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2011, Zoning and the court action against Jonathan

By Dr. Bashir D. Musa
 Published December 9th, 2010

The emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as President of Nigeria following Yar’Adua’s death; and Jonathan’s pensive indication of interest to contest the 2011 presidential election has generated something of a heightened interest in Nigeria’s politics of ‘zoning’.

The notion of zoning’, ‘rotation’ or ‘power-shift’ is nothing new and has, in fact, been long accepted by vast majorities of Nigerians as an exception to the rule of ‘merit and opportunity’. All agree that zoning can help cement national unity and create a sense of belonging amongst all Nigerians, even when at times, it may result in some sort of reverse discrimination (or positive discrimination, if you will).

But make no mistake about it: Zoning can never be equated to ‘strict exclusion’ or applied strictly against a particular individual; just as zoning is also bound to be diminished whenever it is targeted against anybody that is propelled by a unique opportunity to ride against its torrents.

Admirably, zoning is a garden variety of the long settled intention of Nigerians to ‘reflect federal character’ when distributing the national commonwealth, including (and most notably and initially) in the making of appointments to federal positions. Down the line, the other two tiers – the states and LGAs – also bought into it; and thus would seek some balancing when time comes to doing their own thing.

Yet, we all know that zoning applies only when some clear (and easy) benefits are at play; and pointedly ignored when what is to be zoned lacks any benefit whatsoever. In other words, there is yet to be as spirited argument in favor of ‘zoning any national risk’ such as going to Sierra Leone and Liberia to fight the Kamajors and the Charles Taylors. And when we call in foreigners to handle technically challenging assignments beyond our skills, we ‘dishonestly’ forget zoning for a moment. These, in addition to more, is duplicitous at worst, but sensible at best.

Plus, we know that zoning does not apply when Nigeria must win some crucial sporting event, an international scientific competition, or even a berth at Big Brother Africa. Check out the line-up of Nigerian Super Eagles and the Falconets since 1999 when we returned to democracy and the zoning now at issue, and you will see the opposites of zoning, which are: talent, merit, hard work and competitive spirit - the fine attributes that have contributed more to Nigeria’s greatness than anything having to do with zoning our presidential slots.

Or you might as well try and force Nobel to ‘zone’ their prize to the other five geopolitical zones since it has been “won by the Southwest”. Better still, you can try and do some bi-polar or tripod zoning of the Emeagwalis and their high-achieving types that dot Nigeria North and South, within and outside our shores. Better still, you can go there and sue them, citing the United Nations Charter on ‘equality of nations and all peoples of the world’.

So now that you get my point that, barring any ephemeral benefits and good intentions, there is some duplicity in this ‘zoning thing’ and that we are ever so careful from trying to zone ‘tasks’ that require exceptional skills, you may be tempted to wonder why we even had to try to zone anything in the first place. Well, in some cases, zoning might be the tunic that can, for the expedient moment, address some serious problem of political exclusion, especially when it is intended to assist those who were so historically excluded. Problems with zoning arise when it is applied as a straightjacket or used as a tool to disadvantage an opportunity; or as I have said before, when it is being targeted against a particular individual.

Truth be told, the North demanded zoning more than the South from around the time the British left in 1960. The North did so because it feared a wave of internal colonization from the ‘ambitious’ band of Southern educated classes that outnumbered their northern brethren 1000 to 1. For the sake of national unity; and basking in the euphoria of building a diverse nation, the South readily agreed; besides, Southerners were the ones that insisted on One Nigeria (at that time) more than their Northern compatriots, so it was easy to extract that concession from them.

To put a good face to it, all brethrens called it ‘reflection of federal character’. Nobody dared call it ‘zoning’ because the word was then thought to conjure something bad, uncivilized and pejorative. That was in order because even when Americans did theirs to redress past injustice to the Blacks, they gave it some fancy phrase called ‘affirmative action’. There, nobody wanted to call it ‘Quota System’; yet white supremacists derided it as so and proceeded to see every Black official as an unqualified hand that displaced a white whiz.

Here in Nigeria, while the North prefers the parlance of ‘reflection of federal character’ to describe the concession it won back then, some Southern elements derided the practice as ‘Quota System’ behind the back of every Northerner that made it to the very top of Nigeria’s federal civil service/public office. But by whatever name called, it was zoning or its cousin – reflection of federal character – that assured that many ‘disadvantaged’ Northerners were given the space to compete with the South; and the South the same thing, especially in the military and security services in the wake of the lopsidedness that ensued from the violent fall of General Ironsi.

Nigeria was then zoned in the tripod of East, North and West in theory, but in practice, it was actually Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa, with each one taking home the bacon to share with their minorities as they pleased. Midwest was a minor and odd part.

And yes, the fall of General Ironsi and its aftermaths, including most notably the civil war, paved the way for the North to now be the sole implementers of the ‘federal character policy’. What Nigerians saw was a successive retinue of Northern military officers replacing each other as ‘head of state’ with impunity and ever so often, all to the frustrating exclusion of Southern officers. Overtime, it resulted in a situation where the North was perceived as politically domineering and selfish, especially as their ranks began to predominate at the very top of the federal Civil Service and Parastatals.

The high point was the Buhari-Idiagbon regime that saw two Northerners, two Muslims holding sway to the consternation of Southerners. Yet the heavens did not fall and nobody sued anybody.

In time, something had to give and it did when in 1999, the nation was poised to return to civil rule. Wily and wary Southern politicians went into all the political parties determined to produce the next civilian President, carrying a three-decade old sense of self-righteousness and exclusion of their military kind. It was payback time. So, it happened that, as the dominant political parties go, the Southern power-grab through zoning played out most in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the defunct AD (forefather of AC; now ACN), the APP (now ANPP) and APGA. Welcome to Nigeria 1999 and zoning in its most (and arguably) justified moment in history.

That was when the PDP was said to have entered into the ‘gentleman agreement’ to zone its presidential ticket exclusively to the South. Ditto for the other three political parties, except that we don’t know if their own was also as a result of some ‘gentleman agreement’ or merely an instinctive aping of what was then clearly in vogue. But we know that none of the parties dared to clearly spell this out in their Constitutions or even stipulated any length of time for the zoning to run. Ekwueme tried to force it into the 1999 Constitution but the effort failed, meaning that the original intent of Nigerians is to leave the matter of zoning of political offices to the private treaties of Nigerians when they get together to grab (or share) power.

Yet, within the framework of the major political parties, it was possible and easy to wrest this concession from the North for two main reasons: (1) - the three-decade long interregnum of military rulers coming exclusively from the North, minus the brief ‘providential’ stint of Obasanjo and the ‘aberration’ of Shonekan; and (2) - the annulment of Abiola’s election, believed by Southerners, especially the Yorubas, as possible only because Abiola was a native of the South or Southwest; and those at the helm comprised of Northerners. The North was weary and guilt-ridden, and thus was all too willing to relinquish the reins.

Yet, beyond and beneath the veneer of an apparent ‘bi-polar zoning’ or the North-South swing of the zoning pendulum, there was yet the other variety that played out exclusively within the South itself and it manifested most in the PDP, the AD and ANPP. This variety was of the East (Southeast and South-South) to the Southwest, principally because the East bought the dummy that Abiola’s mandate belonged to the Southwest and it had to be redressed by exclusively zoning the presidential ticket to the Southwest alone. The North encouraged the selling of such dummy for obvious reasons.

Alarmingly, the Southeast and South-South did not press the case that both Obasanjo and Shonekan hailed from the Southwest and that they (SE and SS, despite Nzeribe’s ABN) had no hand in the annulling of Abiola’s mandate. And as for the South-South, they appeared too cowed (then, not now) to argue that it was only their zone that had not produced a Head of State, prime Minister or President since 1960.

So, it came to pass that PDP ultimately preferred Obasanjo to Ekwueme. Yet Ekwueme steeled himself and ran strong. He lost heroically, and not because he was statutorily excluded or taken to court on the basis of some ‘gentleman agreement’ or Article 7, Section 7.2(c) of the PDP Constitution now at issue and arrayed against Jonathan’s ambitions on 2011.

As for the AD, it was easier for Olu Falae to emerge virtually unopposed by the North, SE and SS. Plus, the AD was predominated by the Yorubas which meant that they had the presidential nomination lock, stock and barrel. The APP (now ANPP) was unique in the sense that, in terms of national spread, it was next to the PDP, running strong in the North and Southeast; and a bit less in the Southwest and South-South. Yet, it towed the same line as the PDP by also zoning its presidential ticket to the South. It also did the unthinkable of ‘turning coat’ to ‘re-zone’ its presidential ticket, already in the hands of Ogbonnaya Onu (the disfavoured Igbo) to Olu Falae (the favoured Yoruba). Yet, again, that was not by any court action or any attempt to exclude anybody. It was all possible solely by political brinkmanship, intrigues, concessions, scheming and all things fair and foul in Nigerian politics.

Plus, if you really check this thing out, you will see that the 1999 zoning was not really bi-polar or North to South but geopolitical, in the sense of the Southwest being but one of the six geopolitical zones. In other words, the way the whole thing played out in the end in the PDP, AD and ANPP, the real but thinly veiled intention was to zone the Presidency to the Southwest. So, who is deceiving who? Not then, not now.

APGA was the sole exception because it kept faith with its avowed mission to field an Igbo presidential candidate, even though for tokenism. Ethnic pride was running strong in the party and it didn’t care a hoot. You might as well have gone to court to argue that Yorubas also deserved most to have the APGA presidential ticket. That would’ve been laughable from Nnewi to Alayi, to rest of the federation. Suffice it to say, therefore, that while the other three major parties were duplicitous and at the same time timid on zoning, APGA’s was more sincere and transparent.

In all of the above scenarios, something else was playing out. In the PDP, which appeared to have taken the lead in the zoning of the presidential tickets to the South in 1999, an ‘ambitious’ bunch of Northern politicians still made a go at the ticket. Nobody went to court to challenge or stop them; and recall that PDP’s Article 7, Section 7.2(c) now at issue was still the extant provision on point. Same is true for the ANPP, the AD and APGA, which also saw some Northern politicians running serious and hard for their presidential tickets despite having similar provisions in their own Constitutions.

The other point to keep in mind is that all the brinkmanship that produced Southern presidential candidates for all but one was possible principally because of some collective northern guilt resulting from having dominated that office for so long. Abiola’s mandate was just the extra abrasion that festered that guilt and helped most to make it possible that PDP, AD and ANPP zoned the presidency exclusively to the Southwest.

Compare to now and consider whether it makes any sense that a Jonathan, who hails from South-South that has never seen that office, must carry the burden of a debt the nation (most notably the North) paid to Yorubas (or Southwest) in 1999. In other words, is it really true that what occurred in 1999 was a North to South zoning or whether it was a North to Southwest zoning for which a Jonathan  from the South-South was not part. Pause for a moment and think of Bukola Saraki, a core Yoruba, though from the North is now in the race. If anybody needs to be sued to be stopped, it is Bukola, but even that won’t fly for all the SANS and the most ‘activist’ Judge in the Federation of Nigeria.

Put another way, there is merit in the argument that, going forward from 1960, the South-South may have a better claim to the Presidency than any other zone, except for the Southeast (for the sheer fact that Jonathan would’ve ruled longer than Ironsi by the time his term expires in 2011). But if you add the fact that Ironsi’s father – Thomas Johnson – came from Sierra Leone and that Nigeria is patrilineal, then the Southeast has the best case for the presidency than any other zone, including the zones where those now suing to stop Jonathan come from. It beats me why Southeast politicians are also not going to court to stop Jonathan/IBB/Bukola/Atiku or threatening to wreak instability unless it is given the presidency willy-nilly and exclusively. Yet, it does not beat when I happen to know that this matter is not justiciable; and even though, has no merit whatsoever worth the consideration and time of a court of law in Nigeria, circa 2010.

I don’t think President Obama, relying on America’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 13th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution, would’ve survived politically if he had gone to court to stop a white Hilary Clinton that gave him a vigorous challenge for the Democratic nomination. Assuming that he did and succeeded, he still had to deal with a white John McCain of the Republican Party in the general election. By a court action? Please, give me a break.

And keep in mind that all the laws cited in the above paragraph are meant to redress past injustices to American blacks and are enforceable by court action; and two of them carry the force of the grundnorm – the American Constitution. Compared to Nigeria, Jonathan and the court actions gathering and arrayed against him, Article 7 of PDP Constitution can hardly be said to carry equal tenor to the 13th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution, which, as we have seen, cannot by themselves support any similar action in the United States, as far as the contest for its presidency goes.

And there is more. Nothing in the Nigerian Constitution is similar to the cited material provisions in the US constitution (which grandfathered our own Constitution). And as far as the Nigerian Presidency is concerned, there is no manifest past injustice to the Northern political class, which can be said to support any colourable claim to a ‘presidential’ recompense, and not by a Jonathan that now stands at the gates of an irresistible opportunity he never coveted. If anything, the zoning that produced PDP’s Obasanjo was reportedly for one term. He won 2003 on his personal merit as a ‘bull in a china shop’ against a horde of aggressive Northern politicians that ran on the mantra that the Presidency was zoned to the South for only four years.

Because Obasanjo prevailed then (in 2003), the same politicians are now arguing that that the zoning was for eight years. An argument made possible by the same Obasanjo who, at the last minute, single-handedly ‘defeated’ an Odili, a ‘refusnik Igbo’ from the South-South that was coasting to victory with Northern support. The other Igbo was a Rochas Okorocha and he came a respectful second. That was Nigeria, circa 2007, the Shehu Yar’Adua era. Sadly the man died and we are back to another round of a baffling argument about zoning, with the same characters that initially claimed that it was for four years in 1999 and 2003, kept quiet or were submerged under Odili in 2007 before the ascendency of Yar’Adua; and then because Obasanjo was able to foist Yar’Adua, they now argue it was meant to be eight years. Why?

Finally, if those suing to stop Jonathan ultimately succeed in court and PDP implodes thereby (IBB, and many others have threatened as such), what will they do if another political party that fielded a Southerner succeeded in winning the 2011 Presidency like Abiola won against Tofa in 1993? Will they also go to court to cite Article 7 of the PDP Constitution to stop the non-PDP President-elect from being sworn in? Or what?

Dr. Musa wrote in from

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