August 16, 2022
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Religion and zoning as red herrings in Nigerian politics – Vanguard

  • November 7, 2021
  • 5 min read
Religion and zoning as red herrings in Nigerian politics – Vanguard

THERE’s no denying it, the political season is here. Despite the fact that there is still about 14 months to the 2023 general elections, the power elite is busy with political wheelings and dealings, with the usual nocturnal meetings holding wherever convenient.
At the onset of each election cycle, one of the issues in conversations about politics is where the next president will come from — North or South. If one party chooses its presidential candidate from the North, it inevitably chooses the running mate from the South. When it is agreed that the president should come from the North, it gets stepped down to which zones of the North should produce the candidate, and this usually involves a lot of horse-trading, capitulations, and compromises. 
Some even exact both written and unwritten agreements in pursuit of interests germaine or not to their ambition. Ditto for the running mate; though often, the presidential candidate may have his preferred choice, the party and the supremacists decide who it should be.
The same thing plays out at the state level — which part of the state produces the governor and the running mate. In both presidential and governorship candidatures, religion also plays a major role; it has most of the time been a Muslim/Christian ticket, as in the case of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, and Muhammadu Buhari/Yemi Osinbajo, or Christian/Muslim as in the case of Goodluck Jonathan/Namadi Sambo. 
The only time we had a presidential candidate and his running mate being adherents of the same religion, called a Muslim-Muslim ticket, was the annulled June 12, 1993 election of Bashorun M.K.O. Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe. We are yet to see a Christian-Christian ticket.
Even under the military, at least since 1975, the Christian-Muslim ticketing of the nation’s highest offices had been in use. General Murtala Muhammed had General Obasanjo as deputy in the Supreme Military Council, in an office called Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. When Murtala was assassinated in the 1976 coup, Obasanjo became Head of State and Shehu Musa Yar’Adua ascended as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters. 
In the 2nd  Republic, the tradition continued with Alhaji Shehu Shagari as president and Dr. Alex Ekwueme as vice-president. The first deviation from this practice occurred with the December 1983 coup which threw up Major-General Muhammadu Buhari as Head of State; the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters was also a Muslim in the person of Major-General Abdulbaki Babatunde Idiagbon. 
The tradition resumed with the Babangida administration, who had Okoh Ebitu Ukiwe and Augustus Aikhomu as his deputies, right on to Abacha and Abdulsalami who had Mike Akhigbe.
The 4th Republic took off with a Southern president and a Northern vice-president and other offices of the federal administration were given to people from various sections of the country, under an arrangement we all came to know as zoning. 
I have gone into this recap to point out the fact that zoning is actually a creation of the military, worsened by the fact that a retired general had to become an elected president in 1999. The Gowon Administration which preceded the Murtala/Obasanjo regime had as Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters — Brigadier Emmanuel Ekpo, and later, Rear-Admiral Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey. 
As the names show, General Yakubu Gowon and his two chiefs were Christians, in addition to the Vice-Chairman of the Federal Executive Council, till 1971, being another Christian in the person of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. 
In fact, religionisation of the two highest national offices began with the Murtala/Obasanjo regime, and today, it has become a mantra that must not just be sung by politicians irrespective of party affiliation, it has assumed the status of an unwritten political grundnorm, much like the British constitution.
The year 1975 will remain chequered in Nigerian history; it was the year that the engine of government, the civil service was destroyed in a mass purge embarked upon by the Murtala/Obasanjo regime. In any case, has zoning positively impacted the development of our dear country? 
You, the reader, know the answer. If it has, the part of the country that had been longest in holding federal power should be the most developed. 
Similarly, eight years of the Obasanjo administration should have left the South-West a lot better than it is now, while the East-West Road, at least, should have been completed for the benefit of the South-South. 
What we lacked has been good leadership, and not where the leaders come from or what religion they profess. Zoning is a red herring introduced in 1975 and sustained by subsequent regimes to cover crippling incompetence in the management of public affairs. That is why everywhere you look, you can only see decay, sepsis, and putrescence. Away with incompetence in 2023, so that Nigeria can be great again!



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