By OBINNA EZUGWU
The thorny question of zoning of its presidential ticket ahead of the 2023 general election is threatening to tear the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s main opposition party, apart.
When it emerged last week that the Governor Samuel Ortom led zoning committee had opted to throw the party’s ticket open, it generated consternation in the polity, with sociocultural groups, such as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, PANDEF and Middle belt forum berating the party over the decision.
The anger so generated forced Ortom to issue a statement denying the report that the party had thrown the ticket open, but as Nigerians await the committee’s report, both Northern and Southern stakeholders of the party, particularly governors, are toughening their stands, a development primed to trigger crisis ahead of the polls.
“It is highly unlikely that both parties will agree,” a top party source told our correspondent. “The challenge now is that whichever group comes out with the ticket, the other group may abandon the party, it’s a delicate balance.”
The Ortom committee was scheduled to summit its report on Tuesday, but failed to reach an agreement on the thorny issue of zoning, as northern presidential hopefuls, including Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal; Bala Mohammed, governor of Bauchi State; former Senate President Bukola Saraki; and a former Managing Director of FSB International Bank, Alhaji Mohammed Hayatudeen, piled up pressure, even as former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, with enough financial war chest remain resolute in his quest to take the party’s flag for the second time after failing short in 2019.
While the Saraki group are advocating for consensus, hoping that one of them would be chosen, Atiku is insisting on an open contest believing to have the clout to beat everyone else. On the other hand, the Southern governors now led by Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor, are insisting that the ticket be zoned to the south.
On Tuesday, as the committee’s report was being awaited, Saraki, Tambuwal, Mohammed and Hayatudeen visited Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa and subsequently Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, to argue in favour of consensus.
During the visit, Saraki, who spoke on behalf of others, said the visit was to canvas for the option to adopt a consensus candidate.
He said, “We all know the various situations that exist in our country and the need for the PDP to provide a platform and in doing that, we realize that the interest of the country is more paramount to our own interests.
“As such, we have come together and agreed that we should work out a consensus where we dont all just go to the field. We dont want our energy to be focused on just trying to get to power, but on how to help make Nigeria better.
“We need your support in this process. What Nigerians need now is a president that has a team to work with. The problems are huge and we all have the qualities to lead this country.”
Atiku and other northern aspirants are pushing for an open race hoping to use their numerical advantage to secure the ticket, but their southern counterparts are insisting that the ticket be zoned to the south.
On Friday, the governors of the south met for over three hours at the Akwa Ibom Governors Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, and in the end insisted that the ticket be zoned to the region.
The governors that met in Abuja were Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Douye Diri (Bayelsa) and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu).
Ikpeazu, who is the vice chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, spoke on behalf of his counterparts, argued that those against zoning have not actually told anyone why zoning will not give us victory.
On arguments that the ticket was made open because of the number of aspirants that had purchased forms or the need to retain ticket in the North, Ikpeazu said the party must be firm in its decision and do whatever is seen to be true and fair.
At separate meetings in Lagos and Delta last year, southern governors had demanded that the presidency should be zoned to the region.
But even within the south, the situation is becoming increasingly complicated with the Southeast and South South destined to fight if the ticket is eventually ceded to the region.
While it had be considered a given that the southeast, the only zone yet to produce president in the south will get the nod if the party decides to zone the ticket to the south, the entrance of Wike in into the race has altered the expectation.
Wike, who currently has more broad-based southern support, and is looking to engage in a bruising battle with Atiku for the ticket, is from the South South and currently banks on the support of two southeast PDP governors, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Okezie Ikpeazu, even as he has the support of Seyi Makinde, governor of Oyo State, including Ayo Fayose, former Ekiti State governor, but his quest may not be well received by aspirants in the southeast.
At the weekend, the aspirants from the southeast met and resolved to work together to ensure that one of them emerged as the flag-bearer of the party.
The presidential hopefuls — former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim; Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra; Sam Ohuabunwa and Nwachukwu Anakwenze — spoke on Saturday at a media briefing ian Abuja.