6 August 2003

Nigeria: Zoning: Gains, Pains in a Fragile Political System


Lagos — Last Wednesday, there was a discourse on Nigeria's problems. The public forum, which was anchored by the University of Ibadan Alumni Association, Abuja branch, exhaustively deliberated on critical issues, and the way forward. Etim Imisim writes.

The panel discussion at Merit House looked at the workability of Nigeria's zoning system and, by implication, its more entrenched variety, the federal character, in the country's political stability. It was the third in a row, after two earlier editions handled cultism in the campuses and the rot in the educational system.

This time, picking the topic proved a difficult task, according to association's president. Various subjects cutting across a wide spectrum of social and economic spheres had been considered and dropped. The issue of university autonomy, especially the university autonomy bill before the National Assembly, particularly begged for attention. But the issue of political stability appeared more encompassing. The organisers believed once Nigeria has political stability, all other sectors, including the education sector, will fall in line.

The moderator, Dr. Jerry Umole, and all six speakers representing the six geo-political groups were UI alumni. They included Senator Jubril Aminu, ex-UI vice chancellor, ex- petroleum minister and ex-ambassador to the United States of America; Colonel (rtd) Yohanna Madaki, former military governor of old Gongola State; Senator Uche Chukwumerije, former information minister. Others were Mr. Alex A. Izinyon (SAN); Hon. Babatunde Oduyoye, AD Whip in the House of Representatives; and Senator Suleiman Ajadi. Ajadi and Oduyoye returned to the National Assembly for the second time.

... Agent for Wider Political Participation - Aminu

It requires a lot of courage to discuss the issue of zoning in Nigeria....

Stability is something we have been building in this country. The stability we have got today is that we are able to conduct civilian-to-civilian elections. This is because of zoning, which has brought about the principle of wider participation. It is not perfect, but I believe it is a good thing. Zoning has served this country well. I never in my life thought that it would be possible to have civilian-to-civilian transition in this country. As it is now, we have gone through it this time and it is working.

Zoning was formalized in the Second Republic. Offices were zoned then - the presidency, the senate presidency, etc. were all zoned. It served this country very well and it appears to have been accepted. Zoning has been adopted in this republic too, but I must confess that, as a member of board of trustees of PDP, I still think that, although we practice zoning in PDP, I am not completely satisfied with the way we do it. I prefer the way NPN was doing it. NPN zoned offices to zones and allowed contestants within that zone to compete.

What we seem to be doing today is that offices are zoned to zones, not just within PDP, but it cuts across the parties. The zones then zone the offices to states and the states then zone to local governments. I imagine that the local governments would zone the offices to wards and the wards would then zone them to families. And the families would gather and zones to him or her. I prefer the way NPN did it.

...Agent of Stagnation to Social Process- Chukwumerije

There is one major advantage in zoning. It gives all component parts a sense of belonging. It removes the tension that comes from a sense of deprivation and guarantees peace and stability.

But in the long run, I am not too sure zoning is the right step for Nigeria. I fear that, in the long run, it may become counter-productive. Zoning has produced and is producing stagnation in the social process. The Nigerian situation is not evolving into a milieu or an integrated basket of dynamic interaction. The society is developing as a mosaic of non-interacting entities.

In his consciousness, Nigeria does not exist for Nigerians; what exit are their tribes. This is not what obtained in this country 30, 40 years ago. Comparing what was then and what it is now, you are dealing with situations that are miles apart.

Everyone is shrinking into his own tribal cocoon and growing within it because the system is paying premium on tribal origin, not on citizenship. If a child is seeking administration into a school, he is first asked, What is your state of origin? If my child scores 100 per cent and your child 10 per cent but, thanks to zoning, your child is admitted and mine is not, both children grow up believing the most effective assess to the top is where you come from. This is eroding the system. When this goes on you find the whole process of social growth grinds to a halt. And we could reach that state in the next 50 years. I do not know whether a country that wants to develop will adopt a system dysfunctional of national integration.

Secondly, zoning leads to mediocrity. When offices are zoned to zones, the system is not looking for performance; it is looking for birthright. Zoning never encourages the system to produce its best.

The next step is that zoning leads to corruption. For example, I look at the President or the vice President and I see that he is not my man and I ask myself: How am I represented in this? You find that the orientation towards power is consumer-driven. The whole system becomes a well-baked bread where you want your share for your people. When you are there, the greatest incentives of office holders are the expectations of their people.

Where you find Nigerians are corrupt, many times it is not because of personal greed. They are stealing on behalf their tribes, and this is what I call confused interpretation of integrity. Here you have a system that is not asking, What services can you render to all? You have one that is asking, What can you get from all? Issues and nuances of honesty and integrity are subordinated to the desire to satisfy parochial instincts.

In conclusion, I will put it this way: In a multi-ethnic arrangement like ours, zoning is a very necessary instrument for political stability in the short run. But in the long run, it becomes counterproductive. It becomes an agent of stagnation. In the short run, it will give us the peace that we want. But in the long run it will become the peace of the graveyard.

Concept okay; Application suspect - Madaki

I agree with Professor Aminu. But I never liked NPN. I will tell you why if I have the time or if you ask me. Even when NPN did something good I still didn't like it because I didn't like party.

Some people consider the subject of zoning sentimental; but I do not. Zoning has come to stay. But for everything in life, it as advantages and disadvantages....

I was one of those who opposed the idea that there should be a constitutional provision that zoned the presidency to zones. I opposed it that it was going to bring about mediocrity and that the presidency of this country is so important that every Nigerian needed to compete for it. I was to change my position later on and become one of those who advocated power shift. When the controversial constituent assembly under Abacha came up it was so much about dividing the country into many segments. And then to his credit he decided that zoning should not be reflected in the Constitution. So if you look at the Constitution the expression "zone" is not included. But we have nonetheless come to accept that there are six zones.

In chapter two, section 14 under fundamental objectives, the 1999 Constitution says "the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on the principle of democracy and social justice. It is hereby accordingly declared that the principle of participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. The composition of the government of the federal or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity and also to command national loyalty thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or from a few sectional groups in that government or in any of its agencies."

The provisions of this chapter are intact. You cannot go to court and say they are not there. Zoning, which is quota system, which is matter of spread, which is issue of integration, has already entered our constitution.

And talking honestly, everybody in this country should say we should follow the federal character provision. I am the chairman of one the five commissions of the Federal Character Commission and when it comes to employment we are always guided by the principle of spread.

There is nothing wrong with the concept; the problem is in wrong application. It is not right for you to say you want 20 people from a particular school for scholarship and that each of them should have five credits, including mathematics and English. No, that is the wrong example. You say you want doctors for the teaching hospital and you want the number to be not more than 20 or 30. But somebody else says, Well, we don't have doctors but we have tailors and carpenters and nurses and we want them to represent us there. This is what is causing the problem. It is the callous ways the principle is applied that permits mediocrity.

Perhaps I should say one thing again. I always think we should know the truth. When the military first came in 1966 and later on when Ironsi was removed one of the accusations against him was that the Commander-in-Chief promoted 21 officers and that the majority, if not all of them, were of southern origin. In fact, his accusers said all the officers were Igbos. If those were the men he needed to promote, he had no choice. People who did not know said he was the greatest tribalist.

Recruitment in the Army is also generalised so officers come from different places and the merit is not sacrificed. I did not say that if you entered the Nigerian Defence Academy by quota that you must also pass out by quota. You must pass out by merit. You must meet the standard. And you will not get promotion because you come from a particular place.

Zoning has its merits and demerits. I would like to side with the school that says that the merits outweigh the demerits.

to be continued

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