Opinion: The Case For Zoning – By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
Some say it is retrogressive, whilst others maintain that it is unpatriotic to limit the choice of political office holders to any particular zone of the Country. The starting point however should be law, equity and fairness. If you have benefitted or are still benefiting from a particular formula previously, it will be totally unfair to seek to discard it when it does not favour you. I have no doubt in my mind that part of the major reasons that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan lost the 2015 general elections was because so many political players from the North believed in and campaigned for power shift, including those in the same political party with the incumbent President then. Beyond this however, there are other serious factors that make zoning of political power inevitable. Let us start with education. Very recently, journalists took up the Honourable Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, on why candidates who scored very high marks in the qualifying examinations into the unity secondary schools would be denied admission in favour of other candidates from States regarded as educationally disadvantaged, who scored lower marks. He based the application of the policy on the federal character principle as enunciated in the Constitution. In simple terms, it is lawful to hold some sections of the country down in the area of education in order to allow other sections to catch up with them. Why then is it difficult to adopt rotation or zoning for political power?
Then comes next the principle underlying the revenue sharing formula. Also in the name of federal character and the need to share resources equally, some natural resources such as oil and gas, found in large deposits in one part of the country, are acquired by the federal government, exploited and the proceeds thereof shared amongst all other States which do not have these resources. Thus, it is rational, legal and legitimate to share economic resources in order to encourage unity and progress, but when it comes to political power, then zoning becomes irrational and totally illegal and unconstitutional. For good cause, a policy cannot be fair yesterday to favour one zone and then become unfair today to the disadvantage of another zone. The Constitution cannot always be the subject of selective application by politicians to suit their personal tendencies. Let us look at the legal angles to this discourse, in the eye of section 131.
“A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if:
(a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth;
(b) he has attained the age of forty years;
(c ) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and
(d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
The above are the statutory qualifications for anyone aspiring to be the President of Nigeria. Irrespective of the political party, State of origin, the zone or even religion of the aspirant, the Independent National Electoral Commission will only search for the conditions stated above. A number of persons have held on to section 131 as the determining factor of who can be a Presidential Candidate. It is important to note however that in construing the provisions of the Constitution, a holistic interpretation is enjoined by the Courts, given that the Constitution itself is a single document. Thus, all its provisions should be read together in order to discover the intent and purpose of the drafters. This means that section 131 must ipso facto be interpreted along with other provisions of the Constitution. This then takes us to section 14 (3).
“14. (3) The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.”
The words and phrases used in this section are clear, precise and deliberate. Upon a proper dissection, it would be seen that the drafters were laboring to achieve a desired goal, which is the unity of the country through geographical spread in the distribution of public offices. The head of the ‘Government of the Federation’ is without doubt the President. Election into that office is part of the conduct of the affairs of the Government of the Federation, including the criteria for the choice of the person to occupy that office. Section 14 (3) stipulates that the composition of the government of the Federation of Nigeria should be done to promote the federal character of Nigeria. The purpose of this mandate is to promote national unity and to command national loyalty. Indeed, if only one State in Nigeria or a particular section of the country is to produce the President all the time, then that will lead to political isolation and marginalization. Let us break it down. If the President of Nigeria is to be chosen from Igboland all the time, the Yoruba and Hausa will feel a sense of neglect and may not see the need for showing loyalty to such leaders. How do you command national loyalty from the Igbos if the North is to produce the President of Nigeria forever? How do you promote national unity when other sections of the country are deliberately excluded from clinching the highest position available? If we can deploy section 14 (3) to aid the educational qualification of students from a particular zone of the country, if we can rely on the same section to distribute economic resources to allow all have a taste of wealth of the zones, then it becomes totally unconscionable to seek to limit its political application.
In line with section 14 (3) of the Constitution, the Southern part of Nigeria is expected to produce the next President come 2023, whether or not they have majority of the votes. What is required is to combine section 131 on the eligibility of the candidate for the office of the President with section 14 (3) to determine his qualification. In other words, after fulfilling all the requirements stipulated in section 131, the candidate must of necessity not be barred by section 14 (3). So, even if a candidate is ordinarily qualified by virtue of section 131 of the Constitution, he can be disqualified under section 14 (3) if he is from the same section of the country as the incumbent President.
The idea of rotation and zoning was mooted during the second republic by the National Party of Nigeria, which was then struggling to build a party with national appeal. It was later included in its Constitution vide Article 21 thereof that NPN will strive to achieve ‘national character’ in all its dealings. I believe that this is the origin of the phrase ‘federal character’, which later surfaced in the 1999 Constitution. This would also explain section 223 (1) (b) and (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution, which make it mandatory for all political parties to reflect the principle of federal character in their Constitutions.
“223. (1) The Constitution and rules of a political party shall –
(b) ensure that members of of the executive committee or other governing body of the political party reflect the federal character of Nigeria.
(2) For the purpose of this section –
(b) the members of the executive committee or other governing body of the political party shall be deemed to reflect the federal character of Nigeria only if the members thereof belong to different States not being less in number that two-thirds of all States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”
I have listened to some politicians who claim that zoning is unconstitutional just to create confusion in the minds of their followers. Perhaps they have not read the Constitution of their own political party well enough, all of which are hereby reproduced verbatim.
Article 7 of the Constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party:
“7. (1) The Party shall have a manifesto which, subject to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, shall be implemented by all organs of the party and governments elected under its platform.
(2) The Party shall strive to –
(b) promote federalism and an equitable revenue sharing formula.
(3) The Party shall pursue these aims and objectives –
(c) adhering to the policy of the rotation and zoning of Party and Public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness.”
Articles 3 and 7of the Constitution of the All Progressives Congress:
“Motto: Justice, Peace and Unity”
“7. (1) To promote and foster the unity, political stability and national consciousness of the people of Nigeria.”
(2) To promote true federalism in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Article 2 of the APC Constitution:
“Subject to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and any other Laws for the time being in force in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the provisions of this Constitution shall be supreme PROVIDED that where any Rule, Regulation or any other enactment of the Party is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, such a Rule, Regulation and Enactment shall, to the extent of its inconsistency, be null and void and of no effect whatsoever.”
Section 17 (1) of the 1999 Constitution states that the State social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equality and justice. Equality means the balance of power is not tilted in favour of a section of the country against the other sections. I verily believe that this prompted Governors of the Southern States to make a similar demand for power shift or zoning in 2021, as the case may be. It is nothing new, but rather expected and logical, that after the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023, the Southern part of Nigeria should produce the President after him. That will accord with fairness and justice indeed. As I have stated on several occasions, it will be totally insensitive for the North to expect to produce the President of Nigeria, after the Buhari administration. Thus, it is expected that the next President after the present one should come from the Southern part of the country. This is meant to achieve stability in the polity and avoid undue tension and agitations. The Nigerian Bar Association for example is currently practicing the principle of rotation and zoning, between the North, West and the South and it has worked smoothly and effectively, for the body of lawyers. There is no reason why it shouldn’t work for Nigeria.
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