The introduction of political zoning system into the Nigeria political space was to aid the smooth rotation of political key position across the country. Though this policy is not known in the constitution of the country, the aim is to achieve fairness, peace and equitable distribution of political resource across the various geopolitical zone of the Nation. The phenomena of zoning by political parties are high stake politics in Nigeria’s democracy. This is because zoning is seen as a mechanism of uniting various diverse people while political parties are the vehicle for realizing democracy in Nigeria.
Party politics and zoning/power shift are two very important elements of any liberal democracy that no one can brush aside with a wave of the hand in a primordial state like Nigeria. Political parties serve as veritable tool for which democracy is enhanced. Many Political analysts have described the importance of the political parties in a liberal democracy. Political parties encourage stability of the governing process because once elected for a fixed term, the government knows its life span at the corridor of power, and the opposition parties too are aware of this. Thus, both the government and opposition would operate along this political axis. The zoning policy/power shift is also important like the political parties in a primordial democratic state like Nigeria. Though, zoning is alien to the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, as there was no provision in any section of the law that recognizes zoning, however, the PDP constitution recognizes zoning as part efforts to rotate political offices between the North and South and also among various ethnic groups within state, Senatorial district and local government. In 2011, a former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Olisa Agbakoba stressed the importance of zoning in Nigeria when he pointed that “the call to abolish zoning seriously underestimates and ignores the complex political character of Nigeria.” He also pointed further that Nigeria is a federation and also a divided society. The current paradigm in Nigerian democracy is the issue of zoning/power shift.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the Edo Central Senatorial zone (Esanland) has rotated the National Assembly positions between the old Okpebholo and Agbazilo Local Governments till date for a period of two terms of 8years. The zone is made up of five local government namely: Esan Central, Esan North East, Esan South East, Esan South West and Igueben local government areas. The Agbazilo bloc is made of two local government; Esan North East and Esan South East Local Governments while Okpebholo is made up of three local government; Esan Central, Esan South West and Igueben local government areas. The Proponents of zoning say the relative peace and unity prevailing in the zone could be ascribed to the fact that political offices have been rotated since 1999 among the two blocs in the region which have brought massive infrastructural development, economic and political emancipation among the people of Esanland. The zone is the stronghold of the PDP in the Edo state and have never lost any National Assembly election in the state since 1999, making it one of senatorial district in the country that is yet to lose any of its National assembly seat to an opposition political party.
The peaceful political zoning and winning margin of the party in all the National Assembly election in Esanland which has been largely successful can be attribute to the political ideology of loyalty to the party, rule of law and zoning principle of the late former National Chairman and former BOT Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Chief (Dr) Anthony Akhakon Anenih, the Iyasele of Esanland popularly known as ‘Mr. Fix it’’ by his numerous admirers. The Late Chief Anenih was a leader who could be relied upon to attend to the peoples socio-political and economic frailties and needs. A political icon, he remains a dependable leader, even in death, to his loyal political followers who are currently at the National assembly and state House of assembly and also occupying various political position across the Country. Even during tenure Adams Oshiomole as Governor between 2008-2016, his party was unable to secure any seat in the National Assembly election in 2011 and 2015 respectively, this shows how formidable the party is in Edo Central courtesy of the zoning arrangement put in place between the Okpebho and Agbazilo political bloc in the zone by the late elder statesman.
In 1999, Sen. (Prof) Oserhiemen Osunbor from Esan South West Local Government (Okpebholo bloc) represented the senatorial district between 1999-2007, after a success tenure of eight years at the senate, Sen Osunbor who replaced by Sen Odion Ugbesia from Esan South East Local Government (Agbazilo) between 2007 and 2015. Interesting, in 2007 Senator Odion Ugbesia did not collect the form to go to the Senate; he was pushing for the governorship position. But, when he did not get it, another aspirant from Okpebholo got the ticket in the name of Engr. Clifford Ordia, the party leaders in the zone persuaded Engr. Ordia and gave it to Senator Ugbesia in the spirit zoning. In the House of Representatives, the occupants between 1999 and 2007 of the two seats are Hon. Tony Aziegbemin the current PDP state Chairman, who hails from Esan South East representing Esan South East/Esan North East Federal Constituency (Agbazilo) and Hon. Ehimen Oiboh Gabriel who hails from Esan Central representing Esan South West, Esan Central and Igueben Federal Constituency (Okpebholo). Hon Aziegbemin was replaced in 2007 by the former speaker of the Edo state House of Assembly Hon. Friday Itulah, who hails from Uromi, in Esan North East LGA while Hon. Orbih was replaced by Hon. Patrick Ikhariale from Opoji in from Esan Central LGA.
In 2015, the intention of the three lawmakers in the National Assembly to seek re-election, after eight years in the Upper Chamber, again reignited another zoning war in Edo Central, especially in the PDP which is the major political party in the zone. Despite the refusal of the leaders of the party in the zone to give automatic tickets to the lawmakers, they went ahead to purchase nomination forms under the PDP but lost in the Primary. The position for the senate returned to Okpebholo zone after spending 8years in Agbazilo, Engr Clifford Ordia won the party’s ticket and defeated Chief Francis Inegbeniki at the main election, Sen. Ordia got 84,782 votes to defeat his closest rival, Chief Inegbeneki of All Progressives Congress (APC), who got 46,820 votes. In the House Representative seat for Esan South East/Esan North East, Deacon Sergius Ogun from Ugboha in Esan South East won the party’s primary and subsequently won the main election after defeating Mr Onikolese Irabor. Similarly, Hon. Joe Edionwele from Esan South West also defeated Hon. Patrick Ikhariale at the PDP primary and went further to defeat a former Commissioner of Education in the state Mr. Gideon Obhakhan at the main election.
During the 2019 general election, the three lawmakers got a return ticket of the PDP during the party’s primary though unopposed, maintaining the zoning structure between Agbazilo and Okpebholo. At the main election, Senator Clifford Ordia of the PDP scored 56,046 to defeated the longest serving Commissioner in Edo State, Hon. John Inegbedion of the APC who polled 49,158. Similarly, Hon. Sergius Ogun of the PDP secured a return ticket to the House of Representative after he was announced winner of Esan South East/Esan North East Federal Constituency seat scoring 25,581 to beat his counterpart of the APC Mr. Joesph Ikpea who scored 18,687 while Hon Joe Edionwele of the PDP scored 30,848 to defeat Deacon Patrick Idiake of the APC who scored 29,844 to represent Esan South West/Esan Central and Igueben Federal Constituency.
Recently, some leaders of the party in the zone at different political and social event are being reminded to respect the unwritten agreement between the two political blocs in the district. Many of these leaders have continued to emphasis the need for political gladiators in the zone to ensure that the legacy and vision of the former National Chairman of the party and Chairman Board of trustees of the PDP Chief Tony A. Anenih is being sustained. High Chief Tom Ikimi, who became the leader of the party in the zone following the demise of Chief Anenih has a big role to maintain and sustain the zoning policy of the party in Esanland while ensuring party members and leaders remain loyal and discipline to constituted leaders of the party, which is the key component of the late Chief Anenih political philosophy. High Chief Ikimi was the former Minister of internal affairs during the regime of Gen Ibrahim Babaginda, also demonstrated these qualities during the Edo 2020 governorship election where he and other leaders of the party ensured that the party was able to win all Five-local government in the Senatorial district for the party in the election, ensuring the opposition party returns to the seat of power after twelve years.
It’s expected that in 2023, the senate seat will return to the Agbazilo bloc after the eight years tenure (2015-2023) of Senator Clifford Ordia from Okpebholo. Also, it expected that Esan North East local Government should produce the Senator for the zone since Senator Odion Ugbesia from Ubaija in Esan South East local government (Agbazilo) has represented the zone between 2007-2015. In the House Representative, the seat for Esan South West/Esan Central and Igueben Federal Constituency is expected to be zone to Igueben local government being the only local government that is yet to throw up a House of Representative member for the seat after the tenure of Hon. Ehimen Oiboh Gabriel (1999-2007) from Esan Central Local Government, Hon. Patrick Ikhariale (2007-2015) from Esan Central Local Government and now Hon. Joe Edionwele (2015-2023) from Esan South West. Similarly, the House of Representative seat for Esan North East/Esan South East is expected to be zone to Esan North East local Government after the eight years tenure of Hon. Sergius Ogun (2015-2023) from Ugboha in Esan South East local government after he succeed Hon. Ituah from Esan North East local government in 2015.
The People’s Democratic Party zoning policy in Edo Central has indeed ensured equitable distribution of political offices among the various political bloc in the zone which has indeed brought political stability, economic prosperity, Education and infrastructural development among the people through political participation and enlightenment of the actual need of the people. This particular zoning policy should be emulated and replicated across the various senatorial district in the country and among political parties to ensure the smooth rotation of political key position across different ethnic groups, religion, and cultural heritage, with aim of achieving fairness, peace and equitable distribution of political resource across the various geopolitical zone of the Country.
Political/Public Affair Writer
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