This article was written by Ruth Okwumbu, a journalist in Asaba, Delta state
With the ongoing restiveness in the country, do you subscribe to zoning of political offices, especially presidency and governorship? Don’t you think the best hand should be allowed to contest for any position undermining which part of the nation he is coming from? Do you think ethnicity and religion should be considered in distributing political positions?
Recent news reports that Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state has unveiled his ambition to relocate to the Aso villa come 2019. Fayose, while declaring his ambition to become the next president of Nigeria, said he was going straight to the presidential villa as he would unseat President Muhammadu Buhari through the ballots. His declaration came in his usual unreserved and flamboyant manner with which he has been known to voice his opinions on national issues.
Nigerians have reacted differently to his declaration as expected; some are of the view that that he should return to his state and concentrate the time and resources about to be expended on a wild goose chase on the people who really need it. Still, some view him as qualified and fit for the position, having established himself as one who fears no one. A few others think that it is just a tactic on his part to distract the government of the day.
Most significant among the reactions is that of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the party on which platform he intends to run for the position. The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, without mincing words, asked Fayose to jettison his presidential ambition under the party in order to avoid wasting his time, maintaining that the ticket has already been zoned to the north by the highest organ of the party which is the national convention, which has also zoned the position of the national chairman to the south.
He advised Fayose to go for the office of the national chairman which he is eligible to contest for as any move to disrespect the decision of the party would not be a wise one. “The governor is a member of the party and was at the convention where these decisions were taken. As a leader of the party, one expected the governor to respect the party and its decisions. If someone in such an office is breaking the decisions of the party, what do you expect from the rank and file?” he had asked.
Fayose’s presidential ambition is, however, not the focus here, but the issue of zoning of political offices by political parties. In the series of campaigns and declarations which preceded the 2015 elections, one might have noticed that so much emphasis was placed on zoning, sometimes at the expense of competence and efficiency. Some very competent candidates were disallowed by their political parties from participating in the primaries on the grounds that the position had been zoned to a particular geo-political or senatorial zone. Some elected officers were asked to discard their choice of running mates simply because a certain zone must be allowed to produce the running mate.
Take for instance the case of Plateau North senatorial zone of Plateau state, when in the build-up to the 2015 general elections, their senatorial representative late Sen. Gyang Nyam Shom Pwajok (of the then ruling party PDP) stated that the people of the senatorial zone were not in support of zoning the governorship seat of the state in 2015, as they did not want a zonal governor but a `Plateau governor’, who will see the entire state as his constituency. Oddly though, he ended up as the PDP flagbearer for the state, defeating 15 other candidates in the PDP gubernatorial primary election, even though he narrowly lost the Plateau gubernatorial election to Simon Lalong of the All Progressives Congress on April 11, 2015.
His stand was a sharp contrast to the position of a group known as Plateau North Political Front whose chairman, Evangelist Daniel Izang, had insisted that the Plateau north senatorial zone reserves the right to seek the number one office in the state notwithstanding that the outgoing Jonah Jang was from the zone and had completed eight years. “The zone still has a lot to offer the state and it is only logical that it should be accorded the right and privilege to present a candidate because we have been tested and found trustworthy for good governance,” the group had said.
Most advocates of zoning of the presidency often cite equity, peace and stability in the polity as the main reason. However, the eyes of Nigerians must have been seriously opened to see that peace and stability still appears to be elusive even in the midst of zoning. With cases ranging from that of Odi in the Niger Delta to Zakibiam in the Middle Belt during Obasanjo’s administration, Niger Delta militants during the administration of Yar’Adua, Boko Haram during Goodluck Jonathan’s single tenure and the agitations for Biafran state in the ongoing administration of President Buhari, how could anyone still make bold to say that presidential zoning holds the answer to restiveness and instability in the country?
Sometimes, it is simply a ploy on the part of the political parties to ensure that they do not lose the election in a constituency, geo-political zone or senatorial district simply because the people feel cheated. It was in light of this that the PDP, after losing the 2015 presidential elections went ahead to zone the presidency to the North to assuage any ill-feelings over any perceived breach of the party’s zoning principle. The party said it has learned its lessons and would never repeat any such mistake in the future. In line with it, the Senator Ike Ekweremadu-led PDP post- election review committee also recommended that if inflicted wounds must heal, all zones which felt slighted must be pacified and compensated accordingly.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) had insisted that they did not practice zoning but competency, even though there was sufficient reason to believe that the choice of Professor Yemi Osinbajo over other contenders for running mate was partly influenced by the zoning philosophy, and targeted at winning the support of the Christian southerners since General Muhammadu Buhari is a Muslim Northerner.
Zoning has been traced to the principle of federal character contained in the Nigerian constitution, but in recent times, there are strong reasons to believe that people now gain unmerited offices on the platform of zoning and qualified persons are set aside in line with this principle. Even the suggestion of eight years rotation of the presidency/governorship when a tenure runs for four years, takes for granted the fact that the electorates might not want the same government for a second tenure. Hence, one begins to see headlines reading “No vacancy in Aso villa” or “no vacancy in government house” as though it were up to a few paid propagandists and insincere praise singers to make such decisions.
There is an urgent need for massive economic development of the country led by a pragmatic, smart intelligent president with a team of dedicated political leadership, not just a cabinet put together as a compensation package to different zones and individuals for their roles during the elections. Competent leadership is not the reserve of any ethnic group or zone, as even minority groups have proven leaders among them.
The questions which need to be answered are: Can zoning produce the quality of leader Nigeria needs at a time as this? Can there be peace or stability when groups within the country still feel cheated and marginalized? Is it possible for people living in squalor, hunger and poverty to live in peace and unity, when their conditions have been caused by the endless and mindless corruption perpetrated by political office holders? When will Nigeria look for its brightest leaders from every segment of its population?
Former US President Barrack Obama had said, while addressing the people of Kenya that “Any politics that’s based solely on tribe and ethnicity is politics that’s doomed to tear a county apart. It is a failure-a failure of imagination.” Countries like the United States of America where only 18 out of her 50 states have been represented in her 45 presidents has still recorded immense economic progress.
For them, racial, ethnic or religious beliefs are consciously downplayed, while the country’s ideals and universal values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and common good through a free market economy are pursued. As a result, love for the country is elevated over one’s state of origin or your religious ideology, and all aspirants were not allowed to test their popularity with the ballots.
Nigerians need to retrace their steps from the paths of ethnic and tribal sentiment, and go to the polling booths with the mindset of voting ‘the most competent’ rather than “na my brother.” With the benefit of hindsight, we need to set aside all affiliations and ties and vote for the “man who will deliver” even if it means voting against one’s political party, or even family relation. After all the experience in the hands of past leaders, Nigerians need to get it right in the forthcoming elections starting with the local government elections. If we don’t get it right now, we might never get it right in the nearest future.