You can tell it is political season when zoning starts to rear its ugly head in the national discourse. 15 years on from the beginning of an invigorating democracy and we are still seem determined as a people to hold ourselves back with this archaic and unconstitutional convention.
It is a debate which we ought to have moved on from. As we continue to aspire to the sort of democracy where MERIT overshadows MEDIOCRITY, where experience trumps inexperience and where CREDIBILITY eclipses cronyism, we cannot afford to allow an issue as trivial as a person’s tribe to take precedence over their experience, track record and accountability.
Sadly the zoning debate is not restricted to the Federal level alone. In Akwa Ibom, the jostling has already started as to what local government’s ‘turn’ it is to produce a governor.
In Lagos there appears to be an unspoken consensus that Epe must birth the next governor. In Abia factions have begun forming between political groups over a decision to zone to Abia South. In Ogun, the permutations are already in place to split the vote of the incumbent who is from Ogun Central.
The list goes on in virtually every state where power brokers are assessing criteria based on candidate’s birth records rather than their capacity for the jobs in question. This abhorrent ideology only serves to balkanize Nigerian politics at a time when what we need is UNITY.
Whereas zoning and indeed the idea of geopolitical zones have no basis in Nigerian Law, what the Constitution advocates are systems that promote national unity, not fragment it. Specifically, Section Section 17 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended) provides as follows –
“In furtherance of the social order-
a. every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunitiesbefore the law”
Section 15 (2) on Political Objectives further provides that –
“Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilstdiscrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.”
In the history of American politics, the highest office in the land has never been ‘zoned’ to any specific part of the country. When John. F. Kennedy successfully ran for office in 1960, he did so against popular opinion that a Roman Catholic could never occupy the White House.
When Barack Obama contested in 2008 it was said that a black man could never be President. In 2016 Hillary Clinton, a woman, who ran him close in 2008, has emerged as an early frontrunner.
If these individuals were all able to surpass perhaps even more contentious stereotypes – religion, race and gender – how much less important then, the inconsequentiality of where they come from? In each of these cases the conventions of the day have made way for a more progressive type of politics.
The type of politics that formed an ideological basis for the reason politics was invented in the first place – the best person, according to public opinion, would get the job. When you disqualify over 90% of an electorate from contesting, the people have been denied the opportunity to vote for the best candidate who would GUARANTEE their aspiration.
When the Ancient Greeks declared that democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people, there is nothing immutable about how this was to be achieved. Aristotle, perhaps the founding father of politics, said ‘The worst kind of inequality is to make unequal things equal.’
Indeed when the Swahili sat as Ujamma or the Igbo as Umunna declared consensus democracy, there was no footnote that allowed preference from anyone from a particular house or village.
Elections are essentially competitions to determine the best possible candidates to govern. Any competition that disqualifies contestants on anything less than performance related grounds cannot be regarded as a credible one.
Was Usain Bolt disqualified from competing at the Olympics because he is a Jamaican and he and his compatriots had dominated previous Games? Is the child who comes top of his or her class prevented from writing future exams so as to give other less-than-brilliant children a chance? As absurd as this sounds, zoning effectively restricts potentially brilliant candidates from holding public office.
The other major problem with zoning is that it pre-supposes that, if elected, the man from Region A would not act in the best interests of Region B. Therefore Region B ought to be given a chance in the future to rectify whatever untold damage is done by the man from Region A.
It is a principle that is almost entirely founded on paranoia. If you have elected the best person for the job why would he or she be selective in governance? Worse still, why continue to perpetuate such a distrust?
There is no evidence to suggest that zoning has ever worked in Nigeria at any level. If anything, ethnic tensions are currently as high as they have ever been, insurgency continues to grow unchecked and the youth of the country are increasingly disconnected and disillusioned.
The zoning system has produced a succession of poor leaders because invariably only a handful of well-connected individuals get to the front of the queue. The only rotational zoning that exists is between the same crop of names that comes up every 4 years.
If these same group of individuals have not successfully been able to move the country forward, is it not time to introduce new names into the fray? It is foolhardy to keep doing the same thing over and over and yet expect different results.
The Equal Opportunity Group
We The ….. are non-partisan. We are not proponents for one party over the other. We are proponents for a Nigeria that works. We are proponents of a Nigeria where being Nigerian assumes greater significance than what part of the country you hail from. We are proponents of a Nigeria where political office is synonymous with principle, character and integrity. We are proponents of a New Nigeria, one where each and every one of us has an equal stake irrespective of our religion, gender or tribe.
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