On the matter of zoning

Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

Every nation develops its own framework of association through years of experience guided by peculiarities and historical realities. In some cases, two countries which have adopted a similar model of development, could work out details of association dependent on circumstances, culture, language, ethnic groups, religion and religious affiliations, and other factors. For example, the federal system practiced by the United States is different from that of Germany or Switzerland or Nigeria. Very early, the people of Nigeria decided on a federal system of government through the constitutional conferences from the 1950s. One of the unwritten codes of political engagement in Nigeria is the control of power between the north and the south at the centre, what is now referred to as zoning.

The premise of my discourse is this: because of the power of incumbency and to create a sense of belonging, political power in the centre has be rotated with some understanding. To be sure, there is no constitutional provision for power rotation. It emanated from the political parties when the nation embraced the executive president model. But before them, the military administrations right from the time of General Yakubu Gowon tried to reflect the diversity of the country both in religion and ethnicity, especially in the composition of the Supreme Military Council and the position of Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters. Gowon/Akinwale Wey. Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo, Obasanjo and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Ibrahim Babangida and Ebitu Ukiwe/Aikhomu. General Buhari was the only military ruler who did not pay any attention to such an arrangement by picking a Muslim Tunde Idiagbon from the north as his deputy! In the military governments though, because they shot their way to power, the succeeding administration did not have time for the niceties of ceding power to someone from the south.

The immediate reason for this essay is Mamman Daura’s public declaration about excellence being a major consideration on who takes over from President Buhari in 2023. ‘This turn-by-turn, it was done once’ Mamman Daura said on BBC, ‘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 did not bring up this argument before his benefactor came to power in 2015! How self-serving can some people be in their arguments. The subtext is that zoning of the presidency to the south should not be considered for stability and sense of belonging. The assumption is that competent presidential material can only be found in one section of the country!

It is true that our federal system has been infused with elements of the unitary form of government, courtesy of our years with the military. But we have voted for and developed a constitution that ought to entrench federalism. A federation is ‘a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing provinces, states, or regions under a central government’. The First Republic was closer to a federal system even though it was a parliamentary form of government. if the nation had been allowed to develop along those lines, our history would have been different. A unitary state is ‘a state governed as a single entity in which the central government is ultimately supreme. Unitary states stand in contrast with federations, also known as federal states’.

There is a mood in the country which reflects our perception of the Buhari administration. This is the first all northern administration we have had in the country. If the president is aware of how badly people in the south feel about his policies, he does not give a hoot. PANDEV has sued the Buhari administration of its skewed appointments. Even if the suit is lost (as it may likely happen, again, the result of the way the courts have been constituted) the point would have been made. This is certainly how not to run a federation. Added to this is the blatant manner in which some foreign herdsmen have ensconced themselves deep in the bushes of some southern states. These are not Nigerians. The visa-on-arrival policy of the Buhari administration seems to favour these men. Indeed, even without this policy, infiltration through the borders into the country has been legendary. How do we define, identify the true Nigerian?

It is against this background that we view the statement of Mamman Daura about competence as being clever by half. He cannot beat his chest anywhere in the world to assert that this is the most competent administration that the nation has been blessed with. We do not see any competence in this administration. What we see is incompetence and intransigence and a refusal to respect the codes of social and political engagements that had held this county together since independence. Power must rotate between the south and the north. If some of never expressed this in clear terms before now, the current state of things makes it imperative for us to declare this openly. The ship of state has become rudderless. How long can we go on like this? Added to this is the perception that the south does not count in power sharing. The resources plundered from the Niger Delta are being frittered away and building structures (where the government summons the ill to do so) in other parts of the country. Enough is enough.

Different groups have taken up the cry on restructuring the country. The cry has become strident. This is because of the fear of northern domination. Abuja does not care what the people think. The creation of Amotekun in the southwest is one of the reactions of the south. Other states are following this route in varying degrees. Somebody in Abuja should listen. Sometimes, I wonder how southerners who are in this government ‘really’ feel when they defend the government. Do they believe those words which they offer? I have my doubts. The situation is getting precarious and dangerous to the corporate survival of the entity called Nigeria.

Rotation of power will make it possible for the errors of one administration to be corrected by the next administration. So, if we really believe in ‘One Nigeria’, power must go south in 2023. Competence is found in all parts of the country. This government is the best example of how not to be competent as espoused by Mamman Daura. Let us be mindful of the overall interest of Nigeria, not the primordial benefits of s few being in power just for the sake of controlling the levers of power.

-Professor Eghagha who writes from the University of Lagos, can be reached on 08023220393.