The zoning committee of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, contrary to the expectation of its southern members, has recommended an open race for the party’s 2023 presidential ticket.
The party’s 37-person zoning committee, which took the decision at the Benue State Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro, Abuja, on Tuesday, cited ‘exigency of time’ for its recommendation.
One of our correspondents learned the committee based its recommendation on the high voter turnout in the North and the party’s determination to return to power.
According to a leaked document obtained by one of our correspondents, the committee stated that although zoning was affirmed in the party’s constitution, exigencies of time made it to dump the arrangement.
But the recommendation of the committee generated angry reactions from organisations such as the Igbo socio-cultural group, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Pan-Niger Delta Forum and the Middle Belt Forum with some of them saying it would affect the chances of the PDP in the 2023 polls.
But justifying its decision, the PDP committee, in the document titled, “Recommendations of PDP Zoning Committee,” stated, “ Zoning, as in our party constitution, is affirmed. In spite of the above, the ticket is thrown open, this time around due to the exigency of the 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.”
On March 16, the party’s National Executive Committee, at its 95th meeting, instituted a 37-man committee comprising members from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory to recommend a zoning formula for the various electoral offices ahead of next year’s polls.
Addressing journalists at the end of the meeting, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, said, “By the grace of God, we have unanimously adopted a position that will be sent to the NEC of our party that appointed us.
“The good news for teaming supporters of the PDP and Nigerians is that we have resolved and every one of us – the 37 members – unanimously adopted the position that we are going to present to NEC.”
Although Ortom was reticent about the zoning formula, The PUNCH learned that the committee would urge NEC to fling open the presidential race to all aspirants, irrespective of their zones.
Another senior party source who spoke to one of our correspondents shortly after the meeting said the party would throw open the presidential ticket rather than restrict it to a region.
The source said, “Reference was made to the 10 states with the highest turnout of voters in the 2019 election. Of these 10, nine were northern states and only Lagos made the list. Kano, Kaduna, Katsina had the highest number of voters’ turnout while Lagos came a distant fourth.
“Aspirants should be allowed to test their popularity at the primary election but if they choose to adopt a consensus approach, that will be acceptable to the party. It is a position member of the committee was comfortable with.”
The PDP zoned its presidential ticket to the north during the 2019 general elections.
The party argued that the zone still had an uncompleted tenure following the demise of former President Umaru Yar’Adua, on May 5, 2010, who only served for two years and 11 months.
Consequently, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar emerged presidential candidate at the 2018 primaries held in Port Harcourt.
In a related development, the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, has resigned his membership in the zoning committee.
In a letter addressed to Governor Ortom before the commencement of Tuesday’s meeting, Fayose argued that his status as a presidential aspirant in the PDP disqualified him to seat on the committee.
In attendance were Governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Darius Ishaku of Taraba, former Deputy National Chairman, Bode George; former governors Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna), Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Sule Lamido (Jigawa) and Ibrahim Shema (Katsina).
Others include former Minister of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Relations, Tanimu Turaki; Information Minister, Prof. Jerry Gana, and Chairman, PDP Disciplinary Committee, Tom Ikimi, among others.
A member of the committee, who confided in one of our correspondents, said the committee would submit its report to the party’s National Executive Committee on Wednesday.
“It is the party that will take a final decision on it,” the source stated.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo described the recommendation of the committee as the height of the hypocrisy of politicians.
It advised presidential aspirants from the South-East not to be demoralised instead should continue in the struggle until the result is achieved.
The spokesman for the apex Igbo body, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone, stated, “Any person that rises to oppose zoning is not very well-informed about zoning,” adding, “every Nigeria had known about this zoning. It is in the constitution, it has been the practice, it has favoured all other geo-political zones and they are all aware.
“So, for anyone to even make that remark is the height of hypocrisy and that is the dangerous thing about Nigerian politicians’ inability to stand for truth and principles. But there must be justice.”
He added, “Ohanaeze Ndigbo, however, will continue to talk in a relentless exercise. So we cannot be discouraged because we know that we are on the path to peace, a path for unity, a path for equity and justice, a part that will unify Nigeria on sustainable national development and anything to the contrary will not be good for the country.
“Unfortunately for this country, with all these agitations going on in the South East, there can’t be peace, there can’t be unity, there can’t be nation-building and there can’t be development or sustainable development. So who is losing? Who is disadvantaged? Who are they targeting? It is a matter of choice for Nigeria, is it for Nigeria to continue to retrogress or to progress,” he queried.