Political parties are critical in a liberal democracy because they promote the stability of the governing process.
In other words, political parties are essential components of democratic societies because they bring together people with similar ideologies under one umbrella.
In Nigeria, zoning is a practice in which political parties agree to divide their presidential and vice-presidential candidates among different geopolitical zones in order to ensure that no region of the country is permanently excluded from power.
The concept was introduced in the Second Republic, following the Biafran Civil War of 1967–1970. The need to reduce inter-ethnic tensions following the Civil War was the driving force behind zoning.
The National Party of Nigeria (NPN) launched a zoning system to select party officials.
As the country is counting down to the upcoming elections, it is clear that there are significant considerations being faced by the country’s main political parties, which are the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Although zoning is not explicitly stated in either the 1999 Constitution or the Electoral Act, it is one of the practical measures adopted by political parties since the return to democracy in 1999.
Despite the fact that the term “zoning” does not appear in the 1999 Constitution, it is consistent with the ideals of Federal Character and the establishment of a Federal Character Commission.
In a multi-plural, diverse country like Nigeria, with over 400 ethnic nationalities, it is critical to provide a sense of belonging and participation to all groups in order to promote national unity and loyalty.
This principle has been a source of tension and conflict among Nigeria’s various ethnic nationalities, regions, and zones since independence, with minority groups protesting their marginalisation by majorities.
As the 2023 general election approaches, zoning is once again a hotly debated issue.
The question that arises is why zone the country’s leadership to a specific region when any qualified Nigerian from any region is eligible to contest?
It is more important to discuss this now than ever before because the Nigerian polity has never been more divided, with several secessionist agitations, ungoverned spaces due to terrorism, and unprecedented economic hardship.
This is not unrelated to the fact that Nigerian politics has been played on the basis of ethnicity for many years, which has undoubtedly bred ethnic chauvinism in a country with a polyglot population.
Nigeria urgently requires peace and stability
Chief Obafemi Awolowo stated in his 1947 book ‘Path to Nigerian Freedom‘ that “Nigeria is not a nation, it is a mere geographical expression.”
Awolowo’s assertion is widely interpreted as a lack of unity, history, vision, and commonalities among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups.
In the same vein, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stated at the Legislative Council in 1948 that “Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country.”
Against this backdrop of pessimism, mistrust, and mutual suspicion, the issue of zoning in the country must be addressed head on, as equity policy will go a long way toward calming agitated nerves.
Nigeria desperately needs peace and stability, and only a long-term objective dialogue focused on national interests can bring it about.
Writing by Nehemiah Anini of our current affairs unit; Editing by Saadatu Albashir