The policy of zoning has always been a recurring decimal in Nigerian politics. It is a political arrangement under which political parties agree to share their Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates between the North and the South. Though there was a strong advocacy by some elites for the presidency to be rotated among the country’s six geo-political zones, the proposal was rejected in favour of a simple process of rotating the Executive between the North and the South.
It was introduced, for the first time, in the Second Republic to ease the inter-ethnic tensions which led to the Nigerian civil war that began in 1967 and ended in 1970.
Under that arrangement, NPN, which later became the ruling party, zoned Presidency to the North, while the Vice Presidency went to the South. With the gentleman agreement, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, from the North became the President, while Dr. Alex Ekwueme from the South, was Vice President. The system was replicated at the Legislative arm, where Dr Joseph Wayas, from the South, emerged the Senate President and Dr John Wash Pam, from the North became the Deputy.
The idea was to bring about a seamless rotation of key political positions across the country. Since then, the policy has become a norm, with state governments adopting the system. The overall objective is to ensure fairness, peace and equitable distribution of resources without any section of the country feeling marginalised.
Zoning is also seen as an attempt to address the ever-increasing religious divide between the Muslim dominated North and the Christian dominated South, in terms of key political positions. At the return of democracy in 1999, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, adopted the zoning system. It was this arrangement that produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian from the South as President, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, a Muslim from the North as the Vice President. In the same vein, in 2011, a Muslim from the North- Alhaji Umaru Yar’adua became the President, while a Christian from the South, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was the Vice President.
This has been the tradition, even with the current APC administration, led by President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Political observers believe that this informal arrangement has helped to balance power between the North and the South. Perhaps it was as a result of the seeming advantage of the system, that PDP, the then ruling Party, entrenched zoning in its constitution in 2009.
In Nigeria’s twenty-two years of uninterrupted democracy, zoning has ensured constant rotation of power between the North and the South. With President Buhari serving his second and last term in office, it is expected that power will shift to the South in 2023. Political gladiators have already started subtle campaigns, declaring their interest for the number one position come 2023.
Prominent among them are the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who has publicly said that it is the turn of the South- west to produce the President. As his followers continue to drum up support for him, another APC Chieftain and former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha has inundated every available space in Abuja with his presidential posters.
It is not yet known who will aspire to fly the presidential flag for the main opposition party, PDP, but there are indications that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was the party’s presidential candidate in 2015, may present himself again for the office. As the count-down to 2023 continues, there have been series of political manoeuvrings and re-alignments across the country.
Not too long ago, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, who assumed power on the platform of PDP, cross- carpeted to the ruling APC. Political pundits say his action may not be unconnected with his ambition to occupy Aso Rock in 2023 on the platform of the ruling party. Umahi’s ambition is coming at the heels of similar declaration of interest by his Kogi state counterpart, Yahaya Bello.
As more politicians, especially from the South, are expected to declare their presidential ambition in the coming days, the recent statement credited to some Northern Elders cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. One of such persons is the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, who reportedly called for the abandonment of the zoning arrangement for political offices. According to him, the selection of candidates should be in line with competence alone and NOT ethnicity. Apparently, in support of El-Rufai’s position, a former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and Chairman, Northern Elders Forum, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, was also quoted as saying that the North would not support any candidate from other region in the race for Buhari’s successor come 2023. According to Prof Ango Abdullahi, zoning has no ground in the constitution.
It is true that political positions should not be based on religious or ethnic considerations, but on integrity and competence. However, many people see El-Rufai’s opinion as ill- timed, coming now that it is the turn of another zone to produce the president. They wonder why such opinions did not come during campaigns for 2015 and 2019 elections that produced Buhari.
Similarly, for Prof Abdullahi to say the North will not support any presidential candidate from other region is equally very demeaning and baseless. The Professor’s political mentality belongs to the dustbin of history. Nigerians are now more politically aware than Professor Ango Abdullahi’s level of thinking. It was this political awareness that made Nigerians, from the North and the South, to vote for Buhari in 2015 against incumbent President Jonathan.
Buhari was not elected with votes from the North alone, but from across the country. It was this same political awareness that made Nigerians, from the North and South, to massively vote for Chief MKO Abiola in 1993, despite the Muslim-Muslim Presidential ticket in that election.
Nigerians now know that their common enemy is bad leadership and NOT where a leader comes from or the religion he practices. They can now discern a candidate who lack the competence, and who is coming to serve his selfish interest at the expense of the wellbeing of the people and even development of every section of the country.
Nigerians now know a leader who is truly detribalised and who will shun nepotism, religious bigotry and corruption. It is time those so-called Elder-statesmen purged themselves of ideas that promote division and embraced the wind of change blowing across the globe. Elders are known for wisdom.
Our Elders should avoid comments capable of fanning embers of hate and disunity. True democracy begins at the party primaries where delegates are allowed to elect candidates of their choice and not through imposition.
Nigerians have demonstrated their rejection of this practice in some governorship elections where god-fatherism was jettisoned, and the people voted for candidates of their choice. For anybody, no matter how highly placed, to say that people of a particular region will not support a candidate from another zone is very unpatriotic. Besides, it is still too early for the elites, and indeed Nigerians, to dissipate their energy on who becomes the President in 2023, instead of holding the current political office holders accountable for their stewardship. This attitude amounts to campaigning for another election just at the commencement of the tenure of the incumbent. One thing is sure though, Nigerians are yearning for true leaders that will remove them from the current poverty and hunger, leaders that will make life more meaningful to them in key areas like security, power, healthcare, education and water supply. Nigerians need a focused President who will see himself first as a Nigerian, and not as Christian, Muslim, Northerner or Southerner. These are the credentials all Public Office Holders should posses to qualify them for 2023 elections.