By Solomon Bassey
While many hold the view that political zoning engenders equity, fairness and justice, others argue that it breeds mediocrity, poor representation and bad leadership. The idea of zoning is predicated on the need for equitable representation and rotation of party and elective offices. Zoning has become a part of our political culture since the Advent of democracy in 1999. It’s believed that the concept of zoning is derived from the ideology of the Northern People’s Congress, NPC in 1979 and adopted by the People’s Democratic Party, PDP upon its formation in 1998. Today, all political parties in Nigeria have adopted the principle of zoning.
Like the then Publicity Secretary of PDP and now Commissioner for Information and Strategy, INI Ememobong said in an interview with Business Day newspaper of July 26, 2020, “zoning is a PDP matter, if there is anything PDP has entrenched in Nigeria, it is the culture of zoning; that is why someone from the minority can be the governor and that is the beauty of zoning”. With the above assertion, it’s confirmed that zoning is strictly a PDP matter. Preceding the zoning in Akwa Ibom State, the Late Obong Akpan Isemin from Etinan Federal Constituency in Uyo Senatorial District had had a stint in government house which lasted from January 1992-November 1993. It could not be said if his emergence was as a result of zoning.
Upon the return of democracy in 1999, the zoning policy was adopted by stakeholders with a resolution that Uyo Senatorial District should take the first shot at the Hilltop Mansion. And Obong Victor Attah of the PDP from Uyo Federal Constituency in Uyo Senatorial District emerged as governor for two terms of eight years.
Most political commentators hold the views that the choice of Obong Victor Attah was to make up for the short stay in office of Obong Akpan Isemin who hailed from Etinan Federal Constituency still in Uyo Senatorial District. Even though it’s an open secret Obong Victor Attah on assumption of office advanced the policy of zoning based the ethnic tripod that makes up the state- some political actors had subscribe to zoning based on Senatorial District. Unfortunately, these political actors had misconstrued his genuine intentions on a lame suspicion that his advancing the zoning policy based on the ethnic tripod was aimed at favouring his son-in-law, Dr. Udoma Bob Ekarika who had indicated interest in contesting the governorship seat at that time too. Whether zoning in Akwa Ibom State is based on the ethnic tripod or on Senatorial District is one grey area that needs to be cleared properly before 2023. And until this is done convincingly, the issue of zoning will still remain a serious contention especially amongst political parties and ethnic groups in the state. By whatever basis zoning is applied, it is obvious the three Senatorial Districts of the state shall have taken their turns to produce governors respectively, by 2023 when the incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel would have completed his tenure.
According to Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, former member who represented Eket Federal Constituency in the National Assembly and immediate past Chairman, Cross River Basin Development Authority in an interview with the Sun Newspaper on June 5, 2020. He opined that “the cycle of zoning in Akwa Ibom State has ended. So what will happen now is, everybody, including somebody from Governor Udom’s local government has the right now to contest in 2023. Somebody from Godswill Akpabio’s Senatorial District has the right to contest. Whoever will emerge as the governor, the cycle will start from there. It’s common sense. Because if you say it should automatically go and start from Uyo, that means the Eket people are perpetually going to be on standby in every cycle of 16 years. But if an Eket man emerges in 2023, then again, Ikot Ekpene and Uyo will struggle for who emerges, we should share the waiting period.”
Going by the sentiment expressed above by Mr. Eyiboh, 2023 contest for the seat of governor of Akwa Ibom State will be a free-for-all battle. What this will portend is the fact that our zoning policy is not sacrosanct. Secondly, the 2023 stakes will be very high. Political parties, ethnic group as well as individual will have and express vested interest in who becomes governor. Funny enough, religious bodies have also expressed vested interest too cryptically. Apart from Mr. Eyiboh’s opinion, political pundits hold the views that if zoning was on Senatorial District basis as have been followed by the emergence of Obong Victor Attah, Uyo Senatorial District, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, and the incumbent, Governor Udom Emmanuel of Eket Senatorial District, it is only instructive that the cycle starts again with Uyo Senatorial District in 2023.
Corroborating the above, Distinguished Senator Effiong Bob has made a bold statement saying it’s the turn of Uyo Senatorial District to produce the governor in 2023. This view though indubitable; there is a head-scratcher with regards to which Federal Constituency out of the three Federal Constituencies yearns for equity, justice and fairness through the instrumentality of zoning in 2023.
However, most political observers have opined that Itu/Ibiono Federal Constituency in Uyo Senatorial District should be given all required support to produce the governor in 2023. Although, the equitable representation and rotation of party and elective offices between Itu and Ibiono Ibom local government areas have been through mutual understanding but in this case, cheating is long a process to be called a mistake. Itu local government yearns for equity, fairness and justice in the zoning matrix of 2023 governorship position in Akwa Ibom State. The stage is set and the spectators are waiting anxiously to watch how the epic battle unfolds. Will zoning speak for Itu?