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By: Law Mefor
 Published January 10th, 2011

It was Professor Chinua Achebe who stated that those whose palm kernels were cracked by the benevolent spirit should never forget to be humble and so goes for those in power today. What is happening in the PDP with regards to moves to jettison zoning as enshrined in that party’s Constitution is an indication that the nation's political class has learnt nothing from such natural advise and would prefer to carry on without regard to the nation’s sensibilities, which must be factored in if the country will stabilize and grow.

The very nature of Nigeria’s Federalism is the main reason zoning of the office of the president is now expedient. Many countries of the world for many more reasons rotate power between their own regions. Most notable example is Switzerland, and this practice has left that country the most stable and peaceful in the world. It is a practice that usually begins as a convention and ultimately gets enshrined in the concerned country’s Constitution.

If President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had not died to give President Goodluck the chance to lay claim to the north’s turn at the moment, there is no doubt that zoning would have been enshrined in the nation’s constitution during amendments.

Some have claimed that the zoning principle is undemocratic and the push to dump it is therefore a rebellion to the ruling party’s (PDP’s) tyranny and therefore obedience to God, as Thomas Jefferson prescribed. Such warped logic glosses over the fact that Nigeria’s federalism is so only in name and needs such novel measures to rein in splintering federating units. Granted, there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest (apologies Elie Wiesel), but a protest against a salvationist policy can only reverse its gains and foster more disunity in a country like Nigeria.

Every country takes measures to balance its polity. In the US, where one man one vote is rife as the bastion of democracy, super-delegates and caucuses still hold sway in the election of the Democrats’ and the Republicans’ party flag bearers. There is nothing that makes any American super or superior to another American except their consideration for some peculiarities that lay deeper than votes.

It might not be quite in order to assume that such tenets that are widely recognized, observed and acknowledged must have been provided for in the USA constitution beforehand. So, zoning may not be mentioned in the Nigerian Constitution as a policy that is binding to all political parties in the country but as a starting convention in our polity that must be allowed to blossom. It had made its debut and was tried and tested to produce Olusegun Obasanjo as President, thus making Southern Nigeria its first beneficiary.

Any one that is against zoning therefore is a convenient activist and shifting the goalpost in the middle of the game. The motive of such latter-day saints is normally sycophantic and therefore a well-worn road to power or to benefitting from its perks and as such, has little or nothing to do patriotism as they claim.

These growing troops of power merchants with corresponding monkeyshines have come to be aptly dubbed AGIP - any government in power - and are the ones goading Mr. President to go against his party constitution and the principle that first made him vice president and ultimately president of Nigeria.

It must be observed that had President Jonathan acknowledged zoning and pleaded for a chance to continue, given the uniqueness and coincidental nature of his emergence, the north wouldn’t have felt do so insulted and challenged. The president, for waking up now against zoning after benefitting amply from it, amounts to approbating and reprobating at the same time and therefore less than honourable and opportunistic.

Someone also said that proponents of the zoning arrangement in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have pushed the presidential ambition of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar into troubled waters following fresh indications that the proposition contravenes the extant Electoral Act. This argument is pure trash since even in the US after which our constitution is modeled; party constitution is not subject to the electoral law otherwise, the US Democratic Party would be violating the US electoral law of one man one vote, with their said super delegates and caucuses

With zoning, Nigeria is on the road to becoming Nigeria; ours is a nascent democracy going through growing pains that will be oiled with unique measures as zoning principle. It takes time to build a nation. Just as Rome was not built in a day, the Nigeria that we want would not be built in one day. But we must equally hurry things up, because there is growing poverty and like Achebe also noted, Nigerian masses are not enjoying their poverty and its pain and can explode any moment (emphasis mine).

Specifically, with zoning, Nigeria is addressing the problems imbedded in the nation’s skewed federalism. Following the civil war and the multifarious military interregnums, the South East particularly has been reduced to a minority region, with one state and several LGAs down, compared to the other regions, especially its South South neighbours. Yet, States and LGAs remain the main bases of resource allocation, since the nation’s weird federalism has no fiscal features and all the States’ major resources centrally collected and shared at whims of the controllers of the federal government at the given time.

Zoning is therefore to ensure that every region gets close enough to addressing its own needs ignored by those in power with instrumentality of state power. South East is neglected to the point that the only federal presence there is police stations and Okoh prisons. South South has suffered the same fate, prompting violent agitations in the latter and kidnapping in both, until late President Yar’Adua came up with Amnesty and other augmentation programmes. If the South South fails to address its marginalization with the Jonathan presidency, it will have itself to blame up to decades to come. The South East if fighting to head the presidency by pushing for zoning as a way of being in a position to do the same for itself.

Nobody will be bordered with zoning (or who occupies the Aso Rock) if the country has been returned to true fiscal federalism (resource control) as it were prior to 1967 before the military destroyed the nation’s federalism. The mounting need for this led the late president Yar’Adua to set up the Ledum Mittee Technical Committee on the Niger Delta with the promise to implement its recommendations. It has been over 3 years since that committee turned in its report and till date, no White Paper has been issued, let alone its core recommendation of staggered 50% resource control, starting with 25%, being implemented.

Zoning therefore remains the only plausible option for now, until the real issues besetting the nation, especially fiscal federalism are fully addressed.

Americans fashioned their democracy out of the old country, but built it to fit their newfound values of freedom. Likewise, Nigeria can fashion our democracy after the American system but must adapt to fit into our nation’s peculiarities characterized by skewed federalism. This makes zoning a masterstroke for the pursuit and promotion of peace, justice, equity, opportunity and human rights in Nigeria of today. Arguments to the contrary are self serving to say the least and should be better guided by due regard to honour.

• Law Mefor, Author, Journalist And Psychologist, Is Director Center For Leadership, Social And Forensic Research, Abuja. +234-803-787-2893.

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