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date: 15 August 2022


A Dictionary of African Politics

Nic Cheeseman,

Eloïse Bertrand,

Sa’eed Husaini


A political practice in Nigeria under which political parties agree to split their presidential and vice-presidential candidates between the north and south of the country and also to alternate the home area of the president between the north and south of the country. The principle of zoning is designed to ensure that neither the north nor the south of the country is ever permanently excluded from power and that no one party is seen to only represent one part of the country. The notion of zoning was first introduced in the Second Republic, following the Biafran Civil War of 1967–70. In a bid to ease interethnic tensions following the conflict, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) began to operate a zoning system to select party officials. Later, during a National Constitutional Conference that was convened following the annulment of the 1993 elections and the takeover of power by General Sanni Abacha, a number of prominent leaders advocated rotating the presidency between the country’s six geopolitical zones (north-central, north-east, north-west, south-east, south-south, and south-west). Although the principle received wide support, the proposal was rejected in favour of a simpler process of rotating the executive between the north and south. This division was selected to reflect the country’s overarching religious cleavage between the mostly Christian south and the mostly Muslim north, although it is important to note that neither region is homogeneous. North–south tensions had been stoked from the colonial period onwards as a result of the divide-and-rule strategies of the British colonial government and allegations of British favouritism towards the north. Moreover, in the run-up to independence southern politicians raised concerns that the north’s numerical superiority would lead to southern marginalization. These tensions continued into the postcolonial period and have often spiked around elections, which has led to proposals for a form of power-sharing to maintain national political stability. This helps to explain why, in addition to operating as an informal norm, the idea of balancing power between the north and the south has also been codified by a number of parties. For example, in 2009 the zoning principle was written into the constitution of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which at that time was the ruling party.