Chief Bisi Akande, former interim national chairman of APC, is a cool-headed gentleman politician. He has my deepest respect. But Akande surprised me, and it was no small surprise, when he told the press this week that his party would not use zoning to pick the principal officers of the national assembly because “we don’t want to copy the PDP. “
I have grappled with classifying his statement. Was it a goof or a gaffe? Neither. He appeared to be speaking the mind of his party. His statement raises some troubling impressions about the party and its leadership at this delicate moment in our political transition.
If it was an indication that APC is grappling with the challenges of managing its success, then it is profoundly disturbing. Obviously, the intra-party struggle has generated enough heat to make a man like Akande sound as if he did not know that wisdom, or foolishness for that matter, is eclectic. The public has never applauded attempts to re-invent the wheel as Solomonic wisdom. Throwing out what has worked in search of the untried and the untested is inadvisable fishing expedition.
APC swept into power waving the broom of possible radical changes in how government business should be done. It should be careful about its sweeping use of the broom not to create the impression that it is hankering after change. Its moral right to live in denial should be moderated by its pragmatic recognition that the formula that has worked for us in the last 16 years, no matter how imperfect or imperfectly applied, cannot be the victim of change for the sake of change. I suppose the broom was intended to be used for measured changes such that the business of government is the business of the citizens.
The national chairman of APC, Chief John Oyegun, certainly knew what he was talking about when he suggested that the zoning formula be applied in picking the principal officers of the national assembly. Sensible and pragmatic and fully consistent with our democratic journey so far. Akande said the party disagreed with him. I have a huge problem with that. I find the reasons advanced by Akande at best puerile and at worst an indication that the party is trawling for a straw to keep it afloat when its feet should be firmly planted on the shore by now.
There is no way we can sugar coat this: if APC creates the impression that it is an amalgam of political forces pulling in different directions, it would be a short hop from winning the elections to turning its huge public good will into a deficit.
The first order of business is the structure of government. It affects the two arms of the government – the executive and the legislature. Muhammadu Buhari steps into the shoes of the once shoeless man in about one week as of this writing. We expect to see the emerging basic shape of his new administration by now. The zonal allocation of the principal offices in the national assembly should be a fully settled matter by now.
It is disappointing that this is not happening because the leaders of the party are wasting valuable time trying to replace the zoning formula for the distribution of principal offices in the national assembly with some vagueness, if only to show that APC is different, as they say, in every material particular from PDP.
Akande even went as far as saying that if necessary they would conduct primaries to choose the senate president. It cannot get sillier than that. We have the right to expect the leaders of the party to show they are ruled by hard headed thinking, not emotion.
There should be a limit to this rather infantile sentiment of ditching the zoning formula for no better reason than that PDP used it. That party is not a political leper. Most of the leaders and the members of APC were in that party and held important positions in the executive and the legislative branches of government for years. It was not everything the party touched that turned into a turd.
We expect the new president to hit the ground running from May 29 with a road map that clearly shows us where he wants to take the nation to and the route he intends to follow. His responsibility goes far beyond his taking his oath of office. The legal and constitutional composition of his new administration cannot be in isolation of the principal officers of the national assembly.
The senate president and the speaker of the house of representatives are in the line of succession. Their positions must be settled matters. Without leadership at that level, the executive itself sways in the wind.
The decision of the APC leaders to ditch the zoning formula is patently retrogressive.
The six geo-political zones were not created by the PDP. It was a formula arrived at after some hard headed thinking by the likes of the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua on the best way to manage power in the country. This geo-political arrangement protects the political interests of the big tribes and their smaller cousins. The six geo-political zones are not in our constitution but the beauty of it is that they have been the basis for power sharing in the country since the late head of state, General Sani Abacha, formally gave it a habitation.
The zoning formula has worked and has been accepted, even if grudgingly, as a sensible approach to a fair distribution of important political offices at the executive and the legislative branches of government at the national and state levels. Its mediating capacity has helped to stabilize the polity and create a sense of belonging among the six geo-political zones. It is unwise to ditch it for sentimental reasons. A free for all struggle for the offices mentioned earlier is a clear and dangerous recipe for chaos and retrogression. APC, flying the flag of change and armed with the broom to effect it, cannot afford that.
PDP was the only party so far to have held power for 16 years. It put the formula to the test. The result, warts and all, did not give zoning a bad name. The challenge for people in all democratic societies is the constant search by political leaders for a formula that helps them best in managing the contending forces in national power configuration. If APC chooses not to use the zoning formula because it has possibly been tainted by PDP, it could court trouble much bigger than it can handle.
In our 16 years of managing and growing our democracy, the zoning formula has dictated the locus of the following important political offices in the executive and the legislative branches of government: president, vice-president, senate president, deputy senate president, speaker and deputy speaker, House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
I offer these to the leaders of APC gratis:
- Accept the zoning formula as an important principal of managing power in the country;
- Make changes, where necessary, to attune the formula to your peculiar circumstances;
- Quit behaving as if you are entitled to more than 24 hours in a day
- Recognise that the change we expect is not the re-invention of the wheel but a sensible use of the wheel as it is to drive our national development.
- Tell the president-elect to be part of the search for a senate president and a speaker of the house. He needs men and women he can work with in the assembly to drive his agenda and his development programme.