It is not surprising that the issue of zoning is back again as a major subject of national discourse. With the conclusion of the elections, it is time for the appointment of people to fill key political offices at the federal and other levels of government and, as usual, an acceptable formula for the achievement of equitable representation of the country’s major political zones and interest groups, has invariably become an issue.
All political zones and major ethnic groups are scrambling for choice positions in the next political dispensation which include that of senate president, speaker, House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and portfolios considered to be strategic and lucrative in the Federal Executive Council. The heat which these agitations are generating for the in-coming administration of the All Progressives Congress, APC, has led to suggestions that zoning which has now become part of the nation’s political culture be dumped this time round in favour of merit. But Bola Ahmed Tinubu, leader of APC, was quick in giving the assurance that zoning would not be dumped by the party but would rather be implemented in a way that merit would not be sacrificed on altar of the desire for equal representation in government.
The suggestion that zoning be dumped at this point of our political history is premature and do not seem to have taken into consideration the fears and sentiments that led to its introduction. It was meant to address the issue of fair representation in government. Fear of domination by one or more ethnic nationalities against the others has been part of the problem of resource allocation in this country for many years. This has, regrettably, accentuated the battle among ethnic nationalities and political zones to have their kith and kin appointed into those influential and preferred public offices. The appointees are ultimately expected to use those positions to influence resource distribution in favour of the ethnic groups and geopolitical zones that they represent. This has been the reality of the country’s situation for years.
The intention of those who introduced zoning into the political lexicon of the country was, no doubt, noble but only as far as minimizing regional and inter-ethnic conflicts is concerned. It was meant to address the vexed issue of marginalisation and to give all geo-political zones a sense of belonging. The extent to which these noble intentions have been achieved by the formula of zoning since it has been in practice is, however, arguable. What is not arguable is the fact that zoning is not a progressive formula and cannot help our collective resolve to develop as fast as we would wish as a country. What will help us better are, unarguably, competence and integrity. These should not be sacrificed on the altar of zoning.
The UNION strongly believe that competence and integrity are the virtues that can help the country’s efforts to develop. We must uphold and promote these virtues always by applying them in the decisions we make. Luckily, these virtues are not the exclusive preserve of people in any particular cone or ethnic group. Men and women of remarkable competence and integrity exist in abundance in all the political zones and among all ethnic groups in Nigeria. What is required is for those recruiting such hands for public office to cast the net far and in the right direction. At the moment, godfathers virtually determine who gets appointed into public office in Nigeria. In most cases, their preferred candidates for public office are hardly ever people of integrity and competence but stooges who merely fill the space and ensure they bring back to their sponsors the spoils of office. This trend is not in the interest of the country.
For men and women of competence and integrity to find space in the arena of public service, the opinions of godfathers must count the least in the choices we make of public office holders. While we recognise zoning as a product of political exigency and advise that it should not be discarded now, we believe that our best option is merit as yardstick for recruitment into public office. We should work gradually toward total adoption of merit in the future while also gradually moving away from zoning. This is achievable. What is required is for our leaders to discourage and de-emphasise those primordial sentiments that tend not only to divide us but are also the cause of the mutual suspicion and constant conflict that necessitated the introduction of the zoning formula in the first place.
In addition, those who get the opportunity to serve the country in elective or appointive offices must first of all see themselves as employees of the entire Nigerian public. Their loyalty is first and foremost to the country and its citizenry, not the ethnic groups or geo-political zones that they represent. This is the essence of the oath of office which they take before assuming office. They must adhere strictly to it. Against this background, The UNION advises the in-coming administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to be cautious in its application of zoning as a formula for determining those who will serve in the government. We urge him to do a delicate balancing of zoning and merit, not allowing any to be sacrificed for the other.