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Romance of zoning and its twin brother Federal Character

By Adisa Adeleye
IF there is anything that Nigeria has contributed to the growth of Democracy anywhere, it could be the concept of ‘zoning‘ as a panacea to all ethnic or tribal politics.  In its raw form, the distribution of powerful political offices among the recognized areas or zones within the country is being regarded as an attempt to get everybody involved in the administration.

In Nigeria, the crudest, if not the finest, form of zoning is the rotation of the office of the President between the Northern and the Southern parts of the country.  If the ruling party could not be congratulated on infrastructural developments of the country, at least, PDP has in its Party Constitution a section that deals with rotation of political offices.  This has helped in no small measures in ensuring political stability in an atmosphere of economic stagnation.

Zoning in its Nigerian characteristics has bred that perplexing culture of ‘our son is there, let us support him‘, even if he is not performing satisfactorily.  A classical case is that of former President Obasanjo when he was assailed from all sides, and at the fringe of impeachment.

The late Senator Abraham Adesanya, ‘Leader of the Yoruba‘ said, ‘we want to assure everybody that even though Obasanjo did not receive a large portion of the votes of our people, as long as he continues to right the wrongs of the past, recover the resources looted from our treasury and rules fairly and justly, we will give him our unflinching support on principle‘.

Nobody would doubt that great Yoruba leader at that moment of indiscretion that he meant well and on principle.  Yet objective observers would not forget the fact that Obasanjo is a Yoruba and that he had benefitted under the new maligned system which zoned the office of the President to the South (with South_West in mind) and office of the Vice-President to the North.

If something unpleasant had blown Obasanjo out of power, the North would have gained like now that the South has President Goodluck Jonathan after the death of Northern occupant of the seat.

The beauty of the zoning system is that it keeps the administration working without any disturbance if there is any fortune or misfortune affecting the holder.

It is a pity that the ruling party was a bit untidy initially during the last unpleasant episode.  It should not be forgotten that the zoning concept worked well in Kaduna State with the appearance for the first time of a Christian Governor through the good fortune of the former Governor (a Muslim) who has  become the nation‘s Vice-President.

The romance of zoning which is now on focus has been complimented in the past by another concept called ‘Federal Character‘.  This is purely a ‘North‘ justified answer to a Nigeria dominated entirely by the South after Independence in 1960.

A biographer of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, John Pender noticed that though the late Tafawa Balewa (North) was the Prime Minister of Nigeria, ‘in 1961 only 400 of the 41,000 Federal Civil Servants were Northerners with about 30 in senior posts; only two (2) Northerners in the Department of Customs and Excise; in the Army with many in the lower rank, but about ten (10) were commissioning officers‘.

Tafawa Balewa was able to complement Sir Ahmadu Bello‘s Northernisation policy in Kaduna with his own policy of ‘facilitating a national balance within the Federal Ministries in Lagos‘.  Today, the North is more than adequately represented in all facets of Nigerian political life to ensure unity, even if some methods adopted might not be adjudged to be fair.  But the result seems to have justified the means.

The concept of zoning or rotation as enshrined in the Constitution of PDP and the Federal Character principle recognized by the Nigerian Constitution are necessary for the maintenance of political stability in a country inhabited by oppressive majorities and restless minorities.  A country which gives room and encourages all stakeholders to be part of the organic whole would normally move forward towards the desirable path of unity and stability.

It may not be wise, as it is being done at the moment, to jettison the noble idea of zoning because it suits a particular class to do so under a formidable environment.  Zoning is done in other areas perhaps in an orderly but a civilized manner that at the end, every segment would be carried along the path of progress and prosperity.

It should be remembered that the old Yugoslavia was liquidated because of the failure to follow rigidly the zoning principle in favour of Slovenia, a constituent part of the country.

The question arises whether rigid application of zoning system or ‘federal character‘ principle is politically and economically justifiable in the search for political stability and economic prosterity.  The answer is positive in a developing country where leadership is weak, corrupt and ineffective.

The stakeholders would seek assurance, and justifiably so, through their own leaders that their interests would be safeguarded.

A modern state which is blessed with good Leadership would easily forget the fading political advantages of zoning and federal character through overall developments which would permeate every segment of society.  A true leader would be judged on the strength of the success of his policies on welfare of the people, security of life and property and adherence to the Rule of Law.

Nigerians are wondering why with zoning in place and every state being represented in the Federal Government in Abuja, the Nigerian State is failing.  Nigeria is a country always waiting for God or what political pundits cleverly coined, The Divine Intervention.  President Goodluck Jonathan seems to have come through that saintly route, promising to bring hope to suffering Nigerians under the yoke of mismanagement of resources.

If President Jonathan would contest in 2011, it should be under the banner of all parties and not under the ruling party that has plunged the nation into total darkness.  Perhaps the PDP would work towards a Genuine National Government.


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