Zoning and its ugly consequences
On my way to the annual Fanti festival, held recently at Igbosere in Lagos Island during which Lafiaji boys led by my friend, Muyiwa Adejokun lost to the Campus boys, I sighted the LAPAL House. The house is now abandoned.
LAPAL House is a 12-storey building on Lewis Street on Lagos Island. It is owned by WEMABOD Estate Limited, one of Nigeria’s most enduring estates limited. On June 3, 2002, the house was razed in a fired incident.
In 1977, Hacogen Company Limited owned by Dr. Joseph Wayas (21 May 1941 – 30 November 2021) occupied the sixth floor of the building. Dr Wayas later donated the office to serve as a temporary office for the NPN.
Dr Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (1915-1990) from Arondizuogu then under the Orlu division of present-day Imo State, who in 1978 was a Vice Presidential aspirant later donated his house at Jibowu street near WAEC in Yaba, Lagos to the NPN to serve as the party’s headquarters. The house has now been turned into a hotel by Dr. Mbadiwe’s children.
To many, LAPAL House means nothing but to me it brought nostalgic memories. It was in that house that the zoning policy was adopted and cemented as part of the unofficial policy in the Nigerian political system. I scooped on the story by accident. On October 5, 1978, my friend, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo (December 17, 1941 – September 25, 2003) invited me to a dinner at the Federal Palace, Lagos, I honoured the invitation. The relationship between a politician and a reporter is always everlasting.
They both need each other. After the dinner, Dr Okadigbo told me to drop him at Igbosere for a meeting. I dropped him off only to realize that he forgot the key to his hotel room in my car. I had to wait a while for him to finish the meeting. I took time off to visit Kunbi’s place, a very popular beer parlour in Igbosere.
In Lagos as it was then and it is now, there is hardly any street on Lagos Island that does not have beer parlours. That is why they say Lagos never sleeps. At about 12 midnight, I came back to LAPAL House, only to discover that the meeting has not ended.
Finally at 12.50 a.m. I saw many prominent NPN leaders departing LAPAL House for their destinations. It was at this point that I alerted Dr. Okadigbo that I was still around. He immediately jumped into my car and expressed shock at me for being around at that time of the day. I explained to him that he forgot the key to his hotel room in my car.
“We have zoned it and I hope it will work”, he uttered to me. At that time, the NPN convention had not been held. I asked him what zoning meant for it was a strange word in the Nigeria political history.
The zoning that I understand is a method of urban planning in which a municipality or other tier of government divides land into areas called zones, each of which has a set of regulations for new development that differs from other zones. Zones may be defined for a single-use (e.g. residential, industrial), they may combine several compatible activities by use, or in the case of form-based zoning, the differing regulations may govern the density, size and shape of allowed buildings whatever their use. The planning rules for each zone, determine whether planning permission for a given development may be granted. Zoning may specify a variety of outright and conditional uses of land. It may indicate the size and dimensions of lots that land may be subdivided into, or the form and scale of buildings. These guidelines are set in order to guide urban growth and development.
When we finally got to his room, Dr Okadigbo now explained to me fully the meaning of zoning or power rotation in the then Nigeria politics. He said the Presidency would go to the area, we now refer to as the North West while the Vice Presidency would go to Imo and Anambra states which we now refer to as the South East. He added that the Presidency of the Senate would go to Cross Rivers or Rivers, which we now refer to as part of South-South while the Speaker of the House of Representatives will go to the Middle Belt. The Chairmanship of the Party will go to what we now know as the South West while the National Secretary will go to what we now regard as the North East.
In a nutshell, Dr. Okadigbo explained that the zoning policy was designed to ensure that no part of the country was left out, in the political agenda of the party. It was too late for me to go home that day, so I had to sleep on Dr. Okadigbo’s sofa in his room at the Federal Palace Hotel. The meeting was presided over by Aliyu Makama Bida (1905-1980), who was the Patron of the NPN at that time.
He was the first Northern Minister of Education and Social Welfare, and later Minister of Finance and Treasurer of the NPC. From teacher to headmaster, to N.A. Councilor and a Senior Minister with a responsible portfolio in Education, Aliyu Makama became a titan in the affairs of the North and as a member of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC). He rose to the position of Party Treasurer and took charge of the financial aspects of the NPC. He held the position throughout the existence of the Party. Though he is older than Sardauna of Sokoto, he was generally regarded as one of the closest allies and confidants to Sardauna. It was all due to the ultimate show of trust by the Sardauna of Sokoto to Aliyu Makama Bida. Aliyu frequently acted as Premier of Northern Nigeria any time the Premier travelled outside and the appointment was by Sardauna himself.
The protem Secretary of the NPN at that time was Dr. Nwakama Okoro from Amuri, Arochukwu in Imo state. He married Eme Ikpeme in 1959. Dr Okoro represented Arochukwu/Ohafia in the Constituent Assembly between 1977 and 1978. He was the National President of the Nigerian Bar Association between 1977 and 1978. He contested and lost to Chief Samuel Mbakwe of the NPP in the Imo state gubernatorial election in 1979. Dr Okoro’s book, The Rise And Duties of a Lawyer is a good read for any lawyer in Nigeria.
Also present at the meeting at LAPAL House that day were protem officers who represented their various states. They were named National Vice Chairmen. They are Chief Christian Chukwumah Onoh (Anambra), Prince Adeleke Adedoyin (Ogun), Major General (rtd) Robert Adeyinka Adebayo (Ondo), Chief Victor Babaremilekun Adetokunbo Fani-Kayode (Oyo), Dr. Josiah Onyebuchi Johnson Okezie (Imo), Alhaji Sule Katagun(Bauchi), Dr. C.G. Okojie (Bendel), Chief (Dr) Joseph Sarwuan Tarka (Benue), Alhaji Kam Salem (Borno), Dr. Joseph Wayas (Cross River), Professor Iya Abubakar (Gongola), Alhaji Nuhu Bamali (Kaduna), Alhaji Inuwa Wada(Kano), Dr. Abubakar Olusola Saraki (Kwara), Dr. J.O.J. Okezie (Imo)Alhaji Yahaya Sabo (Plateau), Alhaji Shehu Shagari (Sokoto) and Chief Melford Obiene Okilo (Rivers)
In the afternoon, I went to the office to write the news with the approval of my then news Director, Mr. Tayo Kehinde and my Editor, Mr Sola Odunfa. The story was on the front page of The Punch. Our Editor in Chief then, Chief Sam Amuka Pemu, having read the proof, ordered that the story should be in the first and second editions.
The following day, The Punch printed over five hundred thousand copies on that day. As expected there were denials of the story by the NPN members but the management of The Punch at that time stood by me. I was not bothered by the denials of the story but that my scheduled interview with the Chairman of PAN Automobile Nigeria Limited, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari GCFR (25 February 1925 – 28 December 2018) might be cancelled. I cultivated friendship with so many during the Constituent Assembly including that of the Chairman of the Nigeria Railway Corporation, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki (31 December 1923-14 November 2016) who was at the meeting that day. The interview was not cancelled afterall.
To be continued tomorrow.