Opinion The 2023 zoning controversy

The 2023 zoning controversy


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The 2023 zoning controversy







President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor would not be elected for another three years, yet the air is already thick with intrigue. Given the immense powers of the Nigerian presidency the scheming is understandable.

Such is the clout of our presidents and governors that the cycle of politicking never really breaks to provide a breather for governance.

The recent upheavals in the All Progressives Congress (APC) have been linked to succession politics. So like it or not, there’s intense jockeying going on within the ruling party as well as the main opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) with key players moving their pieces around on some unseen chess board.

It is against this backdrop that we must view the recent intervention by Buhari’s nephew, Mamman Daura, on the issue of zoning. It was a bolt out of the blue that called for jettisoning of the concept. In its place merit and competence should be used to pick presidents.

“This turn-by-turn, it was done once, it was done twice, and it was done thrice… It is better for this country to be one…it should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere,” he told the BBC Hausa Service in an interview.

Choosing the best man for any job is a reasonable proposition, but Daura’s proposal has been meet with a raucous chorus of disapproval and suspicion. Even the presidency felt it necessary to distance Buhari from the comments – arguing that they were personal and the author old enough to hold whatever views he espoused.

But Daura is no ordinary voice. His blood ties to Buhari and role in his kitchen cabinet are well advertised. In fact, they are so close that he moved into Aso Villa with the president. So at a time of uncertainty and suspicion within APC it is to be expected people would assume he was uttering what cannot be said officially.

Again, his remarks have come when a certain strand within the northern political establishment was sending out signals they were actively scheming for retention of presidential power in the region come the next election cycle. This is after Buhari would have held power for eight unbroken years.

It is a thought that should make anyone with the slightest familiarity with Nigeria’s political history recoil in horror.

For all their flaws and failings, zoning is one thing the political class have got right as a way of reducing heat in the polity and fostering a sense of belonging in a culturally and ethnically-diverse country as ours.

It is a device which, despite its imperfections, provides hope that at national level even minorities – outside of the big three ethnic groups – can ascend the highest heights of political power with time. The same holds true at state level.

Before the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) pioneered zoning in the Second Republic, ‘merit’ and ‘competence’ were the yardstick for picking leaders. But did we ever get the ‘best’? No way!

Instead, the power structure was tilted in such a way that the dominance of the old North was total. It was always easy for the region to divide the two southern blocs and rule.

When the late Biafran leader, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, visited the home of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo to condole with the family on his death, he wrote these famous lines in the register: “The best president Nigeria never had.”

Many shared that sentiment – especially in the Southwest – but elsewhere in the North and East people couldn’t be bothered about his abilities and he never became president.

Over time frustration with this lopsided arrangement triggered the agitation for ‘power shift’ to the south. Zoning was a by-product of that political evolution.

But for the military intervention of 1983 the concept might have become an unshakable article of faith of our politics – never to be tampered with.

In the Fourth Republic it worked seamlessly with the President Olusegun Obasanjo handing over to Umaru Yar’Adua. It would have gone on and on but for the unscripted death of Yar’Adua which handed PDP the dilemma of denying then President Goodluck Jonathan the right to seek re-election when the breach of the rotational arrangement wasn’t his making.

Without manipulation and with the cooperation of men of goodwill, it would equally work in producing a successor to Buhari from any of the three southern zones.

Daura’s argument that zoning hasn’t delivered the best for Nigeria is disingenuous. At what point did he make the discovery? As many have pointed out he didn’t hold this position when zoning favoured the emergence of Buhari in 2015.

It’s not as if there’s any system known to man that throws up the ‘best’ candidate for a political position.

The office of president wasn’t made to be filled by a conclave of wise and influential courtiers. Constitution writers through the ages left that important assignment to ‘ordinary’ voters – many of whom we would dismiss as lacking the sophistication to choose the ‘best’ man for the job. In the end everyone is left to determine who is ‘best,’ not based on any objective parameters but subjective ones.

No country ever elected ‘the best’ leader. Many who have been lauded through history also had truckloads of detractors. Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Winston Churchill, Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Nelson Mandela…weren’t without critics.

Nigerians aren’t looking for a superman. They just want an honest, competent and empathetic individual who may not necessarily be the ‘best’ of his generation. He would do his bit and step aside for a successor to continue the task of nation-building.

Such competent hands abound in the north, south, east and west of this country. Many would come to the office underrated only to be transformed into giants by the office and the challenges they overcame while serving there.

Leaders of Daura’s generation keep saying Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. But it can only be sustained if political actors don’t destroy trust. Zoning is a glue that enhances accommodation and sense of belonging. Dismantling it does the opposite and perpetuates the belief that some are born to rule while others are mere spectators.

•Written By Festus Eriye

The 2023 zoning controversy
The 2023 zoning controversy
Parrot Nigeria
An online news aggregator


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