Zoning Nigeria 2023: To zone or not to zone?

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series The Nation

Last Updated on August 13, 2020 by Memorila

Read to know which path Nigeria should thread come 2023, regarding the zoning floodgate let loose by Mamman Daura, Buhari’s powerful nephew

Electioneering campaigns for the soul of Nigeria come 2023 have begun as the first shots have been fired. Mamman Daura, the powerful nephew of President Muhammadu Buhari drew the first blood when he called for the jettisoning of zoning arrangements in the elections of leaders across the nation. Instead, he argued that competency should be the watch-word.

In an interview with BBC Hausa, Mr. Daura was reported to have said “this turn-by- turn, it was done once; it was done twice, and was done thrice. It is now high time that this country become one, whereby (leadership) should be for the most competent and not for someone who comes from somewhere…”

Mamman Daura: 'It's high time we jettison zoning!'
Mamman Daura: ‘It’s high time we jettison zoning!’

But from the far end of the country, South-south heavyweight champion Edwin Clark punched back saying that Mr. Daura is hypocritical with the truth, insisting that Nigeria isn’t matured yet to elect her leaders through merit.

Writing in The Guardian, Mr Clark stated that it was “unnecessary and insincere of… Northern politicians to say that they no longer believe in the rotation of the Presidency between the North and the South while this was the reason (in 2011) they accused President Jonathan of breaching the rotation agreement that the Presidency should rotate between the North and the South, and insisted that the North should produce the President to complete the two tenures of 8 years of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.”

Edwin Clark: talks from both side of his mouth?

Gan, gan, gan, gan! Bullets are flying and you need to take a cover.

What is zoning?

According to Oxford Reference, zoning is a “political practice in Nigeria under which political parties agree to split their presidential and vice-presidential candidates between the north and south of the country and also to alternate the home area of the president between the north and south of the country.”

It further stressed that the principle of zoning was designed to ensure that neither the north nor the south of the country is ever permanently excluded from power and that no one party is seen to only represent one part of the country.

History of zoning in Nigeria

Oxford Reference further recalled that zoning was first introduced in the Second Republic, following the Biafran Civil War of 1967–70.

“In a bid to ease interethnic tensions following the conflict,” Oxford wrote, “the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) began to operate a zoning system to select party officials. Later, during a National Constitutional Conference that was convened following the annulment of the 1993 elections and the takeover of power by General Sani Abacha, a number of prominent leaders advocated rotating the presidency between the country’s six geopolitical zones (north-central, north-east, north-west, south-east, south-south, and south-west).

“Although the principle received wide support, the proposal was rejected in favour of a simpler process of rotating the executive between the north and south. This division was selected to reflect the country’s overarching religious cleavage between the mostly Christian south and the mostly Muslim north…

“North–south tensions had been stoked from the colonial period onwards as a result of the divide-and-rule strategies of the British colonial government and allegations of British favouritism towards the north.

“Moreover, in the run-up to independence, southern politicians raised concerns that the north’s numerical superiority would lead to southern marginalization. These tensions continued into the postcolonial period and have often spiked around elections, which has led to proposals for a form of power-sharing to maintain national political stability. This helps to explain why, in addition to operating as an informal norm, the idea of balancing power between the north and the south has also been codified by a number of parties,” Oxford Reference concluded.

Proponents of zoning

Those in support of maintaining the status quo argue that abolishing zoning could make a particular region to lord over others due to its numerical strengths. And hence, this could breed bad blood which could eventually lead to violence.

According to these proponents, when the foundation fathers of Nigeria’s democracy envisioned inputting zoning into Nigeria’s political discourse, they did it in order to carry everyone along.

Zoning is sacrosanct, says Mr Jonathan Vatsa, a former spokesman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Niger State. “You don’t shift a goal post when a goal is about to be scored. That alone is a grievous offence in the game of football, and the game of politics is no different,” Mr. Vatsa added.

On his part, ace columnist, Mahmud Jega of Daily Trust argued that politicians from either part of the country clamour for zoning so as to allow them grab a share of the national cake. But once they find themselves at the corridor of power, they kick against it.

Jega added that “Northerners, for example, tend to support federal character but not power shift while Southerners generally support power shift but not federal character.”

He said Northerners want federal character to make up for their 100 years’ lag behind the South in western education which make southerners take up most of the appointments in all federal ministries and agencies, adding that “the North doesn’t want power shift because it has a strategic demographic advantage. In the South, power shift is popular while federal character is derided.”

On a final note, Mr. Clark added that “A united Nigeria were citizens are equal and are qualified for any appointment in the governance of the country, is the only answer to a United Nigeria, a Nigeria where no region will continue to dominate the others is the panacea for peace. When Lord Lugard amalgamated the northern and the southern parts of this country in 1914, he did not say that one region should lord it over the others,” stressing that favouring a section of the country over the other could lead to damnation.


On the other side of the coin, opponents argue that zoning favours favouritism, corruption, cluelessness and stagnation. Some even went further to accuse those clamouring for zoning of duplicity.

Goodluck Jonathan: Zoning sent him packing

For example, in the run-up to the 2011 general elections when ex-president Goodluck Jonathan wanted to stand for election against the wishes of Northern elites who demanded that one of them completes the tenure of the late president Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Jonathan’s supporters from the southsouth and southeast, most notably, Edwin Clark, didn’t dissuade him from his quest. They were at the arrowhead of his campaign.

Mr Clark told his supporters to “unite and stand behind President Jonathan”. Hence, opponents of zoning are asking why these zones are crying foul today.

In 2011, Mbang Rex David, a convener of Atiku Woniye, cautioned the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against giving its 2011 presidential ticket to his kinsman, Jonathan, saying if the party does so, the North will avoid zoning perpetually. He argued that the South cannot match the North in terms of numbers. “Democratically speaking, that sounds a death knell for any future southern aspirant,” David emphasized

In his paper presentation, ‘Eating with One Spoon’: Zoning, Power Rotation and Political Corruption in Nigeria, Babajide Olusoji Ololajulo who teaches Cultural Anthropology at the University of Ibadan, argued that even though zoning has the capacity to keep a peaceful political order, it has become more or less an elites’ strategy to negotiate continued participation in the political process and access to the national wealth.

Mr. Ololajulo concluded that “political turn-taking exemplifies ‘a social mechanism of corruption’ and a perverted form of liberal democracy.”

A former presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and ex-governor of Cross River state, Donald Duke, also believe that zoning produces mediocre leaders in Nigeria.

Donald Duke: Zoning breeds mediocrity

In 2018 while addressing the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum in Abuja, Mr. Duke said, “I am running for the President because Nigerian deserves as many options as possible. Things are too dire for zoning and zoning, I know, has only produced mediocre in our midst.”

Way forward

Winston Churchill, a former prime minister of the United Kingdom once said that “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

One thing with Nigerians is that they don’t like trying the unknown. But as Maya Angelou puts it, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Everyone is screaming to the top of their voices that violence will reign in the land if zoning is jettisoned. But we have seen many prophets of doom who prophesized that Nigeria will implode post 2015, like what the former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell. But here we are, still waxing strong.

Hence, with zoning or not, come 2023, “Soldier come, soldier goes,” Nigeria remains.

Jettisoning zoning will breed competition. Contestants will campaign on issues, not on sectionalism, tribalism or religion.

No Nigerian can become a president of the country without the zones of the country. Even president Buhari became a president of the country in 2015 and got reelected in 2019 even without the support of the southeast, when he got the full support of the southwest.

Hence, with good strategies and a strong campaign team, an Ndigbo could be the next president of Nigeria come 2023. All he/she needs is to do his/her homework.

Nigeria has been worn down by ethnicity, mediocrity, nepotism and corruption. Now is the time to right the wrongs. Let’s take little steps in the right direction by bringing down zoning, throw open the ring for the gladiators to showcase their strengths and let the best prevail.

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Faruk Ahmed

Faruk Ahmed is the founder of Memorila.com. Having previously worked with National Review magazine, he is a keen watcher of political events.

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