BusinessDay

The politics of zoning

The argument of zoning is at its best gives a cause of inclusion, fair play, inclusiveness and belief in a better organised Nigeria. But recent experience has shown that zoning is now a response to nepotism, irregular preferment in jobs and promotions, in short, those who argue for zoning see the skewered and screwed appointment policy, preferment policy, sectional development and consequent neglect of the other parts.

Now what is the basis of the argument? In fact it says that only when your tribesman is in control that only then will your people have a fair share of the cake.

No one argues that the skewered appointment policy may be responsible for the failure of the economic policy.

Moreover the argument supposes that no failures under a zoning regime is possible in Nigeria, no leadership can exist because all leaders are constructed to help their area. When a President says that he is the president of all Nigeria- no one believes him. More pressure is put on the leader to remember that his position is temporary and his people will lose more if he were too vast fairly.

Nothing encourages corruption more than the argument that the leader must help their own people. Very few are unfairly of ethnic groups, if you don’t help us who will?

Most leaders arrive in office with an ethnic agenda and necessarily an economic plan to help his area. A real genius with leadership ability will never be able to lead well if he has to meet the aspirations of his zone. Even within his zone, there will be many that will argue that he is against certain groups in the zone. Zoning may be alright for parts of Nigeria which have a large single ethnic group.

It may not be alright for Rivers State where it’s a multiplicity of ethnic groups- Ogoni, Abua, Ndoni, Ikwerre, Andoni, Okirika, Ahoada, Ekpeya. Matters become worse when you can divide Rivers into Riverine and Upland.

Rivers state has since 1993 has had 3 upland Governors- Odili, Amaechi and Wike. The potential to execute upland and River dictatory was not pursued by Odili and Amaechi. Wike came to power but on pouring petrol into this potential fire of the division between Upland and Riverine.

He shamelessly exploited this division. Riverine people feel like second class citizens in Rivers. These are sentiments clearly stated and felt and exploited by everyone. Even if these are misguided feelings, it is the duty of the Government to douse these fiery sentiments and explain in speech and action that this is not so.

The Upland argument is that the riverine people had a field day between 1967 and 1999. They claimed that originally at the outset of Rivers State in 1967 the Judiciary, the Civil Service, and the Government itself was completely dominated by the Riverine peoples. That Peter Odili was elected as a response to correct what obviously a recognized perception of predominated Riverine excessive powers in Judiciary, Business, Bureaucracy, etc.

Odili was a fair Governor and championed inclusiveness, good government and even development. Since the first day of Governor Wike’s ascension, every Riverine subject has felt unrepresentative and fearful. Nearly every head of departments at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology is dominated by non-riverine people.

There is a University of Agriculture in Ikwerre. There is the Law School in Ikwerre Land; there is a college of Education in Ogoni, there is not one tertiary institution in any riverine territory. Business is booming in the non-Riverine states: for the rest it is poverty, occultism and abject distress.

I know that issues like these get misunderstood. That I should raise it would suggest that I am for zoning.Let’s go deeper, a dynamic leader like Wike could have done wonders for Rivers State but he came to office on the agenda that is unfortunate. Belief in turn by turn Government may lead to frustration and an iron shackle debarring progress. What I would prefer is a Governor who has a development plan that has been explained to the people and seen by the people as a fair plan for all.

In case I have not made my case clear, it is this; let’s choose leaders with a plan of what they can do and a cohesive policy. So long as our politics is to encourage division (and that is really what zoning does), the benefits of good government, progress, inclusivity and harmony will always elude us.

The argument for zoning

Fair and right zones in Nigeria. Presidency must rotate unless the Ibo might continue to suffer the injustice of their massacre in the North in 1966.

The argument of diversity and inclusiveness: the North has monopolised the Presidency/Head of Government since 1956- exception OBJ whose Presidency was based on the principle of zoning to compensate for Abiola’s earlier electoral victory and eventual murder.

After OBJ power was to go to the North. If certain aspects of federalism is based on equality for example the equality of all states recognized by equal state representation in the Senate.

Should the Presidency be different zoning it is argued, works in Switzerland but does not work in Latvia? Zoning has never been a feature of US federalism. First Southern President in the US- Jimmy Carter.

What has been the effect of the North always clinging to the Presidency? – Proponents of zoning argue that appointments seemed to be in their favour so also are power points in the administration- Customs, NPA, Military, Security, Prisons. Now the Northern appointments are moving in the economic mainstay and life of Nigeria- NNPC, Central Bank and a slew of quagos- Petroleum trust fund, Petroleum Equalization Fund, Education Trust Fund, Pension Fund, NSTIF, Mortgage Bank etc. but are these opinions true? Can they be justified?

The drop in education in the North is palpable yet positions are filled in ministries from the North. Should WAEC entrance qualification be different from state to state, because qualifications for the ARMY, NAVY, and Air Force etc. are lower for Northerners than for Southerners, yet the former on employment are put on a faster track than the others.

Is this true or a mere perception, which is intensified when one is in Abuja? The Southerners on the other hand, are never willing to accept their own prejudices viz every Northerner they have seen are the megauards, money changers, butchers and suya sellers, occasionally a yoghurt or milk seller or itinerant tailor.

By 1970 many Northerners had good degrees from good universities- (again the Southerners would beg to differ) he got into the university as a special care, how do I know the same preferential treatment was not given them in the final year exams? I demurred, but the perception continued so strongly that the Federal Government sought through education to reduce tribal tension and begin near and breed the authentic Nigerian. The Federal Government in the 1970s set up unity schools where students from different parts were sent off to xxxx.

Those who oppose zoning claim that it is against democracy which is the rule of the majority. If the majority of Nigerians are from the North why should they be denied the right to be President? (Is the Prime Ministership of the UK zoned to the Oxbridge graduates? Over 50% of the UK are from Ox bridge) (AG, lait Brivain is not a federation, is this really an argument, an objection. How does the Prime Minister of the UK emerge from both parties?)

Why do we need a leader of Nigeria not a leader of the North ruling over the South and North?

Perception is all important in politics, if some sizable groups feel that they would never be President, to that extent is their ministership of the Nigeria project questionable.

Zoning encourages xenophobia

Students from different parts were sent off to school so as to ensure enforced meeting of up and coming Nigerian class. After secondary school, universities were encouraged to accept students from outside the catchment area location of the university, at the National Youth Service Corp one year program, again working in this scheme of producing true Nigerians, the Government encouraged the Youth Corpers to train in states other than their own original states: thereby learning new culture, and creating a better rounded Nigerian.

Read also: 2023: Zoning doesn’t matter, Nigeria needs a detribalised president — Bala Muhammed

Moreover, during the civil war, Nigerian Soldiers had been posted around, especially in the East where a large number of senior officers married local women out of love and circumstances. After all the officers considered themselves Nigerian officers not Ibo, Yoruba or Hausa officers.

Even the perception that the Northern officers were given preferential treatment could not be erased from the minds of non-Northern officers, who constantly in private conversations noted how Northern officers flew past them upward of the officer ranks despite earlier qualification training and excellent record and reports that fried up the files.

Too often they complained that when a Chief of Army, Navy, Air Force is chosen, a relatively junior officer is chosen necessitating the mass retirement of all officers senior to the incoming Chief in that arm of the military. Non-Northern officers complained of the insecurity of their tenors to no avail.

The Northern officers were seemingly more modest, less flamboyant. If the officer was not his shortcoming is usually traced to his Southern wife or to some other tryst that he had with a Southern woman- pushy, flashy, get rich quick women- impatient for their man’s success. (In a closed society nothing is stronger than rumors, there is no society more closed than military: their rumors take on the strength, the fervor, the authenticity of the Holy Grail, Bible or the Quran or the commentaries.

Need for healthy competition and answers to the fears of the Northerner if the Southerners and vice versa, to ignore doing so smacks of arrogance- why should I waste my time explaining that Southern or Northern view of each other is wrong, childish. (Try not to explain a suspicion to your wife on the grounds that such suspicion is childish and watch what will happen to your house, family, lavsiness, friends.)

The Southerner and Northerner need to constantly reassure one another of their devotion and their love.

Even so there are two other toxins in the life of the Nigerian- a. religion b. Middle Belt who to the Northern is a mongrel, not a pure breed and does not deserve the time and attention of the super Northern purebred.

This veneer, and that is all it is breaking down when into the Northern toxidity you now add a highly indescribable none academically provable- the Hausa-Fulani. Where in God’s name do you include a Middle Belter in that categorisation? Democracy is clear as to race, geography, freedom to elect, equality and tolerance.

That freedom includes freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom not to be jailed or arrested when you have broken no law, freedom of worship and assembly. (It is of course true that the father of democracy- the US failed in all the above instances; jailed people because of the color of their skin, jailed people they did not like, failed to give any American the right to live and do whatever his ability could get him, sold slaves and deprived them of all the elements of democracy). They built institutions, supported robust guard rails to maintain democracy.

Cole is a veteran journalist

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