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ZONING, ZONING ALL OVER THE PLACE, YET NO ZONING?

By NBF News

Since the implosion of the desirability or the existence of zoning or rotation of elective public offices in Nigeria, one man has shown adequate grasp of the controversy, which he dismissed as unnecessary or at least premature, because President Goodluck Jonathan has not confirmed interest in 2011 elections. Going further, business tycoon Isiaku Ibrahim confidently asserted that should Jonathan decide to contest, the battle line thereby drawn would be down to numbers. The issue can be joined with Isiaku Ibrahim that Nigeria's problem on this matter, in all fairness, is not President Jonathan.

Isiaku Ibrahim could therefore have done better with a more tenable and clearly indisputable submission that the real destabilizing factor in modern day Nigerian politics is ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, the most notable beneficiary of PDP's zoning system. Yet the same Obasanjo it was who caused the present political stampede in the PDP that no zoning ever operated in their PDP. The most convenient concession of the antagonists of zoning or rotation of appointive or elective offices under the PDP is (now) that it was a gentleman's agreement.

That is the very point Isiaku Ibrahim should have seized on to come tops that even on such matters of gentleman's agreement, Olusegun Obasanjo has no integrity. Whoever cares for the latest proof should read the newly released autobiography of Oba Sikiru Adetona, the Awujale of Ijebuland, a high ranking traditional ruler in Ogun State. Who does his Royal Highness single out as a traitor, a Judas in all matters of human collaboration?

The facts are there in our memory that in the build-up to 2003 elections, Olusegun Obasanjo lured Alliance for Democracy (AD) governors in six South-West states and the party's national leadership into a strange political co-operation arising solely from ethnic jingoism. The agreement was for AD governors to get re-elected, but assist Obasanjo with Yoruba votes to give him (Obasanjo) a semblance of home support. Signed and sealed and despite genuine warnings from concerned quarters to these AD governors to steer clear of this political poison, with only a fortnight to the elections, Obasanjo publicly repudiated any such agreement with AD governors and the party's leadership.

It was too late for five of the six AD governors as Obasanjo rigged them out of office. The only survivor was Bola Tinubu, who correctly saw through Obasanjo's insincerity and refused to be involved as his colleagues would not heed his warning. Again, in 1999, the agreement was for Obasanjo to run only one term. But as usual, he reneged and tricked Vice-President Atiku Abubakar to support his second term only to turn round in attempted political destruction of his (Obasanjo's) benefactor.

Just as Obasanjo has denied the existence of zoning or rotation in the PDP, other members have spoken, and the situation is neither here nor there. Former Plateau State governor, Solomon Lar, as sly as ever, said zoning was for a particular period. In contrast, former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme, without any vested interest, boldly confirmed zoning since the founding of the PDP, to cater for the interests of North and South alternatively.

Newly appointed national chairman of PDP, Okwesilieze Nwodo, in apparent absent-mindedness of his emergence only as a beneficiary of zoning of the post to South-East zone, pronounced zoning as dead, only to be compelled to resurrect the same zoning on the third day. Thanks to fireworks within his national ranks and from other PDP members. Desperate for refuge, Chairman Nwodo blamed the media for misquoting him. He then offered zoning, as the party's policy, to be revisited. In what way is the zoning to be revisited, as a subsisting policy or as a dead policy?

Ebenezer Babatope, as a matter of honour, carefully not only confirmed the existence of zoning in the PDP but went on to specify the section in the party's constitution.

Babatope thereby vindicated old political warhorse Tanko Yakasai, who earlier equally cited the section of the party's constitution incorporating zoning as a deliberate party policy.

What role had sharing of party or public offices played in Nigerian political history? Which part of the country stands to lose without zoning?

As far back as 1944 when the defunct National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was founded, Herbert Macaulay (Lagos) was the leader while Nnamdi Azikiwe was the National Secretary. On Macaulay's death in 1946, Nnamdi Azikiwe (Eastern Region) succeeded him as NCNC leader, while Abubakar Zukogi was the new Secretary. Down the line, Kola Balogun (Otan Aiyegbaju, Western Region) took over as National Secretary.

When the party created the posts of two Vice-Presidents, Adegoke Adelabu (Western Region) was elected first national Vice-President, while K.O. Mbadiwe (Eastern Region) became second national Vice-President. In 1957, Zik removed Adegoke Adelabu as first national Vice-President but retained the zoning system by appointing J.O. Fadahunsi (also from Western Region) as the new Vice-President. With the removal of K.O. Mbadiwe (Eastern Region) as second national Vice-President, R.A. Njoku (Eastern Region) emerged the new second national Vice-President. In place of Kola Balogun (Western Region) as NCNC National Secretary, Fred McWen (Lagos) took over.

When the rival Action Group was founded with its influence originally limited to the Western Region, the leader was Obafemi Awolowo while the Federal Secretary was Ayo Rosiji, but when the party spread to other parts of Nigeria, the post of Federal Secretary was zoned to the East, for S.G. Ikoku to replace Rosiji.

With NPN in 1979, M.A. Akinloye (West) was national chairman, while Shehu Shagari (North) was the elected President. In UPN, with Obafemi Awolowo (West) as party leader, Mrs. Odinamadu (East) was national Vice-President. In NPP, with Nnamdi Azikiwe (East) as Presidential candidate, Olu Akinfosile (West) was national chairman (succeeded by Adeniran Ogunsanya (Lagos), while Paul Unongo (Benue) was National Secretary.

With Shehu Shagari as President, the Vice-President was Alex Ekwueme (East). All these were deliberate but even undocumented arrangements.

Genuine voting figures will always determine results of fair elections. The North surely has more voters and will always win straight elections, a point made by ex-Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu. When frustrated, cynics always cast doubt on the reality of the North's voting strength advantage. But such cynicism disappeared in the 1993 Presidential elections where votes were counted at each polling booth and MKO Abiola still recorded hundreds and millions of votes more in the North than in the South.

Bashorun Abiola was not the average Nigerian Presidential candidate. He was such a figure to attract votes purely on personal merit from all parts of Nigeria, including the North. Another Abiola, especially from the South, cannot emerge for many decades to come. In effect, only a Northerner will always win a straight Presidential election even if on second ballot.

The way out is the zoning arrangement with all its imperfections. Perhaps, as critics said, it is unconstitutional. It does not allow for the best candidate. It might have been a temporary arrangement. Indeed, for so many other currently self-serving and convenient reasons, zoning may need to be scrapped. But the political costs should be well-assessed so that nobody in future should complain that only one part of the country (North or South) monopolises national political leadership.

In the present melee, an amusing aspect is the flaunting of a so-called incumbency factor, the implication of which is that a sitting President is invincible. That was the alibi created by ethnically prejudiced section of the Nigerian media to justify Obasanjo's rigging of the 2003 elections, and by the time the so-called incumbency factor was more contemptuously exercised by Obasanjo, much to the condemnation of the outside world, the same Nigerian media joined in the condemnation.

By the way, Nigerians have been promised free and fair elections for 2011. In addition, votes will be counted on the spot. Such was the election standard that did not win Ghana's elections for the candidate of the then incumbent outgoing President Jerry Rawlings. Again, succeeding Kuffuor's incumbency status as Ghana's President did not stop Jerry Rawlings' candidate from regaining power for the party.

In short, in the expected free and fair elections in Nigeria in 2011, given the polarization of ethnic interests in which, rather sadly, each group now seems to be back in its tent, the so-called incumbency factor may not translate into votes. All of us must therefore be prepared for the long-term consequences of the elections.

So far, the North insists on retaining the zoning system, with substantial dissent from Plateau and Benue states. In contrast, Niger Delta, for obvious reasons, dismisses zoning as unconstitutional and therefore untenable. South West and South East maintain a calculating silence. For South-West in particular, its posture in the present argument vividly illustrates a similar stand throughout the tension leading to the outbreak of the civil war, as portrayed in a cartoon in the influential newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.

The cartoon showed the North and East (Nigeria) bitterly struggling for the possession of a coconut which fell down from a tree. Rather than intervene, the Western Region was shown as cleverly standing by waiting for which side would gain the upper hand. That was in 1967. For that eventual civil war, we should substitute the coming 2011 elections.

Nigeria's past is littered with history of moments of seeming political advantage generating opportunism, leading to regrets years later. In the past, the agitation for federalism with a strong centre was the ideology of the Western Region. Advent of military rule and the displacement of fellow citizens from other parts of the country created the chance for strong federation to be foisted on the country through an innocent military.

Today, the South is the greatest critic of the strong centre in our federation.

At a critical stage of the civil war, Southerners prevailed on the military regime to shift the federal capital from Lagos. Today, agitation against moving the capital from Lagos to Abuja is strongest in the South. In the early days of military rule, Southerners in the relevant ministries in the cabinet of General Gowon developed the idea of Federation Account. Today, the same Southerners, much in regret or ignorance, are demanding what is referred to as true fiscal federalism.

At the Aburi (Ghana) conference of Nigerian military rulers, the mutual and voluntary agreement was for a federation with the powers of the centre tremendously reduced. On General Gowon's return to Lagos, Southerners in his cabinet and in the academia completely ruled out the idea. Hence, more powers for General Gowon and all succeeding military rulers and elected presidents till today.

Now, the sing-song of the same Southerners is a substantial decentralization garbed as true federalism.

For purposes of emphasis, it must, again, therefore be noted that the demand for the scrapping of rotational presidency is from the South.

By the way, quite unusually, in this debate that zoning or rotational presidency is unconstitutional, the Nigeria Bar Association, usually in the forefront of such agitations, today, is maintaining a curious splendid silence. At least, some Nigerians can still be reckoned with not to exhibit double standard.

After Olisa Agbakoba (East) and Akeredolu (South West) the NBA presidency is currently zoned to the North.

For the moment, incumbency or no incumbency, no Southerner can win presidential elections without support (votes) from the North. What that portends for the benefit or disadvantage of zoning is left for future calculations. Unless, of course, the elections are not free and fair a la Maurice Iwu, when voting figures would be allocated.

Consequences of such a misadventure this time are too frightening.

Churches and Mosques hazard in Lagos State
Lagos State government, through the Governor's Adviser on Religious Matters, Reverend Sam Ogedengbe, has ordered all mosques and churches in the state to remove loud-speakers mounted in those places of worship. It is difficult to fault the state government on this matter considering the nuisance to the public. As the government rightly explained, the measure is aimed at reducing noise pollution and health hazards.

Ordinarily, taking to a religion should be a voluntary and personal matter, but because in Nigeria, religion has become a thriving growing industry, even unwilling or moderate religious adherents are being deprived of their privacy. These days, it is more like coercion as preachings from mosques and churches are delivered through uncontrolled loud-speakers into everybody's homes as early as five o'clock in the mornings, in the case of mosques. For the churches, the noise nuisance is most provoking on Wednesday and Saturday nights till the following days when they claim to have their vigil.

However, Lagos State government must prepare itself for a possible legal showdown by these irritating religious sects, citing the constitutional rights under sections 38 (1) and 39 (1) as being violated. According to section 38 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution, 'every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including… The freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.'

To worsen matters, section 39 (1) of the Nigerian Constitution asserts the right of every citizen to '… freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to RECEIVE and IMPART ideas and information without interference.'

Who will preside over such a possible legal showdown without some interests? A Christian or Muslim judge?

A traditional religionist type of judge must be fished out to save victims of this noise nuisance from churches and mosques in Lagos State. Activities of these religious fundamentalists must be curbed.