By Dons Eze, PhD
Years of crisis at both the national and subnational levels had necessitated the search for a system of governance that could bring peace, unity, stability and trust to the polity.
The consensus among the people was that key political offices should not be held by only one group or section, but should be distributed in such a way as to give everybody a sense of belonging. This, in a word, is called zoning of public offices.
But what is zoning of public offices? Zoning of public offices refers to the sharing, rotating, or shifting of political office(s) from one section to the other. This could be region based (from the East to West, or North and South or vice versa). Zoning is one of the many manifestations of ethnic nationalism in African politics.
Zoning could be based on ethnic, cultural, geopolitical, senatorial, or religious divisions. Political parties adopt the zoning formula to ensure that major offices, in particular, the Presidency, Governorship, Senate, local government chairmanship, etc., rotate among various sections of the country, or between major ethnic groups or zones.
Zoning aims at promoting unity, political stability and economic growth. It makes each ethnic group or section feel to be part of the system and identify themselves with the polity. Some people however see zoning as an undemocratic principle employed by political parties to share power according to loosely-identified geographical zones that are not sanctioned by the electorate.
At the national level, while the six geopolitical zones serve as the basis of power sharing for the executive, bureaucratic and judicial positions, at the subnational or state levels, the three senatorial districts, are used to share the same positions.
Zoning of political positions was first used by the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1979 in the internal nominations for prominent federal positions. Under that arrangement, while the Presidential candidate of the party came from the North, the Vice Presidential candidate was from the South East, the National Chairman of the party, from the South West, and the Senate President, from the South South, etc.
Zoning became more pronounced after the debate of the 1994/95 Abacha National Constitutional Conference (NCC) established by Decree No. (3) of 1994. The 1999 Nigerian Constitution also emulated the zoning formula by prescribing the Federal Character principle, which is about inclusion of the six geopolitical zones in the allocation of political and public sector appointments, including the office of the President.
In Enugu State since the dawn of the present political dispensation in 1999, zoning has been used to share key political positions among the three senatorial districts of the state. For instance, between 1999 and 2007, while the Governor of the state came from Enugu East Senatorial zone, his deputy was from Enugu North Senatorial zone, the Speaker(s) of the State House of Assembly, from Enugu West Senatorial zone.
The same pattern was maintained between 2007 and 2015 when the Governor was from Enugu West, his deputy, from Enugu East, and Speaker of the House of Assembly, from Enugu North. The present Governor is from Enugu North, while his deputy is from Enugu West, and the Speaker of House of Assembly, from Enugu East.
In this way, people get what is due for them without rancour and acrimony, and without much flexing of muscles. The zoning arrangement therefore, has helped to counteract the problem of distrust as well as the fear of marginalization by some minority groups, which may arise due to ethnic, cultural and religious differences.
Although, zoning has failed to translate deep democratic culture and institutions both at the national and subnational levels, it has however helped to maintain political stability. This is because the zoning principle accommodates the interest of minorities and subgroups within the political arrangement.
Zoning has greatly helped to ensure peaceful electioneering campaigns, and smooth transition of power from one regime to the other. It has helped maintain brotherly love in spite of political differences.
Anybody therefore, canvassing or planning to disrupt this zoning arrangement, or the abandonment of the system, may not be doing himself and the entire polity any good, since it has the capacity to expose Nigeria as a whole, and Enugu State in particular, to the threat of disintegration.