The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), last week, adopted its committee report that zoned the national chairmanship of the party to the North. ONYEKACHI EZE examines the intrigues that led to the adoption of the report
Chief Shuaib Oyedokun, former Deputy National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in a position paper on zoning of the party’s national offices, captured what was believed to be the position of the South-West. Oyedokun noted in the paper that “the national chairmanship position (of the PDP) had stayed long in the ‘North,’ and particularly dominated in the North Central.
The South-West had never been given the opportunity. In actual fact, it was an issue generally acknowledged that the national chairmanship was aspired for, by not less than 12 aspirants from South- West before the twist that took it to the South-South.”
The PDP zoning committee headed by Enugu State governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had recommended that “the current offices being held by officers in the Southern zones of the country, namely, South-West, South-East and South-South zones, should swap places with the offices currently in the northern zones of Nigeria, namely, North-West, North-East and North Central zones.” Presently, the South is occupying the offices of PDP National Chairman, Deputy National chairman (1), National Organising Secretary, National Treasurer, National Legal Adviser and National Youth Leader, while Deputy National Chairman (2), National Secretary, Deputy National Secretary, National Publicity Secretary, National Financial Secretary, National Auditor and National Woman Leader, are occupied by the North.
This means that with the recommendation of the Governor Ugwuanyi committee, which was adopted by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party at its 94th meeting last Thursday, the next national chairman will come from the North.
But Oyedokun requested that the chairmanship position should be reallocated to South-West geopolitical zone, and presented a graph to show that the zone has not occupied the position since the formation of PDP in 1998. From his analysis, the North Central produced five out of the 14 PDP national chairmen since inception, while North-East came second with three. The North-West, South-East and South-South, produced two each.
At the moment, the South-West is occupying the position in acting capacity. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and other politicians of northern extraction positioning themselves for the PDP presidential ticket in the 2023 presidential election, are equally not comfortable with the recommendation.
Atiku could not hide his feelings in his speech during the meeting. Though the zoning committee said its recommendation was limited only to national offices, not executive or legislative positions in 2024, Atiku was already discussing 2023 presidency, in his speech at NEC.The former vice president told NEC members that though the party “has the right to determine its rules on how the party should be governed (but) the people of Nigeria also have the right to determine who governs them.” He argued that “since the inception, this party has faced serious challenges and have risen above sentiments to solve those challenges and moved forward.
Where the president comes from, has never been the problem of Nigeria. There is no such thing as a president from southern Nigeria, or a president from northern Nigeria. There is only one president from Nigeria, for Nigeria, by Nigerians.”
PDP has maintained a tradition of zoning offices between the North and South, and swap same every four years. This was religiously adhered to until the party lost the 2015 presidential election. A post-election review committee headed by a former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, which reviewed why PDP lost the 2015 election, blamed it on the violation of the zoning principle. The committee recommended that the presidential candidate in the 2019 should come from the North. This automatically zoned the party chairmanship to the South.
The Ugwuanyi committee did not find its assignment easy. Its first meeting in Enugu was stalemated, as the members were divided between the “Move Around Group” and “Maintain the Status Quo Group.” This division was later resolved when the committee met again on September 30 in Abuja. Nigerians are yet to know the intrigues that played out at the committee’s meeting in Abuja.
The only guess was that PDP governors met, also in Abuja, a day before the meeting. Out of the three or so organs of the party, the governors’ forum seemed to be most powerful and influential. Not because they control most of the party delegates to every convention, the governors are regarded as “owners” of the party; owners in the sense that they finance party activities, even its day to day running.
That is why the decision of the governors’ forum is seen as final. Report had it that the governors voted nine to three in favour of a northern chairmanship. PDP at the moment has 13 governors after the defection of Ebonyi, Cross River and Zamfara governors, to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Three of the governors, who are from the North – Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Adamu Fintiri (Adamawa) and Darius Ishaku (Taraba) – reportedly voted for southern chairmanship, while the other PDP governors – Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), and Douye Diri (Bayelsa), voted for a northern chairmanship.
The only northern governor who voted against a southern chairmanship is Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom. Sokoto State governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, as Chairman PDP Governors Forum, did not vote. Although there have been fervent agitations for power to shift to the South in 2023, no southerner has so far shown interest in the PDP’s presidential ticket. Most of those whose campaign posters have surfaced are northerners. But with chairmanship of the party zoned to the North, the conclusion of most people is that the PDP has zoned its presidential ticket in 2023 to the South even though the zoning committee said its decision did not involve executive and legislative offices. Atiku in his speech at the NEC meeting called for fairness and justice, which he argued are in-built PDP.
“We should be able to use it, to embed it, to make sure … deliberations is in the best interest of our party, in the best interest of Nigeria, which will ultimately give us the victory that we asked for, to go back to the villa.” The former vice president stated that he rejected the PDP governors’ decision to draft him into the presidential race in 2003 against President Olusegun Obasanjo, as there was already a NEC resolution that power should remain in the South- West for eight years.
“How do you want me to go against the resolution of NEC? I turned it down, and we moved on,” he said. Atiku is one of those nursing presidential ambition in 2023. Probably, the fairness and justice Atiku was canvassing for was captured in the placards displayed by protesters who “invaded” the PDP national secretariat during NEC meeting.
The protesters who urged the NEC to reject the recommendation of the zoning committee, said north served only three years out of the 16 years of PDP presidency, as against south’s 13 years. But beyond the respect for zoning, the decision might have been taken to block Atiku, who was said to have abandoned the party after the 2019 general election. The former vice president, who was PDP candidate in the election, left for Dubai almost immediately after the election. He did not attend any of the sittings in the petition him and the party filed at the Presidential Election Tribunal and at the Supreme Court, challenging the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declaration of Muhammadu Buhari of APC, as president.
In the last two months, Atiku has not missed any PDP NEC meetings. He told members that his long absence was because he went to Cambridge University for further studies. “Many people have wondered where I have been since September last year and it became a matter of rumour among many people and all what not. I want to say that I was away, because I went back to school and I finished my lectures in May, where I read masters in International relations from Cambridge University.
“I want to use this opportunity to thank our former President Obasanjo for actually recommending me for that course to that university,” he had explained. The fear among party members was that he might muscle his way and pick the presidential ticket, like he did in 2019, if not checkmated. It was also rumoured that the plan is to pick the national chairman from the North-East to further seal his chances of vying for the PDP presidential ticket.