Before zoning tears Nigeria apart
The outburst, over the weekend, of the former deputy national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George, on the burning issue of power rotation has reinforced the feelers in many quarters that the presidency should be zoned to the South and indeed to the South-East for peace to reign in the 2023 general elections.
Chief Olabode George has warned that any attempt to dump power rotation in the country may jeopardize or scuttle the nation’s democracy. He said without power rotation in 2023, Nigeria may collapse.
According to him, zoning is the pillar that has been helping to hold Nigeria together, adding that it cannot just be abandoned as the country prepares for another round of elections in 2023.
His words: “Generally speaking, if we are to follow the principle of rotation, the presidency should revert back to the south in 2023. Ideally, it will be good for us to keep rotation. It is what has been binding Nigeria together, and it is not unique only to us as a nation. “We should be careful how we treat the issue otherwise it is a subject that if not well handled can jeopardize the nation’s unity.”
Ordinarily, the raging controversy over zoning in the parties should be regarded as an internal problem of the party but going by the way the polity is being overheated and the country is apparently threatened, there is need to call the parties and their principal gladiators to order. This is because the interest of Nigeria is over and above the selfish interest of any individual or group. The interest of Nigeria should supersede that of party. Parties come and go but Nigeria remains. No party has the right to destroy Nigeria through its internal wrangling.
The present political dispensation is not the first we have had in this country. Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has had three civilian administrations with political parties. It is ironic that more often than not, politicians engender political tension that engulfs the country. The gladiators in the zoning controversy should learn from history and be cautious of their disposition. We have heard a lot about the zoning including how it all came about.
Despite the controversy, there are areas of agreement that are not being contested. First, is that zoning was a child of necessity. It was introduced by the PDP in 1999 to compensate the South West for the annulment of the 1993 general election by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), which Chief M. K. O. Abiola was believed to have won. Chief Abiola died in detention in 1998 while fighting for his mandate. Thereafter, the military government of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), which rounded the long military interregnum that began in 1983 with Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) (now president), decided to hand over power to civilians.
Second, there is no controversy that the zoning principle was a “gentleman’s agreement”. That, indeed, was commendable. “Gentleman’s agreement” by politicians is a rare occurrence. It was unprecedented in the political history of Nigeria. We don’t know our politicians to conduct themselves as gentlemen, otherwise, many thorny issues, including the one at hand would have been resolved amicably in a gentlemanly way. Our politicians, quite often, prefer using blows to settle scores!
Third, which is an extension of the above is that the zoning principle, though enshrined in the PDP constitution, was not clearly spelt out on the mode of application. If provisions have made on how to apply it at any given time and circumstance, perhaps, there wouldn’t have been any controversy now. That is the flaw in that clause and it has created room for recanting, especially, as the circumstances change. Everything, including man is in a state of flux. Nothing is constant.
Fourth, and perhaps the most important is that zoning is unknown to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Constitution allows every bona fide citizen of Nigeria to contest for any elective post of his or her choice without hindrance. If the parties decided otherwise as part of their internal arrangement, they should also have the machinery in place to resolve issues that would arise from that choice without endangering the peace and stability of the country. The same “gentleman’s” spirit that informed the adoption of zoning in the first place should be employed now to resolve an emerging party crisis that has national implications.
Having looked at the areas of agreement, I would also like to examine the gap in the zoning principle. First, the PDP, which introduced zoning made a fundamental mistake by not clarifying it in its constitution. There is no doubt that zoning as a principle has advantages as it aims at affording every part of the country the opportunity to have a test of the presidency. Strong and valid as that might be, the failure of the party to clarify how it works is at the root of the current crisis, which has infected the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
It was wrong for the party to have assumed that there would always be gentlemen within its fold to agree on issues without contention. How can that be? For instance, how many of those who reached that “agreement” in 1999 are still there to resolve this issue now? How many of the founding fathers of the party still hold power within the party? The changing circumstances appear to have shaken what the PDP thought in 1999 was panacea for political stability in the country.
But one thing I can deduce from the whole thing is that zoning appears not to have been canvassed in the first place to benefit the country, otherwise, it would have been fully clarified in the PDP’s constitution. The polarity that exists in the country cannot be ignored or brushed aside. The injustice and marginalization of sections of the country is a real issue. How, therefore, would such an important matter be given a mere “gentleman’s” treatment; something applied at convenience, when it was obvious that people and circumstances change?
In resolving this matter, I see a similarity between what threw up zoning in 1999 and the situation on ground. The death of Chief M. K. O. Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 election apparently threw up zoning within the PDP. The demise of President Umaru Yar’Adua threw up another opportunity for the gentlemen in the PDP to parley and agree on whom to compensate with the presidency. As far as I am concerned, it was more difficult and contentious in 1999 to resolve than now. The APC shouldn’t fail on this front.
If the PDP could without rancor and acrimony come together in 1999 and decide to zone the presidency to the South-West, I can’t see why the same party and APC, if they’re sincere, should have problem resolving a similar issue today. It isn’t that the problem is unprecedented. As a matter of fact, the problem was unprecedented in 1999 but they were able to handle it. The only thing that would make it difficult for the parties to resolve this matter amicably is greed and selfish interest. And that is why I said earlier that zoning might not have been canvassed in the first place in the national interest but for selfish reasons, to share power and booty when it is convenient among the power brokers. But when it’s not convenient, the song changes.
The onus is squarely on the APC to save this country from chaos by adopting this “gentleman’s spirit” to resolve this matter. All the threats coming from right, left and centre are heating up the polity. It is sad that the controversy over zoning has beclouded the main issues of the 2023 elections. Nobody is talking about how to conduct a free and fair election. The issue of electoral reform has died down. The revision of the electoral register that is critical to the election is not being discussed. Other arrangements that are necessary for the election to be acceptable are ignored. How can we have a free, fair and credible election when the ground is not being prepared for that?
Another thing that bothers me is the way zoning is being treated as a national constitutional matter and as if APC is the only party in Nigeria. We have over 50 registered political parties. Where are the other political parties? What are they doing about the forthcoming election in 2023? The other parties are dead silent, even though, it may be granted that 2023 is still afar off. The incumbent President is out of the equation for 2023, as he is on his second term, which means that a completely different person will bear the APC flag in the election.
While the zoning debate rages on, let those who claim to love Nigeria do the needful by zoning the presidency to the South and indeed to the South-East to guarantee peace and stability.
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