By Ochereome Nnanna

THE issue of whether to continue the zoning arrangement of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or to drop it became the subject of heated debates when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan assumed the presidency of Nigeria after the death of Alhaji Umaru Yar’ Adua.

Since then, the major attention has been focused on whether President Jonathan should respect the zoning formula and climb down at the end of this tenure which he inherited from a Yar’ Adua who was occupying the north’s turn or run for president in 2011.

A new perspective was introduced by the Minister of Police Affairs and leader of the PDP in Yobe State, Alhaji Maina Waziri, when he alleged that the zoning concept was a brainchild of the South East. It has now become necessary to explore the issue and put it in its proper historical and political context.

Waziri’s opinion is only partially true. Zoning, as well as the division of Nigeria into geopolitical zones were ideas that the Igbo delegates to the 1994/1995 Abacha Constitutional Conference introduced as a means of achieving relative political equity and giving every section of the country a fair chance to produce the president of Nigeria. They were meant to serve as instruments to remove sectional domination and its reverse effect of political marginalisation of certain sections of the country.

The Igbo delegates were of the view that the six geopolitical zones should be the platform on which the zoning should be carried out so that it will going round. However, General Abacha’s Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) decided that rotation (zoning) of the presidency should be between north and south, even though it approved the six geopolitical zones without putting them in the constitution.

The concept was left to the various political parties to consider if and how to operate it. When the PDP was formed it informally adopted the north/south rotation, with south taking the first shot because of the June 12 crisis.

However, the zoning concept is much older than the Abacha conference. It was originally the brainchild of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the first truly national mega-party which produced the president of Nigerian in 1979.

When the party was formed in 1978, it was well received in the northern and eastern parts of the country, but not in the West, which was dominated by the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). When the North produced the president, it was only logical that the East should provide the running mate. Four major contestants emerged from the old East: Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Dr. JOJ Okezie, Dr. KO Mbadiwe and Dr. Joseph Wayas.

Due to the advantage of population (and perhaps the need to reintegrate Igbo after the war) Ekwueme was chosen as Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s running mate, while Wayas was made the President of the Senate. The West produced the National Chairman of the Party in the person of Chief Adisa Akinloye.

NPN’s plan was that by 1987 when Shagari would have completed his two terms on behalf of the North, power would shift south, and Ekwueme looked very set to emerge president in 1987. That was why some still argue that the Muhammadu Buhari coup was staged to block the emergence of an Igbo man as president of Nigeria seventeen years after the civil war.

Ekwueme felt that zoning, the NPN innovation, was tailor-made not only to address the hurts of the June 12 poll annulment but also to settle the issue of power sharing in Nigeria once and for all. The North had kicked against it at the Conference, alleging that it was “undemocratic”. Some felt they did not want it because they were not prepared to share power.

The North was so angry over the geopolitical zones and rotation (which were argued on behalf of the Igbo delegates by Dr. Ekwueme) that it became one of their reasons for refusing to support his presidential candidacy in 1999.

This has to be emphasised so that those who might feel that zoning is for the benefit of the North (simply because the region wants to complete eight years) will realise how wrong they are. Those who are calling for the scrapping of zoning because of their support for the perceived presidential ambition of President Jonathan need to be reminded that it was introduced in the first place to enable other parts of the country share power with the North.

If zoning is scrapped we may go back to the era of perpetual northern presidents. It is still very easy for the nineteen states of the North to come together, dragging along “traditional allies” from South East and South/South as running mates to rule Nigeria.

It is very myopic to attempt to demonise zoning by thinking it is for the benefit of the North or a brainchild of the South East. We should be looking at the problem it was created to solve. So far, it has worked well but it has not completed its assignment. It has enabled the West, North and South/South to taste the presidency. The South East and North East have yet to produce the president of Nigeria. Even the South/South is only “smelling” it. It has not been specifically zoned to it as it was done to the South West and North West.

The best thing for us to do is to be pragmatic and patriotic towards zoning. Since Yar’ Adua died of natural causes and was not a victim of foul play, the transition of power to his deputy amounts to what some have described as “supernatural” or “divine” zoning, which we must respect. It will, therefore, be clumsy and untidy to ask President Jonathan not to run for president just because North has not spent eight years.


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