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Zoning: Revolt looms in APC, PDP

….PDP members may vote for Southern candidate of APC, Ex- governor warns • The joker in the pack

Akani Alaka writes on the renewed controversies over the zoning of the presidential tickets of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and the implication for the 2023 presidential election

Unarguably, the issue of where Nigeria’s next president will come from has become a landmine that must be carefully navigated to avoid incalculable damage for the country’s two major political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP,  ahead of the 2023 general election.

This was vividly demonstrated at last Thursday’s meeting, in Enugu, of a committee set up by the PDP to zone national offices of the party ahead of its October 30-31 National Convention.

Most Nigerians had expected that at the end of its meeting, the committee would announce the position of the party on the zone of the country where the next PDP candidate will come from. However, obviously aware of such expectations, the chairman of the committee, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who is also the governor of Enugu State, had said in his welcome address that the body was not saddled with such mandate: “Our Committee is strictly limited to the PDP National Executive Offices to be contested at the 2021 PDP National Convention scheduled for the end of October 2021. We have no mandate to zone political offices, such as President or Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

North/South Agitations to Produce Buhari’s Successor

Left to the leadership of APC and the PDP, the issue of zoning is a problem that they would rather not talk about for now and would prefer to tackle as the election gets nearer. However, agitations by politicians, mostly members of the two parties, from the Northern and Southern parts of the country that their part of Nigeria should produce Buhari’s successor have continued to put the issue on the front burner.

Indeed, it was a declaration by the Southern Governors’ Forum, comprising state chief executives elected on the platform of PDP and APC (and All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA) that heightened the controversies when at the end of their meeting in Enugu, they declared that their side of the country must produce President Buhari’s successor.

The governors had noted that after eight years’ tenure of President Buhari, who is from Katsina, Northwestern Nigeria, the next occupier of Aso Rock should naturally come from the Southern part of the country.

Rotimi Akeredolu, the chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum, who announced the position of his colleagues in Enugu, reiterated this stand last Monday in an interview. “If we have anything that we have agreed, that we have unanimity, it is the issue of president in 2023. Any party that picks any candidate from the North will have to face all Southern governors, because they will not support. If my President, Muhammadu Buhari, has ruled for eight years, then it cannot be from the North again. The next president must come from the South. We have competent people in the North, as we have competent people in the South. So, the president can come from any part of the country. But if you have occupied the position for eight years, then it has to rotate back to the South,” said Akeredolu.

In reaction, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), in an address delivered to a student wing of the Coalition of Northern Groups, had insisted that the North will not succumb to intimidation over the 2023 presidency.

He argued that the North will use its numerical strength to retain the presidency at the next general election: “We have the majority of the votes and democracy says, vote who you want. Why should we accept a second class position when we know we can buy forms and contest for first class and we will win? Why does anybody need to threaten us and intimidate us? We will get that power, but be humble because power comes from God. We inherited leadership, being honest is not being stupid.”

PDP Looks North

Various socio-cultural and political groups, including Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Afenifere, the Middle Belt Forum, among others, have criticised the stand of the Northern Elders Forum on the 2023 presidency.  However, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, a presidential aide in Nigeria’s Second Republic told this newspaper last week that each political party will decide where it will zone its presidential ticket.

And in tune with this assertion, the indication is that contrary to the claim of a united front being put up by Akeredolu; Southern Governors are not united in their demand for the 2023 presidency.

Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, had in an interview three days after the resolution of the Southern Governors noted that PDP governors, who were part of the meeting were not sincere on their support for the zoning of the presidency to Southern Nigeria in 2023.  “One or two governors that own PDP, their body language suggests that they are against zoning and I can tell you from a reliable source that they are just after their own interest,” Umahi said.  “There are a couple of decisions taken at the Southern Governors’ meeting that I know that together; there is the sincerity of purpose in them. But when it comes to politics, I see the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob,” Umahi added.

His assertion was met with angry reactions from the PDP and its Governors’ Forum, though they stopped short of repudiating the assertion that their 2023 presidential ticket may be zoned to the Northern part of the country. The party and its Governors’ Forum, in separate statements, said that a decision on the zoning of political offices would be made by the party at the appropriate time before the party convention, scheduled for Oct. 30.

The PDP Governors’ Forum (PDP-GF), in a statement by its Director-General, Hon. C.I.D Maduabum, particularly emphasised that the party, as an independent body will not defer to any association or group in making a decision on the zoning issue.

The Forum added that its decision on the issue will be determined by its determination to regain power from the ruling APC in the next general election: “The PDP is single-minded in its resolve to boot out the APC in 2023 and would craft strategies to achieve the same in the national interest as APC currently represents an existential threat to Nigeria’s democracy and survival. Indeed all Nigerians have a duty and responsibility to end this long nightmare of APC misrule.”

However, analysts have insisted that the fact that major power brokers in PDP, as alleged by Governor Umahi, are in support of ceding the presidential ticket of the party to the North is an open secret. The bid to get out Uche Secondus, as the chairman of PDP as being openly championed by Governor Nyesom Wike is part of the plot. Wike and some other governors of PDP believe that the best way to counter the APC in the next election is to present a presidential candidate from the Northern part of the country. This was why members of the party’s zoning committee at their Enugu meeting of last Thursday voted to retain the chairmanship of the party in the Southern part of the country.

According to reports, 25 members from the North and 23 from the South participated at the meeting presided over by Governor Uguwanyi. The Northern members of the committee as well as members from the South-west voted in support of retaining the chairmanship of the party in the Southern part of the country.

They also voted to retain the present zoning formula as regards other NWC positions. Already, the leading and most prominent members of the party, campaigning to replace Secondus are from the South-west and this is believed to be another major influence on the decision of the members from the region.

Incidentally, one of the members of the zoning committee from the South is the person whom, many believe, is Wike’s candidate for the chairmanship of the party.

In addition, members of the committee from the North also include some supporters of those who had barely hidden their ambition eyeing the presidential ticket of the party, like former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto.

The decision of the Committee will be formally announced at another meeting scheduled for Thursday, September 30, 2021 in Abuja. But the zoning is already a clear indication of where the PDP will zone its presidential ticket in 2023, according to analysts.

Why PDP Presidential Ticket Should Go North

Zoning the presidential ticket of the party to the North is the right thing to do if PDP is interested in winning the 2023 presidential election, according to a stalwart of the party, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi.

He based his assertion on the fact that Southerners – former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan – had collectively ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2015 under the platform of PDP, while the only Northern presidential candidate of the party, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, only spent three years in office.

Dokpesi, therefore, argued that PDP should not go the way of APC in the zoning of its presidential ticket: “I can tell you that unless there is a candidate from the North, in my own considered opinion, PDP will not stand a chance of winning the election,” said the media mogul.

“On the ambition of those from the South, who are asking for the presidency to be zoned to the South, I can say that they are only echoing what prevails in APC. In that party, President Muhammadu Buhari has done eight years, so it is imperative on APC to cede presidency to the South,” he added.

Revolts Looming

But some members of the PDP are insisting that the party may lose the 2023 election if it goes ahead to zone its presidential ticket to the North.

A former governor on the platform of the party told The Nigerian Xpress last week that many chieftains and members of the party in the South may support, and vote for the APC if it selects a Southerner as its presidential candidate and the PDP choose a Northerner.

Speaking in the same vein, a former presidential spokesperson and chieftain of PDP from the South-west, Dr. Doyin Okupe, warned that the opposition party may lose the 2023 presidential election if it picks its flagbearer from the North. “There is a strong indication that the party is erroneously tilting towards zoning the presidency to the North. Zoning is a veritable instrument that ensures equity and balance in the nation, gives hope and confidence and support to our national unity,” said Okupe.

He also dismissed the claim of the likes of Dokpesi about the existing zoning arrangement in PDP. According to him, with the loss of power by the PDP in 2015, the zoning arrangement began in 1998 can no longer be followed: “But in 2023, with APC having ruled for eight years with a northern candidate, it will be preposterous, unjust, uncaring and blatant for the PDP to zone the presidential ticket to the North because the arrangement expired the moment our party lost power in 2019. There should be a reset of the zoning arrangement in 2023. It does not make sense to replace a northern government of eight years with another northern government.”

The APC Zoning Challenge

But even in the APC, the drive for zoning is not home and dry. While some governors of the APC had declared that the presidential ticket of their party should be zoned to the South in 2023, there are other members of the party, who are insisting that zoning is not part of the constitution of their party. Former Governor of Nasarawa State and Senator, representing Nasarawa West, Sen. Abdullahi Adamu, has been campaigning against the claim that it is the right of the Southern members of APC to succeed Buhari.

He reiterated this in an interview with journalists early this month.  “You can’t talk of merit and talk of zoning. The issue of rotation, let’s just go by merit. Let every party find a way of selling itself in a manner as to garner the kind of votes to deliver the presidential result. It is as simple as that,” Adamu told journalists.

Also Governor Yahaya Bello, the only member of APC, who has so far openly declared his intention to succeed President Buhari in 2023, had declared that zoning of the presidency is undemocratic, unconstitutional and not in the constitution of the ruling party. Speaking at a political seminar in Abuja, the governor argued that Nigerians should be allowed to choose their president from whichever zone they want in 2023.

Even, then, the governor also argued that if the sentiments of zoning are to be taken into consideration, fairness, equity and justice demand that the North Central and South-Eastern Geopolitical Zones, which he claimed had never had the opportunity of producing the nation’s elected president since Nigeria became an independent country in 1960 should be considered.

Bello, the governor of Kogi State, which is in the North central Nigeria has continue with his campaign to succeed Buhari.

This is despite reports that the President had an ‘implied agreement’ with the national leader of the party and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to hand over to him in 2023, as claimed by the founder and pioneer national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Senator Rufai Hanga.

CPC is the coalition that produced Buhari as the APC presidential candidate in 2015. Hanga said the president’s agreement with Tinubu was to reward him for helping to put together the APC coalition that gave Buhari victory in the 2015 presidential election, after three failed attempts.

But aside from Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Governor of Ekiti State have also been named as possible presidential candidates of APC, who may take over from Buhari.

In addition, members of the party from the South-east and South -south are also bidding to be Nigeria’s next president with the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of State for Education, Hon. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, and former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, being named as the front runners from the region. Significantly, Amaechi had dismissed the claim that the President had an agreement to handover to Tinubu.

Also, a chieftain of the APC, Osita Okechukwu, who has been campaigning for the right of the South-east to produce the President’s successor, has also said Buhari did not reach any succession agreement with Tinubu: “As a member of the defunct CPC, I never heard of such an agreement and most importantly, Mr. President will not want to or better put, rarely enters into any formal or informal agreement with anybody. But he appreciates good deeds. Sources said the continued campaign of Yahaya Bello, who seems to have the support of the present leadership of APC led by Malam Mai Buni, is a big source of concern for the party. 

The support his ambition is enjoying may indicate that the APC, like the PDP is doing, may dare Southern Nigeria by allowing somebody from the North to get its presidential ticket.

But this newspaper learnt that members of the party from the South-west, especially supporters of former governor Tinubu, who has been away to the United Kingdom for some months now, are keenly watching unfolding events in the party. Last week, Governor Akeredolu said members of the party in the South-west will wait for Tinubu to return to Nigeria to take a decision on the issue of the 2023 presidential ticket of APC.   

APC May Transform To Northern Party

Meanwhile, Okorocha warned at a forum organised by Nigeria Union of Journalists in Abuja last week that zoning the presidential ticket of the party outside of the South may lead to implosion of the party. In the end, he added that APC might transform to a Northern party if such step is taken.

“There is no justifiable reason for APC to zone the presidency away from the South, if not the South-east. So, it is fair that this understanding should not be broken. That will be dangerous and it will polarise the party. It will sound like a Northern People’s Party,” he said.

Chieftains of the party said just like the PDP, the bid to win the next general election will ultimately determine the zoning and choice of APC presidential candidate in 2015.

“To me, let it go to South. But there is the party – whatever the party decides, because the party is going to look at many things – electability, where the opposition will pick its own candidate from – because that is also key and one of the things that the party will also look at. So, irrespective of what my feelings are, the party will also have to retain power and it will make political calculations; not necessarily perception calculations,” Hon. Farouk Adamu Aliyu, a  former Minority Leader in the House of Representatives and chieftain of APC, said.

Joker in the pack

Just before The Nigerian Xpress went to bed, however, a chieftain of the PDP hinted that the idea of zoning the party’s chairmanship to the South might also be diversionary.

According to him, “nothing is cast in stone. There is nothing stopping us from asking the party chairman we would be electing in October to step aside, if we deem it necessary to pick a presidential candidate from the South.”

According to him, anyone making his permutations on the conviction that PDP’s presidential flag bearer must come from the North would be doing so at his or her own peril.