PDP zoning conundrum: Aspirants gripped with tension, anxiety

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By Sunday Ani

With the 2023 general elections fast approaching, it is stating the obvious that the two major political parties are preparing for a showdown. They are squaring each other up  for another round of political competition that would go down in history.

Last Saturday, March 26, the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress(APC) scored a major goal by organizing a successful National convention and electing Senator Abdullahi Adamu as its National Chairman. Theirs came after the main opposition party achieved the same feat by electing Senator Iyorchia Ayu as the National Chairman.

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But as preparations for the 2023 general elections begin in earnest, the PDP is in a quandary as to how to resolve the issue of where to zone the presidential ticket of the party. Reason? The issue of North versus South contest for where the next President of the country should come from is yet unresolved. There is no gainsaying that zoning the presidential ticket seems to be the biggest hurdle that the PDP will have to deal with in its quest for a successful outing in 2023.

Analysts are surprised that at this moment, the party leaders and stakeholders are divided on the issue even when time is running out as the PDP has fixed May 28 for the national convention where the presidential candidate will emerge.

There are already reports that some Northern and Southern candidates have been purchasing nomination and Expression of Interest forms. While the eight governors of the party from the South joined other major stakeholders in the PDP from the same region to continuously demand that the presidential candidate come from their area, the five others from the North as well as other stakeholders from their area, want the position to be open to all and sundry.

But as the struggle between the Southern and Northern power blocs continue, critical observers argue that the issue of zoning in the PDP should not be a matter to be treated with levity because it is enshrined in Article 7 of the party’s constitution where the party specifically states that it will adhere to the principle of zoning of elective offices between the various regions in the country.

The group that wants zoning argues that after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari from the Northwest, the next President of Nigeria should come from one of the three zones in the South.

Those in this school of thought also argue that the PDP today has its safe states in the South-south and Southeast and that it is only good for the party to reward the zone with the presidential ticket.

However, the other stakeholders in the party are arguing that the party should refrain from zoning to allow the best candidate to emerge.

Leading voices for the latter argument like the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, and the former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, strongly believe that when the contest is thrown open to aspirants from all parts of the country, the best person that could upstage the APC would surely emerge.

For them, the argument is that what the party needs is a solid candidate who can win the election and defeat the APC and not a regional candidate coming out just for the reason of entitlement. They believe that the party should first win the 2023 general elections before thinking of zoning key positions.

The other contention is the fact that with the last president produced by the party being a Southerner, that between 1999 and 2023, the presidency would have stayed in the South for 14 years and in the North for just 10 years. The implication in the estimation of many is that if the next President comes from the North, the region will still be doing a catch up with the North.

However, the pro-South advocate countered that Nigeria did not start in 1999 and that between 1960 to now, the country gained independence and now, the North has produced leaders for more than 40 of the 61 post-independence years.

But for critical observers, after reviewing the arguments of all the sides, they believe that the PDP must be careful not to fall into the subterfuge game being planned for them by the ruling party.

Firstly, the ruling party, APC is not comfortable that while it is embroiled in serious crisis in many of its chapters and achieving a controversial consensus for its NWC ,  the PDP, as far back as last October had held a peaceful, rancour-free convention to elect its leadership. The fear by many stakeholders in the main opposition party is that the APC will do anything to promote crisis in the PDP.

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Surprisingly, there are reports that the APC governors and leaders are the ones secretly leading the chorus on the campaign for the Southern presidency. Among the 17 Southern governors championing the shift of the presidential powers to the South, nine of them are in the APC. Also, the APC as the ruling party was formed on the basis that the Southwest which aligned with the Northwest to win the 2015 elections for Buhari will produce his successor in 2023. Thus, it seems the APC leaders in the South were the ones coming out loudest on the issue of the Southern presidency.

In the calculation of many, the plot is to lure the PDP to also go the route of the South so that it will not have any advantage over the ruling party in the next presidential election.

The development comes even as the APC has spent the last seven years grooming people from the South to contest the 2023 presidential polls.

There is a conspiracy theory that a Southern presidency is an APC plot to lure PDP and the rest of the opposition to a region where it presently enjoys comparative advantage.

Not a few argue that the APC may just be canvassing the idea of zoning to lead PDP into its safe area where it has a comparative advantage.

One of the arguments is that in 2015 when the APC should have allowed then President Goodluck Jonathan, a Southerner to complete its term or pick a Southerner to contest against him, it went to the North to select a presidential candidate to exploit the advantage over the then ruling party. Now, the APC is afraid the PDP might do the same and go to the North where it might have more support and also where it has solid, leading candidates who can defeat the ruling party.

It is for these reasons that analysts argue that the PDP must be careful not to make the political pitfall being designed and dug by the APC. They believe that the PDP leaders should rather open their eyes wide and make decisions that are not only in their best interest but avoid following the crowd and adopting a strategy that will fail the party. Their position is that the PDP, as an opposition party, must take whatever measure is needed to defeat the ruling party.

Those who understand the dynamics of politics in Nigeria argue that there is also a need to decide on the candidate that is capable, competent, compassionate, courageous, and solid who can deliver on the promises of creating a functional country as against what is happening now in Nigeria.

Many insist that beyond the politics of mere grabbing power for the sake of it, the PDP should consider the interest of Nigeria and that of the party in taking the decision of who becomes its standard bearer in 2023.

Therefore, to gain enough political mileage, not a few are in agreement that leaving the decision open remains the best option for PDP. What it means is that to upstage the APC in the next presidential election, the opposition party should search for its candidate from all districts, cities, states, regions, and across the country.

Amidst these barrages of arguments and divergent opinions from party stakeholders, party members and Nigerians at large, the party’s national chairman, Senator Iyorcha Ayu, recently inaugurated a 37-man zoning committee in Abuja to resolve the controversy trailing the zoning of the presidency even as he insisted that the party would stick to its custom of rotating its political offices among the geopolitical zones. The party, after its 95th National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, had tasked the zoning committee to submit its final report on March 30.

Sounding optimistic, Ayo assured:”There is no issue that is too difficult or too important for the PDP to resolve. That is the spirit of the party. Therefore, I urge all of you to discuss this matter with the same spirit that you discussed at NEC. Let us not have any rancour whatsoever and at the end of the day, remain focused on the main goal.”

However, even before the zoning committee was set up, some candidates from the North had already bought the Expression of Interest form. This move, according to analysts, only means that they would either not respect any decision that is contrary to throwing the contest open or they have pre-knowledge that the outcome of the Committee’s work would be in their favour.

Meanwhile, the party has fixed May 28 for its national convention, where its presidential candidate will emerge.

So, as aspirants await the final decision of the zoning committee on the controversial matter, Nigerians who look up to the PDP as a credible alternative to the APC in 2023, also wait with bated breath.