As the discourse on which of the three senatorial districts in Ondo State should produce the next governor to succeed a competent and high performing governor whose excellent record of achievements speaks for itself begins, this piece offers my modest views in this worthy debate especially to remind our people on the need to reflect deeply and cautiously in the choice between a competent and credible candidate as opposed to a zonal one, on the need to look beyond this primitive and primordial zoning cliché that has bedeviled our democracy and divided rather than unite us, but rather look for a credible, competent and experienced candidate to deliver the goodies of democracy.
Given the tension and complexities of our contemporary society, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which was the ruling party at that time, introduced zoning into Nigeria’s polity during the second republic as an arrangement whereby political offices at the national, state and local government levels are distributed to ensure that no part of any political configuration is short-changed or marginalized.
Zoning as is being construed finds no support in our law or any party constitution, the closest to it is the principle of federal character as supported by s.14 (3) of the 1999 constitution which states that “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few States or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or any of its agencies”.
A calm review of this section will reveal an arrangement in which political offices at the national, state and local government levels are distributed to ensure that no part of any political configuration is left out, it is not intended to spell out zonal succession but rather that key positions, such as that of the office of the Governor, the Deputy Governor, the Speaker and deputy, and the secretary to the state Government be occupied by people from different senatorial district or ethnic group.
Competence on the other hand has been defined as a cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person to act effectively in a job or situation. Competence indicates sufficiency of knowledge and skills that enable someone to act in a wide variety of situations.
Governance follows election, if after all the politicking and elections, a zone succeeds in producing a candidate who is incompetent but elected based on zoning, then unfortunately the whole state has to bear the reward of such incompetence, face the associated challenges and possible reversal of the achievements and modernization witnessed so far under a competent leader. We all share a common collegiate cause which is the ultimate development of our state and a better life for our people.
Yes our democracy is not as matured and our diversity as some would argue doesn’t permit us to overlook this unwritten arrangement, but ultimately, we as a people must look beyond this archaic cliché in our collective interest. For me, I would rather have a competent class room teacher teach my children in school as opposed to a teacher who is from my senatorial district or would anyone refuse a competent and experienced medical doctor to deliver his pregnant wife of a child just because he is not from his senatorial district? These are the salient issues we as a people must reflect upon as we approach this election, competence rather than zoning.
The incumbent governor is from Ondo town and the level of development witnessed under him across the state is unmatched. The key thing here is service to the people. We must be careful to ensure that the challenges currently been faced by other states who have towed the path of zoning and are now groaning as they experience the difference between a competent leader and an incompetent one who was elected based on zoning now advertise ignorance.
It is high time we develop immunity against this virus of prejudice and discrimination and jettison the elitist arrangement that has not advanced our national development. We must stop denying candidates with the required ability the opportunity of impacting the society positively. Yes our plurality calls for a delicate balancing, but it is difficult to see how a serious society that wishes to really develop will continue to elevate zoning over merit and elect people based on sentiment as opposed to competence. All these years, we have continued to rely on zoning, yet no real change has taken place in our socioeconomic life as a nation, we cannot continue doing the same thing all the time and expect a different result.
Ondo State is known to take the lead on national issues and this must not be an exception. We must as a people take the lead in deliberately diluting this potency of zoning and as the complexities and challenges emerges, find the right man with sophisticated intellect who represent the best in terms of moral rectitude, who can cross-pollinate and contest ideas of development to continue sustaining the unprecedented free school shuttle and free mother and child healthcare even in the height dwindling revenue, thereby ensuring that our children do not walk miles to get to school and our mothers deliver safely.
We must at the same time not pretend as if some people are clever enough to take power while others are not good enough to have it so as to be sensitive to the mood of those who have been deprived especially if they produce a shining light in the interest of equity and equality.
––Okediji ia a public affairs analyst