Arc Bassey Eyo-Ndem
Another electoral cycle has started and, as usual, politicians and their supporters have started jostling for positions and narratives that will favour them in the coming months. One hot topic in Cross River State is the principle of Zoning and Rotation of political offices among its various components. While some are clamouring for sequential rotation of the office of governor, others feel otherwise and both sides are marshaling their arguments accordingly. The truth, however, is immutable and timeless. It can be ignored, covered up with sophistry and battered, but in the end, it remains the ever-shining light that leads discerning men and women to understanding and freedom. I, therefore, wish to lend my opinion, respectfully, to the ongoing discussions as follows.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Cross River State currently has 3 senatorial districts. Southern Senatorial District(S), Central Senatorial District (C), and Northern Senatorial District (N). 1. In1999, the Zoning or Rotation of the office of Governor was still at a nascent stage. HE Donald Duke (S)and Kanu Agabi (N) contested in the PDP gubernatorial Primaries. In APP Eyo Etim Nyong (S)and Mark Ukpo(N) contested in APP primaries. 2. In 2003, Duke(S) contested against Okpa(C) his former Deputy and a few others from the north. 3. In 2007, HE Liyel Imoke (C) contested against Walter Eneji(N) in the primaries and eventually went against Eyo Etim Nyong (S) in the general election. 4. In 2012 the idea and practice of rotation and zoning had deepened. HE Liyel Imoke(C) contested against Soni Abang(C) in the PDP primaries and eventually contested against UsaniU Usani (C) in the general election. 5. In 2015, the PDP primaries had 24 aspirants all from the north. APC followed suit and there were 3 main aspirants, all from the north as well.
Eventually, in the general election, it was an all Northerner’s affair with HE Ben Ayade (N ) defeating Odey Ochicha (N) and becoming Governor. 6. In 2019 PDP maintained zoning and the incumbent had to contend with a fellow Northerner, Emmanuel Ibeshi, who was later said to have been disqualified. APC, however, argued that 2nd term was not an automatic right and should be based on performance. They appear to have jettisoned zoning and fielded Hon Owan Enoh(C). However, where the leadership of any of the political parties failed to capture the mood of the people, the masses made their position clear on the field, in support of equity and rotation (8years for each Zone). Unlike what happened in 1999, when the zoning arrangement was at best an experiment or at a nascent stage, in 2019 the masses rejected their own tribesmen in the South and Central senatorial districts, on the basis of zoning, equity and justice, and voted massively for the Northern incumbent.
MAIN ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF ZONING/ROTATION 1. Zoning is currently being practiced from Ward level to LGA to State and Federal levels. 2. It discourages the use of tribalism as a means to becoming Governor and allows for the orderly transfer of that office from one senatorial district to another. 3. It discourages domination by the majority tribe or district, by forcing them to give up power from time to time. This is very important in a multiethnic democratic society with weak institutions, as it allows minorities have their say and even their way. 4. It encourages all Cross Riverians to see themselves as one entity with a common destiny when a strong district willingly agrees to forgo its constitutional right to contest for a particular office, in order to support their smaller neighbor. 5. It encourages even development across all parts of the state. No part is allowed to dominate economically or politically in perpetuity. 6. Under zoning, the greatest critics of any incumbent governor are usually people from his own ethnic stock/district who feel he is representing the best they have to offer, and he or she must not disgrace them 7. It reduces violence and the cost of elections by making it unnecessary for politicians to form and arm ethnic militias to tackle their opponents.9. It reduces corruption by making it difficult for moneybags from any other district or state to hijack or compromise the system against the flow of equity and natural justice. 10. Finally, Zoning creates room for the youth to grow and gather experience, so that when it is the turn of their district, they are ready to take up the mantle of leadership in a smooth, inexpensive and non-violent manner.
Because of the foregoing: 1. No senatorial district can take the Governorship entirely on its own and in perpetuity 2. With Zoning in place, the other senatorial districts are expected to urge their indigenes to give up their constitutional right to contest, and await their turn, as has been done in the past 3. Voting demographics are dynamic and a large proportion of young Cross Riverian’s have come of age and are not ready to be fooled by those who seek to play tribal politics for their personal interest while mortgaging the political future of the youth As such: 1. The Senatorial district whose turn it is to occupy the office of Governor has to put forward its best materials in order to reinforce and build confidence in the zoning arrangement 2. The biggest fears of the other senatorial districts are marginalization, and lack of even development. However, developing one senatorial district and neglecting others is a recipe for failure because no Governor is elected to be the governor of his senatorial district only. 3. It is bad for the State in general when any part begins to feel marginalized.
The way the Donald Duke /Liyel Imoke administrations handled fears of marginalization in the North by ensuring even development across all senatorial districts and eventually ceding power to them, when they could have done otherwise, in what looked like a one-party state/family is instructive. That practice has been continued by the Ben Ayade administration and should be sustained. 4. Every senatorial district must curb the antics of fiery demagogues with irredentist rhetoric’s or moneybags who feel they can buy peoples conscience and divide Cross River State into tribal lines, for their selfish interest. 5. There are 60 distinct languages spoken in Cross River State according to the encyclopedia Britannica. Senatorial districts are, therefore, artificial boundaries created for administrative convenience, and the common man in Akpabuyo is as much a victim of bad politics or rogue local government revenue agents as the common man in Obanliku or Obubra.
CONCLUSION Although zoning /power rotation is not enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and is a privilege or “gentleman’s agreement” which is not an enforceable right, it has nevertheless become a convention in our political life. In the case of Cross River State, there was no signed and published document to record the letter and spirit of the preceding meeting and discussions that took place in 2014, unlike the Calabar /Ogoja Accord of 1979/80. The decision to cede power to the North was arrived at with a spirit of give and take, and in keeping faith with the reality of fairness and equity. At that expanded Caucus meeting of the main Political party at the time (PDP), the South made a proviso that since they were being asked to shelve their right to contest the office of Governor for 16 years, power should rotate sequentially to them at the end of the North’s sojourn.
It was unanimously endorsed and all the southern contenders had to drop their ambition immediately and support the northern ones. The main opposition at the time (APC) followed suit. Subsequently, the South rejected attempts to lure them to support efforts to impeach the incumbent as they knew this was unfair and would bring chaos to the zoning arrangement. On November 10th, 2018, the Northern Senatorial district came together and engaged the Southern Senatorial district in a brilliant and very mature display of non-partisan political sagacity. On that historic day,19 Northern stakeholders, including Chief Linus Okom (of blessed memory), the Ada Bekwara, Chief JIC Igbe, Mike Aniah, Madam Theresa Ezama, etc and led by Brigadier General Anthony Ukpo (of blessed memory), met with 23 Southern stakeholders including (Arc) B Ndem, Amb. Nkoyo Toyo, HRM Etim Okon Edet, Chief Gershom Davis, Prof Stella Atoe, Mba Ukweni (SAN) etc in the grand residence of Etinyin Asuquo Ekpenyong. Although they had the power of incumbency in their zone, the Northern Senatorial District still felt it was imperative to appeal to the South to support their quest for power to remain in the North for the agreed 8year term, after which the governorship would return to the South and start a new cycle of rotation. After a lot of deliberations, the South agreed, once again, to forego its right to contest and reiterated the proviso that the North would support the South in 2023.
Again, it was unanimously agreed and the communique that was issued at the end of that meeting effectively broke the back of agitation and the rest is history. One good turn certainly deserves another. It is not surprising, however, that today, many are bringing up specious arguments like “zoning by elimination, or “all zones have had a go so it can start anywhere” to justify their attempt at advancing their selfish political interests. We must persuade such elements not to try to upset the applecart even if “all is fair in love and war”. For, it may favor them today but be a regrettable move for their youth, who are growing, and would be ready to smoothly take up the mantle of leadership in a few years, but have to pay for the sins of their fathers’ betrayal. Sadly, you will always find a Judas who is ready to sacrifice his or her Senatorial District for their selfish interests. This must be discouraged and condemned with the strongest terms. Indeed, all the fiery rhetoric should be reserved for those who work against the state’s overall interest. Zoning and sequential Rotation of political offices, from ward to federal level, ensures that no single group monopolizes any office and further guarantees the rights of minorities to ascend to the highest office.
The onus is now on all the political parties to ensure that the senatorial district, whose turn it is to occupy an office, puts forward its very best materials for the rest of the state to elect and rally around. After all, the policies and actions of whoever is elected will affect all of us and not only members of his Senatorial District or political party. The Good Book says it all in Proverbs 27:2,7- “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked rule, the people mourn…The righteous considers the cause of the poor: but the wicked pretends not to know it ” May we all be guided by our consciences and what is in the best interest of the growth and peaceful coexistence of our dear Cross River State.