2023: How PDP chairmanship zoning to North fires up presidency zoning discourse
Since Thursday, October 8, 2021, when the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) adopted the zoning of its chairmanship position to the north, upholding the recommendations of the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi-led zoning committee, the political scene has been thrown into a frenzy of sorts in the discourse around presidency zoning ahead of 2023.
There were indications at the venue of the meeting that the decision did not go down well with certain members of the party or so it seemed.
For instance, there were reports of some protesters displaying placards with various inscriptions, such as: “Stop cheating the North,” “Wike brought Sheriff, Wike brought Secondus, now he wants to truncate the turn of the North;” “PDP, give North their rights,” and “Two years of North vs 13 years of South.”
Reacting to the party’s decision, which apparently indicated that it is now looking towards South for its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president on the party platform, and the PDP’s presidential candidate in 2019, urged the party to pay attention to where it is zoning the presidency.
“There is no such thing as a President from Southern Nigeria or a President from Northern Nigeria. There is only one fact, a president from Nigeria, for Nigeria and by Nigerians,” he said.
The adoption of the recommendations was the high point of the 94th NEC meeting of the party held in Abuja.
Before the Abuja NEC meeting, the 44-member Zoning Committee of the party headed by Governor Ugwuanyi had met in Enugu on Thursday, September 30, 2021, where it took a decision to zone the national chairmanship of the party to the north.
Ugwuanyi had explained that the mandate of the committee did not include zoning of offices of the president, vice president, and other executive and legislative offices of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to him, “The decision of the committee to zone the offices of the party does not in any way affect the same executive and legislative offices in Nigeria. The zoning of offices in PDP has traditionally been between the North and the south of Nigeria.”
Ugwuanyi further said: “The decision of the PDP zoning committee is in line with the constitution of the party on zoning and rotation of party, and national offices in the interest of justice, equity and fairness. Consequently, the current offices being held by officers in the Southern zone of the country, namely, South West, South East and South-South zones should swap places with offices currently in the Northern zone of Nigeria, namely, North West, North East, and North Central zones.”
Political Scientist and Analyst, Kunle Okunola said the PDP decision may just be an indication of where the party would zone the presidency to in 2023 and also reflect the mood of the nation.
“It shows that the PDP is in tandem with the political mood of the people because it is an indication that its presidential candidate would definitely come from the South for the sake of equity in the party.
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“The zoning of the party’s national chairman to the North would force the ruling Northern APC leaders to reconsider their stand on where the APC Presidential candidate comes from because if the APC still wants the president to come from the North, it would affect their chances in 2023 and as well deepen the division currently experienced in the country,” he said.
According to him, “With this invariably, the APC might not have a choice than to zone its presidential seat to the South so that the PDP will not benefit from the mood of the nation on zoning.
“The truth is, PDP took a wide decision and it may benefit from the decision strongly if the stakeholders unite to swing the voting mood of the electorate come 2023.”
Speaking further, the political scientist said a Southerner would likely become the next president, while the North will still remain the determinant of who succeeds President Buhari in 2023.
According to him: “Looking from the intrigues going on in both APC and PDP, the South might be the electoral battleground while the North would determine who among the candidates from the South would become the President. In this way, the North will still remain the determinant of who succeeds President Buhari in 2023.
“Although, where the president comes from should not be the major factor but policy agenda and how much of economic ideas and leadership qualities, should play key role.”
Apparently, responding to the move by the PDP, some politicians in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have begun to go public with their support for Ahmed Bola Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, who is being touted to nurse a presidential ambition.
Last Thursday, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State launched a political group for Tinubu’s 2023 presidential ambition, although the APC has not made public its zoning arrangements.
The group, named “SWAGA” was inaugurated in Ikeja to kick off campaign activities for Tinubu, who reportedly returned to the country a few days ago, after some months’ absence on medical trip abroad.
Since last week also, there have been several names being propped up by different groups and individuals as possible presidential materials on PDP and APC platforms.
The decision of the PDP to zone the national chairmanship position to the North zone has continued to generate debate in the polity in the last few days.
Perhaps, the heightened public interest in the main opposition party’s decision came amid increasing debate across Nigeria among political leaders on which region should produce a successor to the incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.
A few days ago, the Northern Governors’ Forum had met with notable traditional rulers and other stakeholders in Kaduna, where they opposed the call by their Southern counterpart that the presidency should be zoned to the South in 2023.
The Northern Governors’ position had attracted wide criticism, especially from leaders and governors in the South, who had consistently maintained that it was the turn of the region to produce Buhari’s successor.
In the last few months, the issue of zoning the 2023 presidency, party offices, coupled with internal supremacy battle among leaders had threatened the future and stability of the PDP.
Three governors and several chieftains have defected to the ruling APC since the crisis started.
The crisis has deeply affected the party’s ability to play the role of an opposition effectively, leading to increasing fear about its ability to challenge the APC in 2023 general election.
Last year, the Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, defected to the ruling APC over fears that the PDP may not be willing to zone the presidency to the South-East in 2023.
Umahi had complained that the party was not fair to the region despite the huge support and votes it got there.
According to him, “There are a lot of qualified people from the South-East. Some people say I was promised lots of things by the APC, there was no such discussion. APC never promised me any position; they never promised the South-East any position.
“However, I offered this movement as a protest to injustice being done to the South-East by the PDP. Since 1999, the South-East has supported the PDP. At a time, the five states were all PDP. One of the founding members of the PDP was from South-East, the late former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme.”
“It is absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the South-East will never be considered to run for presidency under the PDP. And this is my position and will continue to be my position. It had nothing to do with me or my ambition,” Umahi further said.
Several leaders and political groups within the South-East have equally warned the party on the implication of not choosing its presidential candidate from the region.
They said they would have no choice but to tell their people to vote for any other political party which gives its presidential ticket to a South Eastener.
Chekwas Okorie, a former national chairman of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) had warned the two major parties in the South East, that the people were tired of being used and abandoned.
He added that it would not accept any position other than the presidency from the two major parties in Nigeria.
“We have resolved that any party that gives the presidential ticket to Igbo man in 2023 would get the votes of Igbos massively across the country and that is our priority ahead of the 2023 elections.
“Everything looks favourable for the South to be considered for the APC ticket. But when you now talk about the South, the Yorubas have had their turn when Obasanjo ruled for eight years, after that we had Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan tenure, we know that Jonathan moved on to rule for six years.
“So, it is only the South East and for the interest of the equity, it is appropriate that the region gets the president slot in 2023. But the way I am seeing it, the PDP may not zone the presidency to the South East in 2023,” Okorie had said.
Though zoning is unconstitutional in Nigeria, political leaders say it was only the solution to equal opportunity for the three major ethnic groups to have an opportunity to govern the country.
Some leaders across Nigeria have, however, kicked against the idea of zoning; they said competence should rather decide who assumes public office.