Many of the latter-day agitators for restructuring or what they call ‘true federalism’ often get stuck when cornered and asked to explain what they truly mean by those concepts.
Hardly their fault though, for many of them neither know what federalism is nor what a political structure is to be able to identify what makes one form of federalism false or what restructuring means or would do.
Many do not know where we are coming from. We throw words, concepts and phrases around with little or no understanding of what they mean or how it relates to our situation.
A lot of latter-day agitation has to do with a perceived imbalance among our so-called geo-political zones, but how many of us have paused to ask ourselves these :
1. What constitutes a geo-political zone?
2. Do we really have geo-political zones in Nigera?
3. What is the legal basis for geo-political zones?
4. Who created these geo-political zones?
5. By what force of law do they exist, if any?
6. How did they come into existence, if at all?
7. Is there any basis for the inter-zonal comparisons that have lately dominated our political discourse?
What constitutes a geo-politcal zone? Sincerely, I do not know.
I am not aware of any other country, structured on the basis of a geo-poltical basis in the way we have come to know it in Nigeria.
There are officially recognised regions in countries such as the USA. “Language, government, or religion can define a region, as can forests, wildlife, or climate.” The delienation there is more often for statistical or administrative purposes, thus the division is fluid – between 4 and 12. Little or nothing to do with politics.
2. Do we really have geo-political zones in Nigera?
If you follow political discourse in Nigeria, you will find it strange that one can even raise the question about the existence of geo-political zones in Nigera. They are a part of everyday discourse and have become source of restiveness and agitation over time.
But then, what is the legal basis for geo-political zones? Who created them? By what force of law do they exist, if any?How did they come into existence, if at all?
Permit me to say that I am yet to find any legal or official basis for the geo-political zones in Nigeria. I am unable to tell who ‘officially’ created them nor can I find the force of law by which they exist?
I will say that the 6 geo-politcal zones bandied around and of which there has been a lot of hot air and constant agitation are unknown to the law of the land, as they are not recognised in the Constitution of Nigeria.
So, how did we come by something that has become so entrenched in our discourse that some agencies of government even have adminstrative stuctures founded on this zonal arrangement?
It came from the Abacha Constitutional Conference. Some cite it as an idea from Vice President Alex Ekwueme, one he proposed as basis for rotational Presidency. It was incorporated in the ill-fated 1995 constitution but it never made it into the 1999 constitution and efforts since then to amend the constitution to accommodate this arrangement has not been successful. So, the 6 geo-political zones are unknown to the law.
So, how did the 6 geo-political zones become part and parcel of life in Nigeria? We should ask the Nigerian media. Someone starts a thing, even erroneously, and before you know, it catches fire and that is it. That has been the case with the geo-political zones.
I dare say, there never used to be anything like ‘South-West’, ‘South-East’ and all that. Till date, I get really angry when I find our media, especially TV newscasters, finding the need to qualify Lagos with ‘South-West’, as if South-West is her surname or as if we do not know where Lagos is.
I argue that the media by this needless and constant reminder has reinforced our divide by way of repetition rather than advance what binds us together.
In my years in Broadcasting, I cannot recollect any such tradition. Kano is Kano. Why remind me it is North-West?
Who cares, really?
For those marketing a return to the regions, one hopes they know we did not have 6 zones as they now know it.
One hopes they know that if we have to go back to the ‘original’ regional structure, then Edo and Delta States (Bendel) which made up the Mid-west, excised from the Western region would by that arrangement revert to being a part of the Western region?
Some say the ‘South-East’ has been short-changed in that it has only 5 states now whereas other regions, as they were then, now have at least 6 each.
Well, that might not be true. The Eastern region, as it was then, now has 9 states, whereas the Western Region, as it was then, now has 8 states.
As we all know, most of these states were artificial creations by the military, with only few meeting the homogeneity factor.
The point is, these constructs are what they are. They are mostly in our minds, if we choose to let them be.
The configuration and re-configuration have mostly benefited the power elite, with the poor marginalised across regional, ethnic and other lines.
The geo-political zones have nothing to do with the people. They were artificial constructs for power rotation among the elite. They are unknown to the law.
We miss it when we erect castles of deceit and divide upon them.
We have more in common than these walls of divide would let us know.
The zones are in our mind.
Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publishers of Africa Enterprise .