Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nigeria's ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), decided to adopt zoning as a policy. As such, the party agreed that Presidential power would rotate between the north and the south of the country. With former President Yar'Adua's death, the PDP was rocked by tension with northern members insisting that the zoning agreement be observed and many southern members advocating that then-Vice president and now-President, Goodluck Jonathan be allowed to run for the presidency even though he is a southerner. Although many, including the United States government, insisted that this zoning matter was a PDP and not a national matter, the reality is that zoning has permeated the fabric of Nigerian society. It is encouraging a divisiveness along tribal lines that serves to weaken and not strengthen the Nigerian union.

As far back as May 2004, northern governors declared that the Presidency must be 'zoned' to the north. And even before Yar'Adua died in May 2010, northern elites expressed their fears that his incapacity would result in them losing the Presidency and the control it brings. It was therefore no surprise that zoning soon become a contentious issue after Yar'Adua's death. While the zoning debate was at it's peak, the expression of anti-northern sentiment reached a high. Individuals, frustrated with the country's lack of development and progress, pinned much of the nation's woes on northern elite. Northern politicians like former dictator, Ibrahim Babangida and others agitated in the press for zoning. 

But the more talk of zoning there was, the more resistance there was in the public, particularly in the southern part of the country. In a survey released by NOI Polls,  66% said they were against zoning as the primary factor of selecting a President. Eventually, the PDP's Board of Trustees (BOT) created what they believed to be a compromise. To appease zoning-supporters, the BOT declared that zoning would remain in the party's constitution. The BOT, however also declared that Jonathan, a southerner, could compete in upcoming elections because he deserved an opportunity to complete the Yar'Adua-Jonathan ticket which originally planned to be in office for at least two terms.

Despite the 'compromise position' of the PDP, pro-zoning agitators continue to insist that Nigeria's next president must be from the northern region. Four northern presidential aspirants, a former Vice president that was implicated in a US corruption case, Atiku, former military dictator Buhari, current Kwara State governor, Bukola Saraki and Babangida, revealed that they would concede from the contest if a consensus candidate is selected amongst them. 

Unfortunately, the bad blood surrounding this zoning matter continues to show its ugly face. After the Golden Jubilee bombings in Abuja, a former militant announced that Jonathan intended to blame the incident on northerners trying to block his presidential aspirations. That revelation sparked a group of northern leaders to ask for Jonathan's resignation and they demanded impeachment proceedings by the national Assembly. Since then, certain elders in the nation's south-south region have accused certain northerners, saying,
"these isolated hawkish Northern leaders appear intent on replicating another Somalia or Rwanda incidents just because they believe only them have a right to decide who leads Nigeria"
And Alhaji Kaita already announced that the North will make Nigeria ungovernable if Jonathan and not a northerner becomes President. That, in turn, has led to calls by pro-Jonathan groups that Kaita be tried for treason.

As political figures continue to trade jabs and make moves and counter moves in the zoning/tribal saga, the only loser at the end of the day are Nigerian citizens. While these individuals 'attack' each other, they encourage and foster tribalism in a society where tribalism has resulted in violence and death. To do so is irresponsible and unconscionable. No matter who wins Nigeria's upcoming presidential election, and no matter what part of the country the next president is from, the zoning battle would have left deep scars that will further drive a wedge between citizens. One can only hope that Nigeria, which has survived several an upheaval, will manage to power through whatever else is to come out of the zoning fiasco. But that begs the question of how much more the country, and it's citizens can take. Only time will tell.

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