PDP’s drive for merit-based 2023 presidential primary rankles Southeast
What has occupied minds in the southeast since the issue zoning the presidency started is what role the zone could play to gain political prominence in 2023. A new perspective was added by the report of a committee set up by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to review its performance in the 2019 presidential election, which recommended that the 2023 contest should be thrown open to all parts of the country.
The committee’s report appears to have dealt a big blow to the hopes and aspirations of the southeast that the PDP would tinker with its zoning arrangement and would compensate the zone with its 2023 presidential, since it remained the only region that had not produced a president since 1999.
The rotation and zoning principle was ingrained into the PDP’s Constitution in 2009. Article 7 (2) (c) of the Constitution states: “In pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices and it shall be enforced by appropriate executive committee at all levels.”‘
But the committee’s recommendations reeled out by its Chairman and Bauchi State Governor, Bala Muhammed had held: “In line with certain unwritten conventions of the nation’s history, many people think that, for fairness and equity, the Northeast and Southeast geo political zone 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.
“However, 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 institutionalizing a merit-based leadership recruitment process for the country.”
Rash of reactions
SINCE the report came out, voices have risen on why the party should jettison an existing zoning formula in the middle of the game. While some held that the Mohammed’s committee had arrived at the report to shut out Igbos from presidency and return the ticket to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, others insist that it was a proof that PDP never liked Ndigbo people, despite the support the party had received from the zone since 1999.
Apex Igbo Socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which decried PDP’s “duplicity”, insisted that there was no going back in the quest for an Igboman to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari with or without the support of the PDP.
Ohanaeze’s National Publicity Secretary, Alex Ogbonnia, had said it is worrisome that some highly placed Nigerians who had “benefited so much” from the unity of the country would be inclined to decisions and actions that would further inflame the passions of the patient but aggrieved part of the country.
He stressed that the decision by the PDP to throw its presidential race open to all parts was in bad faith. According to him, “Nigerians had agreed on rotation of presidency between the North and the South, when President Buhari’s tenure ends in 2023, it would be the turn of the South to take over.
“And for clarity purposes, both the Southwest and the South-South had produced former presidents, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan respectively. It is rather very unpatriotic and a trifle on the sensibilities of the Igbo for the committee to even suggest the rotation of the presidency to the Northeast in the first instance and open to every part of Nigeria as a major slight.
“It is disturbing that all the indignities, perceived and real, that the Southeast suffer in the current dispensation are the outcome of the Igbo support for the PDP since 1999. It is on record that in 1999, the Igbo were in hock with the PDP through which Chief Obasanjo emerged the President of Nigeria; same in 2003 and the subsequent elections in Nigeria. On the other hand, the Igbo had invested much political capital in the PDP only to be betrayed by its apparent lack of principles. The leadership of the PDP is advised to retract the comment made by Mohammed and countermand the content of the obnoxious committee report in the interest of the party,” he stated.
A former member of the Board of Trustees of (BoT) of PDP, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and first civilian governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife condemned the report, warning that it may spell doom for the party if upheld by its National Working Committee (NWC).
Ezeife said: “If the PDP says that they are not zoning, then they want to die. There are no two ways about it. If the PDP does not zone the presidential ticket to Southeast and the other party (APC) zones that may be the end of PDP. There is no logic to their decision. No logic, no justice and no equity. So, they can take any decision they like. They’re not in charge of what happens later.”
National Coordinator for Southeast for Presidency 2023 Movement (SEFORP2023), Rev. Okechukwu Obioha, accused the PDP of being economical with the truth, insisting that what the Bala Mohammed Committee did was an endorsement of a kite earlier flown about the party’s intention of returning power to the north in 2023 by the National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus.
He alleged that Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike had toed similar line of thought when he said: “if zoning presidency to the north will make the PDP win presidency that he is comfortable with it”, stressing however that the leadership of the PDP was being unfair and against the progress of the country.
Explaining that nothing would change the decision of the committee, he recalled a similar committee’s recommendation in 2015 chaired by Senator Ike Ekweremadu, which zoned power to the north. He stressed: “The issue of zoning ended in the party after the report of the committee.”
According to him, “But as campaign groups however, we have met and we have called on Nigerians not to vote for the PDP in the next general elections. It is the turn of the Southeast to produce the next president. We are waiting for the APC to hold their national convention in June this year. We know they would do the same and we will not be surprised if they make a similar pronouncement against the southeast. This is because, if you look at the way things have gone in the past few years, you will know that APC has no place for Igbo. All that they are doing now in the zone is artificial. It is a ploy to lure the people and win their votes. They just flagged off the eastern corridor of the railways without budget for narrow gauge, when they have done standard gauge in other zones, to create an impression that Southeast is in their programme. It is deceitful and aimed at putting us to the doldrums.
If in the last six years, we have not been found worthy to be part of the security architecture of the country, how much more giving us executive power when we are nowhere close to power? It will be difficult.”
Obioha told The Guardian that the way out would be the emergence of a third force from the national conventions of the PDP and APC, but quickly added that he was praying that the leadership of the third force would not be the regular politicians moving about political parties.
“The way things are going, there will be an implosion before 2023 and this will throw up a new phase of individuals to take over not, the current crop of politicians, who have sold their heart and honour in pursuit of wealth,” he stated.
Obioha who is also the coordinator of the Coalition of Southeast for Presidency 2023 (COSEP 2023) said the coalition would embark on advocacy to back up the pronouncement already made that Nigerians should not vote PDP in 2023.
“We have decided and declared a fierce campaign against the presidential ambition of the PDP come 2023 until the party apologises to Ndigbo and Southeast by immediately announcing the zoning of their presidential ticket to the zone. The late former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who was from the Southeast, founded PDP. He coordinated Ndigbo and Southeast states and they cooperated with other geopolitical regions to keep Nigeria one. Since the PDP milked us and rejected us, we must reject PDP and wait for other parties, including a third force that may emerge,” Obioha added.
On the issue of merit cited by the Bala Mohammed’s Committee, Obioha argued that no zone was more qualified to manage the country at the moment than the Southeast, insisting that: “in our journey to nationhood so far, it is only the Southeast that has developed on its own. Which zone in the country has merit in terms of human resources than the Southeast? The Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the head of the stone for the tripod that brought independence and created this nation; when the military came up and took us on a journey for 35 years, it was Ekwueme that risked his life and midwifed the democracy that we are enjoying now. How would you compare a people that everything they had in terms of wealth and money for 30 months after the civil war ended with the declaration of no victor no vanquished, were given 20 pounds for whatever they had in the bank and today they are in charge of the commerce of the economy? So what other merit are they talking about?”
Southeast youths on the aegis of Coalition of Southeast Youth Leaders (COSEYL), in a statement by their President, Goodluck Ibem and Secretary, Kanice Igwe, described the proposal of the PDP as “changing the goal post in the middle of the game,” and urged the party to give equal sense of belonging to Nigerians.
BUT the National Vice Chairman of PDP, Southeast zone, Ali Odefa insisted that the recommendation of the Bala’s Committee was not final. He said it would be subjected to other arms of the party for review.
“The Bala Mohammed’s committee report is still a recommendation. When the NWC, which I am a member, sits and deliberate over it, we will be able to come up with our own stand. It is a recommendation and when they consider it, we will now give to the National Executive Council (NEC) and the public will be made to know the stand of the PDP,” he said.
On what the Southeast PDP thinks about the presidency in 2023, Odefa said: “Southeast is not independent of PDP nationwide and would abide by every decision of the national on the issue. Our party however, has a zoning arrangement and we are hopeful that it will be sustained in the 2023 general elections.”
Odefa urged the people of the zone to be patience with the party and support its desire to reclaim presidency in 2023.
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