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How PDP doused tension on zoning, threw open contest for presidency

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh (Deputy Abuja Bureau Chief)
10 October 2021   |   3:04 am
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Thursday played up the card of the possible adoption of the governor Bala Mohammed committee on the zoning of the presidency to douse tension

Akinwonmi

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Thursday played up the card of the possible adoption of the governor Bala Mohammed committee on the zoning of the presidency to douse tension that arose from the zoning of its Chairmanship position to the North. 

The past few days have been stormy for the opposition party particularly after the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi committee on zoning made its report and recommendations public. It took the chairmanship seat from the South to the North after it swapped the National Working Committee (NWC) positions between the North and South. 

Many party members had raised issues of injustice and unfairness in the build-up to the NEC meeting, a development that seriously generated tension within the party.

Hours before the actual commencement of the meeting, some people emerged at the party secretariat protesting against what they called discrimination against the North. 

Placards displayed by the protesters carried inscriptions like: “What did the North do to PDP?, “Stop cheating the North”, “Wike brought Sheriff, Wike brought Secondus, Now he wants to take the turn of the North”, “PDP, give North their rights”, and “Two years of North vs 13 years of South.”

And in reference to the build-up tension, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar tasked the PDP to pay less attention to where a President should emerge from.

Speaking just before the commencement of the NEC meeting, Atiku noted that, “Where the President comes from has never been the problem of Nigeria neither will it be the solution.”

“There is no such thing as a president from southern Nigeria or a president from northern Nigeria. There is only one, a president from Nigeria, for Nigeria and by Nigerians,” he stressed. 

Resolving The Crisis
Against predictions and expectations, the 94th meeting of NEC ended peacefully without hostilities and exchange of fisticuffs.

Topmost leaders of the party, particularly the governors had engaged elements of opposition to the chairmanship zoning formula despite serious media reports about plans to make the meeting a point of the battle.

In a direct reference to the tension that had been generated ahead of the meeting, Acting chairman, Elder Yemi Akinwonmi, declared that “today (Thursday) is a day of making history in the life and survival of the party.”

He added that Nigerians were eagerly waiting for PDP to take them out of the challenges of socio-political vices created by the political party in power, the APC.

He pleaded with members “to understand our differences, reflect on them when necessary and when not necessary, forget them. We should look at our party and Nigeria and bury all our personal differences because PDP is above any personal, or individual or collective consideration.”

In the same vein, the National Assembly caucus, which spoke through the House of Representatives minority leader, Ndudi Elumelu, before the actual commencement of the NEC meeting, drew attention to the need for the PDP to close rank to face the task of redeeming Nigerians from the shackles of insecurity, poverty and economic strangulation. 

Ndudi said: “Leaders of our party, our compatriots have suffered the unbearable under the hard-hearted APC-led government and they cry out to the PDP for a solution. They are ready to march with us all the way to the end, and we must not let them down.

“As you may be aware, the APC, as a political party, is since burnt out and dead. What is left is a deflated, disorganised and decrepit contraption of political scavengers that have no iota of interest in the wellbeing of our nation.

“Against this backdrop, we must go into this National Convention with undiluted patriotism and spirit of sportsmanship. We must be ready, as true democrats, to make sacrifices and adjustments, so as to elect credible leaders that will lead our party to victory in 2023.”

He noted that recent political reports and speculations on the PDP have generated widespread public debate regarding the direction of the party ahead of the National Convention and of course, the 2023 general elections. 

According to him, such public interest in activities in the party strongly pointed to the enormity of the confidence Nigerians repose in the PDP as their only hope to ending their sufferings, agony and despair under the horrifying misrule of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government. 

“But more importantly, the situation highlights the anxieties by our compatriots in their demands that we get it right at this point for the task ahead,” he stressed. 

Governors’ Peace Moves
Just a few hours to the meeting on Thursday, the governors convened another meeting in the Abuja residence of the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike where it was learnt, perceived grey areas were addressed. 

The point of emphasis was the dismissal of the belief among some Northern leaders that the zoning of the chairmanship position to the North was to deny that region the opportunity to produce the next President.

It was agreed that the Bala Mohammed committee report should be debated soon to allay the fears. The report had recommended that the presidency be thrown open for a contest among the six zones.

Accordingly, during the NEC meeting, the issues in the Bala Mohammed report were raised and NEC approved that another meeting is convened in future to consider the Bala Mohammed panel report. 

National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, disclosed that the need to consider the report was canvassed at the NEC meeting but added that members agreed that another meeting should be convened for that purpose. 

The committee, which was set up last year by the PDP to review the 2019 general elections, recommended that merit, rather than zoning, be considered and adopted in the nomination of the next Presidential candidate of the party.

That report was submitted last March to the National Working committee but still awaits consideration by NEC.

While submitting the report to the party, the committee said though many people think special consideration should be given to the Northeast and Southeast geo-political zones for the sake of fairness and equity; merit, rather than zonal consideration, should be adopted in the choice of the party’s presidential flag bearer.

It said the two zones have had the shortest stints at the Presidency.

Its members were the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, former senator, Stella Omu and Emmanuel Agbo, who served as secretary.

The committee’s recommendation, if adopted, would dash the hope of some of the members of the opposition party who had canvassed the zoning of the presidency exclusively to the south.

“In line with certain unwritten conventions of the nation’s history, many people think that for fairness and equity, the North-East and South-East geo-political zones that have had the shortest stints at the Presidency should be given special consideration in choosing the presidential flag bearer of the party for the 2023 elections,” Mohammed said.

He continued: “While we admit that this is a strong argument, we should not lose sight of the fact that Nigeria is endowed with many capable and very experienced leaders in every part of the country.

“Moreover, the exigencies of the moment demand that nothing should be compromised in choosing the leader with the attributes to disentangle the country from the present quagmire. Therefore, we think that every Nigerian from every part of the country should be given the opportunity to choose the best candidate through a credible primary election, as a way of institutionalising a merit-based leadership recruitment process for the country.”

While recalling the recent #EndSARS protests organised by some youth in the country, the committee recommended that the PDP should set aside a certain percentage of elective and appointive positions for youth and women.

The committee asked the party to promote internal democracy and discourage “godfatherism” in the choice of candidates, in order to allow the will of the people to prevail.

It also asked the party to advocate for a genuine restructuring of the polity that fosters “decentralisation, engenders national unity, guarantees the security of lives and properties of all Nigerians no matter where they reside in the country and which promotes economic prosperity and the overall well-being of all our people.”

Suspended national chairman, Uche Secondus, who received the report then for the party had promised to set up another committee for the implementation of the report. 

“Relying on the recommendations of this report, the NWC will work with think tank(s), consultants and all critical stakeholders of our great party to enhance the new PDP narratives that will help address the yawning absence of leadership in the country. We will continue to build the party along the line of the recommendations with a view to cultivating a wide support base with utmost urgency towards 2023.

“I have no doubt in my mind that your report will form the bedrock of our party’s plan ahead of the 2023 general elections. The NWC is going to study and analyse your report meticulously and come up with a position that will be beneficial to the party,” Secondus had said.

Another issue that helped to avert acrimony during the NEC meeting was the refusal to dabble into issues about who occupied what positions in the next NWC.

It was learnt that the issue of the National chairman was equally strong on the minds of many but because it had been zoned to the North, it was reserved for that region to discuss. 

Accordingly, some Northern leaders attended a meeting convened by Governor Bala Mohammed immediately after the NEC meeting in his Abuja residence. 

In a related development, a committee of 20 persons was appointed by the North Central leaders to consider and recommend three candidates for further consideration by the North.