PDP Undergoes Tough Task over Presidential Zoning

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A 37-member committee has been set up by the leadership of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) to deliberate on modalities for the zoning of the party’s 2023 presidential ticket and other political offices at the national level. However, some aspirants from the north had already obtained presidential nomination forms to vie for the ticket. This has upset their counterparts in the south who have continued to insist that the ticket be ceded to their part of the country. In this piece, GBADE OGUNWALE examines the arguments of the two sides and the difficult task ahead of the committee.

The leadership of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is still putting ink on paper, drawing up a list of a 37-member committee to deliberate on the zoning of key elective political offices. Apparently, what is going to prove the most tasking for the committee, is the zoning of the presidential slot. The committee, which is yet to be empanelled, would have a two-week time frame to deliberate and submit its recommendations for the consideration of the National Executive Committee (NEC). NEC said membership of the committee would be drawn one apiece from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is facing a tough task over zoning its presidential ticket ahead of next year’s general elections. The issue of zoning is likely to make or mar the PDP’s chances of winning the election. The two sides, the north and the south, appear to be heading for a collision over the matter. Southern governors are sticking to their guns, while aspirants from the north are not giving up hope that they would get the party’s nod to contest the election. Two aspirants from the north, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and former Senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki have already purchased forms to vie for the ticket. It is going to be a difficult task for the party’s 37-member committee on zoning.

Interestingly, Saraki purchased his form barely 48 hours after he rose from a meeting with Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal and his Bauchi State counterpart, Bala Mohammed, where the three aspirants announced their decision to work towards picking a consensus candidate among their ranks. Apparently miffed by the perceived lack of commitment to the issue of zoning on the part of the PDP leadership, the party’s governors in the south have renewed the call for the presidential ticket to be ceded to the region. More vociferous in the clamor for the ticket are PDP governors in the South south. The governors, at a meeting in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, last week had restated their demand for the ticket. This time, the governors asked that the ticket be micro-zoned to the South south.

Speaking after the Uyo meeting, Rivers State Governor Wike described the zone as the “pillar” holding the PDP. For this reason, he said the Southsouth should be given the chance to produce the party’s 2023 presidential candidate. Wike said the PDP leadership and stakeholders should learn to treat the Southsouth geo-political region with fairness, justice and equity. The governor said having consistently voted for the PDP since 1999, the party should not ignore the Southsouth’s contributions to its success. In a statement issued by his media assistant, Kelvin Ebiri after the meeting, Wike said: “The Southsouth is the pillar of the PDP. If the Southsouth is the pillar of the PDP, they must be treated with fairness, justice and equity. It is not only when it comes to work, it is not only when it comes to giving votes, that we will all remember that the Southsouth is the pillar. When it also comes in terms of sharing, they should remember that this is the pillar of the party.”

Wike urged his counterparts in the Southsouth, and members of the National Assembly from the zone to set aside their differences in the overall interest of the party. Continuing, the Rivers governor said: “We have all said that Nigerians are waiting for PDP to take over in 2023. That is true. But we cannot take over if we are not united. We cannot take over if we don’t work together.”

The governor stressed that the only way PDP could wrest political power from the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2023 is by remaining united. He said Nigerians were already disenchanted with the APC-led administration, which he said, had inflicted hardship on the masses through its economic policies.

Joining the zoning debate, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal said the PDP must choose between zoning and winning the election. He urged those clamouring for zoning to consider the demographic composition of the country and the trend in past election results. He said what should be paramount to the PDP was the need to adopt the best strategy to dislodge the ruling APC in 2023 and resolve the issue of power-sharing afterwards.

Tambuwal recalled that it was such strategic planning that enabled the APC to win the presidential election in 2015. The governor, who was in the APC at the time, said part of the APC strategy was to give its presidential ticket to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Tambuwal said the APC would have lost the 2015 presidential election if it had given the ticket to someone from the south, particularly the Southsouth zone. He said: “The APC took their ticket to Katsina in 2015 where the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in office in 2010, hails from.

“Five years later, the APC, out of strategic thinking with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the rest of them; I was part of it. We said we were looking for how to move; we must get power before we share it. I deliberately took the APC ticket to Katsina to give President Muhammadu Buhari. Yes. Atiku contested, Rabiu Kwankwaso contested. Sam Nda Isaiah and Rochas Okorocha, contested. But we knew where we were going. Let me tell you, had the APC given that ticket to someone from the south, in particular the Southsouth, we couldn’t have won. Go and check the election results of 2007; Buhari had 11 million votes in 2003. But in 2007, he got seven million votes against Yar’ Adua because they are from the same Katsina. I am giving you this analysis so that together, as leaders of our party, the PDP, who are working towards winning the election, not zoning, not winning tickets.”

There appears to be division among party stakeholders in the Southeast and the Southsouth over the demand by Governor Wike that the presidential ticket be given to the Southsouth. A former PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh faulted Wike’s position; wondering at what point did the agitation shift from the south to the Southsouth. Metuh said Wike’s position indicated that the Southeast had been relegated to the background. He said: “Our collective position had been that the ticket be zoned to the South. But, Wike’s demand that it should be zoned to the Southsouth creates the impression that the Southeast is no longer in the reckoning.”

Those conversant with the internal workings of the PDP say there is one zoning term standing to the credit of the north. They say the PDP zoned its 2019 and 2023 presidential tickets to the north way back in 2018. So, in the reckoning of some stakeholders, the north still has one term to claim. They also argue that the zoning arrangement since 1999 has tilted heavily in favor of the south. In their arithmetic, the south has occupied the PDP presidency for 13 years, with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo taking eight years (1999 to 2003) while Dr. Goodluck Jonathan spent five years (2010 to 2015). They recall that the late Umaru Yar’Adua, who got elected in 2007, died in 2010, spending only three years in office. They argue further that the north-south equation would still leave the north with a deficit at the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s eight-year presidency. They said even if Buhari’s eight years is added to the three years that the North got from Yar’ Adua, it would amount to 11 years, against the South’s 13.

Some stakeholders have accused Atiku and Saraki of jumping the gun, by picking their nomination forms without waiting for the zoning committee set up by the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to come up with its recommendations. But the party leadership disagrees. When asked if the two politicians have not preempted the decision of the committee, National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba said Atiku and Saraki did not break any rule. Ologunagba told our correspondent on the telephone that their action was in order. He said Atiku and Saraki were exercising their fundamental human rights.

Ologunagba, however, did not rule out the possibility of all the aspirants agreeing among themselves as to who gets the ticket at the end of the day. “We have a robust conflict resolution mechanism in place, through which we resolve our differences amicably. So there is no contradiction anywhere,” he said.

Whereas, last Wednesday, Atiku declared his intention to vie for the ticket. Nevertheless, the zoning debate continues. But, while aspirants of northern extraction are making consultations across the country and canvassing support for their aspirations, their counterparts from the south who have so far indicated an interest in the race have not made any significant consultative engagements.

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