Nigeria is facing the most challenging times since 1914 when it was amalgamated by Sir Lord Lugard. The emergence of terrorism in Northern part of the country which is fast spreading to other sections of the nation is a real source of worry not only to the government but the citizens especially those whose children and relations have become victims of the dastardly acts of the terrorist group. We pray with President Goodluck Jonathan that God will help Nigeria win the war against terror in our dear nation.
Despite the actions of the terrorist group, the drum beat of the forthcoming general elections in the country is getting louder on daily basis. Already the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has commenced the issuance of permanent voter’s card and new registration of voters across the country in preparation for the 2015 elections. Supporters of President Jonathan’s second term in office have left no one in doubt of their readiness to deploy their arsenal for the re-election of the President for another four years in office even though he is yet to make a formal declaration to that effect. In different states of the nation, governorship aspirants are also coming up with all sorts of slogans and billboards to announce their intentions. The same applies to the National and State Houses of Assembly aspirants who are as well displaying their ambitions in different forms. The political climate is gradually getting busy.
In Ebonyi which is my own state, the story is the same. Even though on a general note, the state may appear quite, but the politicians on their own are working day and night making all permutations as to where the next Governor will come from while many others including current members of the National Assembly from the state are working towards their return to the National Legislature. Many new ones are gearing up to put up strong challenge against some of the National Assembly members especially those whose performance has not impacted in the life of their constituents.
But above all these, the major issue is the position of the Governor of the state, where does it go to? There has been debate both in the media and in different official and unofficial fora in the state about zoning Governor to the south senatorial zone of the state. The state is divided into two main blocs: Abakaliki and Afikpo. While Abakaliki was carved out of the old Anambra and Enugu states, Afikpo area came from the old Imo and Abia states. Ebonyi has a total of 13 Local Government Councils as recognized by the Constitution before the creation of several compartments attached to the local government councils called development centers. The Abakaliki area has 8 Local Government Councils while Afikpo area has 5 Councils and Afikpo area is where we have the south senatorial zone. The two other zones: North and Central are located within Abakaliki bloc.
Incidentally, the two civilian governors elected since 1999 in the state came from North and Central zones respectively. The debate now is that even though there was no design or arrangement that the governors already elected who ruled on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, would come from those zones, the South should be allowed to produce the next governor of the state through consensus or agreement with the Abakaliki bloc that has the population to determine who rules the state.
Here lies the debate. Many Ebonyians mostly those from the south have argued vehemently that it is the turn of the south to produce a Governor of the state. But the question they have not resolved is whether you can change the rule in the middle of the game. Since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democracy, no political party in Ebonyi including PDP has ever considered zoning with regard to electoral positions or appointive posts at the federal and state levels. In democracy, the basic principles are participation and freedom. Zoning and consensus are alien to the concept even though in some situations, political parties in Africa especially, may adopt consensus and zoning to correct some imbalances in political equation but such has never worked in Nigeria. If it were, Jonathan would not have contested the Presidential elections in 2011 after serving the period of his predecessor who died in the office, after all, the position of the president was supposedly zoned to the North in 2011.
Back home, Ebonyi south was the first part of Ebonyi to produce a Governor in the name of Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu from Uburu Ohaozara when Ebonyi was part of Abia state. Dr. Akanu Ibiam was from the south, he ruled the South East generally as a Governor General. He was from Afikpo in Afipko North Local Government of Ebonyi state. There were a number of federal ministers including the current Minister of health and Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria who was once President of the Senate of the Federal Republic, all from the southern part of Ebonyi. For example, Chief Aja Nwachukwu and his son from Okposi have been federal ministers. Chief Francis Orji from Edda was once a Deputy Governor and Minister of Police Affairs. Prof. Chigozie Ogbu was a Deputy Governor under Dr. Sam Egwu and he is from Onicha. Late Dr. Isu of Afikpo was a Deputy Governor to Dr. Sam Egwu from 1999 to 2003.
In 1999, Dr. Ogbonaya Onu and host of other sons of the state from the south contested the governorship of the state under different parties. Onu who contested under the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) almost won the election. Dr. Sam Egwu who ran the election under PDP won with a slim margin. Nobody in Ebonyi talked about zoning. In 2003, again Onu ran for the election and lost. Under the PDP, party primary elections were conducted for aspirants from all the political zones in the state before Sam Egwu was returned by the party for a second term in office. In 2007, there were party primaries by all the parties in the state and none of them considered zoning in electing their candidates for election including PDP. In fact, in the case of PDP, it was even Dr. Henry Aloh of Ishielu that the then Governor was said to have anointed for the position before a superior argument threw up Chief Martin Elechi from Ikwo in the Central zone of the state. The implication of all this is that there has never been any rule by any party on zoning in Ebonyi, why should it start now?
The second argument is that democracy is a game of majority where majority have their way and minority have their say. Election involves participation and freedom meaning that the people are given the freedom to participate and make choice of who will rule them. The southern part of Ebonyi has the people who hold the civil service in the state. By way of education, they hold the highest number of educated people and businessmen in multinational organizations. At the federal level, they hold the highest number of positions both political and civil service. The south is not in any disadvantaged position in terms of power equation in Ebonyi. Even with the Governor in the Abakaliki bloc, the people from there are still at a disadvantage in power equation because of their level of education and entrepreneurship. Most importantly, there is nowhere in the world where power is given to a person by way of gift. Political offices are contested for and those who are popular are voted into political offices, such offices are not given based on sentiments of population size and I do not see how Abakakliki with about 8 local government areas will hand over power to 5 local governments simply because of the sentiments for balance of power.
What we are saying here is that governorship elections in the state since 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011 were contested by all interested candidates who had the mandate of their political parties, there was no zoning arrangement, therefore, there cannot be any issue of restricting elections to candidates from the South in the forthcoming elections, after all, democracy is a game of majority. Even if the ruling party in the state is to zone the governorship to the south, what about other political parties which may want to take advantage of the numerical strength of the Abakaliki bloc? In the political equation, the south is in the minority and politicians from the south are contending that without a form of zoning arrangement, a southerner is not likely to win the governorship elections in the state. I do believe that despite their numerical disadvantage, if a credible southerner emerges under any political party platform in Ebonyi, such a person may win the governorship election based on his acceptability by the people and not on the sentiments of population size of the zone. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan did not become President of Nigeria in 2011 as a result of zoning; it was based on the perception of Nigerians about him at that time.
In the present circumstance, the defining factor in who becomes the next governor of Ebonyi state will not be the mere expression of sentiments on zoning arrangement which may be argued that it never existed in the state and cannot be introduced just for the purpose of the 2015 elections. Chief Martin Elechi had once alluded to that kind of insinuation in his broadcast when he said that those clamoring for “Charter of Equity” should look for better argument to make because there was nothing like charter of equity document by way of power sharing formula in Ebonyi. Chief Elechi was among the founding fathers of Ebonyi state and so, he knew what he was saying with regard to the issue of the over flogged “cheater of equity”.
It is clear from history that nothing succeeds without planning. No democracy can grow without a strong foundation because it is only a strong foundation that can hold strong structure on it. Power is never given. It is fought for and won. And it is the people who determine who holds power, it cannot come by imposition or mere application of zoning principle.
It is therefore, consistent with the principles of democracy that the election to the seat of governor in Ebonyi in 2015 should be based on democratic principles of freedom and participation and not on consensus arrangement or zoning formula as such negates the idea of democracy and President Jonathan’s Transformation agenda. Introduction of zoning principle by political parties or any person in authority is a denial of people’s right to seek political office through the mandate of the people. It negates the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria upon which the parties derived their rules. It is by the expression of that right that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan contested and won election as President of Nigeria in 2011 and through which he may be seeking re-election in 2015. Everyone in Nigeria including Ebonyi has the same right and privileges to seek political office through popular mandate of the people. The beauty of democracy is that it is a game of number, freedom and participation where both majority and minority have their way and say. It cannot be otherwise.
- Uhuo, is a staff of the National Assembly, Abuja