Zoning Is Dead, Long Live Zoning

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Give it to the Nigerian politician; speaking from both sides of the mouth is a well-horned skill long mastered as part of a repertoire of deceit! In the past one year, if one word has defined our political lives: zoning. Relationships across divides in our country have strained further, as people lined up for or against zoning, in the wake of Umaru Yar’adua’s death and Jonathan Goodluck’s emergence, as Nigeria’s president. It became clear that we’ve entered uncharted waters, which would sour life for a long time. The carefully constructed elite consensus to rotate power between the North and South was hanging by the thread of Jonathan’s ambition, undisguised here, stealthy there; that consensus allowed Olusegun Obasanjo to be president for eight years.

Yar’adua’s emergence had been mired in controversy from the beginning and his ascension to power on the crest of what was adjudged the worst election in our history, only went to further deepen suspicion, that was not completely uprooted by the fact that power had been returned to the North, to keep the elite consensus of power rotation/zoning alive. The man’s state of health and what might have been Obasanjo’s motive in choosing him, imposing him as candidate and finally rigging the elections without any conscience, made the 2007 transition problematic. Nigeria was perched on a powder keg, which eventually exploded with Yar’adua’s death in May 2010. Well, not quite! Explosion was already embedded in the process, since many people literally swore that they saw the exposed fuses of the political booby traps, which littered Nigeria’s political space. They attributed their deployment to the wily old dictator from Otta, Olusegun Obasanjo.

It was not long, before we saw the manifestations of the crisis which had been built into the system, almost like politicians build illegal sums into appropriations. Jonathan Goodluck was determined to upturn the applecart of Nigeria’s elite consensus. He will run as candidate of the PDP and in the process, throw the kitchen sink at the entire idea of zoning. The first step was to “capture” the party. Chief Prince Ogbulafor, the party chairman, had been implanted at the head of the PDP, largely by the very powerful governors’ caucus of the party. When the distant rumbles of Goodluck Jonathan’s ambition were still not sufficiently clear to the ears, Ogbulafor was prompted by his governors’ puppeteers to remind Nigerians that power was to be retained in the North. An incensed Jonathan Goodluck, got his goons to dust an old file of corruption (those files are always handy weapons of blackmail or hostage taking), since there seemed to be an unwritten rule, that a candidate for chair at the PDP must have some corruption issue he is closeting like the good old skeleton!

Jonathan knocked him off his perch, and dragged a badly shaken Ogbulafor ‘the Prince’ to the ICPC, while another controversial Okwesilieze Nwodo (do you remember the scam around National ID card which claimed Chief Afolabi’s life?), to occupy the vacated perch at Wadata Plaza. With fire literally issuing forth from his nostrils, Dr. Nwodo hit the ground running to extirpate the soul of zoning from soul-less ambience of the PDP. Do you remember Maxie Smith A.K.A Maxie Romeo, the Jamaican Reggae star of the 70s and 80s? He had a tune I used to love: “I’m gonna chase the devil outa earth…” Well, Nwodo was chasing zoning out of political society, at the behest of Jonathan Goodluck. So a mixture of threats (by the Niger Delta thugs, sorry “militants”); abuses (by Chief E.K. Clark); blackmail of the governors by Jonathan (I will sink the boat) and loads of dollars mopped up from every government department of note (to bribe PDP delegates), gave our man from the creeks, Jonathan Goodluck, PDP candidacy. With incumbency and its trappings, the 2011 election was a walk over!

In the weeks since Jonathan Goodluck and other mandarins of the PDP were returned by INEC, the taboo word of “zoning” suddenly re-emerged with vengeance, as the reference point of political discourse. The presidential retreat at Obudu; nocturnal conclaves at the Otta residence of the old despot, Obasanjo; sponsored stories in the media about David Mark’s near-unanimous endorsement; even a recent meeting called by Namadi Sambo asking incoming members of the House of Representatives to avoid “primordial considerations” in choosing the next House leadership, have reinforced zoning as preferred booty-sharing mechanism. The “progressives” of the ACN are said to be in cahoots, so that zoning can benefit their “race”, in the Southwest! Actually, zoning was on induced coma (rather like the Israeli PM Ariel Sharon), only because Jonathan Goodluck wanted to be president. Now that the prize is in the bag, good old zoning got a kiss of life and resurrected. It is time for a prebendalist sharing of the loot! Have you heard any whimpers about ‘good governance’ these past few weeks? Nigeria’s interest is not on the cards just yet! Zoning is dead; long live zoning!


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