Zoning and The 2023 Presidential Race

By Ioravaa Atachin

Zoning as a strategy of sharing political offices to ensure every group in Nigeria feels a sense of belonging was first introduced into Nigeria’s politics by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic. Though when the party was formed there were no six geopolitical zones in the country as we now have, offices were shared with the national chairman of the party coming from the South and the party’s presidential candidate who later became president coming from the North.

The 1994/95 constitutional conference organised by General Sani Abacha even recommended and the Abacha regime also accepted that the principle of zoning should be incorporated into the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Unfortunately, Abacha died and with him the idea of making zoning a constitutional matter.

But then the idea of using zoning as a power-sharing formula has continued to gain wide spread acceptance among Nigerians. It has indeed become part of Nigeria’s political culture.

So when the present political dispensation began in 1999, the utilisation of zoning principle resurfaced. From 1999 to 2007, major political offices were shared among the geopolitical zones as follows: President (South West); Vice President (North East); Senate President (South East); Speaker Federal House of Representatives (North West); Secretary to the Government of the Federation (South South); and Head of Service(North Central).

From May 2007 to May 2010, the sharing went as follows: President (North West); Vice President (South South); Senate President (North Central); Speaker of the House of Representatives (South West); Secretary to the Government of the Federation(North East);and Head of Service(South East).

With the death of President Musa Yar’Adua on May 5, 2020, and the swearing-in of the Vice President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to complete that tenure as President and his later election to serve a full four-year tenure, the sharing formula got altered. Consequently, the sharing went as follows (from May 2010 to May 2011): President (South South);Vice President (North West);Senate President (North Central); Speaker of the House of Representatives (South  West); Secretary to the Federal Government (North  East); and Head of Service (South East).

From May 2011 to May 2015,the sharing was as follows: President (South South);Vice President (North West);Senate President (North Central); Speaker of the House of representatives (North East); Secretary to the Federal Government (South  East);and Head of Service (North West).

With the dispute within the political system as to whether the Presidency should remain in the South or shift back to the North, there was no proper zoning arrangement in 2015. Who becomes what and from where became dependent on whether the incumbent (Presidential Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP) who hails from the South wins or whether his challenger, General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC) who hails from the North wins.

So when Buhari won, the power sharing arrangement turned out to be as follows (2015 to 2019): President (North West); Vice President (South West); Senate President (North Central); Speaker (North East); Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF (North East). Under President Buhari’s watch, the arrangement has been further altered to what it presently is: President (North West); Vice President (South West); Senate President (North East); Speaker of the House of Representatives (North Central); SGF(North East); Head of Service (North East)

These distortions in the zoning process in Nigeria’s political arena as we have noticed earlier in our discussion, were caused by (i) The death of Yar’Adua and subsequent swearing-in of Dr Goodluck Jonathan to complete that tenure, (ii) Jonathan’s subsequent contest of and winning of the 2011 Presidential Election against the wish of many political stake holders particularly in the North, (iii) Jonathan’s loss of the Presidential Election in 2015 to a Northerner, President Muhammadu Buhari; and other factors.

With the original zoning theory kick started in the Second Republic and fine-tuned at the beginning of this Fourth Republic in 1999; the Presidency was to rotate between the North and South of the country. The six key positions mentioned in our discussion above were to be shared equally between North and South with both taking three each. Further zoning therefore entailed that each of the six geopolitical zones (North West, North East, North Central, South South, South West and South East) gets a position each. Apart from the sharing of positions in Government, sharing of positions in political parties were also expected to reflect this geographical spread.

Now almost half way into the second and final tenure of the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, the talks of zoning permutations have already started. But it is a Babel of voices so far. No unanimity yet as to where Nigeria’s next President, come 2023, should come from. Should it be the North or South. Strangely enough, agitations to occupy the position are coming from both ends.

The North Central People’s Forum (NCPF), the Kogi State House of Assembly and elder states man, Chief Isaac Shaahu among others (in the North) have been championing agitations for the North Central geopolitical zone of the country to be allowed to occupy the seat of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. They cite the contribution of the zone to the development of the country and the fact of the zone having not produced the President or even Vice President in a democratic dispensation since the country’s independence as reasons why the North Central should produce the next President.

From the South, there are also agitations for the Presidency to rotate back to the South. Already people from the South East and South West are positioning themselves to occupy the seat.

But before concluding this discussion, let us at this point consider some statistics with regards to the occupation of the top position since independence. From that date of independence till now, the nation has had sixteen administrations (both civilian and military). The North has ruled ten times, with the south ruling the country six times. Of the ten times a Northerner headed the government (including the present administration) North West accounted for six times; North East, one; and North Central, three. As for the South, South West headed government three times, South-South, one; and South East, two.

When you subtract the military regimes you will discover that civilians have been in power only seven times. Of these seven administrations, the following picture presents itself: South East (one time), South West (one), South South (one), North East (one), North West (three) and North Central (zero).

As the argument goes among political mathematicians, the military regimes should not be made to count in making political permutations. Going by this argument, therefore, the South could argue that they have had it only three times, with the North occupying the position four times, and therefore the president should come from the South in 2023. That could be a sound argument.

But another sound argument being presented by the North Central is that the zone has not enjoyed civilian presidency even once; and that the zone should be allowed to occupy the position in 2023 to ensure that the presidency go round all the six geopolitical zones.

The emerging possibility, going by the above conflicting political calculations regarding the zoning of the presidency in 2023,is that if the Nigerian political class is unable to achieve a consensus(especially among the major political parties);then zoning will have become a dead power-sharing philosophy in Nigeria. And thenceforth, whoever can emerge president will do so irrespective of where in Nigeria he or she comes from.

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