Zoning vs. Competence: Examining Mamman Daura’s Statement

By Segun Ogunlade

Mallam Mamman Daura, one of President Buhari’s nephews has come under attack from various socio-political groups for saying that the country should jettison zoning of candidate and embrace competency of the candidate going forward. According to him, “This turn by turn, it was done once, it was done twice, and it was down thrice…It is better for this country to be one…it should be the for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere.”

For someone that was reputed to be the head of the kitchen cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari administration, many people believe such words should not have come from his mouth. Hence, the tongue lashing by the Middle Belt Forum, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Middle Belt Professional Forum, and the South-South Elders Forum who see him as an hypocrite at best.

Such a reaction is expected in a country that is divided along religious and ethnic lines. Many things in Nigeria are still done based on citizen’s place of origin rather than competency that Mallam Daura is now advocating for. Merit and competency is often sacrificed at the altar of ethnicity as many people place high premium on where you are from than they do on what you can do. The Nigerian system has consistently failed to realise that there is no correlation between religion and good behaviour and vice versa. But that is not the issue here.

Even though Mallam Daura made a good point, it is surprising that he chose a time like this when the Igbos are clamouring for an Igbo president to make this type of statement. Hence, his intention should be questioned. Judging by his relationship with the President, he is not the best messenger for this type of advice to the country. I don’t want to believe he just woke up this week to realise that the zoning formula in the country should be discarded. For a man like him, I don’t think he had ever doubted the competency of President Buhari. That made him one of the people that supported and voted for President Buhari. If that is the case, it means he was convinced that President Buhari was competent enough to rule the country and had nothing to do because of their blood ties. Or it could be both. Whichever way, he is a fan of President Buhari.

Also, President Buhari was arguably not the best presidential candidate at the last general election. President Buhari could not be said to have fulfilled any of his promises and there had been no positive change in the country. Now, I believe Mamman Daura was in this country at the time his nephew was contesting for president in 2019. Given his obvious failure in office between May 2015 and February 2019, it was enough reason to make anyone know that President Buhari was not competent enough to rule any further. If he had been serious about competency, why didn’t he talk his nephew into stepping down prior to the 2019 election? He couldn’t say he is not aware that the country was plunged into economic misery under his nephew’s watch and that terrorism and insurgency is on the rise. Mr Mamman Daura needs to tell us what made him believe his nephew was competent to rule.

Mallam Daura needs to be reminded that his side of the country has benefitted from the existing arrangement. For example, it is his part of the country that has the highest number of Educationally Less Developed states, ELDs. Being adjudged as ELDs gives citizens from the North a comparative advantage over citizens from the South. Take the entrance examination into Unity Schools for example. While a student from Anambra or Lagos would have to score above 60 before he or she could be admitted, a student from Sokoto or Kebbi would only have to score about 20 or less to get admitted into the same school. Obviously, that is not merit in anyway. If we are to introduce competency which goes hand in hand with merit in all of our institutions, how many of his kinsmen would be considered for anything? This is not to say that competency or merit is an exclusive reserve of the Southerners. Rather, it is to say that when one makes a statement such as this, he should consider its implications on other things as well.

Thus, there is no honesty in this statement as far as I am concerned. What I see is a ploy by the North to retain power beyond 2023. If Mallam Daura had been bothered about the zoning system perpetuating a circle of incompetent leaders, why didn’t he mention anything about it prior to the 2019 election? Perhaps we wouldn’t have Muhammadu Buhari as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because his words would have been trusted seeing that he is close to the President and has experienced the many failures of his government first-hand.

As I have said, President was not the most competent candidate at the last general election and he is not anywhere close to being the brightest Nigerian alive. But he won majorly because many people believed at the time that it was time for the North to rule till 2023. In other words, President Buhari came into office as a beneficiary of the zoning formula. Mallam Daura could not say he is oblivious of this fact. By 2023, many people are anticipating someone from the south to take over the reins of power from President Buhari. Of course, this in itself is problematic in that it is still the perennial problem of giving precedence to place of origin over merit, and in this case competency.

Who determines who is competent? This is because competency in this regard is a relative issue (for many people voted President Buhari because they thought he was competent and not because he was actually competent.) What an ordinary man would describe as competency in a candidate is not what a political analyst would describe as competency. Their difference is in their level of exposure and understanding of governance. The real issue would be when one region produces the most competent candidate at every election. Imagine the competent people are from the same region each time and the person is like President Buhari that has a penchant for appointing people from his region and his religion into offices. The same people that say competency should rule over place of origin would complain of being marginalised as southerners have been saying about President Buhari as being an ethnic and religious bigot.

That is not all. What if at every election, the most competent candidates when compared with others are from only one ethnic extraction? How many people in Nigeria are ready to accept two presidents from the same region ruling back to back before they come with the argument that competent people are everywhere, and inadvertently going back to the zoning formula? How many people in Nigeria have the knowledge to detach competency from ethnicity or religion? Will Northerners allow southerners rule beyond eight years at a time? Will Southerners accept the fact that Northerners could be more competent than they are if not for zoning?

There are some of the questions we need to find answers to before we bring issues like zoning and competency to the table. The Nigerian electorate is not ready to come terms with issues such as these. Many Nigerians don’t see any good in a candidate that is not from their region or that practice their religion. Until that change, issues like discarding zoning for competence would only remain paper talks.

Unfortunately, it is not certain when religious and ethnic bias would finally be detached from politics in Nigeria. That means we have to live with that mediocre behaviour for a long time. Nigerians need to be orientated on the importance of merit over place of origin. Many Northerners have ruled the country. Yet, there is no significant improvement in that part of the country. The few Southerners that have ruled have been accused of neglect by their kinsmen. But when election comes, many of these people would still vote for someone that speaks their language and neglect another that doesn’t.

So, here is my advice for the country. We should still maintain the North-South zoning formula until majority of the electorates have been taught to always look out for competency and not ethnicity or religion. As I have said, that you elect someone into an office because he is from your ethnic group does not mean your ethnic group would benefit from his government. Thus, voters’ education is needed in this matter if we must break the barrier between zoning and competency.

While that is on-going, the zone that it falls on to produce the president should strive to produce a credible candidate whose competency could be verified by many. This is because neither the North nor the South is ready to accept a prolong rule of any region on the basis of competency. And that is an impediment to seeing competency rule over zoning. After all, competent people for presidency could be found everywhere in the country. We just have to ensure that we approach election with the right intention and not because it is our turn to rule and rule we must.

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