Wednesday, 27th September 2023

The politics of zoning

By Patrick Dele Cole
18 May 2022   |   3:59 am
The argument of zoning, at its best, gives a cause of inclusion, fair play, inclusiveness and belief in a better organized Nigeria. But recent experience has shown that zoning is now a response to nepotism...


The argument of zoning, at its best, gives a cause of inclusion, fair play, inclusiveness and belief in a better organized Nigeria. But recent experience has shown that zoning is now a response to nepotism, irregularly preferment in jobs and promotions, in short, those who argue for zoning see the skewered and screwed appointment policy, preferment policy, sectional development and consequent neglect of the other parts.

Now what is the basis of the argument? In fact it says that only when your tribesman is in control that only then will your people have a fair share of the cake.

No one argues that the skewered appointment policy may be responsible for the failure of the economic policy.

Moreover the argument supposes that no failures under a zoning regime is possible in Nigeria, no leadership can exist because all leaders are constructed to help their area. When a President says that he is the president of all Nigeria- no one believes him. More pressure is put on the leader to remember that his position is temporary and his people will lose more if he were to vast fairly.

Nothing encourages corruption more than the argument that the leader must help their own people. Very few are unfairly of ethnic groups, if you don’t help us who will?

Most leaders arrive in office with an ethnic agenda and necessarily an economic plan to help their area. A real genius with leadership ability will never be able to lead well if he has to meet the aspirations of his zone. Even within his zone, there will be many that will argue that he is against certain groups in the zone. Zoning may be alright for parts of Nigeria which have a large single ethnic group.

It may not be alright for Rivers State where it’s a multiplicity of ethnic groups- Ogoni, Abua, Ndoni, Ikwerre, Andoni, Okirika, Ahoada, Ekpeya. Matters become worse when you can divide Rivers into Riverine and Upland. Rivers state has since 1993 had three upland Governors- Odili, Amaechi and Wike. The potential to execute upland and River dictatory was not pursued by Odili and Amaechi. Wike came to power but on pouring petrol into this potential fire of the division between Upland and Riverine. He shamelessly exploited this division. Riverine people feel like second class citizens in Rivers. These are sentiments clearly stated and felt and exploited by everyone. Even if these are misguided feelings, it is the duty of the Government to douse these fiery sentiments and explain in speech and action that this is not so.

The Upland argument is that the riverine people had a field day between 1967 and 1999. They claimed that originally at the outset of Rivers State in 1967 the Judiciary, the Civil Service, the Government itself was completely dominated by the Riverine peoples. That Peter Odili was elected as a response to correct what obviously is a recognized perception of predominated Riverine excessive powers in Judiciary, Business, Bureaucracy, etc.

Odili was a fair Governor and championed inclusiveness, good government and even development. Since the first day of Governor Wike’s ascension, every Riverine subject has felt unrepresentative and fearful. Nearly every head of departments at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology is dominated by non-riverine people. There is a University of Agriculture in Ikwerre. There is the Law School in Ikwerre Land; there is a college of Education in Ogoni, there is not one tertiary institution in any riverine territory. Business is booming in the non-Riverine states: for the rest it is poverty, occultism and abject distress.

I know that issues like these get misunderstood. That I should raise it would suggest that I am for zoning. Let’s go deeper, a dynamic leader like Wike could have done wonders for Rivers State but he came to office on the agenda that is unfortunate. Belief in turn by turn Government may lead to frustration and an iron shackle debarring progress. What I would prefer is a Governor who has a development plan that has been explained to the people and seen by the people as a fair plan for all.

In case I have not made my case clear, it is this; let’s choose leaders with a plan of what they can do and a cohesive policy. So long as our politics is to encourage division (and that is really what zoning does), the benefits of good government, progress, inclusivity and harmony will always elude us.

The Argument for Zoning
Fair and right zones in Nigeria. Presidency must rotate unless the Ibo might continue to suffer the injustice of their massacre in the North in 1966.

The argument of diversity and inclusiveness: the North has monopolized the Presidency/Head of Government since 1956- exception OBJ whose Presidency was based on the principle of zoning to compensate for Abiola’s earlier electoral victory and eventual murder. After OBJ, power was to go to the North. If certain aspects of federalism is based on equality, for example the equality of all states recognized by equal state representation in the Senate. Should the Presidency be different zoning? it is argued, works in Switzerland but does not work in Latvia? Zoning has never been a feature in the US federalism. First Southern President in US- Jimmy Carter.

What has been the effect of the North always clinging to the Presidency? – Proponents of zoning argue that appointments seemed to be in their favour so also are power points in the administration- Customs, NPA, Military, Security, Prisons. Now the Northern appointments are moving in the economic mainstay and life of Nigeria- NNPC, Central Bank and a slew of quagos- Petroleum trust fund, Petroleum Equalization Fund, Education Trust Fund, Pension Fund, NSTIF, Mortgage Bank etc. but are these opinions true? Can they be justified?

The drop in education in the North is palpable, yet positions are filled in ministries from the North. Should WAEC entrance qualification be different from state to state, because qualifications for the ARMY, NAVY, and Air Force etc. lower for Northerners than for Southerners, yet the former on employment are put on a faster track than the others. Is this true or a mere perception, which is intensified when one is in Abuja? The Southerners on the other hand, are never willing to accept their own prejudices viz every Northerner they have seen are the megauards, money changers, butchers and suya sellers, occasionally a yoghurt or milk seller or itinerant tailor.

To be continued tomorrow

Dr. Cole OFR, is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil.