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PDP’s zoning crisis: Right of first refusal versus doctrine of equity

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
30 April 2022   |   3:06 am
Efforts by the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to exorcise the ghost of zoning, which the party’s constitution invoked, have given rise to new categorisations

Atiku at Sen. David Mark’s led PDP Presidential Screening Committee. Photo/Facebook/Atiku.org

Efforts by the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to exorcise the ghost of zoning, which the party’s constitution invoked, have given rise to new categorisations: consensus, fairness/equity and Right of the first refusal.
 
One man who foresaw that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would engage in verbal gymnastics was former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. To ensure that he would not be forced by circumstances to speak in tongues, Kwankwaso continued the political voyage he joined others to embark on in 2014.

   
Now a leader in the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), the former Kano State governor must be laughing at those he left behind in PDP, especially former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, immediate past President of Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki and chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.
 
In 2014, the quartet led other PDP faithful to form the stillbirth newPDP, before emptying into the mega amalgam All Progressives Congress (APC). They complained against the then President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to seek another term in office as President after serving out what would have been late President Umaru Musa yar’Adua’s final term.
  
The dissenters maintained that it was the turn of the North to retake Presidential power after the hiatus created by Yar’Adua’s death and Jonathan’s make-up single term. They pooled resources together and supported APC and President Muhammadu Buhari to defeat PDP and Jonathan at the 2015 Presidential poll.
   
Two years in their new political abode, the former leaders of newPDP found it hard to blend with APC and its original promoters. At the build-up to the 2019 poll, the musketeers retraced their steps, complaining that despite their expectation that President Buhari would serve for just one term, the President had performed below their expectations.
   
Just some weeks away from the PDP national convention in 2017, former Vice President Atiku quietly returned to the party following suggestions by former President Goodluck Jonathan that if he contests the Presidency on PDP’s platform, he could make a difference.
   
Other members of the quartet, Saraki, Tambuwal, Kwankwaso, later joined Atiku and together all four aspired to be President to deny President Buhari a second term and serve out the extra term for the North. Seeing the plausibility of their narrative, PDP faithful allowed all Northern aspirants only to fight for the party’s ticket.
   
Former national caretaker chairman of the party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, who was promised a right of first refusal for the PDP’s Presidential ticket, was supplanted. Major stakeholders resolved to gift the former Vice President the ticket based on his deep pockets and ability to wage a successful battle against the incumbent and APC.  
  
That sentiment held sway at the Port Harcourt convention of the party in 2018, where Atiku beat Tambuwal, Saraki, Sule Lamido, Dr. Ibrahim Dankwambo and others to become the PDP standard-bearer for the 2019 poll.
  
However, four years after Atiku won the PDP’s Presidential ticket, his desire for another red carpet treatment has been met with obstacles. First, Saraki, who served as Director-General of his campaign drive in 2019, is also interested in the ticket. And, to show his seriousness for the contest, Saraki flew the consensus arrangement through which Atiku bested him and Ibrahim Babangida and Aliu Gusau, in 2011.
  
Although the former Senate President has not openly associated himself with the sentiment, perhaps out of reverence for Atiku, Saraki and Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State became beneficiaries of the Northern Elder’s endorsement as consensus shortlist.

Bala Mohammed has been announcing the fact that Atiku deserves a break from the Presidential contest on the basis of his age. PDP chieftains say the fact that Saraki is serious about pairing up with the Bauchi State chief executive as alternate consensus choices shows his endorsement of the governor’s sentimental observations about Atiku.  
   
However, unknown to Saraki and Bala, the report of the Ango Abdullahi’s committee that selected them unwittingly perforated their argument, especially by sidelining Governor Tambuwal.
   
Prof. Ango Abdullahi had, in the report, he sent to former military President Ibrahim Babangida, explained, “It was resolved that a leading aspirant from the North Central and one from the Northeast 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.”
 

 
The question that PDP stakeholders, especially those from the South, were asking was if Tambuwal was eliminated based on the fact that late President Yar’Adua hailed from Northwest, why was Bala Mohammed not removed on account of Atiku’s eight years as Vice President?
   
Prof. Ango Abdullahi unwittingly glossed over the fact that the power rotation arrangement in the country is basically between the North and South, a reason that informed the 2014 exodus of Atiku and co. Perhaps, recognising that strategic political mistake, Northern PDP Stakeholders led by former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, challenged the consensus shortlist.
 
The northern PDP stakeholders described Ango Abdullahi-led Northern Elders action as a calculated attempt to damage the fortunes of Northern aspirants, stressing that their report and recommendations were “not only injurious to the North but equally injurious to the Northern aspirants.”
  
Feeling vindicated that he excused himself from the consensus arrangement, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar approached the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) to give him the right of first refusal for the 2023 presidential ticket.
  
The former Vice President spoke when he held a consultative meeting with the NWC last Thursday, in Abuja. Although Atiku rested his request on his claim that he would easily command 11million votes during next year’s Presidential poll if given the ticket.
  
Promising to be a unifier, Atiku reminded the PDP NWC led by Dr. Iyorchia Ayu that a similar situation prevailing in the country today happened in 1999 when he mounted the saddle with his principal, President Obasanjo. However, he forgot to mention that Obasanjo’s emergence followed the demand for fairness by the military authorities.
  
That could explain why Rivers State governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, has been mobilising his fellow governors against consensus and insisting that the 2023 Presidential ticket of the party be ceded to the South.
   
Although Governor Wike is also gunning for the Presidential ticket, Atiku had challenged him and Ayo Fayose to drop their aspiration in the interest of equity to support the Southeast for the 2023 Presidency.  
  
Atiku had argued that the only way he could step down his aspiration for the 2023 Presidency was if PDP zones the ticket to the Southeast, which is the only geopolitical region yet to occupy the office of the President of the country.
  
Yet, Wike, mouthing similar claims by his Sokoto State counterpart that the ability to win the main election rather than zoning should guide PDP in the choice of its presidential standard-bearer.
  

However, while some PDP stakeholders from the South express the belief that Wike should have continued to serve as the conscience and financier of PDP instead to run for President, the Rivers State governor insists that he is the one to win the Presidency for PDP and defeat APC. Wike seems to have succeeded in bringing together PDP governors from the South around his ambition, except for the Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, who is also in the race.
 
Surprisingly, despite the plea for equity and fairness they advocate, the two Southeast PDP governors, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Okezie Victor Ikpeazu have thrown their weights behind Wike, either as a mark of governors’ solidarity or to spurn former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim and Mr. Peter Gregory Obi, who are strong contenders for the Presidential ticket.
   
Perhaps, Wike wants to prove that a political kingmaker could be king. But, PDP delegates would decide whether the money would chart their path or the credibility of candidates supported by the doctrine of fairness and equity.
    
Senate Chief Whip, Orji Uzor Kalu, last week said the fairness he recognises lies through having both APC and PDP zoning the Presidency to Southeast, insisting that unless that is done, it would not make meaning where the next President comes from.
  
But, faulting Kalu and Atiku in the stance over zoning, a chieftain of the Plateau State chapter of PDP, Chief Jonathan Sunday Akuns, described as abhorrent Kalu stance on the zoning of the Presidency in 2023.
   
Regretting that nobody, except Governor Yahaya Bello is talking about the North Central in the Presidential equation, Akuns said Kalu’s “piece is a drag on the noble advocacy for restructuring and power devolution in Nigeria along the path of the Swiss model of governance in a federation.”
   
He lamented that the postulation excludes the North-Central geopolitical zone of Nigeria from the regions that have not produced an elected President of Nigeria, despite the conspicuous engagement of Governor Bello in the race to the 2023 Presidency.
   
His words: “The focus has always been on Southeast and Northeast only. This demonstrates a faulty sense of equity being clamoured for by the likes of Atiku Abubakar and Kalu, both persons to have spoken about the zoning of the Presidency in Nigeria for an egalitarian Nigerian society.
  
“The position of Kalu is so abhorrent for him to justify the inclusion of North in 2023 calculations as an option that is equitable; Atiku was fair enough to declare that he will withdraw from the 2023 Presidential contest if the zoning of the Presidency to the South was explicitly assigned to the Southeast.
 
“While I squarely blame the leaders of North-Central Nigeria for their muted stance on the issue, I am disappointed by the lack of prescience of Atiku and Kalu on such an issue of national relevance considering their standing in the scheme of things in national politics.
  
“Regrettably, the duo has portrayed a sense of statesmanship of regional, rather than national stature, thereby diminishing the much needed political esprit de corps for a cohesive federation of Nigeria.”
   
It could therefore be in a bid to factor in the North Central dimension that Saraki made sure that the Northern Elders shortlisted him among the possible consensus options.
  
Although Wike’s decision to be a contender for the PDP Presidential ticket tends to vitiate the strong argument for zoning the Presidency to Southeast, the fact that the field was left to only Northern contenders in 2019 shows that there is something fishy going on in PDP.

How far does Ayu’s position as national chairman impact the undulating arguments around zoning, particularly the moral halo of the doctrine of equity on which the party could have redeemed itself? In the event that PDP delegates look beyond naira and dollar to feed Wike, Atiku and Tambuwal the humble pie, how far could PDP go in its search to reclaim the Presidency after losing it to APC in 2019 through a mixture of blackmail, duplicity and chicanery?
  
However, Ayu has assured Nigerians that the party has its own internal mechanisms for selecting a candidate whether by consensus or by-election, stressing, “We do it transparently.
   
“Our internal processes will go ahead and we are going ahead with it. At the end of the day, we’ll come up with a candidate chosen by PDP members themselves. It is that candidate that we will present to the rest of Nigeria for the forthcoming elections.”
    
No matter how PDP tries to dribble itself, Nigerians are watching to see how far they can go to purge themselves of impunity and political corruption, which consists in doing the right things.