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Presidential Ticket: Suspense in PDP over zoning, consensus arrangement

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Deputy Bureau Chief, Abuja 
10 April 2022   |   4:17 am
Ahead of the May 28/29 presidential primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), leading presidential aspirants have intensified campaigns to take advantage of the ‘no zoning’ recommendation of the Samuel Ortom-led panel.

National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sen. Iyorchia Ayu

• Only NEC Has Final Authority On Zoning – Ortom
• Leaders Prepare To Debate Panel’s Report At NEC Meeting

Ahead of the May 28/29 presidential primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), leading presidential aspirants have intensified campaigns to take advantage of the ‘no zoning’ recommendation of the Samuel Ortom-led panel.

The renewed zeal and political intrigues deployed by many of the 14 aspirants who have declared interest in the presidential ticket of the party, to woo the over 7000 delegates that would participate in the convention is threatening the ongoing efforts to produce a consensus candidate for the party.

Long before the Ortom panel was set up on March 16 to determine the suitability or otherwise of applying zoning in the contest for the party’s presidential ticket, many had predicted that the race would be thrown open.

Watchers of events in the PDP say that the failure of the party to act swiftly on the issue of rotating the presidency when it decided on zoning Party national chairmanship last October was a pointer to the events to come.

To that effect, leading PDP presidential hopefuls had begun preparations towards a no zoning arrangement.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, for instance, swiftly moved and obtained his expression of interest and nomination forms less than 24 hours after the sale of forms was declared opened on March 17, 2022. That move sent signals that talks about zoning may just be academic.

Other aspirants took a cue from across the country and so far the list has grown to 14.

Former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, who has intensified consultation and campaigns, amplified the collapse of zoning when he told journalists at the national secretariat of the PDP last week that, “it is no longer the issue of zoning, I am contesting because I am qualified for the position.”

When the zoning panel confirmed people’s expectations last Tuesday, the coast became officially clearer and the hunt for delegates more competitive. And as the campaigns get intensified, the emergence of political groupings among top leaders of the party particularly the Governors, the National Executive Committee, Board of Trustees, and National Assembly caucus, among others, is making the consensus arrangement more difficult.

With the open declaration by a former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, on Tuesday of his intention to join the presidential race, the number of PDP’s presidential aspirants have risen to 14. Fayose actually collected his expression of interest and nomination forms on Wednesday in Abuja.

Four of those 14 aspirants are serving Governors of Sokoto, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; Bauchi, Bala Mohammed; Rivers State, Nyesom Wike and Akwa-Ibom, Udom Emmanuel.

Others are former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Presidents of the Senate, Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Anyim Pius Anyim, former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi and the only female aspirant, Oliver Diana Teriela from Imo State.

On list also, are Nwachukwu Anakwenze, Sam Ohuabunwa and Dele Momodu.

Saraki And Consensus Campaign 
Initiated by Saraki, the consensus arrangement talks began with three aspirants including former Senate President Saraki, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Bauchi State governor Bala Mohammed. It has now attracted support from another presidential aspirant, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen.

[FILES] Samuel Ortom. Photo: IREPORTERS

The pro consensus aspirants have been moving from place to place, trying to sell the idea but the challenge it has faced is the suspicion and misgivings from other stakeholders. The suspicion led to the speculation that the pro consensus group would later withdraw for Atiku.

When the suspicion became too much, Saraki had to deny supporting Atiku through the Director General of the Saraki Campaign Council, Earl Osaro Onaiwu, who dismissed the report as mischief planted by those who want to gain the PDP presidential ticket by deceit.

“The report is sheer mischief and planted by those who want to gain the PDP ticket by deceit. For clarity purposes, our candidate and three other aspirants met with Vice President Atiku on Monday with the sole objective of informing him of their push towards a consensus candidate for the party.

“At that meeting, there was no talk of any of the aspirants stepping down as it is yet premature. To therefore find a planted story smacks of desperation and it is ill-intention,” Saraki camp said.

Meanwhile, the groupings emerging from the decision to throw open the contest is further threatening the consensus arrangement.

In the camp of Atiku Abubakar is the Adamawa State governor, Ahmad Umaru Fintiri, who had since abandoned his colleagues in the PDP governors’ forum for the former vice president. In this group are some former governors like Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, and some members of the Board of Trustees including a former Senate leader, Abdul Ningi, and many members of the National Assembly caucus.

In Tambuwal’s group are some serving and former members of the National Assembly whom he shared with other aspirants. National and state leaders of the party in the Northwest geo political zone are also said to be strong in this camp.

Governor Wike of Rivers State is enjoying support from Governors Seye Makinde of Oyo State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and even the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom.

Udom Emmanuel is holding his Akwa Ibom State party structure in addition to support from other states in the South South.

Tension As Leaders’ Debate Panel’s Report On Zoning 
PDP is set to hold an emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to debate the report of its panel on zoning. With the level of tension already generated by the report, the NEC meeting is certainly a make or mar event. At its final meeting, which lasted for four hours in Abuja last Tuesday, the 37-member committee on zoning, led by Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, recommended that:

1) Zoning, as in our party constitution, is affirmed.
2) Inspite of (1) above, ticket is thrown open, this time around due to exigency of time.
3) Our party is encouraged to always make the issue of zoning very clear at least 6 months before sales of forms.
4) Our party should commend the efforts of some of our contestants on the issue of consensus candidacy; the efforts should be seen to a peaceful and logical conclusion.

A member of the committee said the decision was taken to comply with the principles of fairness and justice. According to him, many members of the committee are of the view that because the party had already sold nomination forms to presidential aspirants across all zones, it is completely unfair to turn round to zone many of them out of the contest.

Other members, who argued in favour of throwing it open, according to sources, drew attention to the voting pattern in the 2019 Presidential election as published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), adding that places that recorded higher votes should not be ignored.

But realising the controversial nature of the recommendation, Ortom refused to reveal it to the public even when the committee concluded its assignment last Tuesday.

Governor Ortom simply stated that: “…we decided that we would meet and by the Grace of God we have unanimously adopted a position that will be sent to the NEC of our party that appointed us.

“The good news for teeming PDP supporters and Nigerians is that we have resolved and everyone of us, the 37 members, unanimously adopted the position that we are going to present to NEC,” he stressed.

Hours after the recommendation was revealed to the public, the committee’s chairman was put under immense pressure by some influential members whose interests were adversely affected.

Afterwards, Ortom appeared on a television programme to stress that he never released the recommendation. The governor who frowned at the caption on the news bar while the interview lasted quipped: “I want to clear the insinuation that the zoning committee has thrown open the presidential ticket. I only informed the media on Tuesday (April 5, 2022) that the committee has adopted a unanimous position to be presented to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party. Where did I say that the committee has thrown open the presidential ticket?

He maintained that, “the committee will present the report to NEC. It is NEC that has the final authority on the zoning of positions.”

He explained that, “As far as the committee was concerned, there were arguments that the presidential candidate should go to the South while some said it should go to the Northern part of the country. There were others who were of the opinion that it should be thrown open for the best candidate who will be able to deliver good governance and make Nigerians feel like human beings again.”

He continued: “As the chairman of the committee, we did not say that. So, it is very wrong for anyone to insinuate that we have thrown the presidential ticket open. I am repeating that, whatever we did, we have submitted our report to NEC. It is wrong for the media to come out with a position despite the fact that they were not members of the committee.”

Governor Ortom recalled that when the party positions were being zoned before the national convention, “NEC directed us that in zoning these positions, go and do it rightly without minding where the president will come from yet; that when the time comes for the presidential, a mandate will be given to people and NEC will take a decision.”

He said the party leadership was consciously working towards ensuring that the party gets it right this time. “I believe that at the end, the right thing will be done,” stressing, however, that, “Preempting the committee’s work and NEC decision is not correct. I want to appeal that NEC will soon invite us to a meeting and then we can move on from there,” the governor stated.