning Arrangement

Nigeria’s ruling party has scheduled what it calls a crucial meeting to decide whether or not to drop its controversial zoning arrangement. Under zoning, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rotates power between the North and South.

The arrangement has come under intense criticism by northern politicians opposed to the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner. But many from the South are pressuring him to run, although under zoning the next candidate would be a northerner.

The current effort by the PDP to resolve the controversy is too little, too late, according to Innocent Chukwuma, who heads the Cleen Foundation, a voter outreach NGO based in Lagos.

He says the party should have taken a position before the topic became a distraction to the smooth running of government.

“I think it is coming so late in the day, after the atmosphere has been poisoned and people’s positions have hardened basically, and which is unfortunate because if it was a party that cares for the views of its members, this is what it should have done earlier in the day,” he said.

But the party disagrees. Officials say the controversy over the whereabouts and eventual death of former president Umaru Yar’Adua made it impossible to deal with the issue until now.

Chuwkuma agrees with critics who say scheduling a meeting to discuss the zoning controversy is a ploy by party leaders to put an official stamp on the ambitions of President Jonathan. The party disagrees. Officials say any qualified Nigerian can run for any position but it is essential to take a position on the zoning issue to preserve party unity.

“If you remember, PDP chairman [Okwesilieze Nwodo] is not a neutral person in this whole debate," he said. "A few weeks ago he did say that zoning was dead in 1998, so if it was dead why are they organizing a meeting on Thursday to discuss it? It’s this kind of insincerity and perfidy that makes people not to believe the whole arrangement.”

But Mr. Nwodo says under his leadership, the PDP will be transparent and democratic in all its affairs. He says the ongoing effort is intended to re-position the party for next year’s elections.

President Jonathan has not announced that he is a candidate for next year’s election. His supporters say the Nigerian constitution gives him the right to run.

Chuwkuma says even among those who support zoning, nobody says there is any specific constitutional provision on the issue.