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South, Middle Belt, Ndigbo leaders rage as PDP dumps zoning

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Politics Editor), Seye Olumide (Ibadan), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) and Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri)
07 April 2022   |   4:31 am
Leaders of Southern and Middle Belt groups, yesterday, were enraged over the decision of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to jettison zoning in the selection of the party’s presidential candidate for the 2023 elections...

Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed (left); former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal and former Managing Director of FSB International Bank, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen during a stakeholders meeting in Port Harcourt… yesterday. PHOTO: NAN

• Ortom denies, says he was quoted out of context
• Fayose kicks against decision on zoning
• Southern leaders vow to vote against PDP if ticket goes to North
• Babatope, Olafeso, Grange indifferent
• Atiku absent as presidential aspirants meet in Rivers 

Leaders of Southern and Middle Belt groups, yesterday, were enraged over the decision of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to jettison zoning in the selection of the party’s presidential candidate for the 2023 elections, threatening to work against the party, if a Northerner is fielded.

There were expectations that the PDP would zone the presidential ticket to the South, in line with the zoning arrangement that had been in place since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, whereby the presidency rotates between the North and the South.

President Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner, will leave office after eight years by 2023, and Southern stakeholders, including the Southern Governors’ Forum, had insisted on power shift to the South.

But the 37-member zoning committee set up by the PDP and headed by Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, recommended that the presidential ticket be thrown open to aspirants from all parts of the country.

Traditionally, in the PDP, the region that holds the office of the national chairman does not produce the party’s presidential flag-bearer. Reason PDP stakeholders from the South had pushed for the zoning of the position of national chairman to the North in the expectation that the development would pave the way for the emergence of a Southerner as presidential candidate in 2023.

Iyorchia Ayu, from Benue State, eventually emerged as PDP national chairman at the party’s October 2021 national convention.

The decision of the zoning committee yesterday drew the ire of leaders of thought across the regions of Southern Nigeria. Some of the groups in the vanguard of power shift include the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum.

Leader of the Middle Belt Forum, Bitrus Pogu said while PDP’s decision is left for the party, their position as reached at a January 22, 2022 meeting where they declared that they would not support any political party that does not field a Southerner as a presidential candidate, remains the same.

“We believe that after eight years of President Buhari, the presidency should go to the South by 2023. We also say any political party that zones its ticket to the North, we will work against that party and we will campaign against that party. Our position has not changed. So, it is up to the PDP leadership to know what to do.”

A spokesman for Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Sola Ebiseni, spoke in same vein. “I don’t want to talk about any political party. Let them do their worst, but we in the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum have already expressed our views. We have no power to compel any party but we have spoken to the people,” he said.

Reacting, spokesman for Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural organisation of the Igbo, Alex Ogbonnia, stressed the need to allow the Southeast to produce the president in 2023.

“We will not relent in talking about the implications of giving the presidency to the Southeast. You cannot have unity, peace and sustainable national development without equity and justice. If you don’t have equity and justice, Nigeria cannot stand,” he said.

“Throwing the ticket open is well and good because it does not exclude the people of the Southeast, but if ultimately they (PDP) gives it to the North, we will no longer support them. If they give it to the North thinking that it is a way of getting more votes, we will not support them in the election.”

In a statement, Ogbonnia added: “For purpose of clarity, rotation and zoning principle was engrained into the PDP Constitution in 2009. Article 7 (2) (c) of the PDP 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 the appropriate executive committee at all levels.”

He deplored the unconscionable shifting of the goal post at the middle of the game. “Such unscrupulous violation of the zoning principle that has been well entrenched in the PDP Constitution simply changes the rules of the game to deprive Ndigbo the opportunity to produce a president for Nigeria.

“It is a political blunder and betrayal given what Ndigbo have suffered in our own country and most recently for supporting the PDP. History has never been kind to betrayers and the treacherous. The machinations and conspiracies to deny Ndigbo their due place in Nigeria is an ingratitude that daily cries to God.”

An Ndigbo elder statesman, Chief Chekwas Okorie, condemned the dropping of zoning as “political suicide.”

Ndigbo had severally asked the PDP to reciprocate the support of the region by zoning its ticket to the Southeast, a zone that had not tasted presidency since the return of democracy in 1999.

He said: “I am not surprised. I had said it over two years ago that the PDP and APC would not give their presidential tickets to the Southeast region. This is because after the 2015 general elections, the PDP met through the Ekweremadu committee and ceded the ticket for 2019 to the North. That development gave the North four good years to prepare for the office.

“Now after the 2019 general elections, I made a call for the PDP to do the same, but when they started dilly-dallying, I knew that something was about to happen. APC is waiting for the PDP to make a move and now that they have thrown the contest open, watch and see that the APC would do the same. APC will never surrender its control of the North to the South,” he said.

Okorie stated that the way out was for Ndigbo to rally behind the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), saying the party was the only platform that could guarantee presidential ticket in 2023 to Ndigbo.

“This is the only window left for us. Minority parts of the country are looking on the Igbo to provide leadership for the country. We have 30 days window to raise a candidate, not the one that has paid for ticket in another political party.

“We need to rally round Soludo to reposition APGA. There is a major existential problem facing Ndigbo and he needs to come out to face it. If we continue to dilly-dally, we will miss it all. Let Ndigbo embrace APGA. We don’t have to surrender. We must find alternative to the issue,” he stated.

FORMER governor of Ekiti State and presidential aspirant of the PDP, yesterday, faulted the party for jettisoning zoning of its presidential ticket.

Fayose, who was a member of the 37-member zoning committee, led by Ortom until he declared his presidential ambition, said the party was wrong to have left the race open to all aspirants, noting that southern members of the party did not contest for the presidential ticket at the 2019 convention held in Port Harcourt because it was zoned to the North.

Fayose, who spoke on Channels Television Politics Today said it was not the fault of the Southern PDP members that the North did not win the presidential election in 2019.

He said it would be wrong to continue to skew the system to favour the North until it wins for the party. He also kicked against consensus option to pick the presidential candidate of the party, declaring that he will not step down for anybody.

He said: “The more reason I obtained nomination form today is not to give impression that we are not ready because might come back to tell us it is a southern affair.

“Who tells you it is the north that will give us vote. People have been saying that let the people who can win get the ticket, who tells you who can win. Everybody on the Election Day will win his own ward and state. We will all work together and support whoever wins the primary. Stop telling me it is somebody that can win for PDP.”

HOWEVER, Benue State governor and Chairman, Zoning Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Samuel Ortom, has dispelled media reports that his committee has jettisoned zoning and thrown open the race for the presidential ticket of the party. The governor, while appearing on the ‘Morning Show’ on AriseTV, yesterday, insisted that his committee was quoted out of context.

He wondered why those who were not part of the committee’s meeting would want to “force words into the committee’s mouth.

“So, I want to clear the insinuation that the zoning committee has thrown open the presidential ticket. I did inform the media that the committee had adopted a unanimous position to be presented to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party. It is NEC that has the final authority on the zoning of positions.

“As far as the committee was concerned, there were arguments that the presidential ticket should go to the South. Some said it should go to the North. There were others who were of the opinion that it should be thrown open to allow the best candidate that would deliver good governance and make Nigerians feel like human beings again, contest.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing to the PDP is what the party can do to bring the economy and security situation back to normalcy, because if something drastic is not done about the present situation in the country, a time will come when even the Presidential Villa and other government houses will be taken over by terrorists,” he said.

MEANWHILE, immediate past National Vice Chairman, PDP Southwest zone, Dr Eddy Olafeso, erstwhile member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Ebenezer Babatope and a former Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange, yesterday, said the issue of zoning is something the party must address with utmost maturity and understanding of the political situation in the country.

In his reaction, Babatope said the committee had submitted its report to the apex ruling body of the party as all the stakeholders are waiting to see what the final decision would be.

He said: “As a loyal party man, we cannot preempt the NEC, so it is necessary we all wait to see what the decision of the leadership would be.”

Olafeso said he would not like to comment on whether the party should automatically zone the presidential ticket to the South, since he is a member of NEC, but he said the best option is for members of the party to think back on what zoning has done for the country.

“I don’t think zoning has done any part of this nation any good. Not at all. For example, if we say President Buhari is from the North, what has his leadership done to advance the course of his people in the last seven years? Is it the war-ravaged Northeast and Northwest? Even the leadership from the South has not done anything to improve the lots of the area since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999. I think we only need to present our best, a God-fearing person and someone that has a vision to develop the country,” he said.

According to him, the more we harp on zoning, the more we tend to want to divide the country.

Grange, on her part, wondered what the leadership of PDP is expected to do in a situation where many aspirants across the six geo-political zones have bought their nomination forms?

MEANWHILE, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, alongside other PDP presidential aspirants met behind closed-doors in Port Harcourt, yesterday. The former Vice President and presidential aspirant under the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, was, however, absent from the meeting.

The closed-door meeting had the governor of Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the former Managing Director of FSB International Bank, Dr Mohammed Hayatu-Deen in attendance.

The host, Wike, while speaking to journalists after the meeting, said their interest was to ensure the consolidation of unity in the party.

Wike also expressed their desire to make Nigerians happy by developing a formidable strategy that would enable the PDP coast to victory in the 2023 presidential election.

On his part, leader of the delegation, Saraki said their discussion centred on identifying the best available ways to ensure that all concerned party members embrace unity, as there is strength in unity.