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2023: Flashpoints as PDP dillydallies on zoning arrangement

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
12 April 2022   |   4:20 am
Contrary to public perception, it is not only on the score of zoning that leaders of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are divided. Underlying the stringent arguments for and against zoning the party’s Presidential ticket....

Former Nigeria’s Senate President Bukola Saraki

Contrary to public perception, it is not only on the score of zoning that leaders of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are divided. Underlying the stringent arguments for and against zoning the party’s Presidential ticket is also the quiet censure against former party stalwarts that travelled to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) as political mercenaries and helped PDP suffer defeat in 2015.
  
Also, there is the perception that these returnee politicians may have had their chance and exhausted their political goodwill during their participation in the 2019 Presidential contest.
  
On both sides of the aisle are staunch political players for and against zoning. Prominent among those supporting the proposition for PDP to maintain its zoning principle are Governor Nyesom Wike, whose Presidential ambition is being supported by his counterparts from Abia and Enugu States, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

    
Conversely, Sokoto State governor and Chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, fourth republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki are on the other side.
   
On the tally of 15 but three states won by PDP during the 2019 poll, while eight are from the South, only four are from the North, namely, Bauchi, Benue, Sokoto and Taraba.
     
Out of the Governors of Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Oyo and Rivers, those of Akwa Ibom and Rivers, Udom Emmanuel and Wike, have declared their intention to contest next year’s presidential poll.
  
It is not only the mix of presidential aspirations that is dividing the fold of PDP governors, but the unstable political trajectory of some of its leaders, whose past decisions assisted in PDP’s dethronement from the Presidency in 2015.
 
As the zoning controversy rages, the Rivers State governor declared that the journeymen “should no longer consider themselves as founding fathers of the PDP.”
    
Speaking when he visited Benue State governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, Wike recalled the antecedents of some of those angling to fly the party’s flag, saying that their desperate ambition is putting PDP into possible electoral jeopardy.
    
He stated: “In 2015, those who ran away made us lose the election. Today, they are crying but some of us stood and said the PDP would not die. By the time you ran away, you sold your shares as founding fathers, so you can no longer retain your position as founding fathers.

“I stood for this party. I have worked for this party since 1998. I have nowhere to run to and that is why anything that happens to this party, I take it personally. I have never relented.”
  
Frustrated by the insistence of the troika of Tambuwal, Atiku and Saraki to contest the Presidential primary, Wike has given the impression that the only way peace could return to PDP was for the party to take a definite position on zoning.
  
A parallel line has been drawn within the party as each camp has started drawing supporters to its side. For instance, after his sudden declaration of intention to contest the Presidential poll, former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, sided with his ally, Wike, by taunting Atiku and Saraki.

   
Fayose contended that after the gesture allowed them in 2019, both Atiku and Saraki lack the moral right to seek the PDP Presidential ticket again, when the position should go to the South.
     
The former Ekiti State governor said PDP’s electoral fortunes from Adamawa, Kwara and Sokoto States, where Atiku, Saraki and Tambuwal hail, do not give a picture that any of them could win the Presidential poll if given the PDP ticket.
    
He stated: “With due respect to the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, what was PDP’s performance in the presidential election in 2019? We only won with 20,000 votes even in Adamawa in his home state. This tells us something fundamental.
 
“Coming to the immediate past Senate President, Bukola Saraki, how did PDP perform in the last election in Kwara? We lost. What does that tell us? And in Sokoto, how did we perform?”
     
Piqued by Fayose’s scathing and derogatory remarks on Atiku and Saraki, Saraki’s ally, Senator Dino Melaye joined the fray, despite the fact that he is not a Presidential aspirant.
  
Although Fayose’s aspiration for the Presidential ticket of PDP seems to be his own way of amplifying the clamour for the zoning of the ticket to the South, Melaye said the former Ekiti governor was not qualified to lampoon those who once deserted the party, because he also left the PDP at a time to contest for senatorial seat under Labour Party.
Context of PDP’s zoning scheme

BACK in 1998, when second Republic Vice President Alex Ekwueme and the group of eight patriots (later known as the G34) formed what later became the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), their stated intention was to build a national political movement guided by equity and justice.
   
It was therefore the group’s patriotic intents to rotate the presidential and other prominent political position between the north and South.
    
By 1998, the G34 noted that ever since Nigeria adopted the Presidential system of democracy virtually all the leaders of the country from President Shehu Shagari through Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar, were from the north. That fact informed the Provisional Military Council under General Abubakar, who was overseeing the final implementation of the transition from military rule to civilian governance to insist that the next national leader should come from the South.
    
It was also gathered that that resolution was also taken in part, due to the need to assuage the feelings of alienation against the Yoruba of Southwest owing to the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election believed to be won by Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola.
 
As the G34 aligned PDP with the idea of power rotation as a necessary basis of strengthening national unity, the departing military authorities tended to side with the party instead of the progressive elements, whose ideas were seen to be too radical for the post-military era.     
  
In line with its power sharing arrangement, Dr. Ekwueme relinquished the office of national chairman to Chief Solomon Lar immediately it became obvious that the Presidential standard bearer of the party would emerge from Southern Nigeria.
     
As was expected, a new entrant to the party, General Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military head of state, who was favoured by the military slugged it out with the G34 leader and former second republic Vice President, Ekwueme at the PDP national convention and Presidential primary election in Jos, capital of Plateau State for the party’s ticket.
    
Obasanjo, who captured the PDP Presidential ticket, went on to win the main election by defeating his kinsman, and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Peoples Party (APP) alliance. 

Enforcing zoning principle
IN 2003, four years after Obasanjo mounted the saddle, an attempt by some PDP state governors to spread the maximum of eight years available to the President between Southwest and Southeast hit the brick walls.
  
That idea of a single term of four years to make way for Dr. Ekwueme of Southeast, as reportedly proposed by the PDP governors led by Delta and Bayelsa States governors, James Ibori and Diepreye Solomon Peters Alamieseigha, did not work because Obasanjo was constitutionally entitled to a second term in office.
  
However, a spectacular feature of the 2003 general election was that an attempt by some northern Presidential aspirants, particularly former second Republic governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, to participate in the election was resisted by the PDP leadership.
   
Citing the need to stick to the zoning principle, the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) was said to have returned Rimi’s N10million in certified bank draft representing the cost of the Presidential nomination form he sought to purchase.
   
However, unlike what obtained nearly 20 years ago when some were prevailed upon not to contest the Presidency on PDP’s platform, some extraneous considerations have been injected, including ability to win the main election and capacity to fund the election campaigns.

  
A former director in Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and PDP stakeholder in Plateau State, Da Jonathan Akuns, said the traditional power rotation arrangement within the country has always been between the north and south, stressing that since President Buhari is serving out his eight years in office, common sense, morality, fairness and equity demands the next President should come from the South.
  
Akuns contended that those arguing that the South had held the office of President within PDP for a long period miss the point, adding that it was part of the national structure and constitutional provision that north and south should interchange.
     
But, contrasting the recent developments in PDP, where the leaders are adducing grounds to abandon the power rotation principle, a development expert and lecturer in Baze University, Dr. Arthur Martins Aginam, said there is no basis for controversy.
  
In an interview with The Guardian, Aginam said, “it is unfortunate that the party would engage in such controversies.” He noted however that the principle being a tradition, “a kind of a gentleman’s agreement, nothing was documented in terms of being codified or enshrined in the constitution of the party.”
  
Recalling the 2018 scenario when Southern politicians in PDP left the field for northerners for the 2019 Presidential election, the don stated: “Everybody who has followed the PDP either as an insider or from a distance, knew they have that understanding that power rotates between north and south. 
   
“If you look at the last election 2019, it was supposed to go to the north, because Jonathan was from the south and all the people who contested that election, the primaries in Port Harcourt; were northerners. Whether it is Atiku, Kwankwaso, Tambuwal, Saraki and the rest, the southerners backed off. So now what has changed?
    
“You don’t change the rules of a game in the middle of a game or change the goal post in the middle of a football match. Everybody has assumed, whether you are a PDP person or not, that that is the basic understanding in the party.”
  
While enjoining PDP leaders to play the game as gentlemen and women, Aginam said a gentleman or woman is someone who keeps his words, noting, “You cannot simply now begin to make the argument first and foremost about the last to hold the office in the party or who is going to win the election.
  
“Did the question of who was going to win the election arise in 2019, when the southerners backed off, based on the agreement within the party that allowed the northerners to run?”
     
He urged Southern stakeholders in PDP to insist on their right to the ticket, even as he regretted that some state governors from the South, despite their superior numbers were afraid of speaking out forcefully in favour of zoning in the party.
   
“Southern governors and the southern politicians and leaders in the PDP,” he maintained, “have to come together and present this very strong position that for goodness sake, it is our turn.    
  
“Whether it is southeast or southwest or the south south, it is an entirely different matter, it is an internal arrangement for the party to be able to kind of resolve ultimately.
   
“So it boils down to the fact that they have to fight for what belongs to them, it is as simple as that; in politics nobody hands you power on a platter.”
      
The university lecturer argued that the fact that the PDP national chairman comes from the north, renders any argument for the Presidential flag bearer to come from the North irrational and unpatriotic.  “I have given you the example of 2019 you did not find any southerner contesting in the primaries, some of them were qualified. So it is simply what I call an argument of convenience, it is not persuasive, it is not compelling, to begin to ask who is going to win the election.
     
“What guarantee do you have that a northern candidate is going to win the election, so what is the basis for that. They want to appropriate it, they want to take it, if they lose fine,” he added.
    
A chieftain of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) from Southeast, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said: “By jettisoning zoning convention, the main opposition party has violently breached its own constitution and the national convention, which governed our 4th Republic. PDP has shot itself on the foot and put itself in harm’s way, thus endangered internal democracy, national unity and has abandoned its original stronghold, the Southern belt.
   
“In addition, by this singular unforced error of selfishness, PDP has thrown away the baby and the bathe water. Secondly, and most importantly PDP by jettisoning the zoning of president has abandoned the Southern belt, which is its original stronghold.”
   
However, while PDP’s doublespeak over zoning continues to draw flak from a cross section of Nigerians, some stalwarts of the party argue that the politics of zoning is merely to keep the governing APC guessing in the erroneous belief that a northern candidate would be fielded by PDP in 2023.
  
“What if what you call disagreement is merely politics to distract APC into making a blunder? Don’t you think by making the Presidential ticket competitive PDP is trying to strengthen democracy and its structure to defeat the party in power?” the stakeholder stated.
  
Whatever would eventually play out ultimately as the major opposition selects its standard-bearer would not be long in coming, because the primaries are not more than two months away.
   
Former Vice President Atiku, had while declaring his intention to seek nomination in PDP, disclosed that instead of being a usual election, the 2023 poll would be “a referendum to decide whether we want greatness or continuous destruction.”