2023: South, Middle Belt leaders rage as PDP committee dumps zoning of presidential ticket

LEADERS of Southern and Middle Belt groups have reacted in anger to the decision of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to jettison zoning in the selection of the party’s presidential candidate in the 2023 elections.

Leaders of Southern and Middle Belt groups told The ICIR on April 6 that they will work against the PDP if a northerner emerges as the party’s presidential candidate.

The 37-member zoning committee set up by the PDP over the 2023 presidential election has decided recommending that the presidential ticket be thrown open to aspirants from all parts of the country.

The panel headed by Benue State governor Samuel Ortom decided at a meeting held at the Benue State Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, on April 5.

There were expectations that the PDP would zone the presidential ticket to the South, in line with the zoning arrangement that had been in place since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, whereby the presidency rotates between the North and the South.

Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner, will leave office after eight years in power by 2023, and southern stakeholders, including the Southern Governors Forum, had insisted on a power shift to the South.

Also, PDP stakeholders from the South had pushed for the zoning of the position of the party’s national chairman to the North in the expectation that the development would pave the way for the emergence of a Southerner as a presidential candidate in 2023.

Traditionally, in the PDP, the region that holds the office of the national chairman does not produce the party’s presidential flagbearer.

Iyorchia Ayu, from Benue State in the North-Central, eventually emerged as PDP national chairman at the party’s October 2021 national convention.

But the presidential ambition of prominent northern politicians, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, Bauchi State governor Bala Mohammed and Sokoto State governor Aminu Tambuwal resulted in a crisis that threatened to polarise the party ahead of the 2023 elections.

Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition is a significant factor in the PDP panel’s decision to scrap zoning in 2023

Southerners, including a former governor of Anambra State Peter Obi, a former Senate President Pius Anyim, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, and Akwa Ibom State Governor Udom Emmanuel, who have declared their intention to run for president, had expressed the view that the ticket should be ceded to the South.

However, a committee headed by Bauchi governor Mohammed, set up to review PDP’s performance in the 2015 election, had earlier recommended that the party’s presidential ticket be thrown open to all zones in 2023.

In its decision at the April 5 meeting, the Ortom-led Zoning Committee agreed to jettison zoning the presidential ticket in the next election.

A document titled ‘Recommendations of PDP Zoning Committee’, which emerged after the April 5 meeting at Benue State Governor’s Lodge, outlined the panel’s decision.

According to the document, although the committee admitted that zoning was part of the PDP Constitution, the arrangement will be jettisoned in 2023 due to what was described as an exigency.

The document released by the PDP zoning committee said, “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 always to make the issue of zoning very clear at least six months before sales of forms.”

The committee expressed hopes that the party would adopt a consensus presidential candidate.

“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.”

It is expected that the committee’s recommendation will be endorsed by the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC).

The PDP NEC had recommended the composition of the zoning committee to resolve the controversy surrounding the zoning of the presidential ticket.

The NEC recommendation was informed by concerns that the issue of zoning was threatening to polarise the party ahead of the 2023 polls.

The party’s caucus and the National Working Committee (NWC) had earlier failed to resolve the matter.

Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike had insisted that the presidential ticket be zoned to the South.

PDP national chairman Iyorchia Ayu had while inaugurating the zoning committee charged the members to put the unity of the party and its quest to win the presidential election uppermost in their minds during deliberations.

The committee, headed by Ortom, includes Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Darius Ishaku, governors of Enugu and Taraba states, respectively, and several former governors.

Members include party chieftains such as Mao Ohuabunwa, Boni Haruna, Emmanuel Ibokessien, A. B. C. Nwosu, Abdul Ahmed Ningi, Boyelayefa Debekeme, Sanusi Daggash, Liyel Imoke, Ndidi Elumelu, Franklin Nchita Ogbuewu, Tom Ikimi, Ayodele Fayose, Mohammed Abdulrahman, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo and Fidelis Izuchukwu.

Others are Sule Lamido, Mohammed Ahmed Makarfi, Aminu Wali, Ibrahim Shehu Shema, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, Ibrahim Idris, Abubakar Kawu Baraje, Bode George, Mike Abdul, Jerry Gana, Daisi Akintan, Omotayo Dairo, Adewale Oladipo, Hosea Ayoola Agboola, Jonah David Jang, Austin Opara, Attahiru Bafarawa, Adamu Maina Waziri and Mahadi Aliyu Gusau.

Southern, Middle Belt leaders vow to vote against PDP if northerner emerges presidential candidate

While the PDP is hoping that jettisoning zoning would enhance its chances in 2023, the decision of the zoning committee has drawn the ire of Nigerians who have been campaigning for a power shift to the South.

One of the groups leading the campaign for power shift is the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), a coalition of leaders of groups of ethnic nationalities – the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum.

Leaders of Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and PANDEF, Ayo Adebanjo, George Obiozor and Edwin Clark.
Image courtesy: PUNCH

In separate interviews with The ICIR on April 6, representatives of the groups insisted on the decision reached at a January 22 meeting, where they declared that they would not support any political party that does not field a southerner as a presidential candidate.

In an interview with The ICIR, leader of the Middle Belt Forum Bitrus Pogu said, “PDP’s decision is left for PDP, but our own position remains the same, it has not changed. We believe that after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari the presidency should go to the South by 2023. We also say any political party that zones it ticket to the North, we will work against that party, we will campaign against that party. Our position has not changed. So it is up to the PDP leadership to know what to do. That means if a northerner emerges as the presidential candidate we will work against that candidate.”

Middle Belt Forum leader Idris Pogu

A spokesman of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Sola Ebiseni, also restated the position of the Southern and Middle Belt leaders in a chat with The ICIR.

“I don’t want to talk for the PDP, I don’t want to talk about any political party. Let them do their worst but we in the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum have already expressed our views. We have no power to compel any party but we have spoken to the people,” he said.

The leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural organisation of the Igbo, also reacted to the decision of the PDP zoning committee.

Ohanaeze spokesman Alex Ogbonnia told The ICIR that the group will turn against the PDP if a northerner emerges as presidential candidate.

Ogbonnia also stressed the need to allow the South-East to produce the president in 2023.

“We will not relent in talking about the implications of giving the presidency to the South-East. You cannot have unity and peace and sustainable national development without equity and justice. If you don’t have equity and justice Nigeria cannot stand,” he said.

“Throwing the ticket open is well and good because it does not exclude the people of the South-East but if ultimately they (PDP) give it to the North we will no longer support them. If they give it to the North thinking that it is a way of getting more votes we will not support them in the election. That position has not changed,” the Ohanaeze spokesman added.

When contacted, National Publicity Secretary of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) forwarded a statement issued by the organisation to The ICIR.

In the statement, PANDEF restated the decision of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum that people from the regions would not support any political party that does not field a Southerner as a presidential candidate in 2023.

Insisting that, for fairness, equity and justice, and in the country’s interest, the next president should come from the South, PANDEF described the recommendation of the PDP zoning committee as “an awful decision” and warned that there would be consequences for the party at the polls.

PDP unfair to South-East … Igbo presidency agenda coordinator

Chuks Ibegbu, a chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and national coordinator of Pan-Nigerian Presidency of Igbo Extraction Coalition (PANPIEC), a group advocating the emergence of an Igbo as president in 2023, also reacted to the decision of the PDP zoning committee.

    Speaking with The ICIR, Ibegbu noted that the PDP was unfair to the South-East.

    “PDP has been very unfair to the people of the South-East. The people of the South-East have paid their dues to the PDP; they have invested a lot in the party. Now that party has jettisoned them, and it is quite unfortunate,” he said.

    Ibegbu, however, said the decision by the PDP to jettison zoning should serve as a lesson to the people of the South-East.

    “This is also a lesson to the people of the South-East not to be politically gullible,” he said, noting that the “decision does not show a party that wants justice and equity”.

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