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The case for zoning – Part 1

By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa
28 February 2022   |   2:46 am
Some say it is retrogressive, whilst others maintain that it is unpatriotic to limit the choice of political officeholders to any particular zone of the country.

[files] A voter drops ballot papers into a ballot box during an election in Nigeria.

Some say it is retrogressive, whilst others maintain that it is unpatriotic to limit the choice of political officeholders to any particular zone of the country.

The starting point, however, should be law, equity and fairness. If you have benefitted or are still benefiting from a particular formula previously, it will be totally unfair to seek to discard it when it does not favour you.

I have no doubt in my mind that part of the major reasons that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 general elections was because so many political players from the North believed in and campaigned for power shift, including those in the same political party with the incumbent President then. Beyond this, however, there are other serious factors that make zoning of political power inevitable.
Let us start with education. Very recently, journalists took up the Honourable Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, on why candidates who scored very high marks in the qualifying examinations into the unity secondary schools would be denied admission in favour of other candidates from States regarded as educationally disadvantaged, who scored lower marks. He based the application of the policy on the federal character principle as enunciated in the Constitution. In simple terms, it is lawful to hold some sections of the country down in the area of education in order to allow other sections to catch up with them. Why then is it difficult to adopt rotation or zoning for political power?
Then comes next the principle underlying the revenue sharing formula. Also in the name of federal character and the need to share resources equally, some natural resources such as oil and gas, found in large deposits in one part of the country, are acquired by the federal government, exploited and the proceeds thereof shared amongst all other States which do not have these resources. Thus, it is rational, legal and legitimate to share economic resources in order to encourage unity and progress, but when it comes to political power, then zoning becomes irrational and totally illegal and unconstitutional.
For good cause, a policy cannot be fair yesterday to favour one zone and then become unfair today to the disadvantage of another zone. The Constitution cannot always be the subject of a selective application by politicians to suit their personal tendencies. Let us look at the legal angles to this discourse, in the eye of section 131. “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if: (a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; (b) he has attained the age of forty years; (c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party, and (d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
The above are the statutory qualifications for anyone aspiring to be the President of Nigeria. Irrespective of the political party, State of origin, zone or even religion of the aspirant, the Independent National Electoral Commission will only search for the conditions stated above. A number of persons have held on to section 131 as the determining factor of who can be a Presidential Candidate. It is important to note, however, that in construing the provisions of the Constitution, a holistic interpretation is enjoined by the Courts, given that the Constitution itself is a single document. Thus, all its provisions should be read together in order to discover the intent and purpose of the drafters. This means that section 131 must ipso facto be interpreted along with other provisions of the Constitution. This then takes us to section 14 (3).
“14. (3) 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, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
The words and phrases used in this section are clear, precise and deliberate. Upon a proper dissection, it would be seen that the drafters were laboring to achieve the desired goal, which is the unity of the country through geographical spread in the distribution of public offices. The head of the ‘Government of the Federation’ is, without doubt, the President. Election into that office is part of the conduct of the affairs of the Government of the Federation, including the criteria for the choice of the person to occupy that office.

Section 14 (3) stipulates that the composition of the government of the Federation of Nigeria should be done to promote the federal character of Nigeria. The purpose of this mandate is to promote national unity and to command national loyalty. Indeed, if only one State in Nigeria or a particular section of the country is to produce the President all the time, then that will lead to political isolation and marginalisation.

Let us break it down. If the President of Nigeria is to be chosen from Igboland all the time, the Yoruba and Hausa will feel a sense of neglect and may not see the need for showing loyalty to such leaders. How do you command national loyalty from the Igbos if the North is to produce the President of Nigeria forever? How do you promote national unity when other sections of the country are deliberately excluded from clinching the highest position available? If we can deploy section 14 (3) to aid the educational qualification of students from a particular zone of the country, if we can rely on the same section to distribute economic resources to allow all to have a taste of the wealth of the zones, then it becomes totally unconscionable to seek to limit its political application.
To be continued tomorrow
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.