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2023 Presidency: South East PDP chieftains shift battle to NEC

By  Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Leo Sobechi (Abuja), Chijioke Iremeka and Yetunde Ayobami Ojo (Lagos)
09 April 2022   |   4:30 am
• Caucus Meeting To Firm Up Position Underway • NEC Will Take Final Decision, Nwodo, Obi Insist • Nwosu Admits Drafting Committee’s Resolution, Says Southeast Not Happy • IWA: No Igbo Man Should Accept Offer For VP Position • Ndigbo May Embrace Another Party, Udegbulam Warns • Current Zoning Controversy Unfortunate — Martins-Aginam There are…

Chairman Champion Newspapers, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu

• Caucus Meeting To Firm Up Position Underway
• NEC Will Take Final Decision, Nwodo, Obi Insist
• Nwosu Admits Drafting Committee’s Resolution, Says Southeast Not Happy
• IWA: No Igbo Man Should Accept Offer For VP Position
• Ndigbo May Embrace Another Party, Udegbulam Warns
• Current Zoning Controversy Unfortunate — Martins-Aginam

There are strong indications that political leaders of the Southeast region who are members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would not relent in their quest to ensure that the party zones its presidential ticket to the region in 2023, despite the recommendation of the party’s Zoning Committee that the ticket be thrown open.

The Guardian gathered that a caucus meeting of the elders and leaders of the party was being planned with the intention of pushing the case of the zone at the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party with a unanimous voice, where the report of the Governor Samuel Ortom-led Zoning Committee would be discussed.

A former member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the party, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, told The Guardian yesterday that Igbo elders, comprising religious and traditional rulers, would meet next week to deliberate on some developments in the country vis-à-vis the zoning of the presidency.

He said: “I have resigned from active politics and now leads the Elders Council of Ndigbo; I am the Chairman of the Igbo Elders Council. We are going to meet next week where we will take far-reaching decisions and after the meeting, I will address a press conference on the issue.”

Last week, Iwuanyawu chaired a political gathering of Ndigbo, which cut across several persuasions, where the people of the zone insisted on producing the president of the country in 2023, maintaining that it would ensure equity, justice, fairness and inclusiveness if achieved.

The leaders had urged all fair-minded and patriotic Nigerians to give the Southeast the chance to produce Buhari’s successor. At the gathering, which held under the umbrella of Ahamefuna socio-cultural organisation and hosted by a former governor of Enugu State, Okwesilieze Nwodo, were the Obi of Onitsha, HRM Nnaemeka Achebe; former governor Achike Udenwa; Prof. Anya O. Anya; Senator Ben Obi; Prof. ABC Nwosu; Sen. Azu Agboti; Chief Onyema Ugochukwu; Dr Joe Nworgu and Prof. Uche Azikiwe.

Iwuanyawu had said at the event that the Igbo were currently facing one of their greatest challenges, lamenting: “Now that it is the turn of the Igbo, people have started shifting grounds. We want a field where everybody could play. Nigerians should please be honest for at least once.”

Apparently not daunted by the recommendation of the Ortom-led zoning committee, Nwodo told The Guardian on phone yesterday that Igbos in the NEC of the PDP would not relent from insisting that it was the turn of the Southeast to produce the next president of the country and that its presidential ticket should be ceded to the zone.

He said: “Our bargain has been that the two major political parties should zone their presidency to the Southeast. If they say it is southern Nigeria, we agree that it is the turn of the southern Nigeria both by the PDP and the APC. There is a general agreement across the board and in all political parties that there is zoning and rotation of the Presidency. It is a constitutional injunction and the major political parties must abide by it.

“We have made a case that those who have gone before should not go again; like the Southwest has had eight years of Presidency and recently are doing eight years of Vice Presidency and the South-south has gone five years. We think in all righteousness that the zone that has not gone should go. That is the nucleus of our campaign.

“Other reasons like competency and whatever, you can also find in the zone. We will continue our pressure at the NEC meeting for those of us in the PDP; we are not giving up. NEC will take the final decision on the zoning. The zoning committee has recommended, but when we get to the NEC, we will see to it.”

Turning to Ndigbo, Nwodo added: “ I cannot say for APC, but all I know is that this campaign is to reawaken our moral justification; which is that the outgoing president is from the North; that there is no country called PDP. There is a country called Nigeria. The outgoing president is from the North and therefore, the incoming president should be from the South. I want them (Ndigbo) to keep up the pressure as much as they can in demanding for justice and equity in both political parties.”

On the overall implication of throwing the ticket open for all zones, Nwodo insisted that it would open an avenue for Plan B that would see an Igbo becoming the candidate and picking the ticket of the party.

Also, one of the leaders of the party, Chief Ben Obi, stated that the decision of the committee will be tested at the NEC level, explaining: “It is the NEC that set it up and when we get to the NEC, we shall know the final decision. It is just a recommendation that is going to NEC and we will wait until they take decision.”

He said he was hopeful that the Southeast would at the end of the day have cause to continue to support the party. Speaking in similar vein, another chieftain of the party in the zone, Prof. ABC Nwosu, who incidentally was a member of the zoning committee, called for patience, maintaining that the NEC would take the final decision.

Nwosu, who spoke with The Guardian in an interview, said: “What you are seeing in the papers is what was recommended to the authority that set up the committee, which is the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the PDP. And it is this committee that will take decisions on the recommendations.

“The conclusions reached may be the conclusion that is in the papers, and may also be the conclusions after the PDP’s NEC has met. But so far, they remain recommendations.

“I have seen in the papers that Prof. ABC Nwosu drafted the resolutions. It is true. I have also seen the very mischievous implications that those are our views. They are not our views and it is improper for people who are members of a committee to start saying what they said and what they didn’t say or what others said.

“It is indiscipline. I know what I said; the secretariat knows what I said. That is a summary of what everybody said. And that was why everybody agreed. If you make it a summary of your own, then the arguments will start again, because you haven’t captured what others said.

“It was also said that wherever you zone it to, you must be ready to face the consequences. But that is not reflected in the final recommendations; that is the position. If it is on the zoning or the first recommendation, what they will keep saying is that PDP has not thrown away zoning and it remains in its constitution.

“And that was the first thing that was confirmed by that committee. That committee confirmed zoning and rotation as a principle of PDP that remains intact. Those are the exigencies. That committee also did not like to hear that it is only when it is zoned to a particular part of Nigeria that PDP can win, because the election results are clear that we have never won if the zoning they were advocating for was used.

“So, I would urge Nigerians to have patience. PDP will zone and then NEC will take the final decision. Then we await APC; APC will zone as well. This is not an election between the PDP and the APC; it is a general election. The Nigerian electorate is more than 10 times the membership of APC and the membership of the PDP.

“The Nigerian electorate will vote as it affects them and as they deem fit. So, whatever decisions the political parties take will get the judgment of the Nigerian electorate. So, there are talks; people are reacting exactly as it affects them.

“There is nobody in the Southeast that you expect to be happy. Look at the results of the last election. Look at the result of 2019 or 2015 and then you will see the percentage. Southeast, for example, always gave 95 per cent to PDP and it’s being punished perpetually for five per cent that it keeps giving to Buhari and the APC.

“It constituted the main backbone of President Jonathan. It gave Obasanjo its roots and they should also listen to the elders. These are my personal views. So, with whatever decision you take, you should be ready to bear the consequences.”

Nwosu, who gave insight into the party’s zoning arrangement, added: “In 2007, it was clear that Odili would have won the election during the PDP primary, but I’m not sure he would have won the election. What was certain was that he would have gotten the PDP primary and it was at the last minute that he was forced to drop in favour of Yar’Adua.

“What caused most of the problem was the accident of death; it was when Yar’Adua died that we now had the doctrine of necessity. Then everybody supported Jonathan and he won. It was when he wanted to run a second time that people disagreed.

“It was in the convention that PDP members walked out. So, there is nothing that hasn’t been seen. It cannot be good when it concerns me and be bad when it doesn’t.

“Decisions are taken on principle, and I have seen some mischief-making people advertising what they said in committee. It is the ultimate bad manners in committee work. I have just been reading it and I didn’t see where a particular zone was mentioned, whether Northeast or Southeast or Southwest.

“What was mentioned were North and South. What has been practiced is that all the positions in the North should go to the South and vice-versa. So, we will just wait and see what NEC will say.”

On how abandoning zoning would impact the agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and alleged marginalisation Ndigbo, Nwosu noted: “I have given my opinion on IPOB. Marginalisation, unfairness and injustice can never be used to create a nation of a plural society.

“We have a country, Nigeria and in the wisdom of our founding fathers, they made it a federation. The mistake Nigerians are making is saying ‘we are one country.’ Yes, we are one country, but we are not one nation yet.

“The challenge is to make our one country, one nation. And you cannot do it except with justice, fairness and equity, where everybody has the same stake, and where the country serves every group equally.

“IPOB is a consequence of the situation where a young man from the Southeast finds that he has no stake in a country that he calls his own. I have severally quoted Rosa Parks maxim that people denied justice are not interested in peace. That’s what the President of Ohanaeze keeps saying.

“When you deny people justice in a country they call their own, how do you expect peace? When you look at the first nine positions in a country – the President, the Vice President, Senate President, Deputy Senate President, the Armed Forces, etc., how many people from this zone are there? You can’t have a stable and peaceful country built on that.

“So, people are reacting to say this is not my country; this is a country that is serving others except me.

And so, what you are seeing is a reaction. If they maintain that it is not a reaction, prove the people wrong. Just take an Inspector General of Police from the South East or the Chief of Army Staff from the Southeast.

“This country has six-geopolitical zones for ease of taking such decisions. If we were talking about ethnic groups, you would go into hundreds. Hausa is not the same as Fulani; Nupe is not the same as Fulani and Gbari is not the same as Fulani or Hausa. You can’t build it on ethnicity.

“So, people leave Southeast, which we are speaking of and begin to say Igbo. Of course, they can say Igbo. I’m very proud to be Igbo. It is, perhaps, the largest homegrown ethnic group in Nigeria; they didn’t migrate from anywhere. So, the Igbo man is not frightened; there’s no way you can intimidate him. What we are saying is, the same treatment that he gets, the Ijaw and others should get. So, we have to sit down and think of it.”

Former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, in a monitored interview on Nigeria Info FM, yesterday, said nothing was wrong with zoning, stating that in a diverse country like Nigeria, zoning gives people a sense of oneness.

“By zoning, we accommodate one another but that shouldn’t short change or replace a high quality with less quality. Zoning shouldn’t be using a man with less capacity to replace another with full capacity in the spirit of zoning. Everything has to be done with moderation,” he said.

Speaking on the implication of throwing the ticket open, a chieftain of the PDP, Dan Udegbulam, stated that Ndigbo may be forced to embrace any other political party that cedes its presidential ticket to the zone.

He stated that doing so would have vindicated the position of marginalisation of Ndigbo by the PDP. This is even as the President of Igbo World Assembly (IWA), Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze, yesterday, warned that the Southeast region would reject the offer of vice presidential slot, either on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

He specifically urged stakeholders in the PDP to concede the 2023 presidential slot to Southeast, just as he told all presidential aspirants from the northern region to show patriotism by stepping down for an aspirant from Southeast.

“Vice presidential slot will be rejected by Igbo people,” he declared. Anakwenze disclosed this while addressing the media in Lagos, saying: “Relevant stakeholders, party faithful, delegates should throw their weights behind a presidential aspirant from the Southeast in demonstration of justice, equity and fairness to the people of the zone.

“PDP should use the 2023 presidency to reconcile Ndigbo into the Nigeria political project. This election should be strictly for presidential aspirants from Southeast geo-political zone (Igbo speaking states). Rotational presidency, of which Southeast has been marginalised and deprived for over 33 years under the military rule and 24 years of democracy rule, must be corrected in 2023.” He also blamed the rising national insecurity in the country on the marginalisation of the Southeast.

“Nigeria can come out of this if justice, fairness and equity is given a chance in the 2023 presidential election,” he said. He said patriotic Nigerians at home and abroad, who understand the fundamental issues in 2023 presidency and the historic imperative of zoning should not make the error to neglect Igbo next year.

“We state that it’s either the presidency or nothing for the Southeast in 2023. We are reiterating our position about presidency of Nigeria of Southeast extraction. I am a simple man that is driven by the desire to give the youth, the nation’s children what we had growing up – a sense of self-worth and the believe that the sky is the limit when it comes to the ability to excel.

“Our country is snappishly divided across sections. No one group identifies itself as Nigerian. It’s time we reflect on the great Martin Luther King Juniors quote; we either succeed together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fool.”

Also throwing his weight behind the zoning arrangement, a development expert and socio-political communication at Baze University, Abuja, Dr. Arthur Martins-Aginam, said the Southeast must fight for what belongs to them.

He said: “My own take on it is simple. It is unfortunate that the party would be engaged in such controversies. It is 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.

“But, 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 in 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.

“So, a gentleman or woman is someone who keeps his words. 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?

“The second thing I have to tell my brother southerners is that nobody hands power to you. I have said that to the youth; I have said that to the women. You have to wrestle power from people.

“So, if the southerners cannot put their house in order within the PDP and insist on the principle that has clearly been evident in the party since its inception, then they have got themselves to blame. Nobody hands power to you on a platter; you have to fight for that power and get it.

“And southern governors and the southern politicians and leaders in the PDP have to come together and present this very strong position that if you don’t want this country to implode, then 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.

“And so, the northerners that are making this argument within the party and decided to hijack that process because the southern leaders in the political party, including the governors, the southeast governors are not united. Many of them are actually saying so in their closet and would not say publicly they want to make one or two statements about zoning, because they don’t want to be seen as sell outs.

“So, it boils down to the fact that they have to fight for what belongs to them; it is as simple as that.”

Asked the argument anybody could put on the table for the presidential candidate to come from the North given the fact that the national chairman of the party comes from the North, he noted: “You are seeing it from a rational point of view and argument. There is no argument to be made as far as I am concerned for the simple reason that it is a tradition that everybody is expected to follow.

“I have given you the example. In 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.

“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.

“So, that is why I am saying that there is no compelling argument. We don’t have to start looking for sense when there is no sense; let me put it that way.

“All you need to do is for the southerners to insist that they have been part of this party; for them to have built this party and stood by this party at all times, it is our time based on the consensus and on the understanding.

On whether he thinks what played out in 1999 when virtually all the major presidential candidates came from Southwest would be replicated in 2023 in favour of the Southeast, the academic said: “Well, the truth of the matter is that it is asking too much to think that Nigerian politicians are actually patriotic or statesmen; they are not. It is from the point of elites who are obsessed about power and that is why our politics is not based on any ideology. It is not based on any principles; it is not based on any values. It is simply a bunch of elites who have tasted power; they love what they have tasted and they want to keep it forever. That is why if they are in PDP and they lose out in the primary in PDP, they jump to APC; they lose out in the primary in APC, they return to PDP. What are the principles? What are the values guiding all these movements? 

“I would love to say, how many times do you see a Republican politician in the U.S. turn to become a Democrat and vice visa. How many times do you see a Labour politician in the UK turn to become a Conservative and vice visa? So, I think you are submitting too much to them by thinking about statesmanship or patriotism.”