By Prince Ejeh Josh
In a recent politically sponsored column written by one Chinenye Ugwu, perhaps, with a pseudonym, titled: “Was there Ever a Zoning Arrangement in the Coal City State?” and published by ThisDay Newspaper on 7th April, 2021, the author had vehemently stood logic on its head in a fruitless effort to change the political narrative of the long established and revered tradition of zoning arrangement in Enugu State.
The work was manifestly riddled with historical contradictions and vicious diatribe against the generally accepted or widespread acceptance of a tradition that has ensued political stability, holistic development and stable democratic consolidation in the state’s history.
The author of the said article and its promoters had ridiculed zoning principle as elite’s invention and propaganda to impair the cognitive will of voters, and went further to challenge anyone to produce the documents embodying the agreement of zoning as encapsulated by the state’s founding fathers. According to the author, it was only by so doing would the evidence that the rotation of governorship seat among the three geopolitical zones be established. This interpretation was unscientifically strict and construed from a slanted, narrow and crude perspective, conceivably to serve a selfish end.
The author, in a struggle to make a self-serving point, deliberately, in what is known as “intellectual dishonesty”, omitted the vital role played by custom in every society. Political development, in every clime, both developed and developing democracies, is a product of custom and tradition consciously and subconsciously evolved overtime for the progress of human settlement and harmonious coexistence. Zoning, from the creation of the old Anambra state to the present caving out of Enugu state in 1991, has been a standard of behavior tailored to suit the state’s political set up. It’s a well established political culture that has long defined the political behaviour or what is known as the voting pattern in the “Coal City State”. Its absence, it’s comparably held, and rightly too, could have thrown the state into political implosion and intractable conflagration. Analysts have gone further to submit that want of zoning formula in the state could have meant the perpetual rule of major ethnic groups over minority ethnics. For example, in terms of population, out of the three senatorial districts in the former capital of the East Central state, the Enugu West senatorial district, culturally referred to the Agbajas or Agwu enclave, is the least populated with acute voting strength. Yet, between 2007 and 2015, the zone produced Mr. Sullivan Chime, from the Enugu West minority, as a governor in the state. This was possible because of the entrenched system of zoning.
Dismissing the existence of zoning because it was not reduced into writing or as a result of unsummoned convention or conference only amounts to having an issue with reality, truth and fact. As would later note by Malcolm Shaw, and eminent International Law scholar, certain rules of behaviour emerge and prescribe what is permitted in order to forge a nonbelligerent society. Such rules develop subconsciously within the group and are maintained by the members of the group by social pressures. These rules (customs), according to him, are unwritten, and usually survive because of their aura of historical legitimacy. It is fundamental to point out this: the most widely acceptable political expression today, both in Nigeria and Enugu state in particular is, zoning. It’s a household jargon. The Peoples Democratic Party lost to the All Progressive Congress in 2015 presidential elections because of attempt to abruptly truncate zoning. There are also consequences when justice is stabbed from behind. The vociferous protagonists of a written zoning arrangement could have suffered from a willful dementia to remember that even written agreements are breached by Orwellian’s “Big Brothers” with overbearing superior complex.
Sadly, since the build up to 2023 general elections started gathering storms, some powerful political Goliaths not favoured, at moment, by the principle of zoning, are out to incite political violence, create dissension, and stir up rebellion in order to unsettle the prevailing political atmosphere in the state. This may be their greatest misdeed as any attempt to disrupt this enabling political configuration will fail, and may perpetually deny them the opportunity of tasting accruing dividends from the Lion Building in future elections. The seat may eventually become a spoil between the majority power blocs. It’s time to withdraw inordinate ambition and allow the reigning custom to dictate the pace. If it works, it needs not be fixed. Zoning arrangement is a working formula. Throwing spanner at it may boomerang.
Finally, those bent at upsetting the political arrangement should allow their conscience to guide them, rather than allow sycophants and bootlickers to lead them astray. They should remember they have always been the greatest beneficiaries of zoning formula in the “Coal City State”, and wait for their turn. For record purpose, every zone has sound, qualified and experienced professionals for the job.
Like Honourable Chima Obieze of the Enugu State House of Assembly rightly noted; there are competent individuals in every zone, and for equity sake, it’s the turn of Enugu East Senatorial zone to produce the next governor. That’s, however, and interesting topic for another day. For now, the Nkanu people must go. And like Chinenye would write, although in a ridiculous metaphor, it’s the turn of the people of Nkanu East which she described as “…backwaters of the ‘Core Nkanuland’ that have suffered perennial political and developmental marginalisation.”