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2023: Again, North’s consensus confusion tasks PDP on fair play

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
26 April 2022   |   4:11 am
Sparks are expected to fly on May 4, when the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) National Executive Committee (NEC) meets to deliberate on a variety of issues, particularly the review of the zoning committee report, venue and methodology for a seamless Presidential primary.

Ayu

• Controversy vindicates Wike, South’s stance
Sparks are expected to fly on May 4, when the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) National Executive Committee (NEC) meets to deliberate on a variety of issues, particularly the review of the zoning committee report, venue and methodology for a seamless Presidential primary.

Indicators of the anticipated cataclysm emerged recently when the attempt by Northern Elders of the party tried to streamline the number of Presidential aspirants from the region through a shortlist of consensus candidates triggered controversies and confusion.

The idea of consensus is not strange to northern PDP leaders. For instance, in the buildup to the 2011 Presidential poll, the Adamu Ciroma-led committee championed a consensus arrangement, which threw up the fourth republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as the preferred northern candidate to confront the then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan at the PDP primary.

In their calculations, the northern elders believed that with a retinue of Presidential aspirants from the region, including military President Ibrahim Babangida, Vice President Atiku, Gen Aliu Mohammed Gusau and Governor Bukola Saraki, the northern delegate votes would be split in such a way that Jonathan would have a runaway victory.

The secretary to the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF), otherwise called the 17 wise men that conducted the search for a consensus candidate, Sabo Ibrahim Abdulkadir, had rationalised the search for a Northern consensus candidate on the need to maintain the PDP zoning formula.

Abdulkadir told journalists then that, “this became necessary following the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2011 Presidency against the zoning formula, which some members of the party from the North believe excluded him from running.”

Memories of that 2011 experience were relieved recently when the Northern Elders selected Bauchi State governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, and the immediate past President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, as the region’s preferred candidates.

Going by the consensus arrangement being planned to avert acrimonious Presidential primary within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the two northern champions are expected to lock horns with their Southern counterparts for the coveted Presidential ticket of the party, if they are unable to resolve between themselves.

Chieftains of the party believe that the scheme is the best way to navigate the dangerous hurdle presented by the party’s inability to make a definitive statement on the contentious issue of zoning.
Report sans rapport

IN its report, which was signed by Prof. Ango Abdullahi (Magajin Rafin Zazzau), former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the Northern Elders disclosed that the screening was conducted on four northern PDP Presidential aspirants, including Governors Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Bala Mohammed, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Hayatu-deen.

While announcing Governor Mohammed and Dr. Saraki as the consensus short list, the former University VC thanked the aspirants and President Ibrahim Babangida “for entrusting us with the conduct of this exercise and in the hope that all parties involved would continue with mutual consultations aimed at the overall success of the party.”

He declared: “We   hereby present the following conclusion as presented to and endorsed by Gen Babangida. For the purpose of this exercise, it is hereby resolved that Gov Bala Mohammad from the North East and former Senate President Bukola Saraki from the North Central be presented as the northern Consensus Candidates for the moment.

“The successful aspirants are hereby urged to work together to make allowance for further consultations to foster understanding among themselves, and the PDP community to ensure a rancour-free primary in which all eligible candidates would be free to exercise their right.

“We sincerely commend the sportsmanship and statesmanship exhibited throughout the exercise by all those involved and urge continuous cooperation and team work to ensure victory for the party.”

Expatiating on the modalities and procedure for arriving at the decisions, Prof. Abdullahi said the four major presidential aspirants “met and decided to limit the number of aspirants from Northern Nigeria by forming a consensus among themselves. This was indeed a commendable development and huge sacrifice for the love of country and the northern region in particular on the part of the four aspirants.”

“All the four aspirants visited the former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd) and gave him the mandate to lead the process for a consensus and agreed to abide by the outcome of the decision.

“The former President encouraged the aspirants to have a resolve within themselves and come up with one candidate, which they reported back to him after some days and asked him to go ahead and pick one out of the four.

“General Babangida on his part opted for inclusion, through wider consultation and assigned me to design a criteria and carry out the necessary consultations with elders and leaders across the three geopolitical zones of the North,” he stated.

According to the report, the process was conducted in three stages, namely, phase one (Candidate Assessment), phase two (Zonal Assessment) and finally, PDP Previous Experiences, as phase three.

On the score of candidate assessment, the report asserted: “The opinions of six distinguished persons each from the three geopolitical zones were sought with regards to each of the four aspirants. Each of the Zonal delegates was allocated two votes to choose the first and second choice making a total of 36 votes overall.

“The outcome of that consultation was as follows, Seven votes for candidate (A) Aminu Waziri; 10 votes for candidate (B) Bala Muhammedd; 10 votes for candidate (C) Abubakar Bukola Saraki and five votes for candidate (D) M Hayatu-deen.

“One of the elders deferred his vote on grounds of continuing consultations with traditional rulers and other major stakeholders. Two members did not cast their second ballots bringing the total to 32 votes casted out of 36.”

Apart from the fact that the Northern Elders noted that under zonal assessment North Central and Northeast garnered greater values (8 and 7 respectively) than Northwest (2), it was on the issue of PDP’s previous experience that the point of departure happened.

“In the end, resort was made to the historical antecedents of the PDP with regards to previous northern aspirations and the following conclusion was reached:

• That the Northeast has had the opportunity of contesting and even forming government in 2007.

• In 2011 a consensus was made among the four northern candidates, which Northeast got the slot, but lost at the primary. In 2019, it got the slot again, though the party could not form the government.

• The North Central has not had a single opportunity to get the PDP ticket since the inception of the current fourth republic.

Controversies, implications
HAVE the Northern elders unwittingly broached the issues of fairness, equity and justice that Southern leaders, like Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Okezie Ikpeazu and Nyesom Wike have been canvassing? How would the outcome of the painstaking processes, adopted by the Northern Elders impact on the fortunes of the region’s presidential aspirants during the primary?

In its recommendations, the Northern Elders might have unwittingly provided what could be a ready weapon for the Southern gladiators. According to Dr. Abdullahi, “Below is the recommendation I submitted to Gen Ibrahim Babangida, which he endorsed and approved based on the exercise carried out above and the findings made:

“It was resolved that a leading aspirant from the North Central and one from the North East are to be presented as northern Presidential candidates. The two would in turn be required to make further concessions so that in the end one of them would be presented as the consensus candidate, out of the four that presented themselves from the North.”

If the Northern Elders could assess aspirants based zonal considerations, does it not reinforce the claim that the power rotation has always been on basis of North and South?

Like the 2011 consensus, which threw up Atiku, but was attacked by Senator Uba Ahmed, the work of the Northern Elders received swift opposition from Northern PDP Stakeholders led by former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido.

In a statement by Lamido, on behalf of the Northern PDP stakeholders, it described the proposition of the Northern Elders as “not only injurious to the North, but equally injurious to the Northern aspirants.”

Lamido disclosed that having widely consulted party leaders across the 19 Northern states and FCT (Federal Capital Territory), they decided to inform “our teeming party members and the general public that what is reported in the media is only the private opinions of those who issued the statement and not the position of the PDP members in the North.”

While accusing those who released the purported shortlist of consensus aspirants from north of breaching due process, the northern PDP stakeholders maintained that the so-called position of Northern Elders was a calculated attempt to damage the fortunes of Northern aspirants.

Checks by The Guardian revealed that while the broader Northern PDP stakeholders were working towards streamlining the number of Presidential aspirants from the North, the decision by the Northern elders to exclude Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal from the shortlist sparked outrage within the northern caucus.

The development within the fold of Northern PDP Presidential aspirants re-echoes the 2011 experience and may be a pointer that the Northern leaders are fighting a lost battle once again.

For instance, Atiku, who was triumphant in the 2011 edition refused to join the consensus arrangement this time around.

According to the TEECOM (Technical Committee) for the actualization of Atiku’s Presidency in 2023, “the former Vice President was never a party to the northern consensus arrangement.

While noting that Atiku did not subject himself to the purported consensus process, TEECOM maintained that the former Vice President was “not bound by any of the recommendations and conclusions of the purported report.”

The committee stressed that as a nationalist, Atiku “strongly believes that Nigeria has never been so divided as it is today, and any regional, zonal, ethno-religious gang-up or consensus driven in this manner will further deepen and widen the wounds that urgently require to be healed.”

It would be recalled that the immediate past Senate President, Saraki, told journalists that all the PDP Presidential aspirants from the North were ready for a consensus candidate during the party’s primary.

Saraki spoke when he alongside Tambuwal paid a consultative visit to Gov. Bala in Bauchi, noting that “we found it necessary as stakeholders of the party to meet, brainstorm and see how things could best work out among us.”

But, recanting, chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum and Sokoto State chief executive, Tambuwal, who was initially involved, stated that the consensus arrangement collapsed two days before the Abdullahi team released its report and recommendations.

Fear of truth, fairness
A CHIEFTAIN of the Northern PDP caucus who did not want his name in print told The Guardian that reactions to the Ango Abdullahi report and findings show that “some of us are afraid of the truth and fairness.”

The source disclosed that it was intriguing that Lamido, who was an active player in the 2011 consensus that selected Atiku should lead opposition to the present arrangement that have done justice to two marginalised geopolitical zones.

“In 2018, when Lamido contested the Presidential ticket there was no consensus among the Northern contenders. Why is he crying foul now that the contest is between north and South? Is it because his favourite candidate was not favoured?” the source queried.

Despite the fact that none of the aspirants from the South is talking about consensus, Governor Wike has been making forceful argument against consensus, even as he dismisses calls for micro-zoning to Southeast.

PDP national chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, argues that it was still possible for the party to re-enact the same unanimity that featured during the national convention.

“If the PDP could come together to agree on a particular individual for chairman, it means it is capable too of coming together to produce one single candidate to challenge All Progressives Congress (APC) in the presidential election,” Ayu stated.

He however assured that “every aspirant that will come forward for the presidential election will be treated fairly, with equity and fairness. There will be a level-playing field for everybody.”

What direction PDP is headed, whether there would be tempest or tempers will cool for reason to prevail would be seen after the party’s NEC meets next Wednesday, May 4.