By Eric Teniola

ON my way to the annual Fanti festival, held recently at Igbosere in Lagos Island during which Lafiaji boys led by my friend, Muyiwa Adejokun, lost to the Campus boys, I sighted the LAPAL House. The house is now abandoned.

LAPAL House is a 12-storey building on Lewis Street, Lagos Island. It is owned by WEMABOD Estate Limited, one of Nigeria’s most enduring estates. On June 3, 2002, the house was razed in a fired incident.

In 1977, Hacogen Company Limited owned by Dr. Joseph Wayas (May 21, 1941 – November 30, 2021) occupied the sixth floor of the building. Dr. Wayas later donated the office to serve as temporary office for the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. Dr. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (1915-1990) from Arondizuogu then under Orlu division of present day Imo State, who in 1978 was a vice-presidential aspirant, later donated his house at Jibowu Street near WAEC in Yaba, Lagos to the NPN to serve as the party’s headquarters. The house has now been turned to a hotel by Dr. Mbadiwe’s children.

To many, LAPAL House means nothing but to me it brought nostalgic memories. It was in that house that the zoning policy was adopted and cemented as part of the unofficial policy in the Nigerian political system. I scooped on the story by accident. On October 5, 1978, my friend, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo (December 17, 1941 – September 25, 2003) invited me to a dinner at the Federal Palace, Lagos. I honoured the invitation.

The relationship between a politician and a reporter is always everlasting. They both need each other. After the dinner, Dr. Okadigbo told me to drop him at Igbosere for a meeting. I dropped him only to realise that he forgot the key of his hotel room in my car. I had to wait a while for him to finish the meeting. I took time off to visit Kunbi’s Place, a very popular beer parlour in Igbosere.

In Lagos as it was then and it is now, there is hardly any street on Lagos Island that does not have beer parlours. That is why they say Lagos never sleeps. At about 12 midnight, I came back to LAPAL House, only to discover that the meeting had not ended.

Finally at 12.50am I saw many prominent NPN leaders departing LAPAL House for their destinations. It was at this point that I alerted Dr. Okadigbo that I was still around. He immediately jumped into my car and expressed shock at my being around at that time of the day. I explained to him that he forgot the key to his hotel room in my car.

“We have zoned it and I hope it will work,” he uttered to me. At that time, the NPN convention had not been held. I asked him what zoning meant, for it was a strange word in the Nigeria political history.  The zoning that I knew is a method of urban planning in which a municipality or other tier of government divides land into areas called zones, each of which has a set of regulations for new development that differs from other zones.

Zones may be defined for a single use (e.g. residential, industrial); they may combine several compatible activities by use, or in the case of form-based zoning, the differing regulations may govern the density, size and shape of allowed buildings whatever their use.

The planning rules for each zone determine whether planning permission for a given development may be granted. Zoning may specify a variety of outright and conditional uses of land. It may indicate the size and dimensions of lots that land may be subdivided into, or the form and scale of buildings. These guidelines are set in order to guide urban growth and development.

When we finally got to his room, Dr. Okadigbo now explained to me fully the meaning of zoning or power rotation in the then Nigeria politics. He said the presidency would go to the area we now refer to  as the North-West while the vice-presidency would go to Imo and Anambra states which we now refer to as the South-East.

He added that the presidency of the Senate would go to Cross River or Rivers, which we now refer to as part of South-South, while the Speaker of the House of Representatives will go to the Middle Belt. The chairmanship of the party will go to what we now know as the South-West, while the national secretary will go to what we now regard as the North-East.

In a nutshell, Dr. Okadigbo explained that the zoning policy was designed to ensure that no part of the country was left out in the political agenda of the party. It was too late for me to go home that day, so I had to sleep on Dr. Okadigbo’s sofa in his room at the Federal Palace Hotel. The meeting was presided over by Aliyu Makama Bida(1905-1980), who was the Patron of the NPN  at that time.

He was the first Northern Minister of Education and Social Welfare, and later Minister of Finance and Treasurer of the NPC. From teacher to headmaster, to N.A. Councilor and a Senior Minister with a responsible portfolio in Education, Aliyu Makama became a titan in the affairs of the North and as a member of Northern Peoples Congress, NPC.

He rose to the position of Party Treasurer and took charge of the financial aspects of the NPC. He held the position throughout the existence of the party. Though he is older than the Sardauna of Sokoto, he was generally regarded as one of the closest allies and confidants to Sardauna.

It was all due to the ultimate show of trust by the Sardauna of Sokoto to Aliyu Makama Bida. Aliyu frequently acted as Premier of Northern Nigeria any time the Premier travelled outside and the appointment was by Sardauna himself.

To be continued…

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