The Magomago In The Zoning Argument
There's an aspect I find rather amusing in all the brouhaha over some existing zoning arrangement that needs to be respected by the PDP in choosing their flag bearer for president of the country in 2011. And it serves to convince me that all sides to the
argument are being clever, if not fraudulent, in choosing and harping on their positions.
The thrust of the argument of those pressing for the zoning arrangement to be 'honoured' is that each 'zone' occupying the presidency should do so for the maximum two terms, i.e. 8 years. And that, regardless of whether the incumbent has performed satisfactorily in the first term or not, and is capable or not. The second term is implicitly given in the argument.
Nothing could be sadder as a standpoint or even as an assumption. In other words, were a Yar'Adua not to have died, regardless of the fact that his first term was characterised largely by lethargic inactivity and lack of ideas, he should have been made (forced) to complete his two terms so his 'zone' could have their full stretch! Total hogwash, but that is the kernel in the two-term application.
Yar'Adua has done us a favour by dying and thus bringing the arrant nonsense in the proposition to the fore. Now, proponents are asking for the 'second term' of their 'zone' - the second term that an Umaru would have been 'forced' to complete were he alive, all in the name of some silly zoning 'policy'? Forget that this presupposes, amongst other things, that whomsoever the PDP puts forth - be he a dunce or an invalid - must become president; and our votes and how the rest of the country feels don't count. Yes, of course, it doesn't, we know, but do they need to rub it in our faces so?
Now to the big issue in the present clamour for the North's zone's 'completion' of a Yar'Adua's full term: are these proponents saying that whoever gets to become the president from the North zone would be made to serve only ONE term and one term alone? Of course even a school child knows that such acceptance would only be of immediate convenience and would as soon be reneged as the guy gets to power. And so what happens thereafter: would the North zone, having served a total of three terms (or two-three-quarters to be exact) concede to the South to also run a three-term presidency by whatever permutation?
Herein lies the danger of any notion of 'zoning' beyond its tokenism, into the province of duration or span. A zone that has put (or allowed itself to be forced into putting) forth an inept or ailing guy for the office should bear the responsibility of the guy's inelectability for a second term or for an 'act of God' terminating such. Simple.
However, let me quickly make it clear that I subscribe to the logic of zoning in our peculiar circumstance as a country. And I believe that all those arguing against 'zoning' are either being clever by half or are being outright mischievous.
The concept akin, if not synonymous, to 'zoning' is 'Federal Character'. And much as those of us who feel more 'cheated' by the application of Federal Character complain and loath it, the irony is lost on us when we find ourselves needing to invoke it for our own advantage.
It is common knowledge that, for years, the people of the South of Nigeria grumbled, and rightly so, that the North has dominated the headship or presidency of the country most disproportionately. The clamour to have it changed to the South was borne out of the desire to apply the 'Federal Character' and have the South also occupy the 'seat of power' for some time too. Implicit in that clamour is the notion that in a free and fair presidential election someone from the South may not be able to win unless the North 'grants' it. Otherwise what the argument and pressure would have been for was for a free and fair election and the observance of merit. It could be argued that the resounding victory of MKO Abiola may have had a little to do with the widespread conviction that it was time the South 'tasted power' too. In any case, it is doubtless that the national 'surrender' to the South (West) in the 1999 presidential election was a direct result of such imperative.
Furthermore, there is hardly any party that does not at any time subconsciously, if not expressly, bend to the wind of 'Federal Character' when presenting who its flag bearer would be. Indeed, this understanding gets into work right from the point of picking a chairman for the party. There is no serious party that picks a 'Northerner' as its chairman that subsequently goes ahead and picks yet another 'Northerner' as its presidential flag bearer, not to talk of the elections or appointments into the other party offices. Similarly, a party in picking a Southerner as its Chairman, understands and almost invariably nudges itself into picking a Northerner as its presidential flag bearer. 'Zoning' rules the roost.
Consequently, if, as it is the case with the PDP, the North at a particular point cedes the Chairmanship of the party to someone from the South, there is no doubt that where the presidency goes is at the back of their minds. If it is not exactly a North/South concept, it is certainly a 'zonal' one. It is this concept at play that drove the Alliance for Democracy (AD) party during the 3rd Republic - bearing in mind that its presidential candidate was to come from the South (West) 'whose turn it was' - into picking all sorts of characters as its Chairman, all in the name of looking for a 'Northerner' no matter who.
But like everything Nigerian, we are quick at abusing and bastardising even the best concepts or ground rules, and of bending them to suit our immediate purpose or convenience.
The PDP has locked itself into a jam simply because an attempt is now being made to stretch the concept of zoning, that is, of rotating who gets to be president, to also include the length of time such a zone 'keeps' it.
I do not believe the concept of 'zoning' necessarily is bad. What is bad is the bad faith we inject into it and the absurdity to which it is stretched. A 'zone' that comes up with a president that is non-performing and is, therefore, non-electable for a 2nd Term should be deemed to have had its turn.
It is therefore incumbent on a 'Zone' to come up with its best candidate - herein lies the argument for 'merit - if it were to deserve or enjoy a full 2nd Term. Nothing in all of this that says, in the present scenario, that Mr. Jonathan is the best that the South (South) can come up with. He has not looked the part. But if that is what we are encumbered with come 2011, then another 'fight' awaits the PDP in 2015 - to determine if Mr. Jonathan is entitled to a 2nd Term (and so a two-and-a-quarter) having already shared or completed Mr. Yar'Adua's only term; which would mean he (and the 'zone') would be having more than 8 years. It doesn't get messier.
Sadly, most sadly, the whole country seems mired in this silly zone or no zone tussle at the expense of a serious engagement with the quality and calibre of who becomes our next president, what has he in his head and what has he in store for us.
By Tunde Fangbele