2023: Presidential primary election as Ayu’s litmus test

PDP National chairman Iyorchia Ayu

National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Iyorchia Ayu, on assumption of office made it known that his mission was to rescue and rebuild Nigeria by returning the opposition party to winning ways. However, as the 2023 general elections approach, intrigues and contention surrounding zoning in the party would likely be the litmus test for the Ayu-led National Working Committee (NWC), ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU writes.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has scheduled the next general elections for February 2023. Expectedly, the nomination of political party candidates for the various elective offices would be done this year.

INEC’s timetable indicated that political parties would have to conduct their primary elections, including the resolution of disputes arising from these between April 4, 2022 to June 3, 2022.

Expectedly, the major opposition party, the PDP is expected to decide on zoning in the coming days and like other political parties conduct its primary election in April or latest by June 3. The party has since scheduled its presidential primary election on May 29 hence zoning remains a very crucial decision for the party.

The coming weeks is also a defining moment for National Chairman, PDP, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, in his quest to return the party to winning ways after it lost the 2015 and 2019 general elections.

This is more so as zoning, though not constitutional, has become a determining factor in selecting party’s candidates and determining the party’s success in elections.

Since the PDP came to power in 1999 it has been the practice to rotate its presidential ticket between the South and the North. Notably, during the party’s 16-year reign, the South produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan; while a North produced late Umaru Musa Yar’adua, who spent only years in office leading to Vice President Jonathan being sworn in to office.

PDP benefited from the zoning arrangement and the party has equally suffered a huge blow as a result of the zoning arrangement hence political analysts believe there are two major issues the PDP must carefully handle to achieve its desired electoral victory next year.

The first is resolving issues about the zoning of its 2023 presidential ticket, while conducting a credible and acceptable presidential primary election is the second.

Bala’s committee recommendation

In a bid to avoid intra party crisis arising from zoning and party primary elections the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC) had since kept the recommendation of the PDP 2019 Election Review Committee in abeyance.

The committee headed by the Bauchi state Governor, Bala Mohammed, had recommended that the party’s 2023 presidential ticket be thrown open to all qualified aspirants.

The committee, which was charged with the responsibility of reviewing the party’s performance in the 2019 general elections, while presenting its report had cautioned that every qualified Nigerian should be given the chance to vie for the party’s presidential ticket in a free and fair primary.

“In line with certain unwritten conventions of the nation’s history, many people think that, for fairness and equity, the North-east and South-east geo-political zones that have had the shortest stints at the Presidency, should be given special consideration in choosing the presidential flag bearer of the party for the 2023 elections.

“While we admit that this is a strong argument, we should not lose sight of the fact that Nigeria is endowed with many capable and very experienced leaders in every part of the country.

“Therefore, we think that every Nigerian, from every part of the country, should be given the opportunity to choose the best candidate, through a credible primary election; as a way of institutionalising a merit-based leadership recruitment process for the country,” report stated.

The committee’s recommendation had generated tension in the opposition party with leaders from the North and South expressing divergent views on the issue.

37-member zoning committee

All aspirants’ hope is now on the zoning committee as the party’s NEC had pegged the cost of the presidential and governorship Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms at N40 million and N21 million respectively.

Addressing journalists at the end of 95th NEC meeting, at the PDP National Secretariat, Wadata Plaza, Wuse Zone 5, Abuja, PDP National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Debo Ologunagba, disclosed that the party had also approved the establishment of a 37-member zoning committee.

According to him, “The committee shall submit a report in two weeks.”

Ologunagba stated that “NEC approved the Timetable and Schedule of Activities of the PDP for the 2023 general elections.”

He also disclosed that NEC approved a 50 per cent reduction in nomination fees for youths aged 25 to 30 years for various elective positions.

“NEC also approved the commencement of sale of Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms from Thursday, March 17, 2022.

“The following amounts for the Forms were approved by NEC: State House of Assembly -Expression of Interest N100,000, Nomination Form N500,000, House of Representatives- Expression of Interest N500,000, Nomination Form N2,000,000.

“Senate Expression of Interest N500,000, Nomination Form N3,000,000, Governorship Expression of Interest N1,000,000, Nomination Form N20,000,000, President Expression of Interest N5,000,000, Nomination Form N35,000,000.”

Atiku, Saraki, others make case for North

For obvious reasons the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, immediate past Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Sokoto state Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and a few others from the North want the presidential race thrown open or zoned to the North for PDP to bounce back to power.

Atiku, while speaking at the PDP 94th NEC meeting, said where the president comes from has never been an issue in the county.

“Where the president comes from has never been the problem of Nigeria. It will not be the solution to the problems of Nigeria. There is no such thing as a president from Southern Nigeria or a president from Northern Nigeria. There is only one president; a president of Nigeria, for Nigeria and by Nigerians.

“The Peoples Democratic Party has the right to determine its rules on how the party should be governed. The people of Nigeria also have the right to determine who governs them,” Atiku stated.

The former vice president, while interacting with the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) argued that the All Progressives Congress (APC) and not the PDP has “moral obligation which is inescapable” to zone to its presidential ticket to South.

He said, “Yes, people have not stopped talking about power rotation and zoning, or whatever it is. For sure in the party, we invented and formulated this zoning policy

simply because we wanted every part of this country to have a sense of belonging and I have paid my dues on the issue of zoning.”

Advancing his argument on the PDP presidential primary election in favour of the North, Atiku said: “You cannot come and try to imply that the PDP has not been following the zoning policy. The many years of PDP government eight years and six years all of them were from the south. So we should not be stampeded by the opposition party. They have a moral obligation, which is inescapable.”

…Saraki too

On his part, Saraki in an interview on Channels TV programme, Sunday Politics, noted that North-east, North-central and South-east have not had presidency or vice presidency.

“When you talk about zoning, yes, you must consider zoning, but when we talk about zoning, it can’t just be an issue of North/South, because you cannot tell me that the southwest will say they are disenfranchised in the possibility of political office, neither can you say the South – South, he added.

Wike, Anyim others back zoning to South

For Rivers state Governor, Nyesom Wike, and former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, the party needed to have a candidate from the South to succeed Buhari, who is from the North, after his eight-year term.

Though Wike has not declared his intention to join the presidential race like other aspirants including Ayim and the former President of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Sam Ohuabunwa, he wants the party to zone its ticket to South.

The Rivers state governor, recently, charged members of the PDP to respect the zoning arrangement of the party.

“Forget about the people saying there should not be zoning. It is just a distraction. For me, those doing that are agents of the APC and they are not helping the party. Whichever way, we must sit down and make the best decision that will make Nigerians happy; that will make us win the election.

“There is no basis for anything we do that won’t make us win the election because it means we still want Nigerians to suffer and they cannot just continue to suffer. They have suffered enough in the hands of APC and God will not forgive PDP if we don’t rescue Nigerians,” he said.

Also, the former senate president, recently, urged all political parties in the country to zone their 2023 presidential tickets to the South-east.

“From my consultations so far, I am glad to report that the responses have been overwhelmingly encouraging and inspiring. Above all, I am also happy to report that the mood of the nation favours the rotation of the Presidency to Southern Nigeria.

“It is also to my knowledge that South-east stakeholders have repeatedly made the case for zoning the Presidency to the South-east, for equity and fairness,” he said.

On his part, Ohuabunwa told Blueprint Weekend in an exclusive interview that zoning of the presidential ticket was imperative to ensure inclusion.

He said, “If you don’t zone, you are going to perpetually keep people as slaves. And if you want unity, you must bring inclusiveness.

“But if you say there is no zoning, or no rotation after President Buhari, somebody from Katsina could also become president, because the moment it is not Kastina, you have started rotating. And I will tell you how the rest of Nigerians will take it.”

‘Zoning’ll make or mar PDP’

For Aminu Mohammed, a political analyst, who understand the workings of parties and Nigeria elections, zoning and the conduct of party primary elections would make or mar PDP’s chances in the 2023 general elections.

In an interview with Blueprint Weekend, Mohammed said, “It is a known fact that zoning is not capture in Nigeria constitution, but it is now a norm in most Nigerian political parties. The PDP introduced zoning into the Nigeria political sphere to give everybody a sense of belonging.

“It should be encouraged, embrace and sustained by all political parties as we approach the 2023 elections. In the past many people and even political parties win elections because of zoning and some lost because they failed to uphold it.”

He said, “Contrary to claims that zoning may shut the door at credible aspirants, I don’t subscribe to that because I believe there are countless competent and credible people who can lead this country in the North and South.”

Mohammed noted that, “I have also read some argument advanced by reputable politicians in the PDP and the APC. Saying Presidency should be zone among the six geo-political zones, this to me is to further complicate the matter. It should be between North and South.

“For the current national leadership of the PDP, two things will define them and the future of the party: how they manage the zoning issue and the conduct of party’s presidential primary.

“They see 2023 as another opportunity for them to return to power. To achieve this the Iyorchia Ayu-led NWC must handle the issue of zoning in a way that most critical stakeholders will not be aggrieved. All zones and critical stakeholders must be carried along.

“Another factor that Ayu leadership will have to deal with is party presidential primary. Considering the number and calibre of politicians who will contest for the party’s ticket, anything short of free, fair, credible and acceptable Presidential primary election may lead to an implosion in the PDP.

“So because the party will have to decide zoning in not more than a month and conduct it’s Presidential Primary latest by latest 3rd of June, then it will determine the party’s level of success in Ekiti, Osun and the 2023 general elections.

“Ayu leadership management of all Zoning related issues and the conduct of party’s Presidential primary election will make or mar PDP 2023 chances.”

NWC’ll provide level playing field – BoT Chairman

The Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibril, has expressed hope that the PDP NWC would provide a level playing field for all aspirants.

“The other party the APC is dead, waiting to be buried. We have confidence in Ayu’s led NWC. Our party will conduct the free, fair and credible primary. Not just presidential primary, all primaries will be credible. Level playing field will be provided for all interested aspirants,” he assured.

‘Party’ll survive, win 2023 elections’

On his part, Ologunagba has assured that the opposition party would survive all hurdles and win the 2023 general elections.

In an interview with our correspondent, the PDP national publicity secretary said: “The PDP is a democratic party, the ensure fairness and equity in dealings with party members.

“The party’s zoning committee will come out on our arrangement and our party, the PDP shall conduct a free, credible, acceptable and rancour-free primary election.

“Any issues that may come after any of our activities, we shall use our internal mechanism to resolve. We are united and Nigerians are ready to support the PDP to rescue and rebuild Nigeria.”

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