Pulse Opinion Why PDP's zoning policy is cancer to democracy

The problems of the PDP's zoning policy far outweigh its perceived merits.

  • Published:
PDP rally play The PDP's longstanding zoning policy leaves a lot to be desired (The Will Nigeria)
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Months after resolving a fractious leadership battle with a court ruling, there's another internal crisis brewing in the People's Democratic Party (PDP).

After the Supreme Court declared Ahmed Makarfi as the chairman of the party's National Caretaker Committee ahead of Ali Modu Sheriff, the party organised a non-elective national convention in August to map out its future and decide on how to wrest power back from the All Progressives Congress (APC).

At the convention in Abuja, the party's leadership reached the decision to zone its presidential ticket for the 2019 general elections to a candidate from the northern region, while other 'juicy' positions, such as the party's chairmanship, got zoned to other party members from the south.

On September 28, 2017, Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, officially declared his intention to contest for the 2019 presidential elections under the umbrella of the PDP despite being from the southwest.

A week prior to his announcement, the party's National Publicity Secretary, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, had already thrown him out into the cold, insisting that the governor has to "respect the party and its decisions" on zoning.

A week after the announcement, Makarfi himself publicly threw Fayose under the bus, pointing out that his aspiration is not "in compliance with the position of the party".

During his official announcement ceremony that was lacking in an abundance of party bigwigs, Fayose attacked the party's decision to zone the presidency to the north and challenged interested candidates from the region to signify interests first before his candidacy is dismissed by the party's leadership.

"They say they have zoned presidency to the north, what if nobody comes out from the north?

"Whoever wants to contest for the seat of President, what are they afraid of? Let them come out. We don't want to package anyone for president again. God forbid," he said.

Ekiti State Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose celebrates with supporters after announcing on September 28, 2017 that he will run in the next Nigerian General Elections in 2019 play

Ekiti State Governor Peter Ayodele Fayose celebrates with supporters after announcing on September 28, 2017 that he will run in the next Nigerian General Elections in 2019

(AFP)

 

Zoning has enjoyed a storied influence on Nigerian politics most prominently since the return of democracy in 1999.

When I first learned about zoning as a much younger man, I was bemused by how utterly simpleminded it sounded.

This is not to say that it actually is; I understand it's a really more complex design used to 'equitably' distribute power fairly among Nigeria's very diverse crop of ethnic regions.

To manage the intricate webs of interest of the country's power grabbers, the PDP made an agreement, all the way back in 1999, to assign elective and appointive positions to party members based on a rotational policy that notably jettisoned competence as the biggest draw.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as the party's primary candidate largely because the party decided to empower the southern region with the country's highest political office for the next eight years before it would be the north's turn.

Proper rotation meant he needed a northern deputy in Atiku Abubakar and other influential positions such as Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary of the Government of Federation (SGF) and Head of Service (HOS) continued to be zoned to various geo-political zones in this manner.

The 2007 presidential election heralded the return of the northern region as the PDP pushed the late Umaru Musa Yar'adua as its candidate with Goodluck Jonathan from the southern region as his deputy.

This delicate zoning calendar crumbled with former President Yar'adua's death in 2007, and it's the reason why the country is saddled with today's mess.

After completing Yar'adua's tenure, Jonathan's victory at the polls in 2011 meant the north was going to have to wait to get the eight years it was promised, and this is the only reason the party's leadership has given the region another slot to punch in for 2019.

Former president, Late Umaru Musa Yar'adua play Former President Yar'adua's unfortunate death exposed the PDP's zoning policy as a flawed model (Twitter/@Abuja_Facts)

 

It's quite easy to figure out the obvious problem with zoning.

Not only does it fundamentally run against the course of democracy, it encourages mediocrity by caring little about the competence of aspirants.

The Nigerian people have been forced to decide to vote for choices that have been geographically cherry-picked to satisfy regional sentiments that are largely inconsequential to how well candidates can do their jobs.

This phenomenon is as much the fault of the people as it is that of the political class that's merely exploiting a peculiar situation.

Nigerians have, for a long time, decided for themselves to be divided along ethno-religious lines.

This is why a Muslim-Muslim ticket gets murmurings of impending doom, and a Christian-Christian ticket gets laughed out of the room.

The bias against the 'other' - whether religious or ethnic - has meant that zoning has not been frowned upon as much as it deserves to be.

And this makes a little bit of sense because Nigeria's diversity has done it a lot more harm than good; hence, a rotational policy in respect to power sharing is a reasonable strategy to skirt around potential future disaster.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan (middle) play Former President Goodluck Jonathan (middle) disrupted the PDP's zonal calendar by contesting in 2011 (Premium Times)

Former President Obasanjo himself said in 2011 that the party will abolish zoning only "when unity, stability and democracy have been fully established with full confidence and trust by everybody in the system, within the polity and among participant."

However, despite the apparently well-intentioned motive behind zoning, this doesn't absolve it of the greater harm it poses to social harmony and decent leadership that's sorely lacking in the country's political clime.

In the absence of core beliefs that could revolutionalise the political spectrum and probably give the country a chance at actually thriving with befitting leaders, what has become the norm is a 'chop make I chop' mentality.

And it's not something that only exists at the federal level; zoning runs all the way down to local government councillorship, local government chairmanship, House of Assembly, House of Representatives and senatorial representation.

The PDP most recently zoned the ticket for the Nasarawa governorship seat to Nasarawa North senatorial district, a district that has produced five deputy governors since 1999 but no governors.

The zoning decision according to the party's state chairman, Francis Orogu, was reached "in the spirit of peace, unity, moral consciousness and political perfection".

What the supporters of zoning fail to address is the fact that, ironically, it dangerously reinforces the idea of using division as a currency to trade in for political expediency. Candidates are more likely to canvass largely on their ethnic merit than their actual qualities.

While the PDP loves to flaunt the idealistic reason behind the need for zoning as it being a reliable measure to keep every zone happy, there's barely any evidence of economic development that justifies its adoption.

Only days ago, former Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Ghali Umar Na'Abba, described all Nigerian presidents since 1999 as accidental leaders who emerged through a 'faulty process' that's significantly held back the country.

He said, "Circumstances at hand or situations on ground have to a large extent over the years determined who and who was elected into office in Nigeria as President since 1999 as against level of preparedness on the part of the leaders in terms of clear vision and programmes obtainable in most democracies of the world culminating in accidental leadership for the country.

"I believe that not just the Legislature, every arm of government that is serving the purpose of governance must invest in exposing democracy to the people.

"It is a sad commentary on our political life that today's recruitment into leadership has been subverted by a few politicians because they deny Nigerians opportunity to contest elections and achieve their aspirations through the systematic appropriation of political parties to themselves.

"These politicians have stopped the growth of democracy. And it is true that unless democracy is allowed to grow, we cannot achieve the desired political growth, we cannot achieve the desired economic growth and we can also not achieve the desired social growth in our country. And that is why we are still in political, economic and social doldrums. We have been having successive accidental leaders since 1999.

"It is time for us to begin to understand that the more participation Nigerians enjoy in politics, the more political development we attain. And consequently economic and social development."

L-R: Former Presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan, and the late Umaru Musa Yar'adua play With the result of its 16-year application, the PDP's zoning policy has not quite worked out as it was designed to work (The Cable)

 

While the ruling APC has acted rather very coyly on the contentious issue of zoning, the jury is still out on whether the party is actively operating that model.

The party's current National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun himself has backed zoning in the past, calling it a "necessary evil at this stage of our development."

He also pointed out that even if the most serious parties were not publicly admitting to it, they were discreetly zoning their political positions too.

Even though this comment was made several years ago and doesn't prove that the party somehow subscribes to zoning, there is little to suggest they don't practice it in some form.

While the PDP may genuinely believe that zoning will help Nigeria to achieve 'peace, unity, moral consciousness and political perfection', it might also be the biggest obstacle keeping us from ever achieving that pipe dream.

It's particularly hard to argue in favour of the model especially since its 16-year practice has failed to ease ethnic agitations in every single region of the country.

Political offices should not go to anyone primarily by virtue of their ethnic origin but by the promise of what their candidacy represents for the nation's common good.

Anything else is a mockery of true democracy.

Section 131 of the country's 1999 constitution (as amended) does not require a presidential candidate to originate from a particular region of the country at a particular time before they can contest under any political party.

The political horse-trading has a debilitating stranglehold on the country's potentials by blurring its ability to see farther than what's in front of its eyes.

While Governor Fayose's combative style of leadership means he's not close to being the favourite of a lot of people to get the party's primary ticket regardless of the situation, quite a lot of people will side with him on the PDP's regressive model of competition.

No one should have to queue behind someone less competent than them just because they were born on the other side of an arbitrary boundary. No one should have to 'wait their turn' solely due to their zone of origin.

Crucially, before this can remotely appear to be a reasonable model, the mutual suspicion that exists among the country's varying ethnic groups has to be significantly fixed.

If that does not happen, zoning is always going to appear to be a very sensible option and democracy loses.

More importantly, Nigeria remains in a loop of needless mediocrity.

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