By Zainab Suleiman Okino
In 2007 and 2011, Nigeria was practically on the edge of the precipice, due to intense wrangling over zoning of the presidency. While that of 2007 was swiftly nipped in the bud, when then President Olusegun Obasanjo hand-picked late President Umaru Yar’adua as a successor, that of 2011 lingered on and caused some frictions in the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Obasanjo’s choice of Yar’adua was greeted with controversies. Yar’adua was considered not too healthy to stand the rigours of electioneering campaign and the office itself. Secondly, Yar’adua was a recluse, who before then, never reached out. Here was then Governor Yar’adua who practically cocooned himself in Katsina such that some of his colleague-governors didn’t even have his phone number and vice versa, but because Obasanjo had clout, power and brooked no opposing views, he single-handedly made the choice of Yar’adua seamless, he went on to win the presidential election, in another seamless transition. Head or tail, the presidency came to the North. That was then. Then when PDP held sway, as the largest party in Africa, and could make and mar any political contender.
‘Slow-forward’ to 2011, after Yar’adua had died in office, and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan had taken over earlier in 2010, Jonathan was completing Yar’adua’s term of four years and preparing to take the shot at the presidency against the zoning formula in their party. With Jonathan running, the North was being short-changed; some people reasoned. The groundswell of opposition to Jonathan was so much that the Northern political class under the chairmanship of late Adamu Ciroma constituted themselves into a pressure group to demand for power to shift to the North. This was 2011. Long story cut short. Jonathan became president. One major fallout of the Jonathan presidency was that, it put paid to the South south’s agitation for the topmost job in the country.
Meanwhile the anger over Jonathan’s decision to run in 2011, despite the PDP’s constitution boiled over to 2015. It was pay-back time for Jonathan, if not in PDP but in an emerging force, after four PDP governors, ACN, CPC and ANPP had earlier formed an alliance for the historic emergence of a new party, the APC. The stage was set for an epic battle in 2015, which saw the defeat of incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan.
Encapsulating this history in summary is to prove that agitation, intimidation even, is not a monopoly of one region; every group that loses out employs it to get their pound of flesh. In all this merry-go round circus, there is no mention of competence, capacity, national cohesion and patriotic fervour. It is about my group, religion and region first, before sparing a thought for the country; there lies the tragedy of Nigeria as a country; despised most often, and exploited when an opportunity presents itself.
As we approach the decisive year 2022/23 when presidential race begins, politicians are again heating up the polity. The table has turned, and this time around the agitators and demanders are Southerners. At their meetings in Asaba, Lagos and Enugu, the Southern governors unanimously resolved that after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari, power should return to the South. The chairman of Southern Governors forum, Rotimi Akeredolu reiterated in an interview with Channels Television thus: “the Southern governors from the three major political parties of APC, PDP and APGA were unanimous in their resolution on the zoning of the presidency and would follow it to the letter. If we have anything that we have agreed, that we have unanimity about, it’s the issue of president in 2023…any party that picks any candidate from the North will have to face all Southern governors because they will not support it”. I think the demand of the Southern governors is legitimate.
Since then, there have been restiveness among Northern leaders and other commentators, but by far, the most important was that of the governors and emirs of Northern extraction who at the end of their meeting declared that zoning is unconstitutional, while the Northern Elders Forum emphatically rejected power rotation saying it is not democratic. Statements credited to some members of Northern cognoscenti are condescending, uncalled for and uncharitable. They also claimed they have the number to win election, with or without zoning.
Yes, in a mature democracy where leaders put the country first before identity, you can play the number game. However, in a country like Nigeria, peace, fair play, justice, equity and logic matter more than the pride in numbers or the law especially with the 1999 constitution in operation. In any case, federal character commission and the quota system are peculiar Nigerian requirements established to address the North/South dichotomy in education/civil service with the hope that they will bridge the gap between the two regions. If we think the rotation of the presidency is no longer necessary, we might as well do away with federal character and quota system. Resorting to legalese and making incendiary statements are not only insensitive, but are in bad faith. The law was made for man and not the other way round. Inability to manage our diversities toward a cohesive country is a failure of leadership and not zoning.
For whatever it is worth, and for the sake of inclusiveness and sense of belonging, every of the six zones should have a taste of power at the centre, even though it hardly impacts positively on the lives of the people. If in doubt, ask the people of Katsina state or Daura in particular how they have fared under their son, President Muhammadu Buhari, the same way the lot of the people of Otuoke or Bayelsa did not change when their son, President Jonathan was president, even though it serves to psychologically heal wounds of oppression, marginalisation, favouritism and calm frayed nerves. But I must add that this ‘war’ of regions and power is an elite one, and has got nothing to do with their people’s wellbeing. Is it not after Buhari came to power that the North slipped into a jungle of uncontrolled anarchy occasioned by banditry and kidnapping; two vices that were not apparent at the time he took over in 2015? Is his home state of Katsina not one of three or four states ravaged and almost taken over by bandits?
Above all, lobbying, negotiation and dialogue are ingredients leading to compromises and settlement of contending issues in a democracy. What does the North stand to gain if it uses number to oppress others, remains in government beyond 2023 and engulf the country in needless controversies and conflict, whose end is uncertain? If the situation of gunmen violence in the Southeast is borne out of perceived marginalisation, denying the South the presidency will be invitation to more civil unrest. None serves anyone’s interest.
Politicians would do well to leave us out of their zoning or no zoning war and North or South divides and concentrate on the job they are elected to do. It is a needless controversy that serves no purpose, and it does look like another season of circus show before the final showdown, while important issues of insecurity, hunger and starvation, sky-rocketing prices of all things, dwindling revenues, rising debt profile continue to hold us back.