The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had, a few weeks ago, tested the depth of the waters regarding zoning of the party’s ticket for the 2023 presidential race. After losing the presidential contest to the APC in the 2019 elections, the leadership of the PDP had set up a seven-member committee to do a post, mortem on the 2019 poll, with a view to determining why the PDP lost the race.
The committee, chaired by Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed, was among other things, charged with the task of recommending ways to remedy observed lapses and charting a way for the PDP to bounce back to reckoning come 2023.
As part of the recommendations contained in a report it submitted to the leadership of the PDP on March 17, 2021, the Bala Mohammed committee had advised the party to jettison zoning in choosing a flag bearer for the 2023 presidential race. The committee urged the PDP to throw the race open to all qualified aspirants, based on merit, rather than ethnic and other primordial considerations.
The committee however, said it recognised the clamour by some political interest groups to have the joint presidential ticket zoned to the Northeast and the Southeast geo-political zones.
The report read in part: “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 zones 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”.
It added: “While we admit that this is a strong argument, 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”. Harping on the need to enthrone merit over ethnic and other primordial considerations, the report further stated: “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 institutionalising a merit-based leadership recruitment process, for the country.
The summary of our report is that the party must promote practices that will deepen democracy, promote national unity and inspire greater faith in our country, especially, among the youth and the several stakeholder groups yearning for inclusion”.
Similar ambivalence and disagreement among key stakeholders over zoning of the presidential ticket of the PDP, immensely contributed to the loss of the Presidency in the 2015 election. Acting in concert with a handful of close associates within the PDP hierarchy, former President Goodluck Jonathan, mismanaged the agitation for zoning. Some powerful party chieftains of northern extraction had insisted on zoning the PDP presidential ticket to the North. The agitators had argued that the North be given the ticket to allow the region complete its eight-year tenure to fill the gap created in 2010 as a result of the death of President Umaru Yar ‘Adua. Consequently, Yar ‘Adua’s first four-year tenure, which began in 2007, was completed by Jonathan in 2011. Apparently in a bid to sustain the relative peace and stability that existed in the PDP then, it was unanimously agreed by the various party organs that Jonathan be allowed to contest the 2011 on the party’s ticket. With groundswell of goodwill within and outside the PDP, the 2011 election was more or less a walk over for Jonathan and his PDP. It filtered into public space much later that the deal to back Jonathan for the 2011 race was struck based on an unwritten agreement that he would not contest again in 2015 and that the PDP presidential ticket would move to the North. Confirming the deal, a prominent PDP chieftain from the Northwest said Jonathan had subscribed to the deal in 2011 and had even gone ahead to made public statements at different times during his Presidency, suggesting that he would not be contesting again in 2015. The party chieftain, who preferred not to be named, said: “But when it was time to honour the agreement to cede the 2015 presidential ticket to the North, some powerful individuals in the party, mainly from Jonathan’s South South zone, discarded the unwritten agreement. They unwisely threw their weight behind Jonathan for the ticket. This led to the defection of some influential chieftains to the APC where they worked against Jonathan and the PDP General Muhammadu Buhari and his APC won the 2015 presidential race. Prominent among those that defected to the APC at the time were Vice President Atiku Abubakar; former Senate President Dr Bukola Saraki; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi. Others included former Sokoto State Governor Aliyu Wamakko; his Kano State counterpart, Rabiu Kwankwanso; former Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed. They all moved to the APC to strengthen the northern forces against Jonathan. It dawned on Jonathan and his backers that apart from the prominent chieftains that defected to the APC at the time, many who did not defect stayed back to work against the PDP.
2023 ticket and pro-North agitators
As the southern elements in the PDP continue to press for the 2023 presidential ticket, their northern counterparts have continued to argue that indeed, the North has been shortchanged in the allocation of the PDP presidential ticket. According to the group, made up of a few, but powerful northern individuals, the Southwest enjoyed the Presidency under the PDP with the eight years tenure of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007. They have added that to Jonathan’s five years from 2010 to 2015 for the South South, leaving the North with Yar ‘Adua’s four-year tenure, which only lasted for three years – from 2007 to 2010. Proponents of this argument have continued to insist that the North remained marginalised in the zoning of the presidential ticket of the PDP since 1999. Consequently, they are demanding for the ticket for the 2023 race, with personalities like Atiku, Tambuwal, Kwankwaso and a few others rumoured to be casting their nets in the political waters for the big fish. In the reasoning of the ambitious power seekers from the North, it is immaterial that by 2023, the region would have done a straight eight-year uninterrupted two tenures with President Buhari. They have continued to insist, through proxies, that the PDP had fielded only one presidential candidate from the North (Yar ‘Adua) in six different contests from 1999 to 2019, against the South that had taken taken the presidential ticket in four different election circles. Specifically, they have argued that in the unbroken 21 years into the nation’s present democratic journey, the PDP had given the Presidency to the North for only three years, trough the late Yar ‘Adua, whereas the South had done 14 years, shared between Obasanjo and Jonathan. This, according to them, could pass as marginalisation of the North by the PDP.
The Bala Mohammed Panel’s recommendation on zoning started generating controversy immediately after it was presented to the leadership of the PDP. Although some stakeholders from the southern parts of the country were peeved by the move to jettison zoning, they are said to be wary of rushing to the public without adequate consultation. The disquiet triggered by the recommendation has forced the various organs of the party to go into consultations, with a view to addressing muffled disagreements within. Apparently mindful of the need to protect the existing fragile stability in the opposition party, the zoning agitators are said to have chosen to register their protest through proxy groups and individuals. One of such proxy groups, the Igbo Leadership Development Foundation (ILDF), at a March 25, 2021 media briefing in Abuja, accused the leadership of the PDP of playing the ostrich with the zoning of the party’s 2023 presidential ticket. The chairman of the ILDF, Dr. Godwin Udibe, the National Secretary, Mr Onyebuchi Obeta, and Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Lawrence Mefor, in a joint statement, said the recommendation was an ominous sign that the PDP leaders were in the process of repeating the mistake they made when they bungled the zoning principle in the 2015 election. The group said: “We are aware of the surreptitious moves within the party to zone its presidential ticket to the North. That explains why the Bala Mohammed Committee mentioned Northeast particularly for consideration if zoning must be contemplated at all by the party. The panel’s report contradicted itself and threw both caution and the constitution of the PDP into the gutter by recommending that PDP presidential ticket be open to all Nigerians, and an all-comers affair”.
They added: “Rotation and zoning principle was ingrained into the party’s 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”. “So, in line with this express provision of the PDP constitution, since power has resided in the North for two straight terms, it has to move South, specifically to Southeast, in the spirit of rotation and zoning, which has been the practice since 1999. All the political parties ought to flow with this national understanding. PDP, APC and other major parties cannot be moving to the North when power is supposed to be moving South, if they hold the unity and continued corporate existence of this country dear to heart”, the group added.
The agitators further described the no-zoning recommendation as very vexatious, provocative, unacceptable and condemnable. “This report has attempted to repudiate the principle of zoning and rotation of the presidential seat between Northern and Southern Nigeria, which has brought so much stability and sanity to the polity since the return of the country to democratic governance in 1999. Such party leaders pushing for the jettisoning of zoning and rotation of the presidential seat when their zones have filled the office based on the same principle, are promoting injustice in an unhealthy and ungentlemanly equivocation, which goes to reinforce the belief by many that there is no honour and decency in politics in Nigeria, particularly in the PDP”. They recalled how attempts by Jonathan and other party leaders to repudiate zoning ruined the chances of the PDP in 2015. “We in ILDF can only remind such leaders in the PDP and indeed in all political parties who now believe that zoning no longer matters, to refresh their minds and recall that the one reason the PDP lost power in 2015 was because of repudiation of zoning which presupposed that the North should complete its eight years under former president Umar Yar’dua.
Repeat of history:
“We need not remind those politicians who believe that the PDP will return to power at the centre through elite conspiracy to read the handwriting on the wall and see a repeat of history in the making. The protest vote, which swept the PDP out of Aso Rock, is fermenting again and the leaders who are goading their political parties along the inglorious path, have only themselves to blame if they do not perish the plot forthwith”, they stated.
According to them: “The ILDF wants to place on record that we recognise the fact that all these surreptitious moves to scuttle zoning in the political parties is aimed at stopping the South East from producing the President of Nigeria in 2023, being the only zone yet to take a turn on that count in the Southern part of Nigeria. Consequently, we call upon critical stakeholders of the PDP in particular, and all the other political parties and indeed all well-meaning Nigerians to urgently and publicly denounce the Bala Mohammed report”.
Since the report was submitted to it on March 17, 2021, the leadership of the PDP has been on the defensive, telling the public that no decision had been taken on the report yet. Apparently worried by the controversy ignited by the committee’s recommendation, the party has initiated moves to douse tension. Speaking during the presentation of the report, the National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said that the report will form the bedrock of the party’s plan ahead of the 2023 general elections. According to him, the party leadership would study and analyse the report meticulously and come up with a position that will be beneficial to all.
Secondus said: “The PDP is leaving no stone unturned to ensure it regains federal power and this report is going to be the take off point and keystone to our subsequent actions ahead of 2023. Relying on the recommendations of this report, the NWC (National Working Committee) will work with think tanks, consultants and all critical stakeholders of our great party to enhance the new PDP narratives that will help address the yawning absence of leadership in the country. We will continue to build the party along the line of the recommendations with a view to cultivating wide support base with utmost urgency towards 2023”.
PDP yet to decide:
Also, the spokesman for the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, clarified that it has yet to adopt any position on zoning ahead of 2023. One of such statements had said: “The PDP immensely appreciates the overwhelming interest by majority of Nigerians in the PDP as their national rallying point to elect a pan-Nigeria, unifying and people-oriented leadership that would rescue our nation from misrule, come 2023.
Our party notes that such unprecedented public interest and confidence in the PDP is responsible for the widespread discussions and enquiries on the recommendations of the Committee on the Review of the 2019 Elections. The recommendations will be subjected to democratic process by relevant organs of the party and consultation across all national interests. While our party appreciates the enthusiasm by Nigerians on our nomination processes, the PDP assures that its decision on zoning will be the product of wide consultation, discussions and consensus building, taking into consideration the aggregate aspiration and hope of the generality of the Nigerian people. Our party has however noted the disposition and line of discussion from various political interests across the six geo-political zones of our country in this regard, and at the appropriate time, the collective understanding of Nigerians will prevail”.