The 2023 presidential race is starting very early. Three years to the election, gladiators, spin doctors and armchair tacticians have returned to the drawing board in preparation for another titanic battle for power.
Zoning, which is an important factor that should shape the exercise, is being hotly debated. Unpatriotic elements are heating up the polity by trying to discredit the conventional arrangement. The consequence is indignation.
How would the inevitable constitutional transition be implemented in three years time without recourse to the rotational principle? How can power remain in a region for 16 years? Why are pompous tribal elite who have embraced the principles of federal character, quota system and catchment area now unwilling to live with the conventional reality of presidential zoning or power rotation?
Indisputably, the hot debate may constitute a distraction to the Buhari administration. But, the brewing confusion is the handiwork of the egocentric and highly protective cabal, a tiny group of power barons and influential kitchen cabinet cast in nepotism.
Their pre-occupation is to test the waters, and gage public opinion, ahead of next election. The goal, according to observers, is to orchestrate power retention by the North beyond 2023, unmindful of the politically harmful effects of their illogical contemplation.
Predictably, the mood of the heterogeneous and ethnically polarised nation-state cannot accomodate their highly divisive and destabilising postulation. It is because the concept of one indivisible Nigeria not erected on an enduring pillar of fairness and justice is illusory.
The disruption of zoning, an arrangement that has fostered stability and rekindled a sense of participation and belonging, will be in bad faith. It does not make the latest exponent and President Muhammadu Buhari’s kinsman a good strategist. As Nigeria telescopes into 2023, his outburst smacked of over-zealousness and a clear endorsement of political irrationality.
Although he was exercising his freedom of speech, Mammam Daura’s argument for merit, judging by the way he laid out his arguments, was an undisguised repudiation of the merits of zoning. It has generated a nasty perception of bullying by the North and escalated the fear of political domination and marginalisation by Southern regions.
Who are the targets of the emergency anti-zoning crusaders? What is the sole motivation? Why are certain elements posing as if they have the key of Nigeria in their pockets? Is the sudden war against power rotation a product of national consensus?
Some critics have alluded to the superiority of numbers in electoral democracy and they argue that this is to the advantage of the North. There is one puzzle, and at the same time, a paradox: Is it a political miscalculation that Southern regions have embraced family planning and birth controls in their quest for qualitative population growth, as against sheer quantity? Is it not burdensome that a huge population that may be a liability in economic formulation in a depressed economy is also a regional asset in electoral permutations?
Zoning is imperative. It is crucial to national unity and survival in contemporary Nigeria, which is a fragile federation. Under the current regime, there are widespread complaints that the country has become more divided by official favouritism. Its fragility in all ramifications, experts have warned, may be a prelude to state failure, disintegration and disaster. These are preventable, if reason prevails and if the Nigerian president, now and in the future, can truly be president of all Nigeria.
But, the structure of the country is also a permanent obstacle. Nigeria’s brand of federal principle is disingenuous. It is a frightening and disastrous unitary terror, which has made the centre a political octopus and the component units some sorts of beggarly dwarves fully depended on the centre in the fiefdom.
In the absence of the required national outlook, the power-loaded president may inadvertently become a willing regional tool for the systematic oppression, suppression and repression of disadvantaged zones.
Only a president who is ready to defend national interest while responding to the peculiarities of the diverse 250 ethnic groups can come across as a symbol of national harmony.
Only when the Commander-In-Chief is perceived as a national property and a true father of the nation, without ethnic discrimination, bias and prejudice; and willing to see the country as his constituency, will cries of despondency and agitation for zoning gradually cease.
It is when the president becomes a unifying factor and a bridge builder that the feeling of regional exclusion can be erased.
But, above all, the restoration of federalism will drastically reduce the hot regional competition for power at the centre. True federalism, as it is now coined, will enable the component units to develop at their own pace. It is a principle that will enhance healthy rivalry and peaceful co-existence. It will halt the inevitable mad rush to Abuja for what is described as the national cake.
To foster unity, enhance peaceful co-existence and boost mutual confidence, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) begun the ‘turn by turn’ rotational policy in 1999. It identified six important slots, which it distributed across the six zones equitably. These are the president, vice president, Senate President, House of Representatives Speaker, Secretary to Government of the Federation, and National Party Chairman.
The belief is that zoning or rotation also takes cognisance of merit as a critical factor by throwing up “presidential assets” from a particular region at a given time. It is also in appreciation of the fact that talents abound across the six zones. The fear is that if regional numerical strength is perpectually deployed in a multi-ethnic polity during political calculations, equity may be destroyed and smaller regions will remained marginalised. The result is the dictatorship of numbers, disillusionment and detachment.
Is there any zone that lacks competent Nigerians to govern the country?
Considering the timing of the advocacy for merit and competence, and disregard for zoning based on region, it is reasonable to fathom an unfolding agenda.
However, zoning pales into vanity, if the region enjoying the slot fails to throw up a competent presidential flagbearer, or if the selection of the candidate is manipulated by principals and principalities outside the zone in focus to produce a pliable candidate who may not make any difference in four or eight years. Again, the consequence will be a “wasted presidency.”
Another argument for zoning finds expression in the collective contributions to the commonwealth. This aptly nullifies the unfounded premise for the skewed power distribution. It is ironical that the smaller regions, which will ultimately become the victims of the abolition of zoning, generate greater revenues to the national treasury, either in terms of oil proceeds, earnings from ports and Value Added Tax (VAT).
The debate on zoning should not be focused exclusively on the tripod of Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. When the presidential slot is zoned to any region, the interests of the minorities-Kanuri, Tiv, Jukun, Uhrobo, Efik, Ibiobio, Ijaw-should also be considered. Power distribution or sharing in Nigeria is not solely for the Big Three; the country is made up of 250 ethnic groups.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has the 2023 challenge to tackle. It is critical to its survival and relevance as a national platform for seeking power. President Buhari, apart from his personal merit, rode to Aso Rock on the back of emotional agitation for zoning to the North in post-Yar’Adua period. Many believe that former President Goodluck Jonathan was voted out because his party violated the rotational arrangement. To that extent, power shift in 2015 was, fundamentally, a product of zoning to the North.
The constitution of the APC tends to support the push for zoning, although it is usually denied. It states that “without prejudice to Article 20(2)(iii) of this constitution, the National Working Committee shall, subject to approval of the National Working Committee, make rules and regulations for the nomination of candidates through primary elections.
“All such rules, regulations and guidelines shall take into consideration and uphold the principle of federal character, gender balance, geo-political spread and rotation of offices, to as much as possible, ensure balance within the constituency covered.”
The interpretation or otherwise of the provision notwithstanding, power, as it is often said, is not served “a la carte.” Since there is no definite roster for zoning or rotation in the ruling party, the regions or zones would still dialogue and hold consultations to determine the next zone, sub-zone or micro-zone to which the slot should be zoned, in the spirit of equity, fairness and justice.