By Ochereome Nnanna
I READ with amusement Alhaji Lawal Kaita’s assertion in an interview, in which he said “we” have lost interest in zoning.
Who are “we”? It is obvious, from Kaita’s standpoint, that by “we” he is not talking about the generality of the Nigerian people. He is not talking about the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He is not even talking about Northern Nigeria. He is not in a position to speak for any of these vested political interests.
However, Kaita is a known and untiring oracle of the Alhaji Atiku Abubakar political camp. This camp formed the core of the defunct Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, led by Malam Adamu Ciroma, which laboured in vain in the just-concluded political transition, to shove aside President Goodluck Jonathan and impose a Northerner of their choice on the rest of unwilling Nigerians through a trumped up zoning strategy.
When the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua died in office and power devolved to his Deputy, Jonathan, the NPLF wanted the PDP and Nigerians at large to forcefully chuck Jonathan out of power to satisfy its ethnic aspirations.
They insisted that failure to do so would leave the “North” with no other choice but to grab the Presidency by force. PDP leaders realised the awkwardness of denying Jonathan his constitutional rights but also did not want to be seen as denouncing zoning, its well-conceived instrument for political and social justice. It came out with a compromise stand: Zoning would stay, but anyone interested in running for president was free to enter the fray with Jonathan.
A section of the North actually believes that Nigeria belongs to the defunct Northern Region, rather than the Region belonging to Nigeria. They believe that Nigeria is their booty from the colonial masters. They presume the British colonialists simply extended the Sokoto Caliphate and handed it over to them after their colonial adventure came to a close in 1960. This obviously informed General Ibrahim Babangida’s assertion in an interview with Vanguard’s Gbenga Adefaye in 1997 when asked:
“What is the Northern agenda?”
“The Northern agenda is the Nigerian agenda” (rather than: “The Nigerian agenda is the Northern agenda”).
His answer means that whatever suits the North suits Nigeria. This cannot be true for someone like me since I am not a Nigerian of Northern extraction. If he had said that whatever is good for Nigeria is good for the North I would concur and applaud.
In the same vein, a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (the “democracy champion” who once threatened to slap the Chairman of the Adamawa State Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Zanna Kashim for “disrespecting” him by entering a judgement against his crony, Governor Bony Haruna in 2003) once boasted openly that once the North decided on any political issue the rest of the country would line up. I wonder how they expect people who are not from the North to feel when they hear these things from our former rulers?
When the PDP gave its ambiguous declaration that zoning was still alive but Jonathan was free to contest, they were actually challenging these regional militants to put their claim to democratic test. The Ciroma group took up the challenge. They consulted widely in the North (or so they claimed) and came up with Atiku as the preferred choice.
Atiku squared up to Jonathan in the January 14, 2011 PDP presidential primaries. He was beaten 2,736 votes to 806; a landslide. Patriotic Nigerians of Northern extraction were part and parcel of this victory awarded to Jonathan.
A second effort by the imperialist section of the Northern leadership was made to give Congress for Progressive Change, CPC’s, presidential candidate, Major General Muhammadu Buhari power at the presidential election. Jonathan defeated Buhari by well over 10 million votes cast from around the country, while Buhari, who depended on the North to elect him president only got a little over 12 million votes.
By the results of these two democratic litmus tests, the boastful declaration that a section of the country could impose its will and agenda on the rest at this modern era was proved for fallacy it really was. What happened at the floor of the House of Reps, where Waziri Tambuwal was elected Speaker in spite of the zoning preference of the PDP, was nothing to do with the “we” of the Lawal Kaita’s of Northern Nigeria.
It was also a pan-Nigerian decision of our elected representatives to thwart a zoning of impunity by the PDP, which decided to reward people based on failure rather than performance.
Like all political mechanisms, zoning must be applied with reason and respect for the feelings of the Nigerian people. With Dr Goodluck Jonathan already on the presidential seat, it was not only awkward but unpatriotic to ask him to step down for presidency to be zoned to the North! What a queer country we would have seemed to the world outside! The lesson we must learn from the Jonathan and Tambuwal episodes is that zoning must be applied in tune with the expectations of Nigerians and for the promotion of national integration and stability.
These were the original objectives behind zoning. Zoning is not an official policy of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, yet the party decided that the Minority Leader of the Senate should come from the North Central, even though the South West could have used their clout to grab it for themselves.
Zoning is here to stay until Nigeria’s integration takes credible shape, whereby it will no longer matter what part of the country the occupant of a position is from. Lawal Kaita and his co-travellers belong to a class of defeated ethnic supremacists. It is no longer up to them to dictate to Nigerians. That era is gone. For good.