Zoning: A delicate balance for PDP come Anambra 2021

Ndi Anambra have eagerly awaited 2021 and now it is finally here. It is not only the year that major political parties in the state like Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and others will select their flag bearers but also the year that voters in the state will go to the polls to elect who will pilot the affairs of the state for the next 4 years. So, politically speaking, this is an absolutely important year for the light of the nation state.

Unlike the rest of Nigeria, where the states are either governed by PDP or APC, Anambra state is politically unique. By March 2021 Anambra would have been under the leadership of APGA for an uninterrupted period of 15 years. This is a feat that was made possible by Mr. Peter Obi, the immediate past governor of the state, when he was a member of APGA. The question that begs for answer is, now that Anambra 2021 is here, will APGA remain in charge or be shown the way out? And if the latter happens, which political party will take over?

Victory in a competition is usually a product of a number of interplaying factors and circumstances. One of the factors that will have an overarching influence on the outcome of the race for Agu Awka (Anambra Government House) is the concept of zoning.

Zoning as a political concept has palpably polarized Ndi Anambra. The topic is now on every lips of Ndi Anambra and draws great passion from both sides of the divide. Those against the concept argue that it breeds incompetency, is anti-democratic, is out of tune with modernity, and it is not expressly provided for in our statute books. It is also common to hear them ask, “Who and who discussed zoning?” “When and where did they discuss it?” “When did it start”?

On the other side of the argument, advocates for zoning, view it as a panacea to all forms of communal political inequalities. To them, it is a damper for unnecessary overheating of the polity and a deliberate political design to enthrone, deepen, and sustain equity, justice, and fairness. Further arguments for zoning is that it is actually in our laws with reference to sections 14 and 153 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. When it comes to the alleged claim that zoning breeds incompetency, they assert that competent and capable persons exist in all the zones. In the case of Anambra, this is especially true.

Zoning: The decider of 2017 governorship election

Aside the argument of the merits and demerits of zoning, it’s practical and utilitarian political effect and Anambra voters opinion of it can be looked at from the prism of the role it played in the Anambra 2017 governorship election as well as the number, class and calibre of the individuals and groups that are pro-zoning.

Zoning is believed to be the magic wand that gave APGA victory in the 2017 governorship election as her campaign mantra was, “Let the North finish its 8 years then, power will shift to the South”. This was a powerful driver of the voting pattern in 2017. The voters keyed in and that was it, all other political permutations became irrelevant or secondary.

Does a team change its winning tactics?

Political pundits and seasoned current affair analysts have argued that the issue of APGA ‘going South’ for its next governorship flag bearer is a concluded arrangement. And this is for two obvious reasons. First, it was the party’s major campaign mantra in 2017, and it yielded the desired result as the people of Anambra South believed it and played along. Second, the promise of zoning immensely shaped the whole state’s voting trajectory in that election. So APGA, conscious of the earlier promise and aware of the consequences of reneging on it sees 2021 as the time to fulfil the promise. Their next campaign mantra in the South would, likely, be, “Promise made, promise kept”.

The big question for PDP

With the poor performance of PDP in the 2017 election combined with the arguments and political facts above, will the party for any reason, be foolhardy or make the mistake of fielding a non-Southern candidate? The answer lies in the mind of the National leadership of the party, the Board of Trustees, the core stakeholders, and the delegates who will vote at the primary election.

Of course, all aspirants in the race so far are ably qualified, competent, and capable but patriotism cum extreme party loyalty calls for any of the aspirants that is not from Anambra South to make self-sacrifice by honourably quitting the race. Where this self-sacrifice is not forthcoming, then strategic politicking and political expediency demand that the unpatriotic aspirant should be eased out subtly for the overall interest of the party. In penning this paragraph, my mind’s eye was particularly looking at two of the aspirants who have boldly declared their interest for governorship.

One is a PDP stalwart and a popular businessman and there is no controversy about his being non-Southern. So if PDP picks him as its flag bearer, it will not only be foolhardy but will imply, in the best scenario, that the South and the North will conspire and vote in APGA again. This will be handing APGA a victory by default. In the worst scenario, the three zones will cast protest votes in favour of political parties that presented Southern candidates. Either way, the PDP will be the greatest loser at the polls.

Then there is the troubling issue of an aspirant who is currently representing the Central at the National Assembly. She is Southern by birth and Central by marriage. Politically, she registered as a voter in the Central, has always voted there meaning that she has always pitched her political tent and, rightly too, with Anambra Central. She has represented the Central at the National Assembly for eight years (2007 to 2015) and represented the Central again for 6 months in 2015, and in 2019, she began representing Anambra Central at the National Assembly. So, with this brief political history, is this aspirant, politically and logically, from the South? If the answer is no, as it should rightly be, then she should face the same fate as the party stalwart mentioned earlier. But for those who may answer in the affirmative, though it should not be, then other questions will become inevitable.

Among such consequential questions are: Are people of the South satisfied with the narrative that a federal lawmaker representing the Central could switch and be politically from the South, hence, entitled to take their governorship slot even as she is currently holding on to the mandate of the people of a different zone? Next question, will the people of Anambra North accept this same narrative? What about people of Anambra Central, will the narrative go down well with them? Most importantly, can PDP, bearing in mind what is at stake, pick a candidate that will spend all the campaign time explaining why a sitting federal lawmaker from the Central should be voted in as a governor on a slot meant for the South? Can the party afford to sacrifice its bright chances of taking over the state on the altar of these uncertainties?

In the face of the political reality that APGA has concluded to choose a flag bearer from the South, what then are the immediate and remote consequences of PDP eventually fielding a troubling candidate with overarching baggage of controversies? The answer is simple – the party would have inadvertently lost the election by default. PDP should put sentiments aside, take the difficult decisions vis-a-vis the realities on the ground, be expedient and strategic as it approaches the Anambra 2021.

Our dear state’s fate, which is in urgent need of escaping the clutches of the entrenched corruption and dysfunctional governance of the past seven years, depends on it.

Okafor writes from Awka, Anambra state

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