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Saturday, 25 October 2014

On 12:50:00 by pflamez media   No comments

In this piece, SIMON UTEBOR writes that zoning of elective national offices, particularly those of National Assembly, has become an apple of discord in Bayelsa State

 The zoning of elective offices, particularly those of the National Assembly, has continued to generate tension in Bayelsa State.

Since the idea of zoning was first announced by stakeholders of Bayelsa West Senatorial District, other districts in the state have caught the bug.

The development, no doubt, has begun to attract mixed reactions from various stakeholders in the oil-rich state.

The zoning issue began in September, 2014 during a grand endorsement rally for President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Seriake Dickson at Sagbama Town, headquarters of Sagbama Local Government Area of the state.

At the rally attended by Bayelsa West stakeholders and many political heavyweights, a former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Charles Dorgu, had read a communiqué zoning the senatorial slot to Sagbama and the House of Representatives seat to Ekeremor.

The District, which is made up of Ekeremor and Sagbama local government areas, is being represented by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri at the Senate while Dr. Stella Dorgu represents Ekeremor/Sagbama Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives.

The stakeholders' position immediately sparked protest as loyalists of Lokpobiri walked out of the venue of the rally in anger.

The pro-Lokpobiri camp at an enlarged meeting of some party leaders, elders and representatives of the electoral wards in the district, condemned the zoning of the National Assembly seats. They reaffirmed their support for Lokpobiri for the 2015 National Assembly election, asserting that the rally was only organised to adopt Jonathan and Dickson for second term and not for zoning.

They claimed that the statements on zoning canvassed at the concluding part of the rally were extraneous and clearly beyond the power, scope and authority of the rally.

In a communiqué issued after the meeting, they reiterated their support for Jonathan and Dickson and unanimously endorsed Lokpobiri as the candidate for the senatorial position for the district in the forthcoming general elections.

Similar scenario is also playing itself out in the Bayelsa East Senatorial District over the zoning of the senatorial seat to Akassa speaking group of Brass Local Government Area.

Since the issue of the purported zoning started, there has been palpable tension among the people over the fate of the three lawmakers representing the district in the National Assembly.

The lawmakers are Senator Clever Ikisipo, the Senator representing the district comprising Ogbia, Nembe and Brass local government areas; Foingha Jephtha and Nadu Karibo (members representing the district at the House of Representatives.)

Already, the district has been polarised along two camps – those who feel the three lawmakers do not deserve re-election in 2015 and those who reaffirmed their total support for their return.

Indication that the zoning was creating tension emerged recently when the venue of a stakeholders' meeting to endorse the three lawmakers was sealed off.

Not dissuaded by the sealing off of the Ogbia Brotherhood auditorium, venue for the adoption of the three lawmakers, the stakeholders moved to another venue to endorse the trio.

It was learnt that the Ogbia Brotherhood auditorium was placed under lock and key on the orders of some political stalwarts who were not favourably disposed to the continuity of Ikisikpo, Jephtha and Karibo.

Chairman of Ogbia Brotherhood, Chief Olord Basuo, had described the locking up of the venue for the meeting as unfortunate, insisting that the three lawmakers would return against all odds.

 

He had alleged that the perpetrators were led by a certain "powerful monarch," who was bent on taking undue political advantage on the people of the district because of his supposed closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan.

But just as the supporters of the trio of Ikisipo, Jephtha and Karibo were bent on ensuring the return of the legislators, opposing stakeholders believed that their supporters were merely beating about the bush.

For those opposed to the return of the three lawmakers, it has become a convention in the district that no lawmaker, particularly senator, should hold office more than a term to enable others to take a shot.

Interestingly, the senatorial district has been zoned to Akassa speaking clan, where it was learnt that the names of two prominent indigenes had been pencilled down by the stakeholders.

The two prominent indigenes are the Chairman, Silverbird Group, Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce, and the retired General Manager, Human Resources, Nigerian Agip Oil Company Limited, Dr. Daru Owei.

It was learnt that influential leaders in the state chapter of the PDP had nominated Murray-Bruce and Owei, having zoned the senatorial seat to Brass area, although Ikisipo's ambition to retain his seat at the Senate is an open secret.

Both Murray-Bruce and Owei are from Akassa speaking group in Brass, where the senatorial seat was said to have been zoned to. Even the zoning to Akassa is also not without its own problem as that decision had, however, been met with stiff opposition as some members of the party had accused the leadership of imposition.

It was learnt that out of the two, the party would eventually pick one to represent the senatorial district in 2015.

However, last Friday's declaration by Senator Barigha Amange, an indigene of Nembe, to return to the Senate for the second time, has kept tongues wagging about the propriety of the zoning to Akassa.

Amange, who was senator in the sixth National Assembly, had said that zoning should not be applied at the expense of merit and experience.

He had said, "From 1999 till date, Bayelsa East has always been represented by new senators in each session. In the National Assembly, there is advantage in having a ranking senator instead of a new one.

"New legislators are welcome, but experience shows that second term legislators have strategic advantage. The principle of zoning and power shift is useful in our political system but the principle should not be applied at the expense of merit and experience."

Amange, who is said to be a close confidant of Jonathan, said he decided to return to the Senate after extensive consultations with leaders and various stakeholders of the PDP.

On his part, Governor Dickson, fearing that the cacophony of noises being generated could destabilise the polity, recently advocated consensus building, equitable distribution of political offices and regular consultation with stakeholders.

However, in their separate submissions, Secretary, South-South Peoples Assembly, Dr. Ayakeme Whiskey and member representing Ekeremor/Sagbama constituency in the House of Representatives have backed the zoning of the National Assembly seats in Bayelsa West.

In an interview recently, Whiskey said the only thing plausible in any society that promotes harmony, peace, understanding and mutual respect was for the leaders to respect the voice of their people.

Whiskey, who had indicated his intention to run for the district's seat under the PDP, said, "As far as I am concerned, our democratic experiment is still at infancy. It has not matured to a stage where somebody will say we want ranking senator. Ranking should be a product of service to the people.

"If the people see evidence of effective representation, they feel being carried along at every point in time, they share in a sense of belonging to the National Assembly, it should be voluntary position on their part to say our son has done well, let him go.

"To that extent, I fully subscribe to the decision of the senatorial party leadership that Sagbama, which started representation at Senate for eight years and relinquished that to Ekeremor, and Ekeremor having made eight years, the office of the Senate should now be zoned to Sagbama. I fully subscribe to it."

On her part, Dorgu, while supporting zoning, said such development would engender sense of belonging of stakeholders in the district.

When reminded that zoning was undemocratic and that it might throw up misfits, she said it was not true, insisting that the country had not grown to the level of jettisoning the principle.

She said, "I believe in zoning. Zoning was one of the conventional means with which we build consensus for representation. Without zoning, everybody will be fighting for the jugular. Zoning brings about equitable distribution of representation.

"We are the same people, but we cannot begin to be rancorous or to cry over the fact that one part is superior to the other. It is a convention, and you will find out that conventions are more readily adhered to than if something is written in black and white."

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