Zoning policy in the Nigerian political system; Reasons, effects and subtleties, by Ibrahim Abdulmumin


As the 2023 general election approaches, the zoning issue is once again central and, as usual, controversial. Why zone the country’s leadership in a particular region when any qualified Nigerian from any region is eligible to compete? It is more relevant than ever to discuss it because the Nigerian regime has never been so divided with several secessionist agitations, ungoverned spaces due to terrorism and unprecedented economic difficulties. This is no stranger to the fact that Nigerian politics over the years has been played out on the basis of ethnicity.

In a country with a multilingual population like Nigeria, the politics of ethnicity unequivocally breeds ethnic chauvinism. However, it would be ahistorical to discuss ethnic chauvinism in Nigeria today without reference to its colonial days. Much of Schorlaly’s work has been devoted to dissecting and analyzing the impacts of colonialism in Africa. Criticisms of African colonial projects were accentuated in several diegeses of the colonial experience that colonial masters administered the colonies on the basis of ethnicity. This has exacerbated the fragile relationships between people of different history, ethnicity, language, culture and religion.

In his 1947 book Path To Nigerian Freedom, Chief Obafemi Awolowo made this oft-quoted statement “Nigeria is not a nation, it is just a geographic expression”. Awolowo’s claim is widely interpreted as the lack of unity, history, vision and commonality among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria. He alluded to the fact that “Nigeria” is just a nomenclature attributed to a former British colony in Africa.

Similarly, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in the 1948 Legislative Council declared that “Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country”.

Against this backdrop of pessimism, mistrust and mutual mistrust, Nigeria would become an independent nation ruled by those same leaders who ostensibly expressed their opinion on the Nigerian project as a non-starter.

In 1966, Awolowo was already spending his third year in prison and the political regime was already overheated by the heckling that shook the western part of the country. This sparked the January 15 coup led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu.

The analysis of the coup took on ethnic dimensions and six months later a counter-coup took place which resulted in the death of the then head of state, General Aguiyi Ironsi, as well as the gratuitous killings of igbos in northern Nigeria which inevitably led to the 1967 civil war of secession.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote in his book ‘My Command’ that ‘the British always wanted the north to rule because it was more supportive and less radical and resistant than the south,’ he continued. the second coup was actively encouraged if not assisted by British officials and university professors working and living in the North. ”Clearly, the colonial masters once again played a role in the ossification of the already deteriorated relations between the various ethnic groups in Nigeria.

The war ended in 1970 with the reintegration of the Igbos in Nigeria. General Obasanjo as head of state in 1979 conducted the elections which produced Alh. Shehu Shagari as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In 1983, Shagari was months away from his second term when another coup took place. MKO Abiola who supported Shagari’s first term with the hope of succeeding Shagari as the next president after 4 years was disappointed as Shagari decided to run for a 2nd term and went to join the opposition. The military struck with the simple apologies of a passionate and corrupt political regime and took control of the country in a bloodless coup. With this coup, General Muhammadu Buhari became the head of state.

The Buhari regime has imprisoned around 600 politicians both in power and in opposition. Loneliness and boredom, two related conditions of incarceration, imposed on inmates a critical appraisal, self-reflection and deeply disillusioning view of their actions and inactions and from there they realized their mistakes. Former Minister of Youth and Sports Development Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, in his book “On A Platter Of Gold”, wrote that “they had to realize that their real enemies were not political colleagues but men in uniform. In the future, they would build such a large and inclusive political party that no part of the country would be left behind …… and so the first seeds of what eventually became the PDP were planted during those dark days in the country. Kirikiri prison.

The PDP came on board in 1999 with the unanimous decision to zone the presidency to the south (southwest to be precise) to unite the country as the southerners were agitated by the complicated and unfortunate demise of the election winner Chief MKO Abiola. presidential election canceled in 1993. Obasanjo thus appeared to be the beneficiary of this arrangement.

In an interview with Premium Times on November 15, 2013, former vice president Alex Ekwueme said, “You know that the format was that the presidency was only one term. Now if I had won in 1999, 2003 I would have served a term and it goes northeast with a vice president from south-south for a term. In 2007 a man from the south-south would have been president and he would have someone from the northwest as vice-president, so by 2011 a person from the northwest will be president with a vice-president from the southwest. . Now we would have the possibility for each geopolitical zone to produce a president ”.

With this formation, the former vice-president Atiku Abubakar already considered himself as the president in waiting at least that is what he thought. In 2003, Obasanjo, like Shagari, would seek a second term. Atiku was furious but Obasanjo managed to convince him. Two terms as vice president and two more as president, Atiku agreed only for him to uncover another OBJ plot to run for a third term in 2007. Atiku became an avowed enemy and fought the agenda of the third term. In retaliation, Obasanjo made sure Atiku was never named president.

The issue of zoning was raised again and northerners made it clear that nothing less than a northern successor would have their support, they would rather vote for Atiku. This made Obasanjo settle for Yar’adua as his successor.

Yar’adua did not complete his first term before his death and Jonathan had to be sworn in as President of Nigeria. Northerners were not happy but waited patiently for the 2011 general election.

The issue of zoning once again emerged and was again quite controversial. Northerners wanted Jonathan not to challenge but to hand over the PDP ticket to a Northerner even if he (Jonathan’s successor) will be of his choosing (Jonathan). But Jonathan would dispute. Northerners have become so enraged that a Lawal Kaita has been quoted in numerous newspapers for saying that “the North is determined to make the country ungovernable for President Goodluck Jonathan or any southerner who finds his way to siege. power on the platform of the PDP. against the principle of the party’s zoning policy ”.


Jonathan challenged and won with the promise of a single term as president, but his victory quickly turned bloody as his inauguration and Independence Day anniversary were rocked by bombings in Abuja making hundreds of dead and thousands of injured.

Boko Haram got bolder in Nigeria that even Jonathan couldn’t believe wasn’t because of the abandoned zoning arrangement. He couldn’t trust the northern elites. The bombings and killings became unrelenting until Chibok’s unprecedented kidnapping on April 14, 2014.

“As a principle of inclusion and equity,” writes Bolaji Abdullahi, emphatically setting out the usual complications of zoning policy, “zoning seems like a great idea until it collides with policy. practical and bare ambition ”. Like Shagari, like Obasanjo, Jonathan quickly backed down and decided to run for a second term in 2015.

He lost the 2015 presidential elections to his main opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari. Six years of Buhari’s administration and the country is already plagued by secessionist unrest, many forms of terrorism and economic hardship.

The above brief overview of Nigeria’s political archives provides rich historiographical references to the discussion and serves as an educational opportunity to understand the intricacies of zoning over time. Due to our history of disunity, zoning has been prescribed as a panacea to all of Nigeria’s problems, but in the face of ambition it is usually abandoned and the political regime becomes overly heated. Due to their own ambitions, politicians are using the use of ducks across the country to expand existing dividing lines of disunity, mistrust and suspicion. Zoning has also proven to be a limitation in terms of providing quality leadership to the Nigerian people.

As for the legislative elections of 2023, the country will have to walk a tightrope. It will do the country a lot of good for the ruling party to zone the presidency to the south as they were extremely instrumental in Buhari’s ancestry and especially in ending the several calls for secession. This choice of president must be sufficiently competent to face the security challenges which afflict the country, more particularly the north. He must also have the intellectual capacity to turn around this economy.

Beyond the 2023 elections, Nigerian leaders must begin to realize that the zoning policy does not replace the missing unity of the Nigerian state for life. They must refrain from widening existing divides, be sincere with the people, and truly unite the country so that we can all look beyond the boundaries of region, ethnicity and religion. It is then and only then that we can begin to truly assess the components of the competency. Then and only then can we begin to move forward. If Singapore, a country with a multiracial and multireligious population, can unite and progress, it is certainly not impossible for Nigeria.

It only starts with sincerity of leadership.

Comrade Esinrogunjo Ibrahim Damilola.

Public affairs analyst.

TWITTER: @MrMakanakey.

[email protected]

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