First, there are group dynamics in politics which cannot be wished away anywhere in the world. Zoning is not just a recognition of the salience of group dynamics and identity politics, it is also meant to be a supplement to other constitutional measures of nation-building such as the use of the Federal Character principle to ensure fair representation of all areas of the country in the distribution of federal jobs and amenities. In Nigeria’s political parlance, it is a means of giving every part of the country ‘a sense of belonging’. It is, contrary to the thinking in some quarters, not antithetical to merit – provided the principle is applied creatively. Even political parties that do not explicitly embrace zoning and power rotations, make efforts to practice the principles implicitly.
I am a firm supporter of the creative use of the principles of zoning and power rotation to supplement other constitutional measures of building unity in diversity in the country. I am also a firm supporter of the use of quotas and other positive discrimination measures when necessary because in a federation like ours, it must be recognized that resources and talents are never evenly distributed spatially but are often available in a complementary manner among the geographic spaces.
For the above reasons, I understand why the PDP, just like its progenitor, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) explicitly embraced zoning. But I fail to understand why the party should zone its chairmanship position to the North-east after zoning its presidential candidacy to the north for 2019 and vice presidential candidacy to the southeast during the same period. My suspicion is that it was done to benefit the current interim chairman of the party and apparently its new financier, Modu Sheriff, who is also reportedly interested in being the party’s presidential flag bearer in 2019. I have nothing for or against Modu Sheriff’s ambition. But in terms of political strategy I believe the PDP goofed by this decision.
Strategically, it makes more sense for the PDP to give a sense of co- ownership (not just a sense of belonging) to critical areas that will be battle grounds in 2019. From all indications, the Southwest, with its huge voting population, will remain a key battle ground in 2019 as it was in 2015 and zoning the party’s chairmanship position to the zone would have strengthened the PDP’s hand there. In fact it is by strengthening the party in areas where Buhari currently has weak or fledgling support and incentivising such areas to remain within its fold that the party can be competitive in 2019. It cannot be competitive by the rather uphill task of trying to unseat Buhari in his strongholds of the Northwest and Northeast by dangling the chairmanship and presidential candidacy of another party before the electorates there. I am not arguing that the PDP should give up on the Northwest and Northeast without a fight but the truth is that Buhari’s supporters in these two geopolitical zones are unlikely to abandon him irrespective of how he performs in office. They have demonstrated a remarkable loyalty to him as a person since he began contesting for the presidency in 2003 and any good political strategy must recognize that remarkable loyalty. I do not see Buhari’s support base in the two zones being massively eroded in 2019 – irrespective of how he performs in office. In any case, performance, in a polarized country like ours, is like self-fulfilling prophecies. Both supporters and opponents will have enough ‘evidence’ to buttress their stand.
The current PDP leadership appears to be repeating the mistake made by the Jonathan administration in taking the Southwest for granted or not sufficiently incentivising the zone. In fact, Jonathan began to lose the Southwest when it allowed the ‘Tambuwal coup’ (which led to the Southwest losing the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives zoned to it) to stand and not doing enough to compensate them and give them a sense of co-ownership of the party when he failed to topple Tambuwal. As I argued in a report for Brookings’ Foresight Africa before the election: “The APC gets much of its strength from tapping into anti-Jonathan sentiments in the Muslim north and grievances among the Yoruba who feel that the Jonathan administration has ignored them in key political appointments.” The report, which was entitled ‘The 2015 Presidential Elections in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges’ was published in January 2015 (though it was submitted for publication in November 2014). A crucial question for the PDP strategists therefore is how has the party been able to address the perceived alienation of the South-west from the party? Certainly the decision of the PDP to zone both the chairmanship of the party and its presidential candidacy in 2019 to the north and the Vice Presidency to the southeast does nothing to even acknowledge that it advertently or inadvertently marginalized such a critical geopolitical zone under Jonathan.
The PDP’s strategy is probably hinged on making the ‘north’ feel ownership of the party as a way of competing effectively against Buhari in 2019 – if he chooses to run. If this was the party’s thinking, then it is unlikely to bear fruit.
It is true that the PDP is in a pretty bad shape now: it is being effectively de-marketed by the APC’s propaganda machine amid allegations of financial heist and monumental corruption against the past regime. Additionally potential financiers seem to be living in fear of the EFCC. It is therefore understandable that the PDP will be happy to embrace anyone with enough cash and courage to come to its aid. But to be competitive, the party needs to look beyond its present condition.
I foresee the party going the way of the defunct ANPP – moving from the largest opposition party to becoming an effeminate opposition and eventually withering away. I also foresee the emergence of another opposition political party, most likely through mergers, which will try to bring new narratives to the current political discourse.
Re:On the purported merger of Christian and Islamic studies in schools.
I apologise to my readers that I have not been able to publish readers’ responses to some of my articles for some time now. Things have been moving a bit too fast. This week I decided I must create the space for some of the reactions. I am selecting three reactions that I feel mirror the other reactions I got in my last piece. They have been edited for space and clarity:
‘If you refer to CRS as Christian Religious Studies, then you should equally refer to Islamic Religious Studies as IRS, not IS because your readers will unconsciously associate it with IS of Islamic State, unless you are deliberately trying to be mischievous.’
Text message, no name: 08060880808
‘Mr Jideofor Adibe’s discourse for the week is apt and analytic and one that separates the chaff from the grains. Take a look at the curricula for the two religions and the methodology of implementation of what is being taught, and you will surely notice the difference so merging them to form a single subject under RNV with the intention of inculcating the values of religious tolerance will be a herculean task. Alternatively the government may suggest taking either of the subjects as voluntary by the opposite faith for him/her to understand the teachings so as to foster religious tolerance among adherents to ensure peaceful co-existence.’
Abdulkadir Mamman Katsina, text message: 08035890245
‘I have just read your beautifully and thoughtfully written piece. You and I, and indeed Nigerians know that religion is a very sensitive and knotty issue that calls for serious caution and skill to handle in order to avoid any form of resentment or misgiving from any quarters. You have hitherto mentioned that those flying this kite may not know its destination or the speed with which it flies. Arguing that merging these religions under Religion and National Values (RNV) will foster religious tolerance and harmonious coexistence is logically incorrect and preposterous.
There is no gainsaying the fact that there are always common grounds to be sought between Christian and Islamic Studies, but that must not and should not be done at all cost. Making these two religions coterminous in schools will trigger religious sentiments and intolerance; there are other fora through which that can be done.
But my question is: do we really have to change things that do not necessarily need to be changed simply because of the mantra of change that is being preached? My humble answer is no.’
Rev. Fr. Isaac A. Vasumu’, by email.