by Okey Ikechukwu
The Anambra State Traditional Rulers’ Council recently organized a statewide seminar to discuss several issues. Central to it all was the need for a sustainable approach to managing the politics of the state, especially as events are seriously warming up towards the governorship elections. An Igbo proverb says that it is the duty of elders to provide platforms for civilized conversation when their children are skirting around potentially volatile matters. In the case of Anambra State, matters may easily get out of hand – as it often does in the state.
In anchoring the aspect of the conversation that has to do with the zoning of political offices and the effect of this on democracy and good governance, I had to point the following: (1) The concept and practice of democracy have evolved over the centuries. (2) The technical details of democratic culture are not the same in all climes today. (3) The original democracy of the Greeks spoke of equality, but disenfranchised slaves and the larger population because it held that only equals should be treated equally. (4) The concept of “citizenship” and group/individual rights, has also evolved along with the expansion of freedoms in the evolution of democracy. (5) The Soviet, British and American variants of democracy are reference points for all fledgling democracies, only to the extent that the latter use them to understand how to historical experiences and the prevailing political maturity of a people shapes their
In a world that is increasingly (and simultaneously) demanding political inclusiveness and good governance, it is important that the problem of “Inadvertently Displaced Persons” (IDPs) in the internal politics of states is handled in such a way that group cohesion is maintained without undermining excellence and good governance. Part of the prevailing global campaign, especially with the newly instituted Sustainable Development Goals, is for all human communities and nation-states to strive for inclusiveness. This striving for inclusiveness means creating and reinforcing a sense of belonging among minorities or otherwise disadvantaged segments of the polity; but this need not be at the expense of best governance practices.
Zoning, or rotation, has always existed as the rotation of Kingship stools in our various towns and villages, in other domains outside Anambra State among designated Ruling Houses and even more especially in the more entrenched feudal states and communities all over the world. It is always the people (then and now) who must exercise vigilance, to ensure that rotation does not enthrone impunity or mediocrity. There is no community, town, local government or Senatorial District that does not have sons and daughters who can play key leadership roles in the various institutions of state. There is no homestead, or extended family, from which the village cannot not find at least one person who will be useful to the community.
Traditional wisdom says: “If the only voices heard at meetings in the village square are those of the largest, richest, most learned or most widely travelled families then it must mean that the community is governed by indiscretion, poor sense of accommodation or a depraved king”. Most political choices are either reasoned, or forced, responses to the vagaries and sociocultural challenges facing a people at a particular historical hour. In the end, lasting results are achieved only when the challenges are handled with the requisite realism.
It is within the context of the foregoing that the tacit understandings about the zoning of political offices emerged as a convenient tool for sustaining faith in a system that could otherwise be disowned by some stakeholders who do not feel sufficiently recognized, or catered for, by it. Ndigbo would say: “Nmegbu ma obu aluluani gbaa aro, obulu omenani”. (When impropriety or an unsound practice is allowed to subsist for up to a year it becomes part of the laws of the land). The difference between “Omenani” (that which is upheld by the laws of the land) and “Aluluani” (a wrong, unfair or even evil practice or act) is that progress come with one, while decay, strife and much more come with the other.
That zoning has become part our national (and state) political lexicon and political practice, is because it is now seen as a redemptive political tool, especially amidst real and imagined cries of inequity and marginalization in the nation. The question it raises, are: (1) Is democracy not about numbers? (2) Is good governance not about excellence and best practices? and (3) Is it not possible that democracy and good governance could be terminally undermined by zooning”? These questions are made more pertinent by the linkages established between poor governance paradigms/outcomes and zoning of political offices in some instances.
But does zoning, just by itself, always undermine excellence and good governance? While it is true that democracy rests on majority rule, it is also true that it is fundamentally designed to be underpinned by equity. The modifications it finds in the various “types” of democracy out there boil down, at the end of the day, to individual group responses to governance challenge in their search for social equity. The idealistic notion of democracy, as simply a matter of numbers, ignores the fact that we must use qualitative” and “numerical” equality in determining the role and relevance of stakeholders in any serious democracy. All minority and majority groups are equal as human beings. It is their numerical inequality, or difference in population size, that is often used to determine who belongs to a minority group and who does not. Both minority and majority groups have produced geniuses, superstars, Popes, great generals, prophets, etc.; and no one has contested the ontological standing of these personages. For instance, the Jews would be declared the world`s largest majority human group if we measure the population of the world by the number of winners of Noble prizes, number of inventors, etc. per capita.
Nigeria has an overlooked national crisis in the fact that the Nigerian constitution can be violated in defense of extra constitutional zoning arrangements. For instance, provisions of Article 7, section 7.2 (c) of the PDP Constitution says: “…pursuant of the principles of equity, the Party shall adhere to the policy and zoning of Party and public elective offices and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels”. This provision which has its variant, or equivalent, in the constitutions of all political parties in Nigeria violates a cardinal provision of the constitution; which says that no one may be discriminated against because of the place, or circumstances, of his birth.
Specifically, President Jonathan`s decision to stick to the Constitution and ignore the PDP constitution cost him the Presidency in 2015. That is because we have a leadership class that defines its relevance by undermining our nationhood and also by explicitly violating the constitutional provision against non-discrimination. Such an elite will bother much about excellence and it would be “out of character” for anyone to object to the provisions of the constitutions of our various political parties, given the type of country in which we find ourselves. Thus the possibility, or wisdom, of doing away with the zoning of political offices, or the pretense that it is an inconvenient rather than useful political tool at the moment, is still open to argument.
As we edge towards the next governorship elections in Anambra State, it would not be news to hear that some aspirants already have a handful of court injunctions, ready to pull them out as and when necessary. But the time has come for Anambra State to review its recent political history in order to move forward in a sustainable way. The state has its own internal cultural diversity, economic interdependence and a history of interactions built on mutual respect and comparative economic and other advantages. But it also has its many divisive sentiments. And zoning has come up as a (hopefully temporary) tool. The real challenge is for each Senatorial District to aspire to outshine others in developing the state during its “turn” in power. Genuine democratic culture does not arbitrarily prevent anyone from exercising any rights granted him by the law, thus cannot forbid those who are warming up to contest the coming elections from doing so, simply because they are not from Anambra North.
Such people and their actions may actually help us to gauge the mood and political maturity of the populace, so as to know when and how to move from zoning to the type of consensus that gave us an Abiola/Kingibe presidential victory. We would not know this if no one falls out of the political line, to test his or her appeal before the people. Every historical hour has its challenges and these are relevant variables, or useful building blocks, for ultimately creating a strong and stable polity.
The cultural autonomy and authenticity of Anambra’s various Senatorial Districts make them equal stakeholders. The problem of good governance, or lack of it, has more to do with the number of renegade elder statesmen, consumption-driven godfathers and godmothers, as well as disoriented godchildren dominating the Anambra political space. The political children and violated leadership traditions have characterized Anambra politics for too long because of limited political literacy and little investment in political education. The electoral value of substantial sections of the population is also lost to ignorance, as most traders and businessmen register near their shops and business premises. Meanwhile they have no access to these locations on the day of election and are thus self-disenfranchised.
For now, my submission is that zoning is neither new nor necessarily a bad thing in itself. It is also not the automatic cause of good or bad leadership anywhere in the world. In addition zoning neither rules out, nor makes unlawful, the decision of anyone to fall out of line and test his popularity. It is for all parties to prove their mettle in the field of battle.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Okey Ikechukwu/Thisday