Peacocks of Zoning. By Sam Omatseye

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AS the year ends, eyes focus on 2021, a year a politician and Buhari insider told me will be “turbulent.” But that dialogue preceded the spark from Bishop Matthew Kukah’s sacred fire. It is none other than the quicksand path to 2023. The dreamers and their footmen are jockeying for the public’s imagination. Never before in this country’s history has an election been sought and the prospects so cloudy. We are bracing for eruptions of surprises, blindside, and even personal misfortunes and losses. Hence even a conservative poet like Samuel Coleridge crooned, “anticipation is more potent than surprise.”


We are now back to the hobgoblin called zoning. Rather than joust over ideas, we are there again at the familiar altar of comfort: the shrine of the tribe. But the lesson from 1999 has told us what lie zoning has been. It has neither benefited the tribe, nor their gods. It has satisfied the priests of sacrifice: the elites. It is just like Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God where the priest diverts the cock meant for the palate of the gods. It ends up on the plate of the home.


We saw that under Obj, the Owu chief. The short realm of Yar’Adua precludes him from judgment. Jonathan had the sin aplenty, and today we are watching the iniquity at play under Buhari. When the republic began, the idea was to expiate the wrongs of June 12, and give it to a Yoruba. The poll was a bow at the shrine also of MKO. To pay with a Yoruba president would exorcise the stammering rage of an Abiola ghost. But when it happened, the Yoruba kinsmen did not like the choice that resulted. OBJ was not Yoruba enough for the race. It was good enough for the other ethnic groups. Obj satisfied a zoning that was not at that time seen as zoning. It was a payback for the northern sneeze at Abiola. The southwest saw it as casting a swine before the Yoruba pearl. OBJ did not romance Abiola in life or death. Like in the civil war, he benefited where he did not toil. MKO built a presidential dream-house, but he inhabited it.


In this narrative, Obj may have become a Yoruba man in Aso Rock, but the southwest spirit was not with him. It was the opposite. The southwest haunted him. If the polls sought to appease the MKO gods, MKO ‘s ghost growled at night over Aso Rock. It was a victory to paper over a crime. Obj read it that way. Even within his ethnic group, Obj played a divide-and-rule hand, and revved a train wreck against its progressive mainstays. This led to rigged elections, and surrogate phonies as governors until a backlash came through the courts. The west had its revenge after presidential zoning failed.


For the people of the southwest, they were invited to dinner. The invite read dinner at 8pm. To the others, it read 6pm. Food had finished before they arrived. They arrived to the crumbs and the dance session.


When Jonathan came, a shoeless era had begun. He was known also as Azikiwe, a name that shushed the Igbo into line. Money was awash. Oil rose to over 110 dollars per barrel, and Jonathan was the wonder boy of indulgences. In Abuja, we saw rows of Niger Delta hats just as a witch saw an apparition of gods at the Witch of Endors’ place. They expected great deeds for his people. So did the Igbo. For sure, we saw the appointments. Many came for his folks. When Anyim was secretary to the federal government, he could not escape the charge that he was partial to his folks. So much was the money, that even on the tony streets of London, shoppers could not escape the hats and the buys, the profligacy of preening elite. Even the minister of minister, Okonjo-Iweala once said Igbo were beating everyone in tests for jobs without showing how candidates were recruited and perimeters for testing.


In all though, Jonathan left office, and what legacy? Of course, the appointments and peacocks with their big troughs of personal cash. But the real people? Not much for the average Ijaw. The Igbo who complained of bad federal roads forever did not even put Jonathan’s feet to the fire. They loved him, and that sentiment enshrined him in their hearts. Now, some people want him back, even when the constitution says that anyone who has finished a term of another person cannot be eligible to contest again. The constitution also says anyone who has been sworn in twice cannot be sworn in a third time. His lovers are so tied to him that they can subvert the evidence before them.


It is an irony that an unlikely person in Buhari, with the force of Babatunde Raji Fashola, his Trojan of works, has done more roads for the east than any minister in a long time, including the second Niger Bridge that is on course to be a breath-taking achievement.


Bishop Kukah said if any other ethnic leader did what Buhari has done in his nepotism, he would have inspired a coup. He was right. But he forgot that Jonathan committed the same crime, and that is what led to Buhari’s second coming. It was not a coup of the gun, but of the vote. But just like all coups in Nigerian history, they were heralded as messiahs and have disappointed in the end.


Today, the reason that Buhari came was also partly because talakawa rallied behind their hero. They would not do that today. The talakawa vote rid their hero of his mystique. Buhari the aspirant was a soldier who did not bend to folly. He did not accept injustice. He did not work with the filthy or the compromised. He was the myth and legend of the aspiring poor. He was idealized in stratosphere. But Buhari the mythmaker will not pardon the ambitious Buhari for snuffing out the epic tale. Office closed the orifice.


But giving prime jobs to his kinsmen have not stopped the butchery in Borno. It has not stopped the bloody maelstrom in southern Kaduna, the ferreting away of the Boys of Kankara, the blood-spattered highway between Abuja and Kaduna, the tax-collectors who have set Sokoto poor out of their farms and out of their country. His home state emir wondered what sort of a country Nigeria was. The Sultan of Sokoto has lamented the north as the perilous part of Nigeria. The talakawa are poorer today than ever. So, there. The soldier’s gun is dud at his own homestead.


It is the region that Soyinka in his new novel, Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, locates part of his morbid tale. In the bard’s Chronicles, the society is like a living mortuary, so we the analysts are “social morticians.”


Why do we think we should vote according to tribe, when tongues still can’t taste the good life? We should stop thinking ethnic when we vote. Zoning is a ploy, not policy. The issue is, when does the tribal end and the Nigerian begin? It is only when such a leader demonstrates it that the Nigerian can save the tribe, and ultimately save Nigeria.

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