Tanko Yakassai, a northern leader and former Liaison Officer to then-President Shehu Shagari, shares his views on zoning the Presidency with Chuks Okocha. Among other things, he says for Nigeria to enjoy political stability, unity across the country and a sense of equity, the Presidency and other key national offices should be rotated and shared among the country’s geo-political zones. Excerpts:
What is your take on Mamman Daura’s comment on zoning?
Zoning was first introduced into Nigerian political lexicon by the National Party of Nigeria in the Second Republiic. NPN, like you know, was the first political party that was accepted nationwide in Nigeria as everybody’s party. No individual or a group of Nigerians ever allocated to themselves the ownership of NPN. Everybody was joint owners of National Party of Nigeria. It is because of that, that NPN thought of developing the concept and to assure every member and every segment of Nigeria that the exotic office of the president would one day come to their area or zone.
And this is the reason all political conferences that took place after NPN, the idea of zoning kept coming up in such conferences and have been adopted by some conferences as a provision in the Nigerian Constitution. Under (Gen.) Sani Abacha’s constitutional conference, 1994/1995, it was recommended and the military accepted that zoning should be incorporated into the constitution of Nigeria. But in a way that will form the basis of registration criteria for every political party. Unfortunately, Abacha died and the reforms died with him.
Since then, the majority of Nigerians have accepted zoning as a very good strategy that will give everybody in Nigeria a sense of belonging. Those who are able to get the position to their side will be satisfied and acknowledged and those who have yet to get it, were assured that they will get it when the time comes.
So now, you cannot separate zoning from rotation, because zoning without rotation is meaningless. So whoever adopts zoning automatically adopts rotation. And, whoever rejects zoning, automatically rejects rotation.
Now about argument in merit, there was a time when competent people were not sufficient all over the country. Even today, there are more competent people in certain areas. But today every local government in Nigeria has competent and qualified Nigerians to seek any public office. Be it elected or appointed.
So there is no reason why zoning allocation will not be acceptable by any Nigerian. I am saying this, not because it’s my idea. But I was a founding member of National Party of Nigeria (NPN), member of it national executive committee, vice chairman of Kano State Chapter of the party. So, we, the NPN people are happy that what we introduced to Nigerian politics is now being accepted by other parties. Now virtually every new party is accepting zoning and rotation as part of its philosophy. But this is not to say that Nigeria with over 200 million people, everybody will have the same way of thinking.
Our adoption of human rights, right of citizens of Nigeria to own opinion and express it. Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to accept zoning or reject it. But the overwhelming majority in Nigeria have agreed that zoning will bring inclusiveness now or in the future.
Zoning is not constitutional. It depends on the party. Buhari will complete his eight years’ tenure in 2023. For inclusiveness, will it be right to let the Presidency go to the south or remain in the north?
In the interest of national stability, APC should adhere to zoning and rotation which are part of the electoral promise of the party when it was formed. PDP, which is the main opposition party, has already accepted zoning and rotation as part of its constitution. So in my opinion, APC should adhere to its principles of zoning and rotation.
Should it be done between the six geo-political zones or just between tye north and the south?
When zoning was advocated by the NPN, we saw it as a situation that would move on a North-South dichotomy. And to that extent, a number of position in the government or the political party were zoned to certain areas. At the time NPN was formed, there were no six geo-political zones in the country. But you can see that the national chairman of NPN was from the South-West, the presidential candidate and later the President, Shehu Shagari, was from the North, North-West for that matter. And Chief Alex Ekuweme, the Vice President, was from the South-East. So even where there was no clear demarcation of six geo-political zones, the rotation of key office was done in this arrangement. So it was the decision of those who created the concept of zoning and rotation that the main offices are equitably distributed for national unity and stability.
With the six geo-political zones, what will you suggest? Should the Presidency still be between the North and the South?
Yes, the Presidency should be on the concept of the North and the South. There are three zones in the South and three in the North. So when one zone in the North has it in one party, another zone from the other part of the country should be entitled to it.
But this is not to say that the opposition party, the other party which is also operating on a zoning principle must tailored its zoning arrangement to suit the zoning arrangement of the other party. It does not mean that opposition party must align with the zoning arrangement of the other party. In other words, if one party produces a candidate from the North, next it should produce a candidate from the North. It should produce from the South. But zoning arrangement cannot prevent another party from producing candidate from the zone where the other party had produced a candidate that occupied that office at one time.
So what would be your comment on what Mamman Daura said?
Daura is an individual. I am talking about parties. Zoning arrangement was proposed during Sani Abacha’s regime. That it should form the condition for the registration of political parties. That they must adopt zoning and rotation in their own constitution. Once we do that everything will be settled. And the party will not be registered as a political party, if it failed to enshrine zoning in its constitution.