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Geo-political abracadabra or Nigeria’s patronage politics

By Obi Nwakanma

By the last count, Mr. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal had garnered more than enough votes to emerge the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Tambuwal had polled 252 of the 360 votes to beat the party’s favourite,  Mulikat Akande-Adeola. Ms. Akande-Adeola had gone into the chambers of the House that morning with the firm backing of the PDP leadership which had zoned the Speaker’s job to the South-West in line with the party’s zoning policy.

She was by all calculations a shoe-in; the South-West’s own “share” of national office. But that choice fell flat on its face in what seemed to be a clear statement of independence by the newly-elected members of the House of Representatives. The party’s zoning formula was a wash-out. Zoning had become something of a dying steed, unable to pick up speed at the crucial laps following the death of Umar Yar’Adua and the ascension of then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan who was duly sworn in as president at the demise of the former president.

The ruckus over Jonathan’s legitimate takeover of the office of the President of this Federal Republic was heavy and came with the threat of an epic show-down by critical northern interests. Many feared  its outcome might finally torpedo Nigeria. The division was so deep and writ-large, so portent, in fact, that the North-South divide in the last election was attributed to widespread disenchantment and anger in the upper North from feelings that Goodluck Jonathan was a usurper president. He had upstaged the North’s turn to maintain the presidency.

He had broken a sacred agreement that insists upon the right of the North to present the sole candidate for the  president of the federation in this cycle. Advocates of the zoning formula were even prepared to accomplish this even at the risk of a constitutional breach. The Nigerian constitution is quite clear on the order of ascension. At the death, resignation, or incontinence of the president, the Vice-President takes over.

Many vociferous champions of the zoning formula that made a particular region of the federation feel so entitled wanted somebody other than the Vice-President, perhaps even the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to take over the realms, thus jumping the Vice-President.

At some point, the former SGF, Mr. Yayale, claimed President Yar’Adua had handed the reins of state to him while he went off to his health pilgrimage. That was a clear breach of the constitution. The President should never act outside of the laws that established that office. To hand over to the SGF was a flagrant disregard of the Vice-President, and, if it were to have been tested at the courts would have been found extremely inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the constitution. But no one at this stage was talking legality of constitutionality.

People were talking zoning. The zoning of the party offices of PDP and the political offices of the federation has become a most dangerous means of doling patronage across the Nigerian frontier of the elite and rentier class. It is dangerous because it has increasingly become the general principle of Nigerian politics.

The zoning of key political offices is no longer simply at the federal level, but also increasingly at the level of the states. This development is worrying because zoning devalues the substance of Nigeria’s political institutions. It reduces the quality as well as the significance and seriousness of the institution of state as well as the political offices that maintain it.

There is also the installation of fiction: it is often circulated, through these zoned offices that each geo-political zone benefits with “one of their own” occupying a superannuated political position. This is a profound fallacy. Nothing best illustrates this fallacy than the recent appointment of the Secretary to the  Government of the Federation. The current position of the SGF has been offered to Mr. Anyim Pius Anyim who had also been former president of the senate.

Many commentators have described the “zoning” of the office of SGF to the South-East as compensation to the Ndigbo and a way of  bringing that region closer to national political power. This argument is specious: in my calculation the appointment of Mr. Anyim Pius Anyim to that high office is a way of bringing him closer to power, and not the South-East. Anyim is the greatest beneficiary of the office of the SGF.

He happens to be from the South-East geo-political region, but regardless, this talk about Anyim representing the South-East is a whole bag of crack. Anyim is not the South-East; he is first of all an individual with his own special interests. Zoning is an elite form of payoff.

It has nothing to do with the people and we must stop to reassess zoning as a means of political compensation. Here, in my estimation is what would benefit the South-East  far more than a high-powered position offered to an individual: jobs and investments. Indeed, Jonathan should take the office of the SGF in exchange for 10,000 good-paying jobs for South-easterners. In other words,  I think that zoning is at best a way of sharing the “national cake” among a select few.

In my view whoever occupies a public office does so on their own terms. While it is clear that the president adjudges Anyim competent and fitting to be the SGF, we must come to the inevitable conclusion that Anyim’s appointment serves the highest interest of the president and the highest interest of Anyim much more than it serves the highest interest of the South-East, his geopolitical zone.

In the end, as SGF, his work ought to reflect the highest ethical standards and a commitment to the nation which he serves, and that the nation is Nigeria, not the South-East. He is expected to treat every part of the federation with equal regard and any public officer who comes carrying a regional or zonal suitcase undermines the Nigerian project.

This is precisely what PDP’s zoning formula has done: it has undermined the sanctity and validity of the highest echelons of government. Political positions are now reserved and doled out to a small cabal of powerful interests purporting to represent narrow geo-political interest.If political offices are to be zoned, perhaps there should be wider consultations within the zones to determine the nature of these interests.

I think Jonathan must begin to place a different spin on the appointments he makes. They should reflect individual merit and a commitment to a more national vision.


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