The Principle Of Zoning And Its Consequences On Political Development In Nigeria

By | July 24, 2014
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Terna Iorkyosu

Department of Government

College of Advanced and Professional Studies, Makurdi





The Principle of Zoning has slowly crept into Nigeria’s political existence, dating as far back as the second Republic in 1979 referred to, though unofficially, as the Rotational system. Since then, it has been used in both progressive and retrogressive manner by Nigeria’s political actors to achieve and attain political benefits. This situation has posed a dilemma of sorts for Nigeria’s political development. The article argues that if properly conceived and implemented, zoning will be a panacea for facilitating relative political equity. However, for long term political planning and structuring, it rather becomes a problem as it is essentially undemocratic and seriously promotes mediocrity. The analysis and findings show that the undemocratic nature of zoning notwithstanding, it can in the short term provide political stability through equity upon which the country’s political development can strive.




The type of political system that will ensure political development and stability in Nigeria calls for a serious examination. But in order to determine the political system and structure in Nigeria, it is necessary to identify some of the major problems militating against political stability in Nigeria since independence. The fear of domination of one ethnic group or section of the country has been one of the major factors inhibiting political stability in the country. In this vein therefore, ethnicity appears to have played a more dominant role than political ideology in the choice of political leaders. Ethnicity has therefore manifested itself strongly resulting in political intolerance, marginalization and manipulation which have come to be identifiable features of Nigeria’s political culture with dire consequences on her political development.

More often than not, this situation the country has found herself into is usually blamed on her colonial history as the basis for the reinforcement of ethnic, sectional and religious agenda that have on many occasions threatened her corporate existence as a nation. The situation also explains the reasons for the military coups of 15th January and 29th July, 1966 that resulted in the creation and strengthening of anti-democratic culture among Nigerians.

Since then, there have been concerted efforts on how to develop a political system and structure which will be based on equity and a universally accepted framework for crisis-free and equitable transfer of power and political participation. Thus, the complexity of the Nigerian society called for a modified and peculiar presidential system in which six (6) key executive and legislative offices are zoned and allowed to rotate among six (6) identifiable geographical groupings (Omoleke, 2010). Although the provision is not included in the constitution, in the course of its tacit implementation, the country has been divided into six (6) geo-political zones namely;

  • North East
  • North West
  • North Central
  • South West
  • South East
  • South-South (Southern minorities).

Furthermore, the national political offices that are penciled down on rotational basis are (1) the President (2) Vice President (3) Senate President (4) Deputy Senate President (5) Speaker of the House of Representatives (6) Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. By this arrangement, the office of the President and the distribution of other key political appointments was to rotate serially among them. Although the present geo-political zones as the basis of sharing of political offices came to the fore as an outcome of the 1995 Constituent Assembly, the history of zoning of political offices can be traced to the Second Republic during which the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) controlled government zoned out key offices to reflect the geographical spread of the country.

The present system of zoning, considered to be a tacit agreement and arrangement of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has come to be intricately accepted and adopted by other political parties and by extension, Nigerians as one sure way to achieve equity in the distribution of political offices. Thus, in 1999, the zoning formula manifested itself during the presidential elections as only candidates from the South-West were allowed to contest the presidential election. From the position of the PDP, there was this consensus on zoning as a tool to deal with the intractable problem of access to power at the centre. This eventually trickled down to the state and local government levels. Even without entrenching in the constitution or produced in a written form, zoning was conceptualized along the lines of the six geo-political zones in the country, which has come to be recognized for purposes of administrative and political decisions.

However, that the question of zoning heating up the polity is no longer in doubt. The issue of zoning political offices (especially the post of president) within the respective political parties, particularly the PDP, has generated a lot of controversy and furor in the polity which has made many people to question the rationale and constitutional imperative of it. According to one commentator “the ruling PDP is in quandary over its internal power-sharing formula, commonly referred to as zoning, and the country seem to be producing puritans who, it may appear, have suddenly recognized the absurdity of the political arrangement that stands in the path way into producing the Obama’s of this world, in the most populous black nation on earth” (Vanguard, 2010: 37).

The article therefore tries to examine the principle of zoning and its consequences on the political development of Nigeria. It is divided into four sections. Section I is the introduction, section II is the conceptualization of the key concepts, section III takes a look at the prospects and consequences of zoning on Nigeria’ political development while section IV is the conclusion highlighting probable recommendations.


II        Conceptual Clarification

A.      Political Development

Political development is identified with one aspect of, or intimately connected with the broader processes of modernization in society as a whole. Modernization affects all segments of society; it is a broad and complex process that must be measured by many criteria. Thus, Pye (1966) holds that the multi-functional character of politics means that no single scale can be used for measuring the degree of political development. W.W. Rostow  argues, that, political development may be defined as (an increasing national political unity plus) a broadening base of political integration (Omoleke, 2010).

Pye (1966) identified the characteristics of the concept of political development to include:

i.        a general attitude towards equality which allows equality of opportunity to participate in politics and compete for government office.

ii.       the capacity of the political system to formulate policies and to have them carried out.

iii.      Differentiation and specialization of political functions though not at the expense of their integration.

iv.      the secularization of the political process, the separation of politics form religious aims and influences.

These changes according to Dodd (1972) are often seen to give rise to what are generally called developmental problems. Drawing from Rostow’s and Pye’s characterization of the indices for political development, much is yet to be desired with regards to the Nigerian situation. It is therefore important to observe the relevance of these characteristics which have influenced politics in Nigeria resulting in the slow pace of Nigeria’s political development. It is against this backdrop that zoning which is not a constitutional provision nor a democratic principle is tacitly being adopted to address the problems of Nigeria’s political development.


B.      Zoning

Zoning, as a concept in Nigeria’s political parlance can be best appreciated when explained than defined. The complexity of the Nigerian society in socio-political arrangements have accentuated the negative effects of democracy, though leaving up to its reality in which the majority dominates almost perpetually while the minority suffers the torment of constant marginalization to an exclusively from the ruling group.

In Nigeria, the situation is so disheartening as political participation is so distinctly polarized along ethnic, regional, religious, sectional or class lines. The attempt to restore equity in the system was thus the quest for an egalitarian paradigm which has found expression in the concept of zoning which refers to concentration of opportunities and benefits, either political or socio-economic to particular region, section or zone.

According to Akinola (1996), zoning means a division into parts and in the case of Nigerian political arrangement, such a division is meant to be for the purpose of rotating major political offices (among the six geo-political zones). It is therefore a form of socio-political contract. The history of zoning can thus be traced to the procedure adopted by various ethnic groups in their choice of traditional rulers. In Tivland for instance, the concept is literally known as “Ya na angbian” (Eat and give your brother) was and is used for the selection of chiefs and has come to be the basis for political participation and leadership. By this arrangement, it is hoped that the singular fact of belonging to a clan/district no matter how small should not deter any person from participating or holding leadership position.

Thus, zoning as a concept in Nigeria politics is aimed at ensuring political equity where the other geo-political zones decline to aspire to a coveted political position to the advantage of the favoured zone. This is with a view that, if properly applied, such anti-developmental indices as ethnicity, religions, sectionalism etc will be relegated to the background thereby resulting into a more united Nigeria.


The Principle of Zoning and Nigeria’s Political Development

As earlier stated in the introduction, that the question of zoning is heating up the polity is no longer in doubt. The issue of zoning political offices (especially the post of president) within the respective political parties, particularly the PDP, has generated a lot of controversy and furor in the polity that the need arises to x-ray the constitutional imperative of it with a view to seeing how it affects Nigeria’s political development.

It will be completely wrong to say that the issue of zoning is a PDP affair and therefore should be discussed and debated only by members of the PDP. As the ruling party, all the affairs, deeds and misdeeds of the party are national ones and capable of affecting our national life. It is therefore pertinent to discuss the principle of zoning within the framework of Nigerian politics.

That the principle of zoning is unconstitutional should not be an issue now. The fact remains that zoning is aimed at bringing equity in the political system, without which Nigeria will never be politically stable. As Audu (2010: 24) observes:

Rotational presidency or zoning are not constitutional requirements and to a large extent not even democratic. However, it remains about the best option due to Nigeria’s large ethnic formation, primordial tendencies and complexity. It takes away fears that arise out of marginalization and gives everyone or group a sense of belonging. It is against this backdrop that most Nigerians would rather support the zoning arrangement as it stands today remains.


Zoning therefore will protect minority groups against domination by the majority. In a heterogeneous and complex country as Nigeria, the zoning policy will ensure fairness and equity in the distribution of political offices. According to Oyovbaire (2010), this struggle for zoning was originated, promoted and organized by the minority ethnic groups, because we have looked at the way the three major ethnics groups were going and the fact that the possibility of a minority being a ruler of this country at the national level is very slim.

Before the principle of zoning was conceived as an instrument for sharing political offices, there was the quota system which was used for purposes of admission to federal educational institutions. Presently, there is the federal character principle enshrined in the 1999 constitution. Section 4 (3) states that;

The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and 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.


Similarly, section 14 (4) also enjoined these practice of the same principle at the state and local government councils, particularly in ensuring the recognition of the diversities of the society and the need to ensure balance.

In the light of this constitutional provision, the principle of zoning will only help in ensuring the application of this provision. If there is sincerity in the adoption of the zoning principle, some level of equity will be attained in the country. Just as there are minority and majority relationships at the federal level, some states with minority ethnic groups, like Benue State will continue to suffer marginalization. For example, since the creation of Benue State, all indigenous Chief Executives come from the majority Tiv ethnic group. In a similar vein, the zone ‘C’ Senatorial seat is permanently held by the Idomas to the detriment of the Igedes.

The objective of assuaging the feelings of minority groups has been achieved by the zoning arrangement. That is, the only way of sustaining as a plural, multicultural country as ours is to allow power to rotate between the zones. According to the Report of the Constitutional Conference (1995: 144-145) the rotation of the office of president should be between North and South; and in the North between the three geo-political zones and in the South between the three geo-political zones that make up the South. By so doing, some measure of equity will be attained.

Apart from resolving the problem of marginalization through equity, the principle of zoning will help relegate ethnicity and religious affiliation as factors that determine the allocation and occupation of political offices. For instance, at the federal, if the position of president is zoned to a particular geo-political zone all candidates will emerge from the zone and the electorates will be compelled to make their choice from those candidates from the same zone. For instance, during the 1999 general elections, all the three presidential candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) were from the South West geo-political zone. The issue of a “Yorubaman or Ibo” or “Hausa” never arose as all the candidates were Yorubas. According to Akinola (1996: 20), apart from the fact that it (zoning) removes political distrust vis-a-vis leadership, the voter becomes institutionally compelled to pocket his tribalism in the process of electing the national leader, as greater emphasis would be placed on the attributes of competing candidates rather than tribal and that national and ideological parties could emerge.

One major problem with the principle of zoning lies in the fact that it is not contained in the constitution; hence the appeal to its illegitimacy. By this, it will be subjected to several interpretations to suit particular persons and interests. For instance, if a position is zoned to a particular geo-political zone, what should be the duration, or in time of untimely exit caused by death/impeachment what happens with the remaining period. The constitution provides for the Vice/deputy to assume office in such circumstances. For example, after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s ascent to the position of president and subsequent contest during the 2011 presidential elections altered the zoning formula. As Audu (2010) observes;

While no one is denying President Jonathan his right to urge for any political office in the country, it is imperative that such an eventuality, will definitely alter the power sharing formula hitherto adopted by politicians to avoid rancour in the sharing of political offices among the elite.

The principle of zoning is also criticized that it will erode meritocracy as the basis for leadership recruitment. For instance, the constitution prescribes the qualification and conditions that must be met by any Nigerian aspiring to the office of president. According to Section 131 of the Federal Constitution of Nigeria 1999;

A person shall be qualified for election to the office of president if (a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; (b) he has attained the age of forty years; (c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and (d) he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent.

According to Akpo (2010: 43), zoning seeks to abridge, cultural differences and waive the inalienable right of any Nigeria who meets the conditions listed in section 131 of the 1999 constitution from contesting election to the office of president. He contended that, by zoning particular offices to particular zones will not only deny the country of credible candidates, but also obliterate all prospective candidates’ right to equal opportunities and right to contest for election.



Nigeria’s aspirations have been usually centered on how to develop a broad and universally accepted framework for crisis free and equitable transfer of power including political participation. The political elites have always accused each other of various anti-democratic actions that have brought the political system to a state of near collapse. In order to fashion out a new formula to create a basis for equitable distribution of political power through the electoral process, one of such suggestions was the proposal for the principle of zoning of political offices among the six geo-political zones structure recommended by the 1995 Constituent Assembly. Although the recommendation was never contained in the 1999 constitution, the six geo-political zones have come to be recognized as the basis for power sharing. It was on the strength of this that the PDP through a consensus adopted zoning of political offices for the 1999 general elections.

Ideally, the simple rules surrounding political succession are enough guidance since they have ensured a respite for political stability. Zoning, although might not be democratic nor constitutional, it has enabled inclusion of diverse groups and interests in the sharing of political power. If the principle is perfected, it will go a long way to diffuse ethnic, religious and other sectional interests as basis for sharing political offices.

However, there is a tendency that the principle of zoning will erode meritocracy on which political development is hinged. This will create a problem as political leaders who pose as god-fathers or king-makers and ethnic chauvinist will install such candidates who can easily be manipulated. Nevertheless the gain which can be achieved through the principle of zoning in the short-run as highlighted in the preceding section leads to the path of political stability.



A major recommendation for the principle of zoning is to embark on constitutional reforms that will ensure the enshrinement of the six geo-political zones in the constitution and making it the basis of power sharing in the country. By so doing, the zoning provisions will become stronger instruments if they carry the force of supreme law.

Relatedly, if properly perfected and implemented, zoning will propel values such as integrity, ethnic and religious tolerance, co-operation consensus and accountability, through equity which will be the dominant ones in the polity instead of ethnic chauvinism which forms the basis of political engagement in Nigeria.

If Britain evolved the parliamentary system with the fountain of her unity in the Monarch and it worked for them for centuries; if Americans fashioned a presidential-congressional system and it has worked for them for centuries, then the principle of zoning may prove to be Nigeria’s contribution to her own unity. Adoption of British and American systems in the past, without any dilution with local or indigenous colouration or peculiarities has failed to yield any positive results.



Akinola, A.A. (1996) Rotational Presidency, Ibadan: Spectrum Books Ltd.

Akpo, M.O. (2010) Zoning of Presidency Political Parties and the 1999 Constitution, in the Vanguard, Friday July 19, 2010.

Audu, B. (2010) Discourse. The Legitimacy of Zoning, in The Voice, Vol. 4, No. 615617, May 21.

Dodd, C.H. (1972) Political Development; London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.

Omoleke, I.I. (2010), “The Problem of Primordial Factors and National Building”, in J. Mangut and D.O. Egbeto (Ed.), The Fourth Republic and National Integration in Nigeria, 1999-2009. Makurdi: Aboki Publishers.

Oyovbaire, S. (2010) Zoning and the Prospects of Minorities in Nigeria, in Saturday Vanguard, July, 31.

Pye, L. (1996) Aspects of Political Development, Little, Brown Series in Comparative Politics; Boston: Little, Brown.

Federal Republic of Nigeria, Report of the Constitutional Conference: Resolutions and Recommendations, Vol. II, Abuja: National Assembly Press.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, 5th May, 1999.

The Vanguard Friday 16th July, 2010, P. 37.

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