Politics

Zoning: Abdullahi Adamu: Southern Nigerians Are Not Foolish

May 02, (THEWILL) – During a Press Briefing at the Presidential Villa on Friday 29 April 2022, the National Chairman of the APC, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, was asked if the party has zoned the presidential ticket to the South. According to him, “I am today privileged to be the Chairman of the party. The party is greater than me. The party has not made a decision and I cannot preempt what the party’s decision will be.” This largely non-committal and somewhat evasive answer in the negative has since set off alarm bells all over the country.

Why Zoning is Critical to Nigeria’s Unity: There are many reasons for this apprehension and anger in the South. First, apart from Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, zoning is perhaps the most critical and practical political arrangement that has kept Nigeria relatively peaceful and prosperous since our return to multi-party democracy 23 years ago. Nigeria is one of the most diverse and heterogeneous countries in the world, with over 216 million people, 250 ethnic groups, 525 native languages, and 1150 dialects, spread over 36 States in 6 geopolitical zones. Given this, it is not only critical but existential that major groupings of such a people have a sense of belonging in the entity. Especially in light of the fact that a brutal civil war that cost the lives of an estimated 3 million people was fought to keep the country as one United entity, Nigeria’s political arrangement has always placed a keen eye on the issue of unity and belonging. And one of the ways in which this has been implemented is to allow people from different groupings to lead the country as President of the Republic.

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Indeed, beginning from the decision of the major parties to field ONLY candidates from the South-West in 1999, as compensation for Chief MKO Abiola’s lost mandate, to the decisionof President Obasanjo to select Umaru Yar’Adua as his successor in 2007, and even sentiments that significantly led to President Buhari’s emergence as President in 2015, zoning is the most sacred unwritten rule of Nigerian politics. Even in our 36 states, zoning and rotation has become understood as a way of ensuring that people from different ethnic groupings or senatorial zones are given a shot at becoming Governor.

Furthermore, in deciding the leadership of our major political parties, zoning and rotation have been the benchmark. Everyone understood that once Adams Oshiomole completed his term as National Chairman of the APC, a northerner would succeed him. Similarly, no one was in doubt that a northerner would succeed Uche Secondus as National Chairman of the PDP. This is the reason why ordinary Nigerians expect that since President Buhari would have completed 8 unbroken years as President next year, a Southerner should assume office as President come May 29, 2023. Zoning and rotations are decisions made in the larger interest of Nigeria’s unity rather than the parochial strategies of any single party to retain power.

It is, therefore, quite ironic that the most recent beneficiary of geopolitical zoning and political arrangement spoke with a seemingly uncompromising tone against zoning. No one is in doubt that if the National Chairmanship of the APC was open for everyone to compete, Abdullahi Adamu would not be the Chairman of the party today.

The APC’s Unproven Supposition: One narrative that some people have been peddling as to why the APC may not zone the presidential ticket to the South is that a Southern candidate cannot beat a Northern one in a presidential election. Believers in this school of thought therefore assert that if the opposition PDP chooses a northern candidate, then they, the ruling APC, would have no choice but to also field a northern candidate. Is it even true that the APC needs a northern candidate if PDP choses a northern candidate? The answer is an unequivocal and resounding no! All the evidence of our presidential elections in Nigeria indicates that this is a manufactured False Dilemma or Hobson’s Choice for the APC that has no basis in fact.

Consider for example, the 1993 Presidential election between the Abiola/Kingibe ticket and the Tofa/Ugoh ticket. Although the final results were not announced, Abiola beat Tofa in many northern States where results were announced and never disputed. Such States include Kaduna, Borno, Plateau, and even in Kano, Tofa’s home State. Unofficial results from Taraba, Yobe, and Jigawa also show that Abiola, the southern candidate, beat Tofa, the northern candidate. More recently, in the 2003 presidential elections between Obasanjo and Buhari. Obasanjo, a Southern candidate, beat Buhari in all the 19 States. In 2011, President Jonathan beat Buhari in the general elections while winning in some northern States including Taraba, Nasarawa, Plateau, Kogi, and Kwara.

In any case, if northern votes were all a candidate needed to become President, Tofa would have defeated Abiola in 1993 and Buhari would have been president in 2003 or 2007. The idea that northerners would only vote for a northerner is a myth that has no basis in our recent past and current reality, and as such, should have no basis in our near future.

In view of the above, the APC’s fallacy is based on a false premise that erroneously limits their options, in a disguise that appears set to reach their predetermined objective of retaining power. Southerners are not foolish. They cannot and should not be hoodwinked. They can see the game from a distance because when a native doctor throws his proverbial cowries to the ground, other native doctors can see exactly what he is seeing, regardless of the length and volume of his incantations.

President Buhari’s Legacy and Zoning: Yet, this idea is being peddled by a few power-hungry and myopic northern politicians who are bent on deceiving President Buhari into making undoubtedly his most infamous and tragic decisions. If President Buhari does not stamp his feet down and use both his authority and influence to ensure that the ruling party’s flagbearer in the forthcoming presidential election is a Southerner, it would only be comparable to Boris Yeltsin’s now tragic decision to allow for the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an event President Putin calls the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 21stCentury.

Bypassing southern candidates for a northern one would indeed cement President Buhari in the annals of Nigeria’s history as the most effective and enthusiastic implementer of Ahmadu Bello’s “Northernization Policy”. And how fitting that would be for President Buhari, after all, the policy simply says, “A northerner first for all jobs”. Sir Ahmadu Bello explained this in an interview to a white BBC journalist in his own words, as follows: “In actual fact, what it is, is a northerner first. If we can’t get a northerner then we take an expatriate, like yourself on contract. If we can’t, then we can employ another “Nigerian” but on contract too…”

Given President Buhari’s appointment of northerners in all key economic, security, intelligence, anti-corruption, and personal positions, who can argue that he is in fact governing with this policy in mind. Aside from the fact that the Minister of Finance and the Perm Sec Finance are northerners, the heads of the major revenue generating agencies including NNPC, NIMASA, NPA, Customs, and FIRS are all northerners. On the security side, he has appointed northerners as National Security Adviser, Chief of Army Staff thrice, Chief of Naval twice, Inspector General of Police thrice, and several other northerners. Indeed, a time was under President Buhari when of all 17 positions in the National Security apparatus of the country, only one (Chief of Air Staff) was a southerner. In the intelligence community, northerners occupy the two key positions as heads of the Department of State Services (DSS), which is responsible for local intelligence within Nigeria, and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) that is responsible for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence. Of course, in the anti-corruption area, Buhari has made it look like southerners cannot fight corruption with several attempts at appointing Ibrahim Magu who served unconfirmed as Chairman of the EFCC, succeeded by Muhammad Umar as Acting Chairman and the appointment and confirmation of Abdul Rasheed Bawa as current EFCC Chairman.

In a sense, therefore, the only redeeming chance the President has to make his legacy debatably detribalized is to stand firm and openly support a southern candidate as the flagbearer of the APC. This would be analogous to what Obasanjo did for Umaru Yar’Adua where no one was in doubt where the president stood in that election, from the primaries to the general elections.

Anything short of this would be seen as a continuation of his northernization policy. Therefore, the decision to subjugate and ignore the genuine yearnings of roughly half the country could precipitate consequences that would further and forever tarnish President Buhari’s image as a nepotistic parochial leader who truly only cared for one half of the country. It would be the first, boldest and loudest entry into any and every book that will be written on his governing philosophy. In fact, it could make average believers in Nigeria’s unity and fairness look foolish whilst making Nnamdi Kanu look like a wise old sage!

Why the South is too important to be hoodwinked. In a game of chess, your move is only good enough after your opponent responds. The northern politicians trying to shatter an arrangement that has served the country well need to keep a few things in mind. Let us consider our population breakdown for example. The so-called (and sometimes disputed) ratio between the north and south is not 70:30 or 60:40 in the north’s favor. It is not even 55:45. According 2022 population projections, the North accounts for 51.6 percent while the South accounts for 48.4 percent of Nigeria’s population. No person in his right mind would ignore the aspirations of almost half the country.

These aspirations were contained in the repeated declarations of the 17 Southern States, including Governors from the PDP, APGA and the APC under the auspices of the Southern Governors Forum. First in Asaba in May 2021, and then in Lagos on July 5, 2021. They also forcefully demanded that Nigeria’s next President should come from southern Nigeria when they met in Akure around September 2021. These calls are clearly important and should not be dismissed.

On the economic side, the difference is way more lopsided in the South’s favor. Using The 2020 Gross Domestic Product (size of each economy) of each State in Nigeria, the 17 Southern States account for 65.7 percent of Nigeria’s economy while the 19 Northern States account for only 34.3 percent. In 2019, the budgets of the 19 Northern States summed up to a total of N3.29 trillion Naira, which is just slightly more than the budget of the 6 South-South States alone which summed up to N3.2 trillion. Similarly, while the entire northern States collected N106.3 billion in Value-Added Taxes (VAT) in 2019, Lagos State alone collected N95.7 billion. The entire southern states collected almost N300 billion in VAT that year. For Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), the 19 northern States’ combined total for 2019 was N287.4 billion, during which time Lagos State alone generated N398.7 billion. That same year, the 17 southern states’ IGR was N954.6 billion.

Given these indicators, northern politicians need to be careful in making their next move. After Malaysian parliamentarians voted on 9 August 1965 to expunge Singapore from the union, they celebrated with wild jubilations and champagne. But the next move belonged to Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore. Today, tens of thousands of Malaysians apply to Singapore every single day for work permits as migrant laborers.

A word is enough for the wise.

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