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Atsar Terver

Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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That a Jonathan from Ijaw speaking Nigeria could become President within 10 years of our democratic experience in itself is a clear testimony to the efficacy and desirability of the zoning formula. It is therefore most incongruous that the highest beneficiary of the Zoning formula in present time Nigeria should be called upon to jettison that same principle that elevated him from nowhere to the Villa. So Jonathan should not expect to eat his cake and still have it. Wisdom dictates that you don’t kick off the ladder that takes you to the roof top, because you may surely want to come down.

The Pitfalls of Anti-Zoning Argument
by Atsar Terver
 

Perhaps one of the hottest topics for political discourse in Nigeria today is the Zoning Formula which allows for the rotation of the Presidency between the Northern and Southern divides of the country. The death of President Yar’Adua and the consequent ascension to power of his erstwhile Vice, Goodluck Jonathan has suddenly awakened some political analysts to the ‘unconstitionality’ of the Zoning arrangement.

They argue that the zoning arrangement is undemocratic, unconstitutional and does not promote merit in the selection of leaders. The proponents of this argument quicken to add that, based on this, President Jonathan should jettison the principle of zoning and contest for the Presidency in next year’s election. They emphasise that doing so will be in line with his constitutionally guaranteed rights as a citizen of this country.

On the surface these analyst may sound rational, patriotic as well as objective because no sensible person should advocate the removal of merit from the criteria for selection the President of a country. And of course the constitution of a country should naturally dictate the qualification or otherwise of any candidate for elections. But a little scrutiny of the anti- zoning argument would reveal concealed hypocrisy, doublespeak, and opportunism cleverly packed as nationalism. Just a cursory critique and these shallow arguments would come crumbling like a pack of cards.

The anti-zoning argument is based on some certain fatal assumptions that are barely skin deep. One, it assumes that with zoning, it is impossible to get the best hands into political office. This assumption in turn is premised on the more fallacious assumption that certain zones suffer from perpetual dearth of good leaders. This has reflected in the widely propagated view that the southern part of the country has better leaders than the north, a conclusion that has not been shown to be true with any statistical analysis based on objective criteria or historical evidence. Were this to be true, one would have expected to see corruption, poverty, indiscipline and misappropriation eliminated from this part of the country.  To the contrary, these vices which are clearly indicative of bad leadership are just as prevalent (even worst) among southern leaders as they are with their northern counterparts. We have had a President from the South-west who was basically a disaster on all fronts.

 The truth of the matter is that, at any point in time, it is possible to get a capable leader from any part of the country to be President. Therefore, given the opportunity, any ‘zone’ should be capable of producing a good leader on merit. Any argument against this will have to be based on statistical or historical and empirical evidence rather than mere rhetorical conjectures. Therefore Zoning does not preclude the use of merit in the choice of political office holders; rather it affords all parts of the country an opportunity to present their best for service to the nation.

The very first pitfall of this newfound patriotism is the timing. Coming only at a time when  a southerner is about to upstage the formula that has worked for eight-years in their favour, makes it extremely difficult for the  proponents to conceal the opportunism inherent in these propositions. It is quite unlikely that this would have been their argument had Yar’Adua not died. One is wont to think that the sudden realisation by these people that zoning is evil is in itself very evil. It is akin to shifting the goal post in the middle of the game.

Another fatal assumption the protagonists of merit are making is that, Jonathan is the most capable and most qualified person for the job at the moment. This is indeed false because his experience of three years as Vice President cannot be a match to 8-years experience of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, or the 8 years of IBB as Military President. In terms of previous track record, there is nothing spectacular or inspiring in the history books to demonstrate that Jonathan is a performer. And his initial wobbling steps so far as President points to a power monger rather than a visionary leader. Apart from the mere fact that providence pushed him up the ladder to grab the power of incumbency there is nothing to have made Jonathan a formidable contender for the Presidency at this time.

It is hypocritical to condemn zoning without putting the historical facts of its emergence on the Nigerian political scene into perspective. How did we come about zoning in the first place? A honest commentator must recognise the fact that the zones that are calling for the abolishment of the rotational principle are the same people that called for it when it favoured them.  Before the re-emergence of democracy in 1999, there was a widespread disaffection among the southern citizenry over the perceived domination of political power by the majority Northern ruling class which created the feeling of inferiority in other nationalities, who legitimately craved to be carried along in the leadership of this nation.  Zoning came to the rescue. And thank God the North accepted it without questioning.

To ensure that every part of the country gets an opportunity to participate in the political leadership of the country, the principle of zoning and rotation was introduced by the majority party the PDP. Even though the proponents of anti-zoning have now made the principle to appear as if it affects only the office of the president, but the fact of the matter is that indeed, zoning in its entirety affects all key political offices in the country. The principle thus ensures that the President and his Vice must not emerge from the same zone at the same time, in the same vein; the zone that produces the President should not produce the Senate president, or House Speaker. Thus ensuring the equitable distribution of political power among the ethnic nationalities in line with the federal character clause in the 1999 constitution.

This principle was adopted at all levels of the three-tier structure of government. Thus since 1999, any politician, beginning from the ward level, through, the Local government, State level to the national who is not a product of the zoning arrangement is an aberration.

Those who are pretending to be anti- zoning now just for the sake of making Jonathan President in 2011, would be the same people to cry foul should Jonathan jettison the formula, then runs for President in 2011 (and ‘wins’) with Rotimi Ameachi as Vice President and then he appoints Ajumogbia as Attorney General of the Federation, makes Timi Alaibe the Finance minister and gets one of his militant brothers to be Defence Minister, and maybe Edwin Clarke ‘becomes’ Senate President.

Maybe what these anti-zoning enthusiasts are proposing is actually a partial reversal of zoning as it affects only the Presidency. But that would bring up the next question, which is ‘why'? When rules are changed arbitrarily just for the sake of an individual, it portends great danger for the stability of the nation’s political climate. Perhaps Jonathan should know that, had his mentor Obasanjo succeeded in a similar venture to change the rules to afford him a third term, he would never have become a Vice President in the first instance and now the president.

Now, does the constitution forbid zoning as being profusely enthused by the anti-zoning protagonists?  My answer is a capital NO. The constitution clearly recognises the multiethnic structure of the country and the legitimate desire of every citizen, to aspire to the highest office of the land. Furthermore the constitution also recognises the fact that some ethnic groups are more populous than others, thus giving them some ‘unfair’ advantage over the minority tribes in the distribution of political power if left to operate on majority takes all principle. Thus the third schedule of the 1999 constitution clearly provides for the establishment of a whole commission on the Federal character principle in order to ensure the equitable distribution of appointments into federal establishments. Zoning which is obviously based on the federal character principle is unarguably the most ingenious and indigenous political engineering in Nigeria.

Even though politicians have somehow, corrupted the principle by turning it into a merry-go-round formula for looting the national till into private pockets, the ideals of the formula itself remain noble and a key factor in the stability and unity of the country.

That a Jonathan from Ijaw speaking Nigeria could become President within 10 years of our democratic experience in itself is a clear testimony to the efficacy and desirability of the zoning formula. It is therefore most incongruous that the highest beneficiary of the Zoning formula in present time Nigeria should be called upon to jettison that same principle that elevated him from nowhere to the Villa. So Jonathan should not expect to eat his cake and still have it. Wisdom dictates that you don’t kick off the ladder that takes you to the roof top, because you may surely want to come down.

So, the issue at stake here is obviously not the question of Jonathan’s qualification for the job of President. It’s a question of integrity. Ironically those who insist Jonathan is qualified to run are the same people insisting that IBB should not run on account of integrity issues. So it should be reasonable for them to admit that, even if the constitution allows everyone to contest, other factors (like zoning) could render certain candidates unacceptable.

Therefore Jonathan has a choice to make between honour and greed; between statesmanship and power mongering. He has to choose between the interest of the nation and his personal interest. The ball is clearly in his court and history is the referee of the game.
 

 

 


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