I am conscious of the various interpretations that will arise from this contribution as a consequence of whom the author is. If on this account, I fail to offer an opinion, then I will be morally unfit for the very insinuations that should have dissuaded me from putting forward this account.
It is necessary to define what zoning means in the political context of its application, relevance and how it can be implied. Zoning is the conscious effort and sometimes agreement to restrict political interests and outcomes to a specific character bearing identity anchored on geospatial, linguistic (language), ethnic, class or any other contemplated consideration. It is a design to confine choices of political expression to a particular locale based on ethnography, geophysical consideration, political delineation or any other condition of interest.
The provision of zoning in politics is, therefore, not a doctrine but a phenomenon that is intended to achieve interests of convenience. However, it reclines to the convenience of people who agree without dissension.
Whereas, in certain situations, zoning is capable of resolving democratic upheavals; in others, it is subsumed under the primary tenets of democratic elements. In such circumstances, the rule of majority leads the discourse. The stance of majority of the electorate passes for common sense to lead a proof of how to ascertain electoral acceptability, beyond conclave presumptions of appropriating the public trust of the electorate to ourselves, deliberately but sometimes erroneously granted to represent collective interest.
This is very appropriate to the extent that it can be said that zoning is morally acceptable but not always politically expedient. At the same time, its initiation is not automated on assumptions that hitherto were not in practice, i.e., it was not contemplated in 1999, the beginning of the current democratic phase. Now that it is being considered, the debate will hinge on a pertinent question: where and when should it start?
I do not decry zoning. The contention is whether it has been in practice or not. Late Eyo Okon Eyo, in 2003, had objected to zoning when most people who had enlisted in the Atam Congress Philosophy were challenging the return of Donald Duke and preferred the Northern Senatorial District of Cross River State to produce the Governor. He was in defiance because he wanted John Okpa from the Central Senatorial District. Incidence of apparency should not be construed as consensus of opinion.
Sometimes, l hear people say that there are no morals in politics. I do not hold this view. If morals are not consistent with political values, then we will continue to justify any form of conduct under the label of politics. Accordingly, zoning may be a moral consideration, but we need to understand the place of moral appeal in juxtaposing democratic norms of choice-making and the statutory provisions of guiding instruments that shape democracy within a body polity.
So far, some of the contributors on the media tend to ascribe grotesque images to those who hold contrary views to the propositions of their thoughts. This is a wrong way to start, which may end bitter. Political viewpoints are like court verdicts: the Judge has the statute and precedent(s) to defend any given verdict, sometimes quite discretionary.
There is no innocent political opinion. Each one aims at achieving a pre-conceived notion of a particular interest. Therefore, the allegation of selfish interests is both normative and cognitive in political practice. Every expressed interest in politics bears the identity of a personality that will tend to be self-protective. Therefore, to liberate our political minds will demand open and liberal thought patterns that should promote the democratic ideal of “right choice” under a scheme of fair play.
Now that it is in debate domains, what should we do? Without much ado, it is wise and rational to concede the right of possession to any region, zone, district, ethnicity or family in accordance with democratic ideals of choice by popular appeal. It means each proposition will be able to advance enough reasons for any position taken by the proponent. So logic and concessions will not solve the problem. On the other hand, is it possible to have a bipartisan commonality of opinion on this matter?
In the past, since 1999 we have had the following contestants:
1999: Kanu Agabi (North), Obi Odu (North), Donald Duke (South), Mark Ukpo (later) (North), Eyo Etim Nyong (South), Clement Ebri (Central)
2003: Donald Duke (South), Usani Usani (Central), John Okpa (Central), Obi Odu (North)
2007: Paul Ukpo (North), Eyo Etim Nyong (South), Kanu Agabi (North), Walter Eneji (North), Liyel Imoke (Central)
2011/12: Mathew Mbu (Central), Nsa Adegoke (South), Usani Usani (Central), Liyel Imoke (Central), Mary Ekpere (Central), Patrick Okomiso (Central)
2015: Odey Ochicha (North), Goddy Akpama (Central) Ben Ayade (North), Fidelis Ugbo (North)
2019: Usani Usani (Central), Owan-Enoh (Central), Ben Ayade (North), Eyo Ekpo (South)
In 2015, I do not know whether zoning took place in other parties. In the APC, the emergence of our governorship candidate was not a consequence of zoning policy. Those who indicated interests in our party (the APC) coincidentally came from the northern senatorial district, not because there were any imposed restrictions.
Candidates are bearers of political party trusts, borne by platforms (political parties) that invest in the representation of those candidates. A particular party, thus, devises every known and possible strategy to win polls against its opposition platform(s). Does partisan approach necessarily align with ethnographic permutations?
The Calabar – Ogoja Accord
I have read several presentations and interpretations of the Calabar – Ogoja Accord. Consider these pertinent questions:
1. When was it formulated?
2. Who were the signatories?
3. What was the motivation?
4. What are the critical pivots?
5. At what instances have it been implemented and by whom?
We are familiar with the political history of Cross River State within the last 3 decades. Prior to the second Republic, the people of the present day Cross River State felt oppressed by the then known “mainland” indigents (which constitutes the present day Akwa Ibom State).
In the old Cross River State, we had five (5) senatorial districts, with three (3) in the mainland and two (2) in the present day Cross River State. The Calabar – Ogoja Accord was a response to this perceived condition of oppression, which sought to foster a front of unity to explore room to withstand the then majority mainland.
This accord meant that the Calabar and Ogoja senatorial districts would be sharing interests of common concerns/constituency. Nonetheless, there had been no execution of this conjecture before the ousting of the second republic democratic/political dispensation.
While the Calabar – Ogoja accord was entered into, the present day Cross River State politicians of the then ruling, NPN, wooed Don Etiebiet to extract his senatorial district against the two others of Ibibio extraction to form a majority against Clement Isong for the 1982/83 elections. At that time, Senator Victor Akan (Late) was favorably disposed to the political permutations of the Calabar/Ogoja NPN politicians. This origin terminated with the sudden disruption of the NPN second tenure regime by the January 1983 military coup. In essence, the said Accord has no conformity with the prevailing political landscape; in motive, content, practice, and outcome and regime.
From the prevalent literature on the subject of zoning, I derive that the debate is dominated by the cons and pros of zoning as a doctrine that the “Calabar – Ogoja Accord” is interpreted as encapsulating and its application in the Cross River State political/democratic regime.
However, the said Calabar – Ogoja Accord has the following elements:
— It does not fit into the current democratic geopolitics because it did not contemplate the present geo-space of our political landscape; in which case it should have captured North, Central and South instead of Calabar – Ogoja.
— If it ever existed, in practice, it has been defied by the unrestricted expression of interests by all parties because aspirants from the three senatorial districts always participated in the elections/primaries.
— There has been no consensus on this: none is in existence.
— The said accord is being cited out of context.
Within the realm of logic, canvassing for zoning is a subtle appeal for concession. It is an acceptable approach. However, when it is conveyed as duty of right possession, it will be pertinent to interrogate the tenets of democratic choice(s), which contemplate the rule of majority over minority. It may be further suggested that this opinion of zoning is democratically tenable, implying that it is the popular will. In this case, the mass that drives this “popular” opinion has the onus of proof by using this popular mass to demand and foster a direct democratic field victory.
To seek concession suggests that; if it is not heeded, the quest (by proponents of zoning) may be endangered and winning by votes may be impossible. Where then will we locate the justification of popular Will in democracy and the concept of zoning by the promoters?
Finally, one can deduce a psychological inference of a misplaced agitation by understanding that traditions do not come under debates. If the practice had been established, there would have been no reason for the fierce agitation. If there is a consensus to begin zoning in Cross River State polity, let it be known that it begins with the zone of origin of whoever will win the 2023 election.
Usani Uguru Usani, a three time gubernatorial candidate in Cross River State, served as Nigeria’s Niger Delta Affairs minister from November 2015 to May 2019.
NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Usani Uguru Usani and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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