In this report, CHIBUZO UKAIBE, captures the intrigues generated by the recent PDP panel report ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The debate on which geo-political zone should produce the next president in 2023 will occupy the imagination of the political elite, perhaps until the two major parties, APC and PDP, head to the primaries.
Both parties have been caught in a ‘cat and mouse’ game over the politics of zoning as it has since become perhaps the single most important criterion on how the next president will emerge.
While the debate on merit and competence serve as the benchmark for choosing the next president rages, the agitation for power shift to the South is equally rife.
However, while the debate has been muffled somewhat within the APC because of the ongoing revalidation and registration exercise, attempts by the PDP to set the tone on this delicate matter has not gone without some form of backlash.
The PDP’s panel on the matter seemed to heighten the anxiety over the controversial but critical political question.
The panel named the ‘2019 post-election review committee’ headed by the governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, didn’t recommend which region should get the party’s presidential ticket.
Though it offered some insight on the agitation for certain regions to get preferential treatment on the matter, it recommended that the ticket be thrown open to all zones based on merit.
Mohammed while submitting the report to the party, said; “In line with certain unwritten conventions of the nation’s history, many people think that for fairness and equity, the North East and South East 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 election.
“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.
“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 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,” he said.
While the panel premised its decision on the current political realities in the country, it didn’t follow in the steps of its predecessor which after the 2015 election out rightly recommended the zoning of the 2019 presidential ticket to the North.
Nevertheless, the national chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said the committee’s report would form the bedrock of the party’s plan ahead of the 2023 general elections.
He said: “I have no doubt in my mind that your report will form the bedrock of our party’s plan ahead of 2023 general elections. The National Working Committee (NWC) is going to study and analyze your report meticulously and come up with a position that will be beneficial to the party.
“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,” he said.
Reacting, a former deputy governor of Sokoto State, Murktar Shehu Shagari, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the panel’s decision to throw the ticket open to all aspirants reflects democratic culture.
Shagari said; “I honestly believe that merit, integrity and competence should be the criteria for being elected president rather than where the candidate comes from.”
Still, not even assurances by Secondus that the party would constitute a team to further work on the report assuaged frayed nerves in the broader Nigerian space.
Perhaps, this is because of the debate over the North/South power rotation. For proponents of this argument, irrespective of party, the North having served eight years under President Muhammadu Buhari, should hand over power to the South.
However, this argument which seems to resonate more within the APC gets further complicated as agitations over which sub-region in the South should get the ticket mounts.
Although some PDP chieftains like former national chairman Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo align with this power rotation to the South, other forces within the PDP argue that the party’s zoning arrangement which provides that the North must serve its term under the party’s arrangement stands.
They argue that the North has not served out its term under the party’s platform as advanced after the death of former president, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Nevertheless, the apex Igbo socio-political group, Ohaneze N’digbo, isn’t moved by PDP’s dilemma. Its deputy national vice president, Ichie Damian Okeke-Ogene, warned that any party that denies the South East zone the ticket in 2023 would regret the action.
In the same vein, a political group from the South East, Igbo Leadership Development Foundation (ILDF), lambasted the PDP over its intention to jettison zoning of the presidential ticket.
Chairman of ILDF, Dr. Godwin I. Udibe who spoke at a press conference in Abuja, said the PDP panel mentioned the North East for consideration because, “We are aware of the surreptitious moves within the party to zone its presidential ticket to the North.”
He quoted the party’s provision on zoning in Article 7 (2) of the PDP Constitution in 2009: “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 b
y 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 the South East 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,” he said.
But the PDP through its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, clarified that it had yet to take a position on zoning.
He said, “While our party appreciates the enthusiasm by Nigerians on our nomination process, the PDP assures that its decision on zoning will be the product of wide consultations, 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,” he said.
He further told LEADERSHIP Sunday that the APC was instigating the zoning crisis and that in the fullness of time, the PDP would decide how it would zone its ticket for the presidency.
“Zoning is a problem of the ruling party. We believe in the PDP that all the hullabaloo about zoning or no zoning is being instigated by the APC who have been caught up in their own game of insincerity.
“So the APC should manage its own affairs rather than trying to import the issue to the PDP. For us in the PDP, at the fullness of time our party will determine what we will do with the presidential ticket,” Ologbondiyan told LEADERSHIP Sunday.
As the debate lingers, some contenders for the ticket are already at work. A former vice president and PDP presidential candidate in 2019, Atiku Abubakar, has already embarked on a membership e-registration drive for his support organisation ahead of 2023.
While the likes of former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, who also contested for the ticket in 2019 are yet to decide on their speculated ambition, others like the governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, have been in the fore of those nursing presidential ambition.
Indeed, the months ahead will be interesting as the party navigates through this dicey political storm.