Zoning: Fury in South, Middle Belt over PDP’s 'betrayal'
PDP flags

OBINNA EZUGWU

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s main opposition party, on Wednesday officially ditched its zoning arrangement on the weight of pressure from its northern stakeholders, and opted to throw open the race for its presidential ticket ahead of 2023 general elections, a decision that has triggered consternation in the South and the Middle belt regions.

“The party’s national leadership just took us for a ride. They have betrayed the South, especially the Southeast after all these years of loyalty, and its so unfair,” lamented Tony Eze, a member of the party in Enugu.

“In 2019, the South left the contest for the north, no southerner came out to contest because it was the turn of the north, but now that it’s the turn of the south given that the north would have done eight years in power in 2023, the northerners have refused to reciprocate.”

Debo Ologunagba, the party’s spokesperson had announced the decision to abandon zoning on Wednesday night after the national executive committee (NEC) meeting at its headquarters in Abuja, ultimately affirming the recommendation of the Governor Samuel Ortom-led zoning committee, and dashing the hope of the South, and in particular, the southeast where the clamour presidency has remained loud.

“After a very extensive deliberation, NEC aligned with the recommendation of the PDP national zoning committee that the presidential election should now be left open,” Ologunagba had said. “The party should also work towards consensus where possible.”

The party’s decision implies that all presidential hopefuls from the six geo-political zones can contest at the party’s special convention scheduled to take place on May 28, contrary to the provisions of its constitution.

Article 7 (2) (c) of the party’s constitution, provides that, “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.”

The PDP spokesperson also said the NEC appointed David Mark, former senate president, as chairman of the special convention committee, while Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, governor of Enugu, will serve as the deputy chairman and Ibrahim Shema as secretary.

The decision to ultimately discard zoning, amid pressure from northern presidential aspirants who argue that the party would do better with a northern candidate in 2023, and who had vehemently opposed the idea of ceding the party ticket to the south, means that a northern presidential candidate is more likely to emerge as the party’s candidate, with former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar from the northeast and former senate president, Bukola Saraki from the north central as front-runners, which could mean that power would remain in the north for at least another eight years.

At the moment, Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor who appears to have broad-based southern support, is the only southerner posing serious challenge to Atiku and Bukola Saraki.. The party’s governors are said to be divided between Wike and Saraki, a former governor Kwara State, while the Southeast appears to be in the loop.

“It’s a travesty of justice. The Ayu-led executive had been working for the realisation of Atiku Abubakar’s ambition right from inauguration,” said Kassim Afegbua, a member of the party and former spokesperson for Ibrahim Babangida.

“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 Iyorchia Ayu-led executive was working from answer to question because of pecuniary interest.

“The party, which had historically used zoning to determine who takes the ticket, introduced zoning to Nigerian politics as part of its plans to promote national cohesion and unity.”

This is as even the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), taking a cue from the opposition party, has decided to draft northern candidates into its own presidential race, with senate president, Ahmad Lawan and Jigawa State governor, Badaru Abubakar making a late entrance into the presidential race.

The idea, many sources have disclosed to our correspondent, is that should the PDP which holds its primaries a couple of days before the APC settles for a northern candidate, the ruling party would attempt to do same. The reasoning being that a northern PDP candidate stands a good chance beating a southern APC candidate given the voting numbers in the two regions.
“It is understandable; if you are sick, they would come with all kinds of recommendations on how to recover. That is the situation the PDP has found itself in now,” said Ike Ekweremadu, former deputy senate president in a recent interview.

“The PDP is desperate to return to power and Nigerians also want a change of government. So, the PDP out of desperation is prepared to have anybody from anywhere as long as the person would win the presidency. Sometimes, they are overlooking the justice of the matter.”

Speaking on Channels TV last week, Udom Emmanuel, governor of Akwa Ibom State and one of the presidential hopefuls on the party’s platform, also remarked that its NEC took the decision towards the restoration of the party’s glory.

The governor stressed that the party was determined to win the presidency in 2023 in order to tackle the challenges dragging the country backwards.

But it’s neither here nor there. The PDP had held power for 16 years before eventually losing to the APC in 2015, and within those years, it had mostly relied on votes from the South and the Middle belt regions, with President Muhammadu Buhari, the current president who had been running for the office since 2003, managing to edge the party in the most of core northern states.

In 2015, the support of the Southwest, was instrumental to Buhari’s emergence as president. Notably, he also won most states in the Middle belt, which eventually tipped the scale against Goodluck Jonathan, then candidate of the PDP. Ahead of 2023, both the South and the Middle belt are unanimous in their demand for power shift to the South. Thus, the opposition party risks losing its core support base while trying to pander to the North.

“This idea that the North has all the numbers is a 2015 phenomenon, and of course, for me it is contrived. The numbers are mostly fake,” said Abuja based lawyer, Anthony Chidi.

“We saw what happened in Kano in 2015. They repeated the same trick in 2019.Take, Borno State, for instance, which is battling insurgency turned out more numbers than peaceful southern states. Strangely, they had concluded elections there early.

“They just write those numbers and we know it, but everyone is pretending. I blame the South too for agreeing to be cheated. I hope that the new Electoral Act takes care of this.”

Chidi argued that the decision by PDP to abandon zoning is a gang up against the Southeast.

“I see it as a gang up against the southeast. They are determined to ensure that a southeast doesn’t produce president in 2023, and it’s not just about the north. It appears to be a countrywide gang up.

“We can’t be pointing only at the north when even down south, several aspirants have emerged from the Southwest and South-south when it should be clear that it’s the turn of the Southeast.

“For me, I don’t see any difference between someone from the South south running for president in 2023 and someone from the North doing same. You can’t say power should come to the South because of rotation, but at the same time not recognize that within the South, it’s the turn of the Southeast. That would be hypocrisy.”

Growing Anger

The opposition party’s decision has continued to elicit condemnations from several groups in the South and Middle belt, with many threatening to withdraw their support should a northerner emerge candidate.

At the weekend, two national organisations, the Southern and Middle Belt Alliance (SaMBA) and Peter Obi Support Network (POSN) in a statement argued that the opposition party violated its constitution by failing to zone its presidential ticket, while threatening court action against the party for violating its own constitution on zoning.

The statement jointly signed by the spokesman of Southern and Middle Belt Alliance (SaMBA), Prince Rwang Pam Jnr and spokesman of Peter Obi Support Network (POSN) Comrade Sani Saeed Altukry, said the decision of PDP’s National Executive Council (NEC) not to enforce its own laws and zone the ticket to the South had clearly shown that PDP had no regard for the people of the southern region – particularly the South-east and South-south – despite their loyalty to the party since 1999.

Similarly, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Chief Alex Ogbonia, on Thursday, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo sociocultural group, notedthat it wouldbe unimaginable and against the principles of the nation’s emerging democratic culture if a northern succeeds President Buhari in 2023.

The group said the PDP would fail woefully in 2023 if it decides to field a northern presidential candidate.

“With respect to the resolution by the PDP: 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 Ohanaeze spokesperson said.

“The PDP has a choice to make; nominate a northerner and fail woefully and be buried with an epitaph “there once existed a treacherous political party which changed its goal post at the middle of the game.”

Chief Ogbonnia, however, expressed hope that the party may still achieve a consensus despite not zoning the ticket -which is unlikely.

He said, “It is possible that Sen Iyorcha Ayu needed to throw the sale of the presidential forms open to fit into the current bourgeois democratic paradigm. That’s why the PDP resolution with respect to the zoning of presidential ticket 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, a to be or not to be existentialism.”

On its part, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) said the opposition party has dug its grave for jettisoning zoning, while urging the ruling APC to pick southern candidate for presidency.

Ken Robinson, PANDEF national publicity secretary who said this in a statement made available to newsmen in Port Harcourt on Thursday, argued that the decision of the PDP NEC to uphold the Governor Samuel Ortom committee’s recommendation was unfortunate and shameful.

“The Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, has described as unfortunate the decision of the National Executive Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party to uphold the Governor Ortom Committee’s recommendation to throw open the contest for the party’s 2023 presidential ticket. What a shame!,” he said.

“By this decision, 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.”
Addressing the notion that a northerner is what the opposition party needs to return to power, the PANDEF spokesperson said it was needless to remind the party that former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan were not northerners, yet they 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. The fact that President Muhammadu Buhari is of the All Progressives Congress is extraneous.

“PANDEF expects the All Progressives Congress to take advantage of 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.

“PANDEF notes that Nigeria is a great country of outstanding men and women, with incredible possibilities; we cannot afford to fritter the labours of our heroes, past and present, by allowing rapacious politicians to callously and carelessly jettison arrangements and understandings that have sustained the oneness and stability of the country over the years, now,” Robinson added

Also weighing in on the development last week, Afenifere, the apex Yoruba sociopolitical group, said it was a threat to north-south power rotation, maintaining that it has been part of South and Middle Belt Leadership Forum, (SMBLF) which has been advocating that the next President must come from the south.

“We severally called on various political parties to zone their presidential slots to the South. We are still standing by that position,” Mr. Jare Ajayi, Afenifere national publicity secretary, said.

The Afenifere scribe who also called on APC not to toe the same line with the PDP, urged the latter to rescind its decision by ceding its presidential ticket to the South.

HUMAN Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) equally berated the PDP over the decision to abandon zoning. A statement by its National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, described the party as a “huge scam”.

“Throwing the contest open has confirmed that PDP has scammed the South East, even after the zone has suffered marginalisation and exclusion from the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari,” Onwubiko said.

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