Nigeria is a complex state and simple problems here often require complex and often contradictory solutions. For instance, we deal with violence perpetrated by members of the Boko Haram sect by rounding up hundreds of them and shooting them in cold blood and at the same time we pay Niger Delta militants to desist from violent acts in the oil-rich area.
Now, we have the problem of power rotation, otherwise known as zoning, on our hands. What should we do? Should we zone or should we not zone?
It is interesting to note that this question is in the spotlight only because our President’s political career depends on it. Goodluck Jonathan is a product of zoning but that very principle now threatens his ambition to rule our country in 2011. He became President only because his party, the PDP, decided a northerner had to be President and since the South West had just relinquished power, it was decided a South East or South South person should be the Vice-President. But then the South East had produced a Vice President (Alex Ekwueme) so it was thought Yar’Adua’s vice should be a South South person. Jonathan was that man. As you know, Yar’Adua died and Jonathan became President… to rule until 2011. The issue now is should the PDP change its constitution for Jonathan to run in the 2011 election? (You may be aware that zoning is in the PDP constitution, to which Jonathan has pledged loyalty, as opposed to the Nigerian constitution which supersedes the party’s). Section 7.2 (C) of the PDP constitution says: “in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels.”
Whoever represents the PDP in 2011 is purely a matter for the party to resolve but we must agree that the PDP has the best chance of deciding who becomes President in this country. As such, we are stuck with the fact that who emerges the party’s flag bearer is more than likely to become our President. This is why the party’s decision to zone or not to zone is so important to us as a nation.
In my opinion, regardless of what you think of the PDP, its policy of zoning was a well thought out effort aptly aimed at addressing the diversity in our country and the lack of opportunity in some regions. The truth is that the Nigerian people are terribly conscious of their differences along ethnic or religious lines such that it becomes impossible to advocate the idea of the most suitable candidate winning at polls or even gaining admission into schools or employment. Even though many of us won’t readily admit it, we often ask questions like: “why is it always a Yoruba man appointed as Minister of Justice?” (but we forget until a few years ago, there was only one law school in Nigeria and it was in Lagos, South West Nigeria so there are more Yoruba lawyers in Nigeria)” or “Na only Hausa go rule?” (Here we also forget that majority carries the vote and there are more Hausa/Fulanis than any other ethnicity in this country). Even the most enlightened of the Niger Delta people, who are now saying the credible candidate should win, have not come to terms with the appointment of Northerners to head the NNPC when oil is produced in the South South.
Even if they did, the guy in the North would be asking the hard question, “why isn’t there a Petroleum Training Institute in the North?” or “why doesn’t the Petroleum Institute in Warri admit Northerners or give them scholarship to study abroad?”, concluding rightly, that they are denied opportunity to enter our country’s oil and gas sector.
Even as we have this conversation, those who argue against the zoning of public offices, have not called for the abolition of the Federal Character principle, which is an alias for zoning. They have not pressured Shell, Mobil or other multinationals to desist from developing only people from a particular region, even in the name of corporate social responsibility. We forget that such opportunities targeted at a particular section of country place one region at an advantage over others…
Talking about disadvantaged sections of Nigeria, Taraba State is one of the most underdeveloped states in our country. It was created in 1991 but up until 2006, there was no university in the state. It was only in 2005 that the NUC approved The Wukari Jubilee University as a ‘community-based institution.’ It began operations in 2006 with 61 students and three schools! Two years ago, the state established the Taraba State University which now has its first undergraduate students in 100 Level! Consider this against the access to education in states as Ekiti, Oyo, Rivers etc and you will see that few people from Taraba have the opportunity to lead any sector of this country. So the question remains: should we sacrifice merit and offer the guy from Taraba the job just because he is from a ‘marginalized’ state? The answer to that should be no but it will then mean he and his folk will continuously cry of marginalization.
To deal with these agitations, our lawmakers developed solutions and called them different names including quota system, federal character, principle of equity, catchment area, e.t.c. Zoning is only one of such names. This is the state of our nation and anyone who denies it is only compounding the problem. So when people say zoning the presidency is mediocre, I ask how they propose to give minority, and other disadvantaged, groups space in our political arena.
This is not to say I support a system that sacrifices merit for “a sense of belonging.” My position on the matter is that if we choose not to zone, let us dismiss it bearing in mind that we MUST at the same time dislodge federal character, quota system and other legal frameworks that hinder some Nigerian people from pursuing their aspirations to be in whatever school, sector, or job they want. Sadly, I do not see placards or posters in our streets saying that. In the absence of such an overhaul of the system, I say the PDP is not wrong in zoning.
Concerning Jonathan’s presidential ambition, if he is not comfortable with his party’s zoning law, nothing stops him from running on the platform of more “progressive” parties that do not zone. Why are the Nigerian people acting like they cannot dump the PDP? As I have said elsewhere, in serious countries, the zoning thing should not even have been a national debate. It should have been a party affair, capable of causing its downfall. Imagine the Democratic Party in the U.S saying “this is the turn of blacks. Next will be Hispanics.” Republicans will not even have to campaign to win once their opponents adopt such a policy. But here, Nigerians are all PDP members and have to be drawn into the debate of a party’s policy which threatens our very existence as a nation.
If we are unhappy with zoning, (and we should be), let us give every Nigerian room to join the civil service without worrying if we have more than half the qualified candidates from the north, let the north not “own” the Nigeria Defence Academy just because there is only one in the country and it is located in Kaduna, let us decide that the Minister of the Niger Delta Ministry or the Chairman of the NDDC must not be a person from the South South but the best man for the job and so on…Anything short of doing that is simply offering a half baked solution to a problem that permeates virtually all aspects of our national life…
Atom Lim is a young Nigerian journalist. A graduate of English from Benue State University, Atom works at NEXT, a leading source for news in Nigeria. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.