Chuks Okocha and Segun James write that the hint from a respected organ of the Peoples Democratic Party indicating that all sections of the country are welcome to vie for its presidential ticket in 2023 may have stirred up the hornet’s nest

In a year thick with bad news much of it economic and health care, it is perhaps not surprising that all has been quiet in the well-known Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) acrimonious political culture. Things have not been the same with Africa’s largest opposition party since it lost the 2019 presidential election to the rival, All Progressives Congress (APC). However, it seems the party has stirred to life a few days ago following the publication of the decision of the party’s Board of Trustees to make its presidential ticket open to all.

It is always a bit of a gamble for a political party to attempt to claw back onto the scene it built. But there is a chance that the PDP may have made the daring move with the decision not to zone its presidential ticket to any part of the country – for now, given the prevailing political situation in the country. If the PDP refused to give its presidential ticket to the Igbo in 2023, would that signal the end of the party’s dominance in the South-east?

The BoT of the party in a statement by its Secretary, Chief Adolphus Wabara, an Igbo man, disclosed that following an emergency meeting of the organ of the party in Abuja, it has decided to leave the presidential ticket open to all. Wabara, a former Senate President, who represented the Board’s chairman, Walid Jibrin, said it was too early to talk about the zoning of key office when issues confronting the opposition party were yet to be resolved. He said that would be like putting the cart before the horse.

“By the time we resolve all the issues in the party, we shall come up with a zoning formula. As you know, if you go through the constitution, you will realise that PDP is a party of zoning.

“But when it comes to political exigencies, you will realise that anything can happen, that is why we can amend our constitution at will to win an election,” he said.

Wabara pledged a level playing ground and uninterrupted operations of all organs of the party ahead of its December National Convention. He said the emergency meeting was particularly necessary considering the political and economic tension in the country, adding that the meeting was to ensure the stability of all the organs of PDP and to place them on alert and in sharp focus as the party prepares to take over power in 2023.

“The Board is fully committed not to allow any mischievous trends or strain to clog the working relationship between all members, particularly at the top management level of the party,” he said.

Wabara said the party was determined to do all that was necessary to ensure that it fulfilled the overwhelming desire of the vast majority of Nigerians that the PDP regained power in 2023.

“The BoT will also ensure that very harmonious relationship exists between the organs of the party and in this regard, a detailed meeting between the BoT and the NWC is being planned to be held soon,” he stated, even as he expressed confidence in the ongoing work of the party’s reconciliation and strategy committee led by a former Senate President, Dr.. Bukola Saraki.

“The Board is very appreciative of the commitment of our governors to the party and the exemplary roles they have all been playing to keep the party at an optimum operational level,” he said. “This is the only party in Nigeria, if not in the world, that is not owned by anybody. This party is owned by the people,” he said.

But that decision is not sitting well with Igbo ethnic nationality who see the move as another subtle way of denying their people an opportunity to take a shot at the presidency.

It is based on this that the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo has come out kicking against the PDP decision. To them, if there is one ethnic nationality that has been loyal to the party, it is the Igbo. They have been unwavering in their support for the party. They wonder why they should be paid back in such a manner.

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo, while rejecting the Bala Mohammed-led committee report of the party which recommended that the 2023 presidential ticket of the party should be thrown open to all sections of the country, said that the committee report was capable of impugning the unity of the country and asked for the withdrawal of the report that it described as unconscionable.

The Igbo parent body noted that it was committed to Nigeria producing a President of Igbo extraction in 2023, adding that it will willingly identify with any group that is ready for the bargain. In a statement, National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia said: “Ohanaeze views the report by the Bala Mohammed led committee as most despicable, un-reflective and unconscionable. It is very worrisome that some highly placed Nigerians who have benefited so much from the unity of the country would be inclined to decisions and actions that will further inflame the passions of the patient but aggrieved part of the country.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Nigerians agreed on the rotation of the presidency between the North and the South; in which case it is the turn of the South after the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari. For clarity purposes, both the South-west and the South-south had both taken their turns in the persons of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan respectively. It is rather very unpatriotic and a trifle on the sensibilities of the Igbo for the committee to even suggest the rotation of the presidency to the North-east in the first instance and open to every part of Nigeria as a major slight.

“It is disturbing that all the indignities, perceived and real, that the South-east suffer in the current dispensation are the outcome of the Igbo support to the PDP since 1999. It is on record that in 1999, the Igbo were in hock with the PDP through which Chief Olusegun Obasanjo emerged the President of Nigeria; same in 2003 and the subsequent elections in Nigeria.

“On the other hand, the Igbo had invested much political capital in the PDP only to be betrayed by its apparent lack of principles. The leadership of the PDP is advised to retract the comment made by Alhaji Bala Mohammed and countermand the content of the obnoxious committee report in the interest of the party.

“Let it be known that Ndigbo does not wax so eloquent on political parties. The Igbo is bound to advertise the party that caters to the interest of our people. It is instructive that Senator Ali Ndume, a chieftain of the All Peoples Congress (APC) is among the prominent Northerners that canvass for zoning the Nigerian presidency to the South East for the 2023 presidential election. Other prominent APC chieftains are highly committed to the realisation of this project and we will be very delighted to work with them in the overall interest of Ndigbo.

“The Ohanaeze Ndigbo led by Ambassador Professor George Obiozor is committed to a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction and there is no going back on it. It should be noted that the Igbo network transcends geographical space and the enormous Igbo goodwill and resources across the world will be mobilized to achieve this equity-inspired project. In the words of Obiozor, the Igbo are a confident set of people who do not hide their feelings easily no matter the consequences.

He added, “If you deny the Igbo justice, be ready for righteous indignation, diminishing authority, denial of the legitimacy of governance and loyalty. The Igbo faith and confidence is based on what you deny the Igbo in the morning, they can give to themselves in the evening through hard work and perseverance. We are undaunted.”

In the smouldering political landscape of Nigeria, the future is lying on two fundamentals – equity and fair play. Given the sacrifices the Igbo people have made in the last 20 years of steady democracy in the country, would they be given the chance to field the party’s presidential candidate?

That’s the question as many from the North are still blaming them for the supposed ‘sins’ of their fathers. They insisted that the politics of tribalism, coup plotting and war were introduced to Nigeria by the Igbo. But 50 years after the Federal Government’s “no victor no vanquished” rhetoric after the war, why are the Igbos being held to political ransom?

Gone are the days when the PDP was the lone mighty Iroko tree in the national political forest. Today that tree has withered, hence when the final whistle for politicking is blown, the party may not be on the starting block. It wasn’t so long ago that the party almost controlled the entire system, but since 2015, things have changed for the worse.

Yes, the PDP has had more than its fair share of political crisis over the years, so when turbulence starts to rock after two years of things being quiet on the political front, it is a sign that the party is waking up from its slumber. But to whose benefit?

The essence of all political parties is to win elections and this is by no means based on sentiments. Elections in itself is a jostle for power with strategies on areas perceived as its stronghold. No political party will waste it’s ticket on any election based on sentiments.

These were the views of a member of the PDP National Executive Comment (NEC) who was reacting to torrents of criticisms on why the Governor Bala Mohammed committee that recommended that the presidential candidate of the party in 2023 should be thrown open.

Though, the NEC member refused to be quoted officially, so as to avoid further controversy. However, he said that the important thing before the PDP is to get a presidential candidate that wears the garment of a nationalist and not a regional champion. He maintained that much as the PDP would want to be transparent and democratic in nature, “PDP will do everything democratic to ensure equity when it comes to the choice of who will be the presidential ticket holder in 2023”, he explained.

One thing that is important so far is that the report is still a recommendation and subject to further study and analysis by all the instant organs of the party. For instance, as the National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus said. the party will study and analyse the report and come out with what will be beneficial to the party.

But the deputy national secretary of the PDP, Dr. Emmanuel Agbo who served as the secretary of the Bala Mohammed, said that no zone was shut out by the recommendation of the panel. He clearly stated that all zones are qualified to contest, even the South -suth and the South-east.

He explained that what was paramount before the party was the emergence of a nationalist not some one that will wear the toga of ethnic jingorist . Agbo stated that the crisis facing Nigeria as a nation is like what happened during annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential election that polarised Nigeria along ethnic lines.

In view of this, he said that the panel is looking for a presidential candidate as was done when the PDP brought in General Olusegun Obasanjo to weld the broken cracks of Nigeria together.. At each time, he spoke, Agbo always clarified that no zone has been shut out.

Also reacting through his Tweeter handle, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “Due to enquiries from our members and the general public, it has become imperative to clarify that@OfficialPDPNig is yet to adopt any of the recommendations proposed by the Senator Bala Mohammed’s Committee on the Review of the 2019 Elections.

“As such, it will be incongruous for anyone to assert that any decision has been taken @OfficialPDPNig on zoning of the Presidency ahead of the 2023 elections.

“@OfficialPDPNig leaders, members and supporters are enjoined to note that party is yet to take any decision on the proposals presented by the committee.”, the PDP declared .

The implication of this is that the PDP has not taken a position.

However, Chief Dan Orbih, the South-south National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said that the choice of the party’s candidacy in the 2023 presidential election will be determined by the political terrain prior to the general polls.

He said that the clamour by its members for a South-south presidential endorsement showed their maturity as stakeholders but would be decided upon after members fully examined the country’s political terrain for a balance.

Orbih gave the indication in an interview in Benin while reacting to the increasing agitation by party loyalists from the zone for the party to zone the 2023 presidency to South-south.

He, however, noted that the clamour was an indication that the party was a very organised one.

According to him, before the party goes into any presidential contest, it will sit and look at what is on ground politically.

“Based on that the party then takes a position on the zone where the candidate will come from.

“No doubt there are lot of persons who feel strongly that there is need for the party to formally zone the presidency.

“First, it will reduce rancour among members. Secondly, it will give direction on what the party is looking at.

“Another thing is that as a matter of strategy, if the party settles for a zone, it means we will take advantage of the place the party has zoned it to.”

He, however, disclosed that as at present, the party had yet to zone the presidency in the forth coming 2023 general elections.

He also explained that those agitating for the presidency to be zoned to South-south were of the strong opinion that the zone should return and complete its denied second tenure.

“They also argued that considering the votes normally garnered by the party from the zone, the party should not overlook the South South in considering where the 2023 candidate should come from.

“They are just going by the saying that to whom much is given, much is expected.

The zone has given so much to the party in terms of votes, party loyalty, commitment, and what have you.

“So they feel that the party should not overlook them when it comes to the issue of the presidency. They believe that the votes they normally poll from the zone can even be doubled if a candidate from the South South is considered,” the PDP leader said.

It is clear that the PDP has not zoned it’s presidential ticket and therefore no one should railroad the party to take a decision. The report of the panel is a mere recommendation and has not been iscussed by the organs of the partym

Another member of the NEC of the PDP, said zoning of the presidential ticket will take into cognisance some factors like the number of votes anticipated from each zone. The member said like the Bala Mohammed committee did, that there is a clamour that the North-eaast and South-east produce the presidential candidate of PDP. But asked, would it not be suicidal for the PDP to jump the gun and announce it’s candidate now.

The member of NEC explained that it is expected that the ruling party, the APC should first announce itts ticket holder before the PDP. In this case, like Dan Orbih said, there would be several political considerations.

Some of the political considerations include the number of votes coming from each zone during elections. Apart from the number of votes from the South-south states. How is this comparable to the votes from the South-east For instance, the entire members of the South-east in the House of Representatives is just like the number of members from Kano state. How many votes from the five states of South east when compared from the votes from Kano and Katsina state. Kano state posts over one million votes and Katsina state records a little below one million votes.

The NEC member explained that the zoning of the presidential ticket of any serious party should be through lobbying and not coercion. Also, the zone in question will have to show that by getting the presidential ticket, it has capacity to win

According to the elder statesman, Tanko Yakassi, in agreeing to the concept of zoning said that the opposition party is not tied to the zoning principles that will tie it to that of government in power. He maintained that any opposition party must adopt a zoning system that would earn votes for it.

Tanko Yakassai explained that the other political parties which is also operating on a zoning principle must not tailor its zoning arrangement to suit the zoning arrangement of the other party.

Accordingly to the former presidential adviser, “It does not mean that opposition party must align with the zoning arrangement of the other party. In other words, if one party produces a candidate from the north, the next should produce a candidate from the north. It should produce from the south. But zoning arrangement can not prevent another party from producing candidate from the zone where the other party had produced a candidate that occupied that office at one time”.

By implication, PDP will do anything to ensure it wins the presidential election as an opposition party. It is for the APC to zone and ensure it retains its hold on the presidency

As at press time, it was gathered that the executive organ of the party will subject the report of the Bala Mohammed committee to address all the objections raised and therefore, it would be unfair to say that the party has zoned its presidential slot to any geopolitical zone.

However, one thing gathered during several interaction with stakeholders is that any decision to be reached will not be based on sentiments but on bare facts to attract votes to the party that can assure that it wins the 2023 presidential election