‘‘We need leaders of inspired idealism, leaders to who are granted great visions, who dream greatly and strive to make their dreams come true; who can kindle the people with the ﬁre from their burning souls’’ – Theodore Roosevelt
The practice of liberal and constitutional democracy in Nigeria is getting increasingly fraught with the clamor for zoning and other power-sharing arrangements by some political elites. This is seen as a means of ethno-regional balancing and consensus formation in a plural society like ours.
While some of these elites would argue that the idea of zoning is a political compromise designed to rotate the seat of power towards appeasing diverse tribes in a representative manner in our geo-political landscape, they have failed to show us how beneficial this concept has been in the overall development of our society. Zoning is built on the premise to justify the culture of turn- by -turn in the sharing of our common patrimony by some political actors.
The concept of zoning is framed with the mindset that all tribes should have the opportunity to control the levers of power with unfettered access to the public purse within a specified period. The key assumption here is that certain benefits are exclusive to the people whose son or daughter occupies the first position of choice in government within the said period. What an unwholesome political philosophy!
This is a backward democratic practice and a mindless endangerment of our shared progressive dreams. It is an “opiumized”, mesmerized, and a hypnotized idea of the political leadership recruitment process which should not be allowed to fester. In this case, merit, competence, track record, and the vision of would-be leaders are not taken into consideration. Such political thinking is not only absurd but is equally unreasonable in our clime where all indices of development are dangerously adrift.
This elitist political strategy of turn-taking exemplifies a sociopolitical mechanism that promotes mediocrity, ineptitude, and a perverted form of liberal democracy. It is a millennial political anomaly that is leading us in the wrong direction. The current situation in Cross River State is a glaring testimony. To put it in precision, zoning is a ruse to prevent democratization in our leadership recruitment process. It is inspired by elite self-interest rather than the overall interest of the people.
In Cross River State, the idea of zoning was first muted in 2015. This preference came on the heels of mounting agitation by those who created the impression that they have been shortchanged in the power-sharing equation in the state. The underlined series of agitations that followed were couched in the language of, “It is the turn of the North.” The introduction of the notion of zoning in 2015 became an organizing principle for the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) at the time which eventually produced the incumbent Governor of the state, Senator Benedict Ayade.
The idea was undergirded by the conviction that the Southern and Central Senatorial Districts have had their shots at the Peregrino House in Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke respectively. This syllogism was somewhat falsified because the duo of Duke and Imoke was never seen as representing their Senatorial Districts while they held sway as governors and they never rode to power on the back of zoning. It is on record that they both faced fierce electoral contests from some of our brothers from the Northern Senatorial District.
That said, in 2023 when Governor Benedict Ayade will be completing his second term in office, the three Senatorial Districts would have achieved representational equity in the governance of the state. On that score, there will be the need for us to go back to a level playing field where we can have a government that will be derived from the collective choice of the majority of Cross Riverians from all strata and stations of the three Senatorial Districts of the state.
If zoning was seen as an affirmative action in 2015 which snowballed into 2019, the current dispirited level of governance in the state is an attestation that we must do away with this opportunistic political leadership recruitment framework. The situation in the state at this time vis-à-vis what we had before 2015 is full proof that zoning is a sterile convention that we should not be wedded to in 2023.
We must understand that the ultimate underwriter of our socio-economic development is good governance. And this can only be derived from merit, competence, and capacity. Any society that sacrifices these qualities on the altar of sectionalism, regionalism, ethnic bigotry, and other forms of primordial sentiments that zoning offers has unwittingly subjected the fate of its people to a developmental suicide mission. We must return to those days when we had a refreshing vigor of vibrant, visionary, and resolute aspirants from different sides of our political spectrum across the three Senatorial Districts on parade.
It is not out of place to assert that our state is a common political community with spikes of similarities in our cultures and some common syllables in our different languages. There is so much in an Efik man that can be found in an Obudu man. There is no remarkable difference between the Yache man in Yala Local Government Area and the Ekpache Nkome man from Ikom Urban in Ikom Local Government Area. The Ekureku man from Abi Local Government Area has a lot in common with an Eniong man in Odukpani Local Government Area.
We are indeed the same people with a shared history and a common ancestral lineage traceable to the Jukuns and Idomas. Historically, the entire state is from the Akpa ethnic genealogy. Our founding fathers were united in their quest to bequeath to us the legacy we have as a State today. To this end, where the Governor comes from should not be an issue in contention if desirable recourse must be made to competence, merit, and capacity to deliver the dividends of democracy to our people. It is competence, not ethnicity that guarantees good governance.
The zoning compulsion was foisted on us in 2015 with all its undemocratic and retrogressive trappings. The idea in itself negates the kernel of democratic practice which is inclusivity and freedom of participation. It constrains the principle of competition in the electoral process which is central in any liberal and constitutional democracy. We cannot disdain or toss aside the core values of democracy and expect any good from governance. In a society where competition or healthy rivalry is encouraged in the electoral process, the resultant reward for the generality of the people is efficiency and effectiveness in governance.
In our budding democratic experiment, healthy competition by way of opening up the political space and providing a level playing field for all candidates to vie for the plum job in the state should be encouraged. It would task their ingenuity and creativity to the limit concerning their proposed policies, visions, and programs for the people. After all, democracy is a contest of ideas and a game of equal opportunity for all.
The onus therefore will be on the masses of our people to interrogate the individual narratives of the contestants based on their developmental blueprints for the state. I daresay our salvation as a state lies in our generational determination to elect the best and brightest amongst us to lead in 2023. It goes without saying that for our state to be restored to the right trajectory, we must urgently re-establish a love affair with merit, competence, and measurable vision regardless of where an individual comes from.
Again given that by 2023, the state would have achieved representational equity in governance across the three Senatorial Districts, it follows therefore that no Senatorial District can lay claim to the right of first refusal on who becomes the governor. The next Governor can come from anywhere within the state including the incumbent’s village. What we have at the moment should serve as a useful lesson to us as a people that we must allow for a fluid political space that would accommodate aspirations from the three Senatorial Zones for the state’s top job. To box our political future to a single Senatorial Zone is as good as mortgaging our common destiny for uncertain outcomes.
The gravity of our socio-economic malaise and development crisis does not require sectionalism on who leads us in 2023. Without deodorizing the reality, and perhaps at the risk of sounding immodest here, I submit that the grand conspiracy of “power shift” or “zoning formula” has become the metaphor that is haunting our state’s progress at this time. Suffice it to say that the lofty dreams of our founding fathers cannot be realized and the future of our unborn generations cannot be guaranteed with a deliberate bifurcated treatment in our leadership recruitment process. This is completely antithetical to our progress on all fronts.
What we need is a person of a high ethical disposition with an enviable moral spine and a traceable record of competence to take the reins of power in the state in 2023. We can only triumph as a state from the current despicable level of governance by putting our best foot forward – competence must be placed over and above every narrow and primordial consideration. The stakes are too high for us to sacrifice the exigency of competence on the altar of the undesirable expediency of zoning in the next dispensation.
History awaits us all!
Missang Oyama is an Economist, Public Intellectual, and a Stickler for Rational Governance. Oyama writes from Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory. firstname.lastname@example.org, @MissangOyama05.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Missang Oyama and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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