From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The Peoples Democratic Party Party (PDP) is currently walking on a tightrope. Ahead of its May 28/ 29 presidential primary, controversy on whether or not the ticket should be zoned and the consequences, particularly litigations by some aggrieved members of the party, are now major cause of headache for the opposition party.
Already, a Federal High Court, in Abuja, has fixed May 10 for hearing of an ex-parte application seeking an injunction to restrain the PDP from going ahead with its presidential primary pending the determination of the a suit bordering on the zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket of the party.
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The suit filed by a presidential aspirant, Cosmas Ndukwe, has as defendants the PDP, its National Chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu; National Secretary, Senator Samuel Anyanwu; and the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC).
Sunday Sun gathered that the leaders of the party are apprehensive that disagreement over the zoning of the presidential ticket and the resort to litigations by aggrieved members may affect the cohesion of the party in the run-up to the 2023 general elections.
Already, a total of 15 aspirants have been cleared to participate in the p presidential primary. While two aspirants were disqualified.
Those cleared include former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed; former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi; Aminu Tambuwal, Nyesom Wike, Emmanuel Udom, governors of Sokoto, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom states respectively.
Others are former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and former Senate President, Pius Anyim Pius; former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; former Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose and publisher of Ovation Magazine, Dele Momodu.
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Also cleared to participate in the PDP presidential primary are former President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Sam Ohuabunwa; investment banker, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen; Charles Ugwu; Chikwendu Kalu; and Tareila Diana while Ndukwe and Nwachukwu Anakwenze were disqualified by the screening committee headed by former Senate President, David Mark.
Since March 2021, members of the PDP have been divided on whether or not the 2023 presidential ticket should be zoned.
The opposition party’s committee on the review of the PDP performance in the 2019 general election, headed by Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, had recommended that 2023 presidential ticket should be thrown open to all qualified aspirants.
The PDP National Executive Committee (NEC) at its meeting on March 16, set up a committee to come up with a formula for the zoning of offices for the 2023 polls.
The panel, which was headed by the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, completed its assignment on April 5, and has since submitted its report to the PDP National Working Committee ( NWC).
The panel, it was gathered toed the same part with the Bala Mohammed Committee, as it recommended that the contest for the presidential ticket should be thrown open.
Inside sources indicated that the Ortom Committee, had specifically recommended that “(1)Zoning, as in our party constitution, is affirmed.
2)Inspite of (1) above,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 six 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.”
Curiously, the committee report is yet to be considered, about four weeks, after it was submitted to the NWC.
The delay, in the consideration of the report, it was gathered, is traceable to the tension the recommendation that the presidential ticket be thrown open is generating among stakeholders.
The PDP stakeholders from the South, including governors, see the recommendation that the presidential ticket be thrown open, as an attempt to subvert the party’s constitution, which expressly stated that there shall be zoning of offices.
This school of thought believes that since the PDP 2019 presidential ticket was zoned to the North, it should be ceded to the South in 2023, especially as President Muhammadu Buhari, who is from the North would be completing two terms of eight years on May 29, 2023.
Sunday Sun reliably gathered that PDP NWC is worried on how to get stakeholders to form a consensus on the zoning of the presidential ticket.
A highly placed source at the PDP national secretariat told Sunday Sun that the party leadership is concerned about the tension the zoning controversy is generating and is looking for ways to resolve it in a win-win manner for all party members.
There is especially as there are serious indications that the party might jettison zoning in the choice of its next presidential candidate.
Already, the NWC has convened a meeting of the PDP NEC for Wednesday. The NEC, which is the second highest organ is expected to take a definite stand on whether or not the 2023 presidential ticket should be zoned.
Regardless, the zoning controversy assumed a new twist penultimate Thursday, as a presidential aspirant, Cosmas Ndukwe, filed a suit before a Federal High Court in Abuja, praying it to interpret Article 7 (3)(c) of the PDP constitution.
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Article 7 (3)( c) stipulates that the party shall adhere “to the policy of the rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness.”
However, that suit was to earn Ndukwe a disqualification from participating in the presidential primary.
The disqualification of Ndukwe, a former deputy speaker of the Abia State House of Assembly, as well as Nwachukwu Anakwenze, it was gathered, was upheld by the Appeal Panel, consisting of members of the NWC and other top party shots.
There are fears that the disqualification of the two presidential aspirants may trigger a fresh legal case,in addition to the suit, already instituted by Ndukwe on the zoning controversy, ahead of the May 28/29 convention of the PDP, especially as the Electoral Act bars political parties from disqualifying aspirants.
Section 84(3) of the Electoral Act states that “ a political party shall not impose nomination qualification or disqualification criteria, measures, or conditions on any aspirant or candidate for election in its constitution, guidelines or rules for nomination of candidates for elections” expect as prescribed in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
A source told Sunday Sun that “litigations are unwanted distractions. It is not what we need at this time. No doubt, the party may be right to have disqualified the candidates. But we must avoid anything that will lead to needles court cases. Don’t forget we are an opposition party. So, we must be careful.”
However, the former deputy speaker, when contacted on his next line of action, told Sunday Sun, that the party has not communicated to him on the decision of the Appeal Panel, as it regards his appeal against his disqualification.
“I am not aware of the decision of the Appeal Panel. When we get to that bridge, we will cross it,” Ndukwe told Sunday Sun.
Regardless, most of the presidential aspirants are continuing with their various campaigns, after a push by Tambuwal, Bala Mohammed, Saraki and Hayatu-Deen to come up with consensus candidate ended in controversy.
The consensus project spear-headed by the group of four aspirants, collapsed recently, after the Northern Elders announced the Bauchi governor and Saraki as their consensus aspirants of the North for PDP presidential ticket.
Prof Ango Abdullahi in a communique, after a meeting of some northern elders, including former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, in Minna, the Niger State capital, noted that Mohammed and Saraki are expected to engage in further consultations, after which one of them will be chosen, as the main consensus candidate for the North.
Ironically, Saraki, after the group’s meeting, with Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, had said: “I just want to be clear about that, and be reassured it is not about just issue of a northern consensus, not at all, it’s a consensus for the PDP and one Nigeria.”
The selection of the Bauchi governor and Saraki as Northern consensus candidates did not go down well with Tambuwal and Hayatu-Deen, as well as some PDP stakeholders in the North.
While Tambuwal and Hayatu-Deen rejected the consensus, the stakeholders led by Sule Lamido, at a press briefing, in Abuja, stated that the candidate of the party would be determined by the national convention.
However, Bala Mohammed has continued to maintain that all the four aspirants in the consensus talks approached Babangida in one accord and requested him to choose a consensus presidential candidate from among them.
Sunday Sun gathered that the controversy trailing the outcome of the Northern consensus, notwithstanding, some party leaders believe that the number of presidential aspirants are too many. And thus would want to see a pruning down of the number.
However, one of the party leaders said that the idea of consensus either at the national or regional level “can only work when aspirants are willing to accept the outcome. But you know that is not going to be possible.”
Nevertheless, the minority leader, House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu, wants the aspirants to be united ahead of the convention.
Elumelu during a meeting between the House caucus and Hayatu-Deen, said that Nigerians were waiting for the PDP to rescue the country in 2023.
“…that brings me to the issue you were championing – consensus. That brings me to the issue of the unity that all of you went round, crisscrossing this nation, seeking understanding amongst yourselves, the aspiration to lead this nation.
“I want to plead that you will continue in that strive. Nigerians are waiting for us, they’re calling on us to come and rescue or rebuild Nigeria. Well, we can only do that If we also put ourselves in a position that Nigerians hope to see us, to rescue them and bring them back to where our founding fathers had wished that we should be.”
However, in spite of heightening tension in the party over the zoning controversy and the likely implication of the pending suit in court, the PDP spokesman, Debo Ologunagba, said that there is no cause for alarm.
Ologunagba told Sunday Sun that “ the PDP is a party of rules and order. Be rest assured that we are going to follow our constitution and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Analysts say that the outcome of the presidential primary, as well as the way and manner the PDP candidate emerges will mark the beginning of the success or failure of the opposition party in next year’s poll.