The polity was astir, yesterday, over the decision of the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to throw open the contest for its 2023 presidential ticket.
This is the first time since the return to civil rule in 1999 that the PDP is jettisoning zoning and throwing the presidential race open to the six geo-political zones of the country.
While some aspirants said they weren’t bothered about the decision, a party member accused the party leadership of taking the decision to skew the process in favour of one of the aspirants.
The move also elicited reactions from the Afenifere; Ohanaeze; Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF; Middle Belt Forum, MBF; Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF; and Northern Elders Forum, NEF among others.
Former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, who is also contesting for the ticket said as a loyal member of the party he would abide by the decision.
He said “the NEC decided that zoning should take the back seat, very well and good. In a democracy, there are three certainties: the certainty of tenure, the certainty of process, and the certainty of structure,” noting that all these are subject to change.
Speaking in a similar vein, another presidential aspirant, Sam Ohuabunwa, said: “We talk about zoning because we do not yet have a country, if we have a country, no one will be talking about zoning. We should be talking about building our nation that is why I’m presenting myself.”
Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel, who is also eyeing the PDP ticket, said he would flow with the party’s decision.
Mr. Bola Bolawole, Head, Publicity, Udom’s campaign said: “The position of Udom Emmanuel is well known and remains the same: it is that the party is supreme. As a loyal and consistent member and leader of the party, he stands with the party and goes along with the party. Through thick and thin, he has stood with the party and will always do. For him, critical decisions of the party are not reviewed or interrogated in the public domain. No serious party is run on the pages of newspapers. We all hope and pray for successful party presidential primaries because Nigerians are waiting for the PDP to rescue the country and the PDP’s gift to Nigeria for that task is Udom Emmanuel.”
Travesty of justice
Contributing to the debate, a member of the PDP, Kassim Afegbua, dismissed the party’s decision as a travesty of justice, and accused the National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, of pandering to the whims of one of the presidential aspirants.
His words: “The outcome of the meeting of the National Executive Committee on zoning did not come as a surprise because I knew from day one that the Dr. Iyorchia Ayu-led executives were working from answer to question because of pecuniary interests.
“Dr. Ayu’s first major assignment of following the dictates of the party’s constitution has ended up in abysmal failure. How do you jettison your constitutional provisions because you want to plot the ticket of the party for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar? It is obvious that Dr. Ayu is pretentiously working for Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and in the process trying to upturn the zoning arrangement.”
It’s threat to North-South power rotation — Afenifere
The National Publicity Secretary of the Pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Mr Jare Ajayi, said that Afenifere is a member of the South and Middle Belt Leadership Forum, SMBLF, that has been advocating that the next President must come from the South, adding that the PDP’s decision may jeopardise the North-South power rotation.
Jare said: “We severally called on various political parties to zone their presidential slots to the South. We are still standing by that position,” adding that PDP’s throwing of the ticket open is regrettable because it may jeopardise the North-South rotation of the presidential position.
While advising All Progressives Congress, APC, not to toe the same line with the PDP, Ajayi urged the latter to rescind its decision by ceding its presidential ticket to the South.
Nominate a Northerner, fail woefully, Ohanaeze warns PDP
In like manner, the apex Igbo Socio-Cultural Organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said that the party has a choice to be on the good or bad side of history, warning that if PDP nominates a northerner as a presidential candidate it would lose the poll.
Ohanaeze National Publicity Secretary, Dr Alex Ogbonnia said: “The position of the Southern and Middle Belt Leadership Forum, the Southern Governors Forum and indeed all the right-thinking patriotic Nigerians is very clear: a northerner must not hand over to a northerner.
“The PDP has a choice to make, to nominate a northerner and fail woefully and be buried with an epitaph as ‘there once existed a treacherous political party, which changed its goalpost in the middle of the game.’
“It is possible that Senator Ayu needed to throw the sale of the presidential forms open to fit into the current bourgeois-democratic paradigm. That is why the PDP resolution with respect to the zoning of presidential tickets added that consensus is not ruled out.
“To this end, the Igbo will soon challenge the PDP with our consensus candidate. This project of a Nigerian President of South-East extraction is a desideratum; no going back.”
PDP has dug its own grave — PANDEF
The Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, led by the South-South Leader, Chief Edwin Clark, shared Ohanaeze’s view.
It lampooned the PDP NEC for aligning with the recommendation of its Zoning Committee that the presidential election should now be thrown open, saying the PDP has simply dug its own grave against the backdrop that the party’s Constitution unequivocally commits to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principles of equity, justice and fairness.
PANDEF urged the All Progressives Congress “to take advantage of what it described as the awful indiscretion of the PDP to consolidate itself as a truly nationalistic party, committed to the unity, peace and progress of Nigeria, by ensuring the emergence of a southern presidential candidate for the 2023 elections.”
A statement signed by PANDEF’s National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Ken Robinson read in part: “By this decision (throwing ticket open), the PDP has simply dug its own grave. Sadly, this is a party whose Constitution unequivocally commits to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principles of equity, justice and fairness
“The opinion that the PDP is not obligated to zone its presidential ticket for the 2023 election is preposterous and illogical, likewise, the implied consideration that it’s only a northern candidate that can secure victory for the party in the 2023 presidential election.
“Do we need to remind the PDP that former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan are not northerners, who both won presidential elections for the PDP in 1999, 2003, and 2011 respectively?
“It bears stating that the presidency is not the presidency of a party; it is the presidency of Nigeria.”
Be prepared for consequences of your decision, Northern elders tell PDP
On its part, the Northern Elders Forum, through its spokesman, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed expressed indifference to the PDP decision, saying the decision of the opposition party should be respected by all and that doing so was fundamental to the democratic process.
Nevertheless, he warned the party to be prepared to manage the consequences of its decision because it will reflect in the response of voters.
“You have to respect the decision of all parties. This is fundamental to the democratic process. Decisions they take will reflect in the response of the voter. We, in the Northern Elders Forum, have been consistent on respect for basic elements of the democratic system. Now, it is up to the PDP as a party to manage the consequences of its decisions the same way other parties will manage theirs,” Baba-Ahmed said.
We’ll work against Northern candidate — MBF
However, the Middle Belt Forum, MBF, said it is regrettable that those who in 2014 pressured the PDP to zone the presidency to the North and eventually decamped to the APC are the ones pressuring the party to jettison zoning now.
National President of MBF, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, who criticised the decision of the PDP to throw open its presidential ticket, reiterated the resolve of the forum to work against any political party that gives its ticket to a northern candidate.
Dr. Pogu said: “Our position on where the presidency should go is clear. As far as we are concerned the presidency should go to the South. Maybe the PDP leadership has a plan underground to ensure that somebody from the South wins the primaries, that is up to them.
“If in the end somebody from the North wins it, we will put our position clear to them that we are going to work against the person because it is the turn of the South to produce the next president. The issue of micro-zoning should be left for the South to decide, but we have stated clearly that it is the South-East that is most deserving of the slot given the sharing and zoning formula that we are operating in this country.
“So, anything the PDP does in the convention that is contrary to our position, we will work against it. We want Nigeria to remain one indivisible, united entity and to achieve that, the zoning that has been introduced right from the Abacha period, which was fully put to practice right from 1999 is one thing we believe is going to keep Nigeria united.
“Unfortunately the same people, who put pressure on the PDP in 2014 that zoning has to be respected and some of them eventually decamped to All Progressives Congress, APC, are the same people that are now insisting that it should be thrown open.
“These are people, who enjoyed the sympathy of Nigerians at the time. But the recent developments just mean that there are selfish individuals, who are interested in themselves and not in Nigeria.”
President can come from anywhere — ACF
Conversely, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, said it does not care where the candidates to be presented by the political parties in 2023 would come from.
Secretary General of the ACF, Murtala Aliyu said: “The issue of any political party, not just the PDP deciding how they intend to run their programme, how they intend to procure their candidates, I think is entirely a partisan issue.
“We made statements previously on this. We don’t care where candidates come from. What we consider important is that the candidate is a Nigerian in nature and in character.
“Secondly, we would engage any candidate that the party throws up after the primaries on the programme he has for Nigeria especially for the North. If there are issues and there are issues peculiar to the North, we would discuss with him and see how he can address them. Like we said, it doesn’t matter where the candidate comes from.”
“So, if a political party decides that their candidate can come from anywhere, and they feel that will give them an advantage during election, so be it. This is democracy.”
PDP’s no zoning formula is politically expedient now — Rep Ogun
A member of the House of Representatives representing Esan North East Federal Constituency of Edo State, Hon. Serguis Ogun, supported the non-zoning of the PDP presidential ticket, saying it was politically expedient to do so at his time.
The lawmaker, who is also a PDP member said that though he would have preferred zoning, the party’s decision was supreme.
“It’s politically expedient to do that right now. As you can see it looks like the APC has jettisoned their zoning arrangement too. The good thing is that the PDP went through the various organs of the party to agree and ratify this decision. Zoning is still a cardinal policy in the party but it’s expedient to do otherwise right now. It’s not what I want but the decision of my party and I can only support it and hope the right candidate emerges in our special convention on May 28 and 29,” Ogun said.