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ZONING ROW: Why unending trouble is here early

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

ZONING ROW: As you are reading this, President Muhammadu Buhari is just 128 days into his four- year tenure.   This implies that it is exactly 1,332 days to the expiration of the term. The number of days suggests that his administration is in the early stages of its 1,460-day lifespan.

Going by the standards of democratic models, this is a period a government begins to accelerate. Better still, citizens get to understand the direction of an administration at a time like this.

EK Clark speaks as row brews in Kiagbodo over mosque(Opens in a new browser tab)

After all, the first 100 days, a ritual birthed by then-US President Theodore Roosevelt, had been observed in September with the citizens and the state differing on the government’s direction.

It is expected that such a debate dominates the polity to remind holders of powers of the imperativeness of service delivery in four years.

ZONING ROW: Why unending trouble is here early
President Muhammadu Buhari, delivering the 2019 Independence Day speech

Discourse and  permutations

For whatever reasons, inanities, especially talks over the zone to produce the next President, are becoming the thrust of political discourse and permutations in high and low places.

Instead of discussing today’s troubles and the likelihood of getting them addressed, all around is a cacophony of voices over 2023.

Ethnic jingoists, official sycophants, and religious zealots are caught in this show which Sunday Vanguard learned was authored by vested interests but now gaining traction.

While it is still to be seen if the debate enjoys any form of imprimatur, its growing popularity worries analysts.

The concerns stem from the fact the discourse is not only premature but could distract any administration, thereby putting the prospects of real governance at risk.

 

Real  governance

That is what may gradually become the fate of Nigeria and Nigerians in the next 1,332 days if the zoning or, better still, power shift debate continues at this rate.

Governor Nasir El-rufai’s suggestion that zoning of political offices should be de-emphasised is regarded as the beginning of the current debate.

The governor made his position known in a prologue titled: “Defeating a Determined Incumbent: The Nigerian Experience,” which he contributed to a book written by the Director-General of the Progressives Governors’ Forum, PGF, Salihu Lukman.

That the subject is an issue again re-echoes the primacy of ethnic and regional considerations in deciding who governs Nigeria.

The latest controversy reinforces the fact that power-sharing arrangement, in line with Nigeria’s diversity, remains tendentious as religion and ethnicity.

More to the perennial conundrum is the absence of a constitutional arrangement that supports power shift or zoning in whatever form.

Of the four Constitutions Nigeria has had since independence, none incorporated zoning of the presidency.

Sunday Vanguard recalls that the closest the nation came to constitutionalising it was during the 1994 constitutional conference which produced the 1999 Constitution.

At the confab, the late former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, famously made a case for rotational presidency based on six geopolitical zones.

He did that being conscious of the inherent dangers of the loose power-sharing system in the polity like the current debate.

The conference had agreed on both proposals which eventually were contained in the 1995 Draft Constitution. However, the rotational presidency wasn’t in the Constitution when it was finally promulgated into law in 1999 for reasons yet unknown.

In the heat of the controversy over the zone to produce the President after then-President Goodluck Jonathan had concluded the late Umar Yar’Adua’s tenure, Ekwueme, in a chat with BBC, explained why rotational presidency was the best option for Nigeria.

 

Clause accepted

First, he regretted that the clause was accepted at the conference as part of efforts at uniting the country but removed by the military.

“It was unfortunately truncated by the regime of Abdusalami Abubakar who amended the Constitution and removed that potion”, Ekwueme said.

“It was a gentlemanly agreement which was overwhelmingly agreed upon, and I bet you, Yar’Adua would have completed his tenure if not for the unfortunate death that took him away.

“We agreed on rotational presidency. Nigeria was at crossroads and something needed to be done urgently to reassure its citizenry that they are one. So we said the best option was to make it a constitutional matter and we unanimously agreed to put it in the 1995 Constitution to go round for 30 years with all regions taking their slots. Unfortunately Abubakar who was in a hurry to hand over to civilians cancelled that potion and, in fact, rejected entirely the 1995 Constitution which I think was one of the best for this country. Still because of the importance of this issue when we came in the PDP and created the rotational arrangement”.

 

Abacha adopted it

Also in an interview with Saturday Vanguard in 2016, the statesman said: “But Abacha adopted it (rotation). The conference itself didn’t adopt it; they wanted the status quo to remain because it was in the interest of some people to maintain the status quo.”

Sunday Vanguard notes that the failure of constitutionalising power-sharing is sustaining the crisis Ekwueme and other framers of the 1999 Constitution attempted to resolve with the proposal.

At the political party level, only the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, came close to rotational presidency.

The former experimented with the tenures of Olusegun Obasanjo and Yar’Adua, while the last presidential ticket of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar passed for an extension of it.

 

PDP and NPN

For the latter, Article 21 of its Rules and Regulations embraced zoning which the Shagari-Ekwueme presidency exemplified.

“Zoning and rotation were originally part of the defunct National Party of Nigeria ,NPN, programme as it was the party, NPN, that introduced the idea of zoning and rotation,” elder statesman, Tanko Yakassai, once said.

The PDP, on its part, recognises zoning in Section 7 (2) (c) of its Constitution.

It reads: “In pursuant of the principles of equity, justice, and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of the party and public elective offices and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels.”

In the preamble, it stresses: “To create socio-political conditions conducive to national peace and unity by ensuring fair and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, to conform with the principles of power shift and power-sharing by rotating key political offices among the diverse peoples of our country and evolving powers equitably between the federal, state and local governments in the spirit of federalism.”

However, the Constitution of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is silent on the subject.

 

Anti-power shift

This lacuna is currently being exploited by anti-power shift elements in the party.

Now, the country is faced with a battle between the promoters of the status quo and elements of progressivism.

Thoughts that it may fizzle with time are just wishful as the contention has come to stay until Buhari’s successor emerges on May 29, 2023.

If the knowledge of Nigerian politics and mentality of Nigerian politicians are anything to go by, the issue has sadly become the major determinant of political thought and tendencies.

The attendant social effects in a country, more divided than ever, would be better imagined.

As the argument continues back and forth, our Story of the Week presents the pulse of ordinary Nigerians, political, ethnic, religious, and academic influencers.

In one of the interviews, elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, says every region has competent people for the presidency but noted that the Igbo should be given a chance in 2023.

 

Superior to southerners

“As I said earlier, when Lord Lugard amalgamated us, he did not say northerners are superior to southerners. They had the presidency several times throughout the military era. Today, another northerner is running for eight years. The South-West has had their turn and the South-South had their turn through President Jonathan. It is only the South-East that has not had it. It is the turn of the Igbo to have it,” he notes.

Reading further, you would find Clark sparing nothing in explaining why power should not remain in the North in 2023.

A former Deputy National Chairman of PDP, Chief Olabode George, on his part, warns that there may be dire consequences if a section of the country monopolises power.

 

Monopolises power

George, who said his remarks were not made as a PDP chieftain but as an elder statesman, argues thus:” I am not a soothsayer. I do not look at crystal balls. Can there be peace when only one tribe monopolises power? That was the route we took. Why should we go through the same route now? I read somewhere that it is only PDP that has zoning. I wish them the best of luck but that is not national, that is not Nigerian, that is not a true federation. That is not the kind of thing I want to hear in my old age about people who believe power resides with them.

“It was tried with the military, it did not work. Nigeria is not the first country to adopt this concept of zoning. Why are people now trying to throw up another problem? If anybody is thinking about that, let him study history and find out how we came about zoning. It just did not drop from the sky.’’

 

Clinging to power

For the Regional Secretary of English and Portuguese-speaking Africa, International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, IFES-EPSA, Rev Gideon Para-Mallam, those wanting the north to retain power may be flying a kite.

“The North insists on clinging to power and uses all sorts of arguments to sell this. The kite flying suggestion of no power rotation of the presidency in 2023 is an invitation to insecurity, chaos, and violence,” he warns.

Surprisingly, the Director-General of Northern Elders Council, Prof Yima Sen told Sunday Vanguard that it would be illogical if power remains in the North in 2023. His argument provides a broader understanding of the underlying issues.

On the part of ordinary Nigerians, it is a mixed bag of opinions.

In sum, this report may help in appreciating the views of protagonists and fears of the opposing side.

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