PDP ZONING BATTLE ESCALATES: Wike, Emmanuel, Anyim confront Atiku, Tambuwal, Kwankwaso, Saraki | NN NEWS

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These are testy times for the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as it navigates the bumpy road to the 2023 general elections. After a seemingly successful national elective convention, the main opposition party now has a choice to make on which of the zones gets its presidential ticket.

As noted by many PDP chieftains in oral submissions and book accounts, the party was largely to blame for the fate that befell it when it lost power at the centre in 2015 to then-hurriedly formed All Progressives Congress, APC. In what appeared a semblance of the Federal Character Principle, the PDP enshrined zoning and rotation of national offices in its Constitution at inception in 1998, to give a sense of belonging to its members, South and North of the divide. 

This explained why at the expiration of the second term of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the party looked up North to settle for former Katsina state governor, Umaru Yar’Adua who, though won the 2007 presidential poll, succumbed to the cold hands of death in 2010.

Arguments reached fever pitch when prominent northerners felt Goodluck Jonathan, then-Vice President, ought to have simply completed that tenure and quit the stage for a northerner to complete the four years left for the region. Jonathan, backed by Obasanjo and a handful of northern politicians, emerged the PDP flag bearer for 2011 and went to head to win convincingly, beating Muhammadu Buhari of the now-defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC.  

However, Jonathan’s insistence on trying his luck in 2015 backfired and the party, which once boasted of having the capacity and nationwide acceptance to remain in the helm for 60 years, has been told to be guided as skeletal preparations for the next general elections begin in earnest.

In the past few months, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Governors Aminu Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed of Sokoto and Bauchi states as well as former Governors Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano) and Bukola Saraki (Kwara), all northerners, have gone the whole distance to leave no one in doubt of their interest in the PDP presidential ticket. Their position comes against the backdrop of the clamour for the successor of Buhari to emerge from the South and the body language of APC, in fact, favours the argument. To Atiku, Tambuwal, Mohammed, Kwankwaso and Saraki, PDP should head in the opposite direction in search of its flag bearer. 

This has not gone down well with Governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers State) and Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) as well as Senator Pius Anyim, Mr Dele Momodu and Sam Ohuabunwa who argue that, regardless of party affiliations, no Nigerian with love for motherland should root for another northerner to remain in the saddle after Buhari complete his second term in 2023.

The two governors, arguably the most vocal anti-northern presidential candidate in 2023, Sunday Vanguard, are oiling their political machinery preparatory to making an official declaration before the end of March this year. Wike, this medium gathered, has reached out to Tambuwal, whom he supported at the 2018 presidential primary in Port Harcourt, to accept to be his running mate while the Akwa Ibom governor is believed to have met with some eminent Nigerians on his planned declaration.

It thus appears that Atiku, Tambuwal and Mohammed have a long distance to walk to the PDP ticket as opposed to northern candidacy has continued to grow within the party in the past couple of months. Of the northern presidential contenders, Atiku has the stiffest opposition as the immediate past National Working Committee, NWC, left no one in doubt where it stood in future elections.

Addressing a youth conference in March 2021, then-National Chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, made it clear the party won’t be looking in the direction of old men in 2023, saying,

“The future of our country lies in the hands of the youth, it can’t be otherwise.

“You are aware that the APC is a conglomerate of the old generation.

“You can see them, 80 years, 90 years, they are still in government. When will the youth take over?” Political pundits believe that remark was targeted at Atiku who turns 76 in November this year.

Secondus’ successor, Iyorchia Ayu, has not deviated from the same narrative since he took over in December 2021.

A few days ago, a former Edo State Commissioner of Information, Prince Kassim Afegbua, who openly identified with Atiku in 2019, moved against the former Vice President, counselling him to consider retirement having been on the political scene for over three decades. According to Afegbua, Atiku must resist the temptation to contest the highest elective office in 2023 as doing so would make him wear the tag of a professional presidential aspirant. Not a few believe an unnamed governor is a force pushing the ex-Commissioner in his new anti-North PDP presidential quest.

In a chat with Sunday Vanguard, a member of the party’s National Executive Committee, NEC, who did not want his name in print, noted that zoning the presidency is not going to be an easy task.

“The best option is to throw the race open to the South and North and whoever emerges at the convention will take the day,” he said, adding, however: “The argument of the pro-South school of thought is very valid. The South should be supported to produce our presidential candidate but, you know, it is very difficult convincing those who are bent on contesting to think otherwise.

“The onus is on Ayu and his team to prove to all and sundry that they have what it takes to unite the party, make a decision and stand by it. I pray this issue of zoning or the lack of it does not tear us apart ahead of the 2023”.

So far, the leadership of the party has kept its peace on the issue of zoning, insisting it would make a categorical statement when the time comes.

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