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Column: Taraba 2023 Governorship: To Zone Or Not To Zone?

Iliyasu Gadu

In an answer he gave to a question on whether his intention to contest the 2023 governorship elections was not against the principle of zoning the position by former political party, the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Emmanuel Bwacha remarked that now that all the zones in the state had ''tasted'' the position, the contest should be thrown open to all in the party.

By this answer, the distinguished Senator meant that the principle of zoning the governorship position among the three senatorial zones in the state namely; the northern, central and southern senatorial zones has now run its full course with the southern zone now on the saddle under Governor Darius Ishaku.

To add some substance to his argument, Senator Bwacha remarked that if zoning was to be retained it should start from the last zone that exercised it and work its way upwards, meaning the south should continue for another possibly 8 years, then the central zone and after which the northern zone will take its turn.

''It is wishful self-serving thinking by the Senator which will never fly'' said a stalwart of the PDP from the northern zone. ''You mean'' he continued ''that the southern zone will exercise power for another 8 years after Governor Ishaku leaves in 2023 with the possibility of making it a total of 16 years that the southern zone will be in power at a stretch?'', he asked rhetorically.

In practical terms, the zoning arrangement has worked in Taraba thus; Jolly Nyame from the northern zone first took the mantle after which the late Danbaba Suntai from the central zone took over and now incumbent Darius Ishaku from the south.

The zoning arrangement has been more efficacious in the PDP which has been in power since the coming of civilian rule in 1999. Naturally this is where the issue is raging fiercely.

By some stroke of irony tinged with a bit of opportunism, the zoning principle is one of the factors the PDP in Taraba used to oust Senator Bwacha when he showed interest to succeed Governor Ishaku. Feeling distinctly uncomfortable that this quest by Senator Bwacha will distract and ultimately derail his ambition to replace Bwacha as the senator representing Taraba south in the Senate, Governor Ishaku moved to block Senator Bwacha's governorship ambition. The governor's political spokesmen let out that Governor Ishaku could not possibly support the Senator's governorship ambition because it will go against the grain of justice and fairness as well as the gentlemanly arrangement on zoning in the party to do so, he having come from the same southern zone as Bwacha.

To reinforce this position, the Governor got the party to appoint Col Dantala Kefas (rtd) from southern zone as party chairman effectively sealing the hopes of Senator Bwacha clinching the PDP's ticket. The argument is that apart from the fact that power cannot remain in the south after Governor Ishaku, there cannot possibly be a situation where the zone that produce the state party chairman should also present one of its own as governorship candidate of the party.

But a staunch PDP party member from the south told me that all that was done to frustrate Senator Bwacha's ambition principally. The party member told me that Governor Ishaku is indifferent to the zoning arrangement as he seems more concerned about his senatorial ambition. Now that Senator Bwacha who was the main threat to Governor Ishaku in the PDP has been forced out he can afford to be lukewarm to the zoning arrangement. In this regard, it can be observed that the governor appear not to be too interested in supporting the aspirations of any of the northern or central governorship candidates. Might that be taken as a signal that the Governor is actually not in favour of power shift to other zones in the state? If that is the case, is there then a deception game going on by the southern zone against the northern and central zones in order to retain power for 8 more years after Governor Ishaku?

In the case of the opposition All Progressive Congress Party (APC) such issues are not so pronounced having not being in power. But the undercurrent of the zoning debate is there nonetheless. Within the APC the unspoken word is that as power has been exercised by the south albeit under the PDP it should be the turn of either the north or central zones. So in effect, like PDP, like APC. Some of the APC grandees from the two zones seem to be playing along with the APC figures from the southern zone like Chiefs David Sabo Kente, Barr Danladi Kifasi and Ezekiel Afukunyo in their ambition to clinch the party governorship ticket. But deep down the resolve is that the north and central will combine to thwart any governorship ambition by anybody from the south.

But can the north and central zones effectively unite to thwart the southern zone?

That is the 64 billion naira question agitating the minds of politicians in both the PDP and APC. If truth be told the north and central have a long way to go in uniting to prevent the south from retaining power after Governor Darius must have spent 8 years in power. The northern politicians in both parties hardly agree on any issues germane to the interests of the zone. Again there are far too many political figures all fighting individually or against one another. There is also the issue of ethnicity and religion. In the north, the Mumuyes don't see eye to eye with the Kona. It is not certain for instance that the Mumuyes will support the candidacy of Victor Bala Kona the leading PDP governorship aspirant. And ethnic groups are ambivalent to the Fulanis. The Wurkum of Karim Lamido often prefer to stay neutral on such issues.

In the central zones there is a plethora of small ethnic groups that of little political weight and cohesion around a given issue. The central zone often relies on the support of either the north or south to advance their political issues in terms of voting for their candidates.

The southern zone has the advantage of almost homogenous ethnicity and language. Although there are issues of religious differences, the core religious identity and penetration of a particular religious faith gives the south a distinct platform to transform into a formidable political force. And Christian or Muslim the southern zone are united in their political opposition and choice against the northern and central zones. And there is always the looming shadow of a particular political Iroko tree in the south who will be relied upon to whip the political figures in this zone to line and ruthlessly ensure the execution of the southern political agenda.

In this regard, many believe that the southern zone has already decided its political direction on the zoning of the 2023 governorship in 2023 while the north and central zones are still not aligned to what they want and how they want per the issue. In the circumstances it is quite clear that should the southern zone decide to retain the governorship in 2023, the northern and central zones can only protest at best. But the southern zone would have mapped out its strategy ahead of time to prevent any counter measures. It will thus not be surprising should PDP retain power in 2023 under a southern gubernatorial candidate.

Why was Governor Ishaku not present at the Federal University Wukari Convocation?

Last Saturday at the combined convocation ceremony of the Federal University Wukari with the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in attendance, Governor Darius Ishaku was conspicuously absent. He was represented by the Secretary to the State Government. Many were surprised that for an occasion of this magnitude where an illustrious son of the state Damian Dodo, Senior Advocate of Nigeria was honoured with a Doctorate Honoris Causa, the Governor was not around. And instead of his Deputy, the Governor could only send the SSG.

An occasion in which the number 2 man in the country was present deserves the presence of our governor. It was also the first public occasion to be attended by the newly installed Aku Uka Manu Adda Ali who is also the Chairman of the Taraba state council of Traditional rulers.

Whatever it is that prevented our Governor from being present at such an occasion it can only be said that a golden opportunity was lost for our state to make the most of the occasion.

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