A bill seeking for the inclusion of geopolitical zones in the constitution was recently introduced in the House of Representatives. PHILIP NYAM reviews the bill
The six geopolitical zones in the country – North-West, North-East, North Central, South-West, South-East and South-South – have been in existence since 1994. Since then, the nation’s economic, political and educational resources have often being shared among the zones.
In fact, in the last 21 years, the nation’s presidency has been largely between the North and South. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, from the South-West was president from 1999 to 2007; late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua from the North-West succeeded him in 2007 but died in 2010 before his tenure elapsed.
Goodluck Jonathan from the South-South succeeded Yar’Adua and ruled from 2010 to 2015, while the current president, Muhammadu Buhari who defeated Jonathan in 2015, is from the North-West will end his second term in 2023.
Already, there have been agitations as to where the next president should come from. The South-East is making a serious claim, while the South-West and South-South are also very much interested. In fact, there are also claims from the North-East and North Central, both of which have not tasted the throne since the return of democracy 21 years ago.
Even federal agencies likethe Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has six commissioners, representing each of the six zones.
The sharing formula among the geopolitical zones is also applicable in other agencies such as the National Assembly Service Commission, Federal Character Commission, Federal Civil Service Commission, Fiscal Responsibility Commission, Nigerian Communication Commission, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, which draw their commissioners each from the six zones.
Surprisingly, these geopolitical zones are not found in the country’s constitution, meaning there are being used unconstitutionally. Hence, some have argued that if the geopolitical zones are given constitutional status, perhaps it will also take care of zoning, which is now only found in the constitution of some political parties.
It is a fact that former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme (now late) proposed the principle of the six geopolitical zones at the 1994 Constitutional Conference convoked by the then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, who also adopted the proposal. In the past, several individuals and groups have held different views about the zones.
While the Yoruba socio-cultural organization, Afenifere, has for long made case for the inclusion of the zones in the constitution as federating units, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) have argued severally that the geopolitical zones constitute a fourth tier of government. The pan-Igbo group, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, however, maintains that what the nation needs is restructuring.
Perhaps, it was against this backdrop that the House of Representatives, on Tuesday June 9, introduced a bill seeking to include the six geo-political zones in the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The bill sponsored by Hon. Kpam Sokpo (PDP, Benue), is entitled “Geo-political zones of the federation, Bill, 2020.”
Curiously, the bill also seeks to rename the North Central as “Middle Belt.”
The bill, which was read the first time seeks to amend “section 3 of the principal act by introducing a proviso to that section, as follows: Provided that the thirty-six states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall be composed or divided into six geo-political zones in Nigeria, that is to say: Middle-Belt (Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja); North-East (Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe); North-West (Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara); South-East (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo); South-south ( Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers); and South-West (Ekiti, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo).”
While speaking on the proposed law, the lawmaker said he decided to come up with the piece of legislation to ensure the issue of geopolitical zones is not only a convention for sharing of political offices.
“The issue of geo-political zones is for now only in the constitutions of political parties and it is a mere convention, so what I want to do with this alteration is to include the idea in the 1999 Constitution.
“It’s inclusion in the constitution, will ensure that it is justiciable and fully operational as a national policy backed by the supreme law of the federation,” Sokpo said.
The bill also seeks to include the Middle Belt in the constitution as a separate region. According to the sponsor of the bill, North Central geopolitical zone will have to be changed to Middle Belt.
He promised that if passed into law, the alteration will strengthen the faith of many Nigerians in the country. According to him, the Middle Belt region is long overdue for constitutional recognition. “The Middle Belt idea should be a constitutional matter, for equity, fairness and Justice,” he said.
However, many analysts are of the view that issue of Middle Belt may require altering the geographical location of some of these geopolitical zones, considering the fact that North Central as currently constituted is different from the Middle Belt envisaged by the leaders of the region such as late Dr. J.S. Tarka, Patrick Dokitri, Chief Solomon Lar, Bulus Biliyong and Chief Isaac Shaahu, who was leader of opposition in the Northern House of Assembly, Chief Edward Kundu Swem, Chief Ahmadu Angara, Chief Ugba Uyeh and Chief Vincent Igbarumun Orjime, among others.
In the pre-independence and First Republic politics, the Middle Belt region covered places that today make up Benue, Kogi, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa and Kwara states. It also took care of ethnic minorities in southern Borno, southern Kaduna and some parts of Taraba and Kebbi states. However, Borno, Kaduna and Kebbi are today part of the North-West, while Adamawa and Taraba states are now in the North-East geopolitical zone.
It will be recalled that the issue of Middle Belt began in the 1950’s with the formation of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC). The UMBC was a fusion of two major Middle Belt organisations – the Middle Zone League and the Middle Belt Peoples’ Party.
The party was formed to create a political platform for the various ethnic groups in central Nigeria. Its establishment was an act to ensure an alternative minority voice in the Northern Nigeria Assembly, which was dominated by the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), a political party which the central Nigerian leaders felt had the potential to curb the Middle Belt’s political voice.
The people of the Middle Belt, made up of the ethnic minorities in the North have always wanted to operate independently of the far North, however, whether this proposal by Hon. Sokpo would see the light of day considering the current configuration remains to be seen.