How parties’ zoning manouvre jolts Southeast’s presidency chase

Umahi’s vindication versus Obi’s dilemma

The odds seem stacked heavily against the Southeast geopolitical zone as it concerns its agitation to produce a President of Igbo extraction. It is also becoming obvious that history is in a hurry to repeat itself concerning the place of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the 2023 presidential poll.

Watchers of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recall how in 2003 a group of 16 state governors elected in the party’s platform confronted former President Olusegun Obasanjo and urged him to shelve his second term ambition.
The governors led by former Delta State governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, were said to have informed Obasanjo that it would make for equity and national stability for late Dr. Alex Ekwueme to contest the 2003 presidency on a joint ticket with his deputy, Atiku.
The 16 governors were said to have also informed Obasanjo that result of a survey they commissioned showed that he (Obasanjo) was not marketable and could be defeated by the candidate of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) General Muhammadu Buhari, who had joined the party for his presidential aspiration.
However, as a military officer, Obasanjo was said to have gone to Atiku and after assuring him that his place as a presidential running mate would not be threatened, asked Atiku to divorce himself from the rebellious governors.
A South/South state governor, who was part of the 16, confided in The Guardian that the plan was to have Obasanjo serve for one term so that after Ekwueme from the Southeast, Atiku would take the turn for Northeast.
He said that if the plan had sailed through, by 2011 a person from South/South would have become President and handover to a successor from Northwest. The plan, according to the PDP chieftain, was such that in a 24-year period, all the geopolitical zones would have had a stint at the presidency, thereby erasing the specter of marginalization and mutual suspicion.
Going by the former governor’s narrative, had the plan survived, by now a person from North Central would have been serving as Nigeria’s President to wrap up the 24-year cycle. But that did not happen!

2023 another puzzling juncture
FAST forward to 2023, it appears history is about to repeat itself. At the build-up to the 2019 General Election, some PDP stalwarts had wanted Atiku to commit to an agreement to serve just for a single term if he wins the presidential poll.
Although the demand on documentary commitment was later shelved, aspirants like Ahmed Makarfi, Sule Lamido, and Dr. Ibrahim Dankwambo were thought to have demurred for the fourth republic Vice President to fly the party’s flag at the 2019 presidential poll.

During a visit to Gombe, as part of the shuttle diplomacy and consultations, the Director-General of Atiku’s campaign organisation, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, pleaded with the then Gombe State governor, Dankwambo, to slack his aspiration in favour of Atiku, reminding him “you are still young and have much time ahead of you.” That worked and Atiku was favoured.
The next general election cycle is barely two years away. The Southeast geopolitical zone is clamouring to have a stint at the Presidency in the belief that the time is right for the zone to do so after 14 years of unflinching support for PDP.
And given the fact that in 2014 members of the newPDP, including Atiku, moved over to APC to support a northern presidential candidate, because, according to them, it was the turn of the North to produce the President, it is now assumed that power rotation arrangement has been entrenched in the party.
It was also alleged that there was a gentleman’s agreement purporting that the then President Goodluck Jonathan should merely serve the additional term available for late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The question that has been agitating minds across the major political platforms is, given that President Muhammadu Buhari would be rounding off his second and final term in office in 2023, is it proper to retain the Presidency in the north after Buhari’s eight years?
After some play on words, leaders of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), including President Buhari, concede reluctantly that it would be unfair to retain the Presidency in the north after eight years.
However, some die-hard power mongers argue that the Presidency ought to reside in the north for an additional four years to make up for the one-term loss to the South by Yar’Adua’s demise. While APC toys with that line of reasoning, within the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), party faithful reason that since the last President produced by the party was from the South, it behooves the North to throw up a candidate in 2023.

Reviewing the events that followed the 2019 presidential election and shortly after the Supreme Court ruled on the election petition, it was gathered some PDP leaders resolved that since the evidence showed that the party and its standard-bearer, Atiku, won the election, the joint Atiku/Obi presidential ticket should be re-presented come 2023.
Bauchi State Governor and chairman of PDP Presidential Election Review Committee, Senator Bala Mohammed, reechoed that sentiment when he appeared on a recent Channels Television programme. The governor stated: “The general impression within the party and within the country is that we actually won the election and that we lost to a lot of fraud, to a lot of manipulations that were perpetrated by either the electoral umpire or by the security operatives.

“…We have looked inward to see what prevented us from winning the election. We have a lot of evidence, which we tendered, but were not accepted… We know what happened in 2019.”
If the plan to retain the 2019 arrangement in 2023 was a close decision, the recent announcement by PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, let the cat out of the bag.
Secondus had, while receiving the report of the PDP Presidential Election Review Committee, disclosed that the party would throw open the presidential ticket to all zones as recommended by the committee. 
But, no sooner did Secondus make the pronouncement than, Southeast for President (SE4P), a political organisation championing the cause for zoning the presidency to Southeast, cried out, saying, “one does not need a soothsayer to confirm that PDP has denied outright the South and indeed Southeast in particular, the ticket.”
In a post on its Facebook page, SE4P declared: “We have decided and declared a fierce campaign against the presidential ambition of PDP come 2023 until the PDP and the above actors apologise to the whole Ndigbo and Southeast zone in particular, by immediately announcing the zoning of their Presidential ticket to the SouthEast zone.
“PDP was raised and founded by Dr. Alex Ekwueme of SouthEast. He coordinated Ndigbo and Southeast States and they cooperated with other zones of the country to keep Nigeria one. Since PDP has milked us and rejected us, we must reject PDP and wait for other parties, including a Third Force that may emerge.”

Umahi’s Vindication, Obi’s Dilemma
Umahi’s Vindication, Obi’s Dilemma

APART from jolting promoters of Southeast for President campaign, Secondus’ announcement was also received in some quarters as a vindication of Governor Dave Umahi’s claim that PDP has decided to zone the Presidency and Vice Presidency outside Southeast.

The Ebonyi State governor had last year announced his defection to the governing APC as a protest against the unfair treatment of Southeast by PDP, stressing that despite its loyalty and continuous identification with PDP over the years, the party treats the zone with condescension.
Umahi also alleged a plot to remove Secondus to achieve the plan of fielding an incumbent South/South governor as a Presidential running mate in place of Mr. Peter Obi.
Umahi, had, prior to his defection, through the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Hon. Ogbonna Francis Nwifuru, tasked PDP to zone the Presidency to Southeast within seven days or he would offer himself as a political martyr for the redemption of Southeast.  
Party chieftains in Southeast hold that Secondus’ disclosure has not only proved the Ebonyi State governor right but also suggested the dilemma former Governor Peter Obi may face in the unfolding PDP zoning acrobatics.
For instance, could Obi, knowing how his choice as running mate to Atiku, was resisted by Southeast stakeholders, particularly Umahi and Senator Ike Ekweremadu summon the courage to declare his intention to run for President on PDP?
Not that alone, having crossed over to PDP from All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), wouldn’t declaring to run for the presidency on the PDP platform alienate him (Obi) from Atiku and his northern supporters in the party.  
A prominent APC chieftain from Northwest feared that the Southeast may be thrown into a political cul-de-sac in 2023, as the zone would be made to confront a big puzzling situation.
The source said: “They are attacking somebody just because he joined APC. We know that the Southeast is republican and pragmatism guides their voting behaviour. So, imagine what will happen, when the same APC they are castigating picks its Presidential candidate from there.
“Nigerians would be happy to see how the Igbo would vote between a presidential candidate and the party with a vice-presidential candidate.” That assuming the North let’s go of its thirst for power and there are no challenges from the Southwest.

Winning more important
RIVERS State governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, in a recent television interview stated that winning is more important to PDP than insistence on zoning. He argued that the issue of zoning becomes imperative when you are holding office, stressing that being in opposition to what will determine where PDP’s presidential candidate will come from in 2023 is the potential of the candidate to win the election.

As if to buttress Wike’s line of reasoning, former Presidential candidate of defunct National Republican Convention (NRC), Alhaji Ibrahim Dawakin Tofa, chided PDP for introducing zoning into the nation’s polity.
Tofa, who described zoning as evidence of backward political thinking, said it breeds a divisive presidency rather than the one that will serve all Nigerians equally and justly. “PDP started this foolish idea that has damaged the political climate of the country in the belief that it was for the best,” he lamented.
Also, signs that zoning was losing appeal to PDP emerged, when the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbodinyan, told journalists that the party would not be guided by the zoning scheme of another party to determine where its candidate for the 2021 Anambra State governorship poll would come.
Perhaps, buoyed by that sentiment, a gubernatorial aspirant of the party, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo, informed party stalwarts from Nnewi North/Nnewi South that taking over the reins of power from the ruling party is more important for PDP.
Okonkwo contended that only the “best of the best” could upstage the ruling party in the election, reminding them that defeating an incumbent political party is not an easy task.
To demonstrate its determination to maintain the status quo or preserve the extant zoning format, PDP has also announced that its governorship candidate for the 2018 Osun State gubernatorial poll, Senator Adeleke, would be its standard-bearer in the 2022 poll.

WHILE PDP may favour maintaining the pattern of its zoning in previous polls, sources disclosed that the party is working at a situation whereby the next Senate President would emerge from Northwest geopolitical in a bid to ensure that possible presidential aspirants from the zone are placated. The reconfiguration according to insiders entails also that the next national chairman of the party would come from North Central and must be a former governor or Senate President.
The decision to cede the national chairmanship of the party to North-central instead of Southwest is aimed to sustain the reconciliation and integration of the Southwest by achieving a delicate balance between rival factions in the zone.

So far, the PDP Reconciliation and Strategy Committee led by the immediate past President of Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has disclosed that it has settled the long-standing rift between the political camps of late Senator Buruji Kashamu and Ladi Adebutu.
Secretary of the committee, Hon Linus Okorie, disclosed that resolving the almost 10-year old misunderstanding was a feat achieved by the Saraki committee.

In a statement announcing the cheerful development Okorie stated: “I am directed by the chairman of the PDP National Reconciliation and Strategy Committee, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, to announce that today, the committee has successfully concluded the resolution of the decade-old crisis in the Ogun State Chapter of the PDP.
“This crisis that has lingered on for the past 10 years between the groups led by late Buruji Kashamu and Hon. Ladi Adebutu with each of them instituting different court cases, obtaining injunctions, and dissolving executive committees.

“These actions have combined to weaken the party in the state and made many people believe that the differences would never be resolved. The crisis is as a matter of fact responsible for the loss of the PDP in the state during the past three general elections. “Today, both parties have resolved to work together and withdraw all cases pending in the various courts. The parties also agree that PDP remains the best umbrella under which the unity and development of Nigeria can be achieved, sustained, and guaranteed. They have all signed an agreement to that effect.”
Expressing optimism that Lagos and Ekiti would follow, Okorie, said the committee is “further inspired that if, with the support of Almighty God, we have achieved success in Ogun PDP, which was one of the most difficult and complex, then, as we move from state to state, …we will continue to make tangible progress.”
Given the new outcry over zoning of the 2023 presidential slot, especially in the Southeast, would PDP ignore the zone in the belief that Southeast could be compensated with the consolidated bloc presence in South/South?
The recent warning from Cross River State governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, on the party to value loyalty might turn out a salutary observation as the PDP navigates treacherous contours on its way to a make or Mar 2023 election cycle.

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