Once more, Nigeria is on the march, preparing for another general election that will usher in a civilian to civilian transition; the second in the history of the most populous black nation on earth. Unfortunately, an ugly trend is rearing its head. This is otherwise called zoning, an arrangement that has been working harmoniously in Nigeria is about to be a cancer which some people are using to cause further crisis. This has posed a great threat to our nascent democracy in view of the fact that our national newspapers and the electronic media are awash with the issue of whether zoning should be or not. The whole issue became more pronounced at the demise of President Umaru Musa Yaradua in May, 2010.
Already, a dividing line has glaringly manifested itself through the pro-and anti-zoning which cut across our geographical divide.
Another school of thought maintains that if democracy is really a game of numbers, then regionalism or zoning should be discarded to allow credible candidates emerge. Well, whichever way one looks at the whole scenario, we could agree to do away with zoning on paper whereas our mind remains glued to who comes from where.
Ordinarily, I won’t write on this issue simply because I’m not a politician, but my curiosity deepens in a bid to assess the constitutionality of zoning vis–a–vis its impact on our unity as a nation.
Some critics condemn the zoning formula as unconstitutional or an aberration from acceptable democratic practices all over the world. Zoning arrangement began at the time the South-West desperately yearned for the presidency on the premise that the North anulled their son, Moshood Abiola’s election for the presidency. This offered a platform that gave Chief Olusegun Obasanjo the opportunity to be elected the president of Nigeria.
The wisdom behind the zoning arrangement is to give a sense of belonging to our divergent ethnic groups in view of the agitations for recognition in governance. We have a peculiar case in Nigeria, unlike other celebrated democracies where ethno – religious differences are not a factor considered in election to the public office. This unfortunate trend has become a strong factor that even the 1999 constitution recognized under Section 14(3) that provides that the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity. This is also to be reflected in all states and local a government in Nigeria.
Still on the 1999 constitution, Section 223(1) (a) provides for “periodical election on a democratic basis of the principal officers and members of the executive committee or other governing body of the political party, whose election shall reflect Federal Character, while the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party, 2009 (as amended), provides under Article 7 (2) (c) that the PDP shall pursue its objectives in accordance with the principles of equity, justice and fairness.
The party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective officers. It shall be enforced by the appropriate elective committees at all levels. It went further to provide under Article 13:24 that without prejudice to the provision of the 1999 constitution, the principle of Federal Character shall be observed in the appointment or election of members of the executive committee at all levels of the party.”
Zoning has been part of our political calculations in Nigeria. Even during the First Republic, we had regional heads, and in the Second Republic we had Shagari/Ekwueme leadership. In 1993, the North overwhelmingly voted Bashorun MKO Abiola in the botched third Republic which was repeated in 1999 for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a man who now makes comments at variance with the arrangement he benefited from. In an advertorial in Daily Trust dated 13th May, 2010, minutes of the meeting dated 2nd December, 2002, was reproduced confirming to Nigerians that Obasanjo and indeed other chieftains of the PDP can’t claim ignorance of zoning arrangement or not being sacrosanct .
The demise of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’adua exacerbated the zoning debate, because calls for President Goodluck Jonathan to continue began to filter even before the remains of the late Umaru Musa Yaradua was buried. Though President Goodluck Jonathan had at different fora vowed to conduct credible elections, the major controversy now is whether he will contest 2011 polls or not. His response on maiden TV programme, “Mr President Speaks,” is not convincing that he won’t contest. Of course, as a Nigerian, he can contest 2011, but by party arrangement a slight detour will have consequential effects on states and local governments. It is a known fact that whatever decision is taken within the PDP, it will definitely have effect on our body polity since the PDP controls more than two-thirds of states of the federation and the National Assembly members. So zoning is too expensive to be left as a PDP affair alone, especially now that it is threatening our march towards civilian transition.
I have come to the conclusion that the acid test facing the 2011 polls is zoning, yet I think President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has a stake in the future direction of Nigeria. He should shun those who call on IBB to continue, held Abacha’s million man march, promoted Obasanjo’s third term and be resolute toward a credible election.
Danlami Wushishi Esq is based in Minna.