2023: PDP walking tightrope over zoning

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From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is walking a tightrope over the zoning of its 2023 presidential ticket. About five weeks to the May 28/29 date for the  national convention to nominate its presidential candidate for the 2023 polls, the major opposition party is still in a dilemma on whether or not to zone the presidential ticket or to throw the contest open.

The dilemma of the PDP leadership  is compounded by the division among key stakeholders, especially the governors, on how the presidential candidate would emerge. 

The opposition party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) at its last meeting, had  set up a committee to resolve the issue of zoning of the presidential ticket, within two weeks.

The panel headed by Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, which completed its assignment, on April 5, submitted its report, last Tuesday. 

The  deputy chairman of the committee, Ndudi Elumelu, who submitted the report on behalf of Ortom, said members of the panel unanimously agreed on the recommendations.

According to him, “every member of the 37 man zoning committee had ample opportunity to make their submissions.  Arising from our inability to conclude(on March 29),  we shifted it to 5th of April and on  that 5th, we also unanimously and collectively came up with the resolutions.”

Nevertheless, the PDP national chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, who received the report on behalf of the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC), said it will be forwarded to the party organ, which will take a decision on it

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“I want to assure you that your recommendations will be transmitted to the national executive of your party, which many of you are members, it will be discussed and then it is at that point that NEC will take a final decision.

“This decision will be known to party members across the country and all Nigerians who are eagerly awaiting the final decision of your committee.”

The NEC, which is the second highest organ of the PDP will have the final say  on the zoning of offices for the 2023 polls. However, the party is yet to fix a date for the meeting of the party organ to consider the report of the zoning committee.

Inside sources said the panel recommended that the presidential contest should be thrown open to all qualified aspirants, irrespective of the part of the country, they are from.

Specifically, the Ortom Committee, it was gathered, recommended that  zoning, as in our party constitution, is affirmed; and that in spite of the above, the ticket is thrown Open, this time around due to exigency of time. “Our party is encouraged to always make the issue of zoning very clear at least 6 months before sales of forms. Our party should commend the efforts of some of our contestants on the issue of consensus candidacy; the efforts should be seen to a peaceful and logical conclusion”, he said.

However, the panel’s recommendation has heightened tension in the party, ahead of the presidential primary, with PDP leaders across the country expressing divergent views.

Pundits say this is not the first time leaders of the opposition party are divided over a course of action, in recent times.  However, whenever such disagreement arises, the PDP governors had always stepped in to resolve whatever differences there might be.

For instance, last September, when there was a logjam over where the national chairman would come from, it was the governors that resolved the issue. The PDP committee saddled with the task of zoning party offices had failed to reach a consensus after several sittings.

Pronto, the governors moved in and resolved that the chairmanship should be zoned to the North. Few hours later, the panel headed by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, adopted the position of the governors on the zoning of party offices.

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Ironically, the PDP governors cannot easily wade into the  present controversy on the zoning of the presidential ticket, as they are equally divided on the issue.

The opposition party currently have 13 governors; while eight of them are from the South, five are from the North. The PDP governors are reportedly fragmented into three groups, with each pursing a different agenda.

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Penultimate Friday, the PDP governors from the South, publicly rejected the proposal by the Ortom panel to throw the contest for the party’s presidential ticket open.The governors, after a meeting, in Abuja, on Friday night, insisted that the ticket must be zoned to the South in the spirit of equity and fair play. The meeting was attended by Governors Okezie Ikpeazu,  Nyesom Wike, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Seyi Makinde, Udom Emmanuel and Diri Douye of Abia, Rivers, Enugu, Oyo, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa states respectively.

Ikpeazu, who spoke on behalf of the governors, at a press briefing, said their stance is based on the resolutions of the Southern Governors Forum at the meetings in Delta and Lagos that the presidency must be zoned to the the South in 2023.

According to him, “we have watched with keen interest the developments in our party especially concerning zoning. Our position is that first, we are committed to the unity of our party and we have worked hard to make sure that this party remains a strong and viable vehicle to rescue Nigeria come 2023.

“Be that as it may, we want to draw your attention to the fact that we have agreed as Southern Governors in Lagos and also in Delta that this party has to respect the zoning principle as enshrined in our constitution, and to that effect, we feel that the best thing to do is zone the presidency to the South, and we stand on that position.

“We have not seen any reason to change our position, because the party was founded on the basis of equity and justice. And we also think that equity and justice is an important pillar that will ultimately stabilize our politics towards our journey in rescuing Nigeria.

This is our position and that is why we have met today.”

Though proponents of throwing the contest open had argued that a Northern candidate stands a better chance of winning the main election for the opposition party, Ikpeazu said there is no evidence that a Southern candidate will not lead the PDP to victory..

Besides, the Abia governor, who is also the Vice Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, stated  that  it was not the fault of the South that the opposition party did not win the presidential  poll in 2019,  when the ticket was ceded to the North.

“If you  want to take a position of policy, you don’t look at problems in their face and take decision . You take a decision and remain firm  on that decision. We think what this country is lacking today is our ability to dispense equity and justice. It may be difficult, it may a bitter pill but we need to stand with the truth,” he stated.

Daily Sun gathered that the delay in convening the NEC meeting, is a result of the controversy being generated by the Ortom panel’s report. Pundits say the stiff opposition of the Southern governors, alongside other stakeholders from the South, had put the PDP leadership in a fix.

Nevertheless, in the last few days, gladiators in the PDP have intensified lobbying ahead of the NEC meeting, to ensure that their position prevails, whenever the opposition party convenes the party organ.

Regardless,  a member of the opposition party’s NEC said the decision on the zoning of the presidential ticket will ultimately be resolved by the PDP governors.

According to him, “ It  is majorly the governors who determine what happens at NEC. To start with, it is not every member of NEC that gets the opportunity to speak at the meeting. But I can tell you that there is an intense lobbying going on among party leaders on the zoning of the presidential ticket.

“Now, if the Southern governors are serious about their position that the PDP must respect its zoning principle, they can make the party to zone the presidential ticket  to the South. But I doubt, if they mean what they said last week, after their meeting, in Abuja. I know that about two of them are already jostling to be running mate to Northern presidential candidates.”

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