Saturday, 4 December 2010

What's the big deal about zoning?

There is  a feeling amongst the people that zoning as the PDP practices is an inherently evil and outdated practice. Something that reflects a harmful focus on ethnicity/region/religion as the focus of political life in Nigeria and something that must really be done away with in order for any sort of advancement to be made.

I must admit that this was my instinctive view, until yesterday when I was recording the second installment of the Green Label Podcast, in which zoning was the issue of discussion and I had to play devil's advocate and support it. While doing my research, I stumbled upon a very extensive dissertation written by one Nwachukwu Orji. It was more broadly about political power-sharing but touched on the concept of zoning as a means of distributing top office. It was epic (230 pages long), but it raised the question: Why do we need power-sharing in Nigeria?

Power-sharing is the sort of political arrangement that is brought in at the end of a war, or on the dissolution of an empire where the political groups are aligned along apparent ethnic or religious lines and so the only way to prevent destructive competition between the elite is for them to share power. The fact that Nigeria is not a homogeneous people isn't news to anyone, in fact it seems that the number of ethnics group in the country seems to go up every time someone is asked (340 as of yesterday). So in reality what it comes down to is whether or not ethnicity (or tribe in cruder terms) is the basis for politics in Nigeria.

Put simply it is: Nigeria has no real class system, other than the separation of rich and poor. The issues that really should be the foundation of political discourse: health, education, electricity, water etc. affect everyone almost equally. There is no ideology in our politics: there is no left, right or centre, no doves or hawks, no moderates or hard-liners. Lets face it the only way that politicians can carve the populace into any sort of support base, is on the 'natural' ones of ethnicity, religion and geography. This would not be a bad thing in itself if it had some sort of logic to it. If the beliefs of a Yoruba person was so different from that of an Efik person, if the worries of an Igbo person were so different from that of a Kanuri, if the ambitions of a Hausa person were so different from that of a Calabar person; then there would be some legitimacy in ethnic politics, but is that really the case? 

Has the alleged Northern domination of politics made life for a northerner better than that of a southerner? Has the 8 years of southern rule under OBJ made life better for southerners, or in fact for his own Yoruba people? Has any of the last 50 years of ethnic politics made life better for anyone? The truth is that the prebendal politics that exist in Nigeria only benefit the elite, it only persists because they have nothing else to offer us. Ethnicity is as important to your fortunes in Nigeria as what football team you support. As I think Yaradua was a Manchester United supporter so it is surely time for an Arsenal supporter to be president with that said I opt to put forward Kanu Nwankwo as a 2011 candidate.

Jokes aside, If we want an end to ethnic politics, we have to move politics on to the issues: how do you as a candidate from where-ever-the-hell-you-are-from plan to deal with the concerns of we the Nigerians? Until we the people demand that from our leaders we cannot just carry on complaining about the system of zoning. As long as people see ethnicity (or region or religion) as their primary political identity some sort of zoning will be required because people will go to further extremes in the name of these things than they will probably go to in the name of ideology or even in the name of the mighty Arsenal. 

The question now is what is your primary political identity.
The Green Label Project wants to illuminate these issues and show what politicians are saying (or not saying) about the things that really matter. So get involved, by joining the facebook group, liking the facebook page, looking out for the website that should be up in a matter of days and of course listening to the Podcast and maybe we can change Nigeria together.

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