ZONING: To be or Not to Be! 

Ogunsakin Mustapha
8 Min Read
Prof Hope Eghagha

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Every nation, nascent or established, develops a framework for political stability, social engineering, and economic development. While some practices are constitutional, there are also conventional, unwritten codes of mutual coexistence which have evolved over time. Any nation with a sense of history must work out its survival codes, rules, and laws to guarantee its continued existence. Nigeria as currently constituted though skewed in favour of the elite, is somewhat a product of negotiations and discussions especially in the years leading to political independence from Britain. Even the United States did not emerge from heaven, its constituent parts having agreed to be part of the union. It is against this background that we must understand the agitation of most southern Nigerian patriots for power rotation in the country through zoning of positions in the political parties. It is called affirmative action!

In a federation like Nigeria made up of disparate, diverse, and different ethnic and religious groups, the need for equity in power sharing arrangements cannot be overemphasized. The first National Anthem recognized this diversity or plurality in these words: ‘Though tribe and tongue may differ/In brotherhood we stand’ and ‘Help us to build a nation/Where no man is oppressed’. It expressed the wish to create a nation where all peoples would have a sense of belonging within the corporate body. Politicians have always been in the forefront of negotiating the nature and manner of our mutual coexistence even though sometimes their extreme utterances and behaviour tend to emphasize divisive and destructive factors. Yet, they are the ones we must persuade into negotiating a better future for Nigeria.

Strictly speaking Nigeria is not made up of north and south. No region is monolithic. The two blocs are mere referential in describing the country. The north-south divide reflects four levels of consciousness – political, religious, cultural, and economic. Yet this is not completely true. What you have in the north you also have in the south. But there is a dominant narrative couched in a contradictory if false narrative – Islamic north and Christian south. It is true that the north is predominantly Islamic in population, but not every northerner is a Muslim. The same applies to the south. Sadly, politicians have appropriated, misappropriated this paradigm as governance tool for Nigeria. As a result, a President of northern extraction is seen as largely a ‘northern President’. The same applies to a president who comes from the south. The reason is that Presidents tend to pay more attention to their geographical zone in terms of appointments, projects, and social affiliation. This is a tragedy. It is the main reason behind the clamour for power rotation.     

The Nigerian presidency is too powerful. Unfortunately, most Presidents have not been national in outlook and character. The ones who attempted to be national were perceived from the other region as ‘the other’, thereby stressing difference. If past and current presidents had all been national in orientation, the clamour for power rotation would not have arisen. The perception by some politicians and ethnic jingoists that the Presidency is indeed their heritage has not helped national cohesion. The ‘they’ and ‘us’ mentality has fostered a deep cleavage that widens by the day. This situation seems to have been aggravated by the skewed appointments into federal agencies by the current federal government.

In a properly run government, the nation ought to search for the best hand from wherever to manage its affairs as president. In such a situation, it would not matter whether the president is from the south or the north. His constituency would be the entire country. Ironically, the military governments in Nigeria appeared to be more conscious of this dynamic than some civilian administrations. It is true that some saw themselves as senior partners in government on account of the region that they come from. Yet the ethnic tension currently wracking the nation is nerve-racking and frightening. Will something give seems to be the question on the lips of everyone. The deadly violence that has gripped the Southeast championed by the prescribed IPOB is a dimension that calls for tactful management of the polity. The animosity between groups had never been so palpable. What has helped the nation thus far is the non-involvement of state actors in the frenzied call for restructuring.

I therefore call on the two major parties to be conscious of power rotation as a way of guaranteeing national harmony. Already, the APC seems to have considered zoning the presidency to the south. The PDP is yet to make its position known. Incumbent President Mohammadu Buhari will complete a two-term presidency in 2023. Owing to the perception that his government has mainly favoured persons from the northern part of the country (including appointments to sensitive federal positions in the security service) and the oil sector, there is clamour that the next President must be a southerner who will redress the years of clannish governance that has permeated the country in the last seven odd years. 

In the states there has been a power sharing arrangement to meet the interests of different groups. In Delta State, for example, a gentleman’s agreement was nurtured by then Governor Chief James Ibori on power rotation among the three senatorial districts. After his tenure in 2007 which saw the governorship resting in Delta Central, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan came from Delta South in 2007, followed by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa from Delta North in 2015. The governorship reverts now to Delta Central for the rotation to return to Point One. To be sure, discussions are ongoing on how to ensure harmony in the State because some forces are contesting the extant arrangement. It is my hope that the PDP leaders would resolve this issue to prevent a snowball into the unknown. Lagos and Anambra States also have working arrangements just as Ogun and Oyo do. This should not elude Nigeria.      

If Nigeria must remain one indivisible country, the state actors must promote acts of national unity and cohesion. Zoning power to strategic groups in a polity is a way of strengthening the federation. If President Buhari wants to be remembered for good, the Presidency should be zoned to the South. 

Professor Hope O. Eghagha (BA, Jos; MA; PhD, Lagos) MNAL

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