Power zoning. Power rotation. Power shift. These are three different phrases, but they mean the same thing in Nigerian political lexicon. When people talk about zoning, rotation or power shift in the country, especially when elections are approaching, they are simply talking about where political or government power will reside.
With the 2023 general election one year away, discussions at the federal and state levels are centred on the zone that would produce the President or governor, as the case may be. At the federal level, people are talking about the side of the divide in the country, between the North and the South, that would produce the successor of President Muhammadu Buhari. While northerners say that, even though President Buhari is from the North and would be completing the constitutionally guaranteed two terms in office, they are in the race for the presidency, southerners, on the other hand, argue that, since President Buhari is from the North and would have done eight years in office by 2023, the next President should be from the South.
At the state level, there are also contentions among politicians from the three senatorial districts on zoning, rotation or power shift. In states where all three senatorial districts have produced the governor, from 1999 till date, the zone that would produce the next set of governors in 2023 is an issue of dispute. There are arguments, in most states where rotation has been respected, that the senatorial district that took the first slot in 1999 should produce the next governor in 2023. Others in the states argue that any senatorial district whatsoever, including the one where the current governors come from, could take the next shot. In all, what is obvious is that the zone or senatorial district that is holding power at present, at the federal and state levels, want to take advantage of power of incumbency to ensure self-perpetuation in office.
Before President Buhari came to power, the Peoples Democratic Power (PDP), which won the first presidential election in the current democratic dispensation that started in 1999, evolved a power rotation mechanism whereby presidential power rotated between North and South. President Olusegun Obasanjo, from the South West, got the baton first and presided over the affairs of the country for eight years, 1999-2007. After his two terms, the next President, in the person of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, came from the North. It was expected that, after Yar’Adua’s tenure of eight years, power would shift to the South. Unfortunately, President Yar’Adua died in office in 2010 and, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, the then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, assumed office and completed the remaining part of the four-year tenure. The death of Yar’Adua, therefore, altered the power equation.
In exercising his constitutional right, President Jonathan sought election in 2011 and won. It was assumed that, after his term of office, power would shift to the North. Jonathan was to lose the election in 2015 in his second term bid to President Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), from the North. Like the death of President Yar’Adua, Jonathan’s defeat at the polls altered the seamless power rotation arrangement in PDP.
Now, Nigerians, depending on where they come from and the level of their nationalism, are divided as to what would happen by the time President Buhari leaves office next year. Some are saying that power should naturally shift to the South. Others insist that the North should retain power after Buhari, under the APC or PDP, to complete the period the zone lost owing to President Yar’Adua’s death. Indeed, the talk about zoning is manifest in the two major political parties, the PDP and the APC. However, it is in the PDP that politicians from the North are not only openly claiming that there is nothing like zoning but have also entered the presidential race.
Many years ago, zoning was never an issue in the country. Nigerians, irrespective of their tribe and tongue, had gone to elections voting for their conscience and choices. In the First Republic, under regional governments, Nigerians went to the polls and voted for those they wanted to lead them at all levels. In the Northern Region, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) held sway, producing the Premier and others. Those who won elections on the political party’s platform included northerners and southerners.
In the Western Region, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, won majority votes and would have produced the Premier had there not been carpet-crossing (defection) of its elected members to the Action Congress (AG). In the region, both Igbo and Yoruba won elections. In the Eastern Region, the NCNC, made up of Igbo and minorities, won elections and formed the government.
In the aborted Third Republic, Chief Moshood Abiola, from the South West and presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), got votes from all tribes in the 1993 presidential election and was on the verge of being declared winner when the military government annulled the election. In all these instances, nobody talked about zoning. Voters freely exercised their franchise to pick their leaders.
The talk about zoning of the presidency started after the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. This means that something went wrong in the country. For a people who voted freely, even though political parties won majority votes and seats in zones or regions their leaders came from, with no particular political party winning an overwhelming majority nationwide, to now begin to talk about zoning the presidency shows that they are losing faith in the country or they feel shortchanged. This happened because some people who found themselves in government administered the country in a way to favour some sections, to the detriment of others. What went wrong was that, in state and local government creation, the North was not only given more, compared to the South, but the Igbo, who constituted the initial third leg of the Nigerian tripod, were marginalised. What went wrong was that nepotism was played higher than merit, to the extent that a section of the country suddenly found itself controlling more political and government power than the rest. What went wrong was that those who found themselves in power started thinking more sectional than national and pretended to be nationalistic.
Looking at what Nigerian has become, those who wanted us to better manage our diversity had come up with the six geopolitical zones configuration: South East, South West, South South, North East, North West and North Central. This broke the tripod myth and gave the minorities some level of say and identity. Those who saw the wisdom of having six geopolitical zones also recommended rotation of power among these zones in the first 30 years of democracy on five-year presidency, in the evolving democracy then. Instead of implementing the recommendations fully, the military government only accepted the geopolitical zones arrangement and discarded power rotation, which would have given all sections of the country an opportunity to produce the President and douse the feeling of marginalisation. Had the power rotation among the six geopolitical zones been accepted, the fifth geopolitical zone would have been in office now, with one zone to go, to complete the round in 30 years.
In the absence of a constitutionally guarantee zoning of power, some elders of Nigeria still saw, in 1999, that the way to ensure equity and justice was to appease the South West, owing to the accident of depriving one of their sons the presidency in 1993 due to the annulment of the June 12 election. That was why, by design, the three major political parties at the time, PDP, All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD), produced two presidential candidates from the South West. That singular action removed the tension and the feeling of deprivation in the South West.
No matter what those who claim that the presidential contest should be for all think, the mood of the country supports zoning of the presidency. In the last seven years, the country has been terribly divided. There is mutual suspicion among the tribes. There is a feeling of neglect of some sections of the country and the favouring of a particular one. The only thing that would reduce the tension and give all sections of Nigeria a sense of belonging is for power rotation between North and South to continue at the centre. In the APC, it should be natural that President Buhari’s successor should come from the South. In PDP, no matter the argument, the next presidential candidate should come from the South, since the last presidential candidate of the party in 2019 came from the North. This is more so since the outgoing President is from the North. This is what equity and justice demand.