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Rigging the zoning formula

By Ochereome Nnanna

ONE of the problems the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has inflicted on this country since the Olusegun Obasanjo era is a zoning policy without concrete principles guiding it. A well laid-out policy will have clear roadmaps for its implementation.

Certainly, a political tool to ensure the equalisation of top political offices among the various geopolitical zones in the country, such as Zoning, ought to have, by now, been so fine-tuned that the nation will no longer teeter on the brink of instability when the spoils of office are about to be shared.

A more imaginative and purposeful political party would have, by now, made sure that each geopolitical zone will automatically know where the zoning arrangement would meet it as a new dispensation unfolds. But the policy is loose and subject to manipulation by certain political bigwigs in the party.

The implementation of the zoning formula has often left some discrepancies. Some zones are disadvantaged while some are always having the best of it. In 1999, the Party ceded the Presidency to the South West geopolitical zone.

The North West got the post of Speaker of the House of Reps. The North East took up the Vice Presidency, while the President of the Senate went to the South East. The North Central produced the Deputy President and National Chairman of the Party, while the South-South brought the rear with the Deputy Speaker of the House of Reps complimented with the appointment of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

The situation remained the same for all of eight years. As a result of President Obasanjo’s disruptive meddling with the leadership of the Senate for selfish political ends, the South East was forced to produce five Senate Presidents in eight years.

And for the same reason, the North Central turned over four National Chairmen of the PDP. Nobody ever threatened to move the National Chairman’s position from the North Central. But after the forced downfall of Senator Adolphus Wabara, the South East was threatened with the movement of the Senate Presidency to another zone.

By the time the Obasanjo era closed in 2007, the “natural” order that the PDP zoning arrangement should have taken was for the zone that produced the highest officer (the South West) to take up where the South-South stopped.

It should have produced the Deputy Speaker, House of Reps and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. But departing President Obasanjo selfishly snatched it and gave to his home geopolitical zone (South West), thus leaving the North East (which should have produced the President) to make do with the “lowest” ranking (Deputy Speaker, House of Reps and Secretary to the Government of the Federation).

Most preposterously, the Presidency was returned to the North West, which has dominated the political affairs of this country since independence. A close examination of this obviously rigged zoning formula exposed the fact that Obasanjo’s personal interest was at stake, as it was in the North West that he located the man he found “worthy” of succeeding him, the late Umaru Yar’ Adua.

A position that was equitably zoned in 2007 was the post of Vice President, which was given to the zone that in 1999 – 2007, licked the “bottom pot”, the South-South. However, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan confirmed the North West as a “specially privileged” zone when he went back there to pick his Vice President when he emerged.

Jonathan met a zoning formula that left the South East with the Deputy Senate President and the National Chairman of the PDP, meaning that the South East had switched places with the North Central, which now had the President of Senate.

The President, for his own selfish gain, precipitated two quick changes in the post of National Chairman of the Party, and this became the alibi with which the post was taken to the North West while the subsisting period of zoning had not expired.

The South East was thusly cheated under the dispensation of a Jonathan that was supposed to be from a “cousin” geopolitical zone!

Now that a fresh opportunity has presented itself for another round of zoning, some zones are about to be cheated once again, if what we gather from the leadership of the PDP is anything to go by. The South East is supposed to produce the Deputy Speaker, House of Reps and Secretary to the Government of the Federation as a prelude to either producing the Vice President or President in 2015 or after the expiry of the Jonathan dispensation.

It is the turn of the North East to produce the Deputy Senate President and National Chairman of the Party. The South West is supposed to produce the Senate President while the North Central should have provided the Speaker of the House of Reps.

But since the South West could not produce a single PDP senator in the PDP, and in view of the Party’s decision to allow positions in the National Assembly to remain where they currently are, the South West is okay to keep the Speaker’s chair.

I am sure that many would frown at a situation where a zone that voted to quit the ruling Party would be allowed such a high profile position while those which kept the PDP in the driver’s seat are given “inferior” positions. This argument is not well placed if we keep in the mind the purpose of the zoning formula, which is: to give every zone a sense of belonging.

Zoning has never been given based on electoral performance. PDP has never used it to reward zones for its performance there. Otherwise, the PDP would not have given the South West the Presidency in 1999.
But the leaders of the party regularly sideline the purpose of zoning when it suits their fancy. That is why tension will always attend every zoning round.

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