History of Geopolitical Zone in Nigeria

Last updated on May 9th, 2023 at 01:11 pm


The six geopolitical zones as we have today in Nigeria is not anywhere mentioned in the 1999 Constitution, but it has become an unwritten rule in the power rotation among the regions

The geopolitical structure is now a major division principle for Nigeria’s educational, political, and economic resources, even among the political parties.

What Is Geopolitical Zone?

A geopolitical zone is an administrative division of Nigeria into which power could be rotated among regions for equity purposes and give every region a sense of belonging.



How did the geopolitical zone come about in Nigeria?

Nigeria’s former Vice President Alex Ekwueme came up with the idea of 6 geopolitical zones with the motive of breaking the dominance of the one North in Nigeria’s political landscape.

To set the record straight, the military regime of Gen Sani Abacha divided Nigeria into six geopolitical zones as a result of the recommendation of Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, a former Vice President to Alh. Shehu Shagari

The late second republic VP sold the idea to members of the 1995 Constitutional Conference, but it was vehemently rejected by the majority North and pro-1993 election annulment.

It was shocking to the opposition to the idea that Abacha would later make an announcement in 1995 to divided Nigeria into six geopolitical zones.

On one side, it was a win for Ekwueme, on other hand it revealed another imbalance in the structure.

Campaign for geopolitical zones in the 1980s

There has always been a fear of Northern dominance as far back as when Nigeria gained Independence in 1960 through military regimes.

“Nigeria had been a federation where one constituent part (the Northern region) was much larger and more populous than all the other parts put together.

As such there was a constant fear of dominance because the regions of the South felt that the foreseeable future, the North with its landmass, population size and the control exercised by the NPC over the area would dominate the politics of the nation, and hold the rest to a ransome,”

Leo Dare and Anthony Oyewole (page 159 ) “A textbook of Government”.

As envisaged, the dominance continued unabated. So when Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari overthrew the civilian government of President Shehu Shagari, it was a blessing for Sir Alex Ekwueme as he met another political erudite at his Ikoyi prison where Buhari had detained them.

Recalled that the military regime of Buhari gave Shagari a house arrest while his vice, Alex Ekwueme was thrown into prison.

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One of the unanswered questions now is:

Why did Buhari jail the VP while he merely gave the President a house arrest? That’s another topic for another day.

As stated, Buhari threw Ekwueme, Prof. Ambrose Alli, Chief Victor Olabisi Onabanjo, and many other politicians into jail, accusing them of corruption and misuse of public funds.

Ekwueme, who was the biggest catch for Buhari/Tunde Idiagbo military junta was first moved to Bonny Camp, but when the place became overcrowded, he was picked again and transported into Chaha, where he stayed less than seven days.

And by January 17, 1984, Ekwueme was moved to Kirikiri Prisons, where he met Olabisi Onabanjo, a former civilian governor of Ogun state, who was also accused of mismanagement and corruption in Ogun.

He confessed that Onabanjo contributed to the idea of geopolitical zones when they discussed the political imbalances in Nigeria.

“The only other person who contributed to it was my friend, Bisi Onabanjo. Two of us discussed this in prison he said in an interview published by the Vanguard.

Why Abacha Adopted Ekwueme’s Suggestion on Geopolitical

The military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB), which freed all political prisoners after overthrowing Buhari’s government had created a deliberate political logjam on June 23, 1993, by annulling the June 12 presidential election.

Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) had overwhelmingly defeated the Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).

The northern hegemony who expected Tofa (a Northern politician) to win the election were disappointed as SDP raked even more votes from many Northern states.

IBB would not hand over power to MKO, he also dissolve the National Electoral Commission led by Professor Humphrey Nwosu that conducted the election.

As a way to assuage the west, whose son had been deprived of a legally backed victory, IBB inaugurated an Interim National Government (ING) and announced a Yoruba man chief Ernest Shonekan who is also from Ogun State as MKO as the Head of the illegal interim government.

IBB said he was stepping aside as if he was planning to stage another coup.

It was part of the drama to bring in another Northern man through the back door. Alas, on November 17, 1993, the Chief of Defence Gen. Abacha took over power after an agreement was reached that Shonekan should resign.

The takeover was later described as a “palace coup” as no life was lost, Shonekan handed over power peacefully without restraints.

By April 22, 1994, the Abacha regime released a political programme to transit to a democratic government, although Brigadier-Gen David Mark, who would later become Senate President, said in a Newswatch magazine interview that Abacha government had no political programme and could stay in power till 1999.

Angered by the political gimmick, MKO who had jetted out of Nigeria in August 1993, returned, and on June June 11, 1994, M.K.O Abiola declares himself president of Nigeria on the eve of the first anniversary of June 12 in an attempt to claim his June 12, 1993, presidential mandate at Epetedo, Lagos Island.

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By June 23, 1994, Abacha sent his boys after Abiola and he was arrested and charged for treason, he was thrown to jail indefinitely.

Continuation of Abacha Drama

As tension heightened across the country, several politicians were picked and jailed wrongly either being accused of coup or treason

Abacha made a smart move, yet again, to divert the attention of some political heavyweights from the 1993 election (which was described as the fairest election) and the official inauguration by Abacha the National Constitutional Conference Commission on June 27, 1994, whose objective was to organize a conference to resolve some political imbalances.

But political analysts knew that Abacha was only going to use the crooked conference to buy time from handing over.

The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) who opined that the conference was a waste of time called on Nigerians to boycott it and demanded that 1993 elections be upheld. Also, the conference which was made of 273 members had at least 96 Abacha and IBB nominees

He knew there will never be a common ground for such a constitutional conference and he was right.

Some of the critical recommendations by some members that could change the political landscape of Nigeria were vehemently rejected by the region that had the majority as members.

Why Ekwueme Pushed For 6 Geopolitical Zones

The Conference which submitted its recommendations a year after would later be known as the 1995 National Constitutional Conference (NCC).

At the conference, power-sharing, and rotation, restoration of the annulled 1993 election (which was rejected by the dominant region) topped the agenda.

It was during the discussion on power rotation that Alex Ekwueme proposed for a 6 geopolitical zone for Nigeria, the “one” North members shouted him down.

As Ekwueme would later say:

“The conference itself didn’t adopt it; they wanted the status quo to remain because it was in the interest of some people to maintain the status quo.

The conference itself didn’t adopt it; they wanted the status quo to remain because it was in the interest of some people to maintain the status quo

Vanguard Newspapers

There had always been struggles within each region between the majority and the minority.

According to Ekwueme, one of the ways to solve the problem from the national level was to push for parity of regions between the “Old North and the Old South and that was why I decided to have parity of geopolitical zones between the North and the South.”

What Abacha Did

Abacha who was ready to adopt a suggestion that would help calm the heightened political tension was advised by his team of political kitchen cabinet

So, he adopted Ekwueme’s 6 geopolitical zone ideas.

In the announcement that would follow, Abacha divided the North into Northwest, Northeast and North-Central and the South was divided into Southeast, Southwest, and South-South, bringing the number to six.

The decision was frowned upon by many Northern politicians. And Abacha took the action not for the interest of Nigeria but for his political interest and ambition which was brought to bear in his move to convert himself to democratically elected president.

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Nigeria’s five political parties except for United Action for Democracy by April 1998 adopted Abacha as their sole presidential candidate for an election slated for August 1, 1998.

But Abacha died on June 8, while MKO Abiola (who was still in detention) also died a month after (July 7, 1998), the day he was to regain freedom.

Did Geopolitical Arrangement Solve Inequality Agitations?

Obviously not, but it broke the structure upon which the Hausa-Fulani had ridden on for too long.

For instance, the Middle Belt which was dominated by the core North still accuses the core North of political subjugation.

In the South East, where Ekueme came from has five states while other regions each have at least six.

There have been several calls to solve the inequality by creating one additional state in the region for equity purposes, though there was a leaked document a few months ago that the National Assembly received a bill pushing for the creation of 23 more states.

After the geopolitical restructuring had been won, there are more battles ahead as the country warms up for the 2023 general elections.

While some believed that a southeast politician from the region should succeed Muhammadu Buhari whose second term comes to an end by May 29, 2023, some believed that the Southeast region had alienated itself politically since 2015 when the All Progressive Congress (APC) defeated the People’s Democratic Party, a dominant party in the region.

Who divided Nigeria into 6 geopolitical?

Sani Abacha divided Nigeria into six geopolitical zones in 1995. Although the idea has been sold to him in 1993 by Alex Ekwueme, he adopted it after the 1995 conference.

What are the six geopolitical zones and their state?

The zones are Northwest, Northeast, North-Central, Southeast, Southwest, and South-South, the number of states in each of the zones can be found in one of our earliest articles.

Which geopolitical zones in Nigeria has the highest number of states?

The North-West has seven states, making it the zone with the highest number of states in Nigeria. Also, it is the geopolitical zone with the highest number of Local Government Areas in Nigeria.

Who divided Nigeria into six geopolitical zones?

The military regime of Sani Abacha divided Nigeria into six geopolitical for his political ambition, but would later be adopted by political parties for power-sharing.

Which geopolitical zone is the most populated in Nigeria?

According to the 2006 population census, the North-West zone has 35,786,944 people, making it the most populated geopolitical zone in Nigeria.


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