BY KINGSLEY ANOSIKE
Every now and then we wake up to one street patois or the other. Lingos like, ‘E-Choke’, ‘Soro so ke’, ‘We move’, etc., are not only common among the younger generation but even those who are young at heart use the expressions to communicate their feelings in the social space. The lingo that is most apt for this intervention is “Who-e-help?” Maybe this is the time for Abians to ask those who promote zoning system this pertinent question, “who-e-help?”
Among the central issues in our political landscape these days is zoning of political offices along ethnic or other divisive considerations. Proponents of the zoning system advocate that the practice is a panacea for inequity, political instability, social injustice and all other tribulations that have repressed our growth as a country, region or state. They argue that the process gives every subset of the national enterprise a relative sense of relevance and that it is the best peaceful means to manage our diversity and check the tendency for one group to dominate the others in perpetuity. Conversely, many see the process as one of the major reasons why Nigeria and her subsets are having incredible retarded growth in almost all spheres. The latter group is convinced that there is no better way to promote patchiness and clannish patronage than to deliberately overlook competence in favour of mediocrity.
This intervention will attempt to examine the various sentiments with particular emphasis on Abia state.
The issue of zoning and power rotation in Abia state has an interesting tang, the proponents seem to attribute the practice to an agreement reached by the founding fathers of the state at its creation in 1991. This locus is represented in a supposed document called ‘Abia Charter of Equity’. The said document denotes that the position of the governor should rotate among the four zones that made up the state at its creation. These zones were Afikpo, Bende, Isuikwuato and Aba. Subsequently, on the creation of Ebonyi State, Afikpo left Abia and modern-day proponents adjusted the zones to the three senatorial zones of the state. The charter by implication means that all the political parties will have to adopt candidates from a designated zone or that the electorates will somehow be cajoled or pressured to vote in line with the dictate of the charter. It does not matter what the position of the constitution and extant electoral laws are, it does not matter if there are better qualified candidates from other zones, it does not matter if the practice endangers development and progress, it is okay, as long as the wheels keep turning from one zone to the other.
Let us examine the arguments by those who support zoning. They believe that equity in whatever guise among the zones will be better achieved and sustained if each zone takes turn in heading the executive arm of the government. Incidentally, power shift in the state has completed a full circle of eight years in each of the three senatorial zones. Since this has been achieved, it should be expected that the full benefit associated with the drill would be manifest in all the nooks and crannies of the three zones. The facts on ground do not suggest that majority of Abians have been well served in any of the metrics of social and infrastructural development. This situation might not necessarily be because the zoning idea was ill conceived, but because the practitioners do not have the same good intensions and patriotic zeal as the proponents. It’s like having a good movie script with bad actors. What the zoning system has achieved so far is to produce political rent seekers and emergency billionaire families who have no credible means of income outside their access to the state treasury.
Those who oppose the whole concept of zoning in a democratic setting, see it as self-destructive. They believe that the elites have perfected it as a tool to goad citizens into eternal subservience. They swear that It distracts the average citizen from holding the politicians accountable for their stewardship.
In my view, nascent democracies seek to ensure that universal representation is achieved through the process of equitable and fair geographical delineation, not by restricting leadership positions to some people because of some strange agreement by an unelected, mostly self-serving assembly that is completely alien to the constitution and electoral laws.
Furthermore, the governor’s allegiance and stewardship of the state affairs traverse the whole state, it should not be zoned, just as, payment of salaries and pensions cannot be zoned, youth unemployment cannot be zoned, high cost of living cannot be zoned, potholes, insecurity and all the collateral impact of bad governance do not discriminate by zone. In the same breath, citizen obligations to the state cannot also be zoned.
Zoning as a practice is a way of deepening the wedge of divide among citizens by pitching the zone in power as having the leverage to dispense the benefits of state first to assuage the individual greed of the occupant of the position and concurrently to enrich his extended family, his kinsmen and his community and tribe at the expense of the collective good.
To accept zoning as a best practice connotes that we have perpetually accepted our inability to rise above primordial dichotomies in our quest for general progressive advancement. Power rotation evidently polarises citizens according to tribal fault lines which is a recipe for instability and disunity.
If we are to explain this in football terms, imagine fielding an Abia football team in a national tournament where we zone the defence lineup to Abia north, the midfield to Abia south and the Attack to Abia central, we don’t need to guess how far that team will go in the tournament.
Our real problem is not where the governor comes from but whether he has the capacity to deliver good governance for citizens of the state. Fact is that even though the seat of the governor has rotated among the three zones, the vast majority of Abians are still living in abject poverty, most youths are unemployed, salaries to workers including teachers are owed many months in arrears not to mention the decay in infrastructure. In fairness, If the Charter of Equity has achieved anything, it has equitably distributed suffering and retrogression among the three geopolitical zones.
The true beneficiaries of the so-called Charter of Equity have been the elites, the power brokers and their cronies who have clearly rotated the levers and perquisites of political offices among themselves and their families since the inception of our democracy. The masses have always held the short end of the stick. The charter is now a smoke screen to enable the continuous pillaging of our collective patrimony by the trumpeters of a system that is rigged against the interest of the masses.
Zoning has been promoted as an avenue for ethnic gratification, it does nothing to improve the lots of the masses. It degrades the image of the seat of leadership as representing the interest of a section of the state instead of the general interest. It fossilises our differences and opens the state up for continuous plunder. It creates undemocratic means where the worse of us have better chances of emerging to lead the best of us.
The apostles of zoning have been very loud in orchestrating the sacredness of the charter as if it is the eleventh commandment, but they have been silent in what the system has delivered to the people so far, or what it can guarantee going forward. What we have is an amplified cacophony of same old cabal who have done the rounds, still wanting to keep the wheels turning the same way because it lines their pockets and secures their venal interests. It is pure madness to keep doing the same thing whilst expecting a different result.
One more point is that the founding fathers recognised that they were not in a position to make laws for the state quite unlike the modern-day self-serving promoters. They, therefore inserted a clause in the charter that says that for the proposition to be binding, it must be debated and passed as law by the Abia State House of Assembly. To this date, the document has not made its way to the house not to talk of being passed as a law.
This intervention therefore concludes that, political turn-taking exemplifies a social mechanism to play up the tribal sentiment of the masses as a decoy to propagate and support systemic corruption and socio-economic subjugation of the masses. Zoning is not consistent with democratic dictates and the practice voids the constitution of the country. The vile loop should be aborted starting from the next election circle. The door should be opened for anyone who has the ambition to serve, let Abians decide. The only people zoning has helped are the same people it has been helping, the elites, the political jobbers and the power brokers, not the poor masses.
– Anosike wrote from Umuahia, Abia State