2023: Why Enugu should place competence above zoning

By Bar. Val Ikpa

In a democracy, a lot of factors influence emergence of party candidates and voter’s decision. The multi ethnic and religious diversity in the country has turned out to be one of the major factors that has pulled back the country from the path of accelerated political developmental process. It has in no small measure contributed to the seemingly mutual suspicion between the custodians of political offices and the electorate.

To create balance and acceptability in the power architecture, the founders of the nation’s democracy went into a marriage of convenience which allowed every homogenous part of the country have a taste of political office through a zonal arrangement.

The presupposition here is that the majority may continually suppress the minority in the power equation hence the need to develop a broad and universally acceptable political framework for equitable distribution of power and political participation.

This arrangement as laudable it may seem came from the premonition that political office holders will not live up to their contract with the electorate. But they shied away from crafting a water proof law that will compel the executive to evenly fulfill their covenant with the people in an equitable manner.

Zoning is not a product of any constitution. The closest legal framework that comes close to zoning of political offices is the principle of federal character as enshrined in s.14 (3) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) 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”.

This section of the constitution recommended that political offices at the national, state and local government levels be distributed in such a way as to ensure that no part of any political configuration is left out. It was never 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 so as to create a balance and also ensure checks in public decision.

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.

Over the years, zoning has been institutionalized by the political class leading to the emergence of leaders who do not appreciate the enormity of the responsibilities of public offices. Public positions were allocated to ‘loyal’ and ‘submissive’ stooges of the political class under the pretext of zoning at the detriment of competence and professionalism.

Since the creation of Enugu State from the old Anambra state in 27 August, 1991 the state has continued to drift away from the path of development due to the primitive consideration of zoning in the choice of its leaders. The consequence is that a lot public infrastructure has been abandoned by successive government following a shot sighted presumption that the previous administration will be acknowledge for conceiving the project. The present crop of political leaders lack the capacity to reinvent novel projects and classical initiatives that could contribute immensely to the states Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If a political party throws up an incompetent candidate under the guise of zoning, then the whole state has to bear the retrogressive tendencies and stagnation associated with the choice. The visible result is nothing but maladministration, reversal and erosion earlier successes. The retrogressive consequences of an incompetent leader is best left to the imagination. It can be described as an extermination of futuristic ambition, uprooting of a progressive strand and an endless journey to a hopeless destination.

One may argue that our democracy is still fragile and that our diversity would not permit us to overlook this unwritten arrangement but the systemic wrath created by decades of myopic leadership calls for an urgent need to look beyond this archaic cliché in our interest.

With the 2023 election lurking, it is high time stake holders jettison this arrangement if we desire to transform Enugu into an iconic state. It is difficult to understand how a state hungry for democratic deliverables will continue to elevate zoning over merit and elect people based on sentiment as opposed to competence.

It is unfortunate that while the rest of the world is looking at the credentials and capacity of their prospective political aspirants, Enugu state is trapped in the zoning template. This development displays the dysfunctional and underdeveloped nature of its political system. This outlandish dogma has thrown up all sorts of characters and political buccaneers who feast on the existential challenges and pillage public treasury, execute mundane agenda, engage in primitive enrichment and garner more debts that reverses the socio-economic fortunes of the state.

Enugu state is naturally positioned as a centripetal developmental gateway for the entire South Eastern states. Hence the occupant of the lion building, the local government chairmen and the legislature should be visionary people with deep understanding of the making of a modern state.

It is obvious that under the present obnoxious arrangement, the state is headed towards a dangerous, self-destructive and catastrophic end. Those calling for the retention of zoning for the 2023 election in Enugu state are not just anachronistic, but are engaging in a counterproductive enterprise. The arrangement symbolizes dysfunctional political system that breeds exclusivism, frustrates broad political participation and narrows political choice to a few classless briefcase politicians.

For the Enugu state to move above bar, zoning must be kicked out of its political life. 2023 is the time to place political merit and competence above zoning.

The next Enugu state governor and members of the state assembly must be individuals that command acceptance with the capacity to stir a positive developmental revolution in the state. The measure of quality leaders should be a function of developmental antecedents and verifiable historical achievements rather than the accident of birth.

*Bar Ikpa, a public affairs commentator writes from Enugu.

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