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Ayu’s consensus pick as PDP chair stirs debate on zoning

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh (Abuja), Seye Olumide (Ibadan), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna) and Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt)
15 October 2021   |   4:25 am
After rounds of marathon meetings, which began on Monday night, leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the North, yesterday, affirmed that former President of the Senate, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, should be next chairman of the party...

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• Northern leaders adopt Ayu
• Presidential ticket not zoned, remains open, says Fintiri
• George kicks, as Olafeso, Babatope reserve comment
• National Convention: PDP extends date for sale of forms
• Arewa groups commend choice, others reject Ayu, insist North Central deserves presidency in 2023
• PANDEF tells Northerners to wait till 2031 for presidency

After rounds of marathon meetings, which began on Monday night, leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the North, yesterday, affirmed that former President of the Senate, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, should be next chairman of the party that will lead the opposition party into the 2023 general elections.

It, however, took about three hours of negotiations, horse-trading and wit games at the meeting held at the Bauchi State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, after previous attempts to reach a consensus on Wednesday night failed. At the end, the PDP leaders announced that their adoption of Ayu was without rancour.

Briefing journalists, governor of Adamawa State and chairman of the PDP convention planning committee, Ahmadu Fintiri, declared that the decision was in the best interest of the North.

Ayu’s emergence as the choice of the North was, however, not without hitches. On Wednesday, a meeting convened for his adoption failed because some political calculations could not sail through.

The meeting was postponed to allow the five governors from the North reach out to more people that had not been fully convinced.

Shortly after that meeting was postponed, the five governors met again to re-strategise and get grey areas sorted. The meeting facilitated a more serious engagement with some Northern PDP leaders perceived to be nursing misgivings about the Ayu chairmanship.

In some quarters in the North, particularly the North Central, Ayu’s chairmanship was believed to be a plot to prevent the zone from producing the President in 2023. But the governors had a tough time persuading other stakeholders, especially those in the camp of former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to accept Ayu’s candidacy.

It emerged yesterday that Ayu’s consensus pick for the position of PDP national chairman was based on certain conditions. Sources close to the meeting disclosed that Ayu emerged based on the agreement and undertaking that his emergence will not preclude anybody from any zone from contesting the presidency.

The source further hinted that it was agreed that if the emergence of a presidential candidate tilts the scale in favour of any zone, the chairman will resign and work for the presidential candidate.

It was further learnt that other Northern candidates like Abdul Ningi, Ibrahim Shema and Suleiman Nazif agreed to withdraw from the race based on the conditions.

Against reports that the selection of Ayu was arranged and perfected by PDP governors to destroy the presidential ambition of any zone or persons in the North, Fintiri, who is also the chairman of the 20-man committee appointed by Northern PDP leaders to screen all aspirants for the chairmanship position from the North, explained that nobody lost out in the power play.

According to him, “there is no victor, no vanquished. We all came out united. The three Northern candidates that all the three zones produced were, in the spirit of unity and togetherness, ready to accept the outcome of the consensus so that we can win together for Nigerians the 2023 general elections.

“With this, we are fully prepared, we are ready. We will be talking with our colleagues from other parts of the country, especially the South, that they see reasons for this consensus candidate and give us support during the October 30 and 31 national convention,” he said.

SHORTLY after he was announced as candidate of the North, Ayu declared his readiness to engage stakeholders in an all-inclusive administration of the PDP for purposes of winning the 2023 elections.

“It is my singular honour to accept the responsibilities, which has been put on my shoulders from the North. I believe that at the end of the day, it will not only be the North, but it will be for all Nigerians. The PDP will be back to its winning ways. And we will work tirelessly after the convention to rebuild the party to take over power and rebuild the country and reposition it for the next generation of Nigerians. It will be an all-inclusive administration of the party. We will work collectively to produce policies that will be acceptable to all Nigerians,” he pledged.

On his commitment to the party, the former Minister of Industry during Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, said: “I am a foundation member of this party. I worked in the party before, but I know that you cannot do it alone. We shall work as a team. And I believe with the support of Nigerians, who have suffered in the hands of a party that does not care for the youths of Nigeria, or for anybody but themselves, we will rescue this country.”

Ayu, a former sociology lecturer, who will be 69 in November, hails from Benue State. He was Senate President during the botched Third Republic (1992-1993). He later served as Minister of Education in the administration of late Sani Abacha and as minister in three ministries – industry, internal affairs and environment – in the civilian administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

If he eventually emerges national chairman of PDP, Ayu will be the third person from Benue to hold the position. Barnabas Gemade, a former Minister and Senator, and Audu Ogbeh, a former Minister, at different times, held that position but were removed in controversial circumstances.

DUE to the long-drawn negotiations that ensued before the consensus arrangement was finalised, the party yesterday said it has approved the extension of sale of nomination forms for national officers for the National Convention from the earlier announced date of Friday, October 15, to Sunday, October 17, 2021. This was contained in a statement by Kola Ologbondiyan, National Publicity Secretary of the party.

Ologbondiyan, who is also the Secretary, National Convention Publicity Sub-Committee, said the last date for the submission of duly completed forms had also been extended from Saturday, October 16 to Tuesday, October 19, 2021.

Accordingly, the date for the screening of aspirants for various national offices has been adjusted to Wednesday, October 20, while hearing of appeals arising from the screening is now scheduled for Saturday, October 23, 2021. The statement noted that the date for the National Convention still remains Saturday October 30 – Sunday 31, 2021.

IMMEDIATE past National Vice Chairman Southwest zone of PDP, Dr Eddy Olafeso and a former member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, in a telephone chat said it was too early to start reacting on the issue since the party is yet to make Ayu’s consensus appointment official.

According to Olafeso, “the presidential ticket remains an open contest as far as the party is concerned but I can tell you specifically that I do not have the details that there is a consensus in the north. So we need to be careful. I cannot speculate on something I am yet to be officially notified by the party. Remember that nobody has signified intention yet to contest for the national chairmanship. I am not from the North, they may have their caucus but I am not aware of it.”

In a similar vein, Babatope said: “I don’t want to comment on it for now because in the Southwest we need to meet first. So, I believe other zones in the region will meet. But the party has taken a decision and as far as we are concerned, the party’s decision is supreme. Ayu is a personal friend, he is a fellow I personally respect and I wish him the best of luck if he emerges as the national chairman.

“Recall that the Southwest wanted it before and you know that the opposition we had came from the same region. They ganged up against Bode George who could have done very well for the party, but again I don’t want to beat the drum now. We believe the party would be able to address the whole matter and ensure that we have a correct primary. What is important now is to ensure that the party gets power by the grace of God in 2023.”

But expressing his displeasure over the zoning arrangement, a former Deputy National Chairman of PDP, Chief Olabode George, said the development is capable of leading the party to doom and may as well cost it the 2023 presidential election. He said the development was completely opposite to the principle of equity, fairness and justice upon which PDP was founded by its founding fathers.

According to him, “there is an old, enlightening principle laid down by the founding fathers of PDP since 1999 that six key positions must always be zoned to the six geo-political constituents to ensure equity and orderly balance of power.

“The six key positions are the president, vice president, national chairman, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

“Naturally, this means that if the presidency goes to the North, the chairman goes to the South and vice versa. All these positions are zoned because of the necessity of national belonging and accommodation. Every section of this nation must have a sense of equitable participation in our national life. This has been the enduring pivot of our democratic experience since 1999.

“There is now a threat to this unwritten doctrine.  The zoning arrangement, which gave the North the chairmanship of our party and leaves the presidency open is incongruous, unwholesome and a recipe for disaster.

AREWA groups have commended the decision of PDP stakeholders to choose Ayu as National Chairman of the party. Though members of the Arewa Consulative Forum (ACF) declared that they would not dabble into the affairs of political parties, ACF spokesman, Emmanuel Yawe, said: “We believe that constitutionally, the PDP has the right to pick Ayu as consensus candidate and if they feel that he can organise the members for the success of the party in 2023, so be it.

“You know that ACF cannot come out to support whoever becomes the party chairman of either APC or PDP. We are neutral, but when it comes to the choice of presidential candidates, we can scrutinise credentials of party candidates and advise Nigerians on the choice of credible candidates.”

National President of Arewa Youths for Development and Progress (AYDP), Danjuma Sarki, said the choice of Ayu was the best thing to have happened to the PDP, pointing out that his credibility will go a long way to ensure the stability and success of the party in 2023.

But the North Central PDP Rebirth Forum (NCPDPRF) has rejected the candidature of Ayu as the national chairman. Convener of the group, Mohammed Idah, in a statement claimed that the choice of Ayu was in tandem with a clandestine plan by some politicians in the PDP to deny the North Central the presidency in 2023.

The group called on stakeholders of the party to lobby other zones to support the North Central to produce the next president since the PDP has decided to leave the presidential ticket open for all zones to compete for the exalted seat.

Speaking in similar vein, the North Central Renaissance Movement (NCRM) has made a call to North Central political leaders and stakeholders, particularly Senators Tanko Almakura and George Akume, to aspire to the presidency rather than political party chairman.

The convener and chairperson of the group, Dr Nghargbu K’tso, made the call at a town hall meeting yesterday, stating the region’s position on the 2023 presidential election.

HOWEVER, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, (PANDEF) has advised politicians from the North seeking to run for the presidency, to wait till 2031 for the sake of national harmony and peace. National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, in a statement yesterday in Port Harcourt, said everyone has the right to take part in the governance of the country, to vote and be voted but stressed that it was equally necessary to uphold the indispensable principles of fairness, equity and justice.

PANDEF said: “It should be unthinkable that the North should contemplate clutching onto the Presidential seat in 2023 at the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s two tenures of eight years. Nature abhors injustice; the sun does not rise in the east and set in the east.”

Besides, PANDEF firmly affirms that no zone of the country is in want of men and women of noble character, acumen, competence, and integrity, to lead Nigeria at this crucial time. “To say, suddenly, only in 2021, that the Presidency should be open to all zones in 2023, amounts to moving the goalpost, in the 87th of a 90-minute game, implying that somebody from Daura, Katsina State, can, again, become President of Nigeria in 2023, with the present mood of the country.”