Zoning in Nigerian Politics: An Explainer

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“Heaven and hell shall pass away, but zoning shall not pass away” – Matthew 24:35 (KJV)

Okay, that’s not what the Bible said, but in Nigeria, it may well be. Right now, there’s only one word on the lips of many Nigerian politicians, and it is this six-letter word: “zoning”.

But what is zoning, and who is getting zoned? Does this “zoning” relate to something you once did as a teenager to someone who told you they had feelings for you, but you didn’t feel the same way?

Err…not exactly.

Zoning in Nigerian politics simply means “it’s our time to rule”. So when Nigerian politicians say that power should be zoned to their region, they mean that it is time for their region (or geopolitical zone) to produce the next elected candidate. Think of it as a razz version of “affirmative action”.

So Why Is Zoning Important?

There are reportedly more than 250 different tribes in Nigeria. These tribes are split into six geo-political zones: North West, North East, North Central, South West, South East and South South. Now, all of these zones want to produce the next gubernatorial and presidential candidate, and they often feel left out if one zone keeps producing the governor or the president. Zoning is an arrangement where all the zones in a political party agree on how they will share power with one another. The order can be south, north, south, north, and sequentially like that.

Zoning usually works through something called a “gentleman’s agreement”—yeah, the same gentleman Fela swore he wasn’t. And this zoning arrangement basically means, “you scratch my back, and I scratch your back”. So, when a politician has been selected from a region, he (because it’s often always a “he”) will typically tell the other politician from another region that he will hand over power to him (and his region) once his tenure ends.

So Why The Hue and Cry About Zoning This Time?

Well, there’s always a hue and cry, especially in politics. But let’s start with the People’s Democratic Party—the “PDP”.

The PDP has been out of power at the federal government level for seven years now, and that’s mad long. In the Nigerian political space, a party being out of power for up to seven years is like a person walking aimlessly in a lonely forest filled with nothing but the cries of blind bats. The PDP currently has no access to power, and frankly, they can’t steal any money—which we know they do even if they claim otherwise. So, winning the 2023 presidential elections is very important for their political survival. No political party wants to be out of power for such a long time. For a party that claims to be the largest political party in Africa, serving as the opposition party does not seem like a game the PDP exactly understands.

Enter the Presidential aspirants.

Currently, seven different people have either picked up their nomination of interest forms or declared to run for the office of the President of Nigeria under the platform of the PDP. A former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim; Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed; a former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi; a former Governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki; a former Vice-President; Atiku Abubakar; and the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike have all expressed their intentions to clinch the PDP’s presidential ticket. But zoning is a significant consideration for whoever will win the PDP’s ticket.

Section 7(3)(c) of the PDP Constitution states that the PDP shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of the Party and Public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness. This means that the PDP must rotate the candidates it is presenting for public elective offices in the interest of zoning. But which zone should present the PDP’s next presidential candidate? Now, that is the million-dollar question.

While some aspirants like Atiku Abubakar argue that the PDP should ignore zoning for now and focus on picking the best candidate who can defeat the APC’s candidate in the 2023 elections, other aspirants like Nyesom Wike argue that zoning is fundamental to how the PDP works and that the presidential ticket of the PDP should be zoned to candidates from the Southern region of Nigeria because the PDP previously zoned its presidential ticket in 2016 to candidates from the Northern region of Nigeria. The South-East Governor’s Forum of the PDP also argued that the party’s presidential ticket should be zoned to candidates from the Southern region of Nigeria.

Almost everyone in the PDP has their own opinion of where the presidential ticket should be zoned to, based on their personal interests, but Iyorchia Ayu, the PDP Chairman, has set up a 37-man zoning committee to offer recommendations on whether the PDP should zone its 2023 presidential ticket and what region it should be zoned to, if at all.

Err…and by now, you should already know that nothing works in Nigeria without creating a “committee”. So get with the programme…or with the committee.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) and Zoning

Ah, the APC. Buhari’s party. Yeah, that one.

Currently, only three Southern candidates have declared their intention to vie for the office of the President of Nigeria under the APC’s ticket. These people are: Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former Governor of Lagos State; Dave Umahi, a former Governor of Ebonyi State and Rochas Okorocha, a former Governor of Imo State. Meanwhile, the APC’s new Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, also comes from the Northern region of Nigeria.

As of now, no candidate from the Northern region of Nigeria has declared their interest to vie for the APC’s presidential ticket. Consequently, many political observers believe that the APC will zone its presidential ticket to the Southern part of Nigeria because the party’s leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, comes from the Northern region of Nigeria, and the party’s Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, also comes from the Northern part of Nigeria.

How Does Zoning Affect You?

To the average Nigerian, zoning is irrelevant. Poorly funded hospitals don’t lead to the death of people from the southern parts of Nigeria alone, and bad roads don’t cause accidents for people from the northern parts of Nigeria alone. Insecurity, a failing economy, lack of investment in education and many other ills bedevilling Nigeria affects all Nigerians, regardless of tribe, religion or ethnic background. So, why Nigerian politicians fixate on which region produces the next candidate remains baffling.

However, on further reflection, it could be argued that zoning makes a good case for equity in Nigeria. After all, having people from different regions assume elected offices can help to promote unity and trust in a diverse country like Nigeria, no matter how little. But then, the joke is on anyone who genuinely believes that Nigerian politicians are bickering about zoning so as to promote unity and trust in Nigeria rather than for their selfish interests.

However, the situation plays out, we at Stomach Infrastructure will be carefully observing who wins in this emotionally charged campaign season. So sit up, because it’s about to be a movie.

This piece was first published in our Stomach Infrastructure newsletter, click here to sign up.

This piece was written by Doyin Olagunju a freelance journalist in Lagos, Nigeria. He publishes National Cake, a weekly newsletter about Nigerian politics, policy, and culture.

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