PDP Weighs N’West, S’West Option as Opposition Mounts against Sheriff

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Ex-gov Shekarau may join race

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

Ahead of the May 21 national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the party’s stakeholders are considering zoning the national chairmanship seat to either the North West or the South West geo-political zones, THISDAY has learnt.

Before the latest move, the National Chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, appeared set to achieve his quest for the retention of his position at the convention. The former Borno governor’s bid to retain the position was buoyed by the support from some of the party’s governors, particularly Bayelsa Governor Serieke Dickson and his Ondo State counterpart, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, who is also the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum.

However, following an avalanche of opposition from party stakeholders who remained vehemently against the continuation of Sheriff in office beyond May, the party was forced to direct the zoning committee to reconsider its earlier proposal to zone the chairmanship seat to North East.

PDP had directed its committee on zoning of party national offices, headed by Akwa Ibom State Governor Emmanuel Udom, to work out an acceptable zoning arrangement.

The committee met last Monday night at Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja and the meeting was attended by most of the party’s governors, though the two northern PDP governors – Ibrahim Dakwambo (Gombe) and Darius Ishaku (Taraba) – were absent.

A sharing arrangement of party offices between the North and the South recently proposed by the Zoning committee had created misgivings within the party as various regional tendencies scramble for key positions. The zoning arrangement which was worked out at a meeting last Tuesday in Uyo gave the national chairmanship to the North, while national deputy chairman slot was zoned to the South. It also gave the national secretary slot to the North, while deputy national secretary position was given to the South.

“It has not be adopted and some people have already faulted it saying that the North cannot have both national chairmanship and secretary slots at the same time,” a source told THISDAY, adding, “the agitation against the arrangement was also heightened by other permutations.”

The zoning committee of the party has fixed another meeting for next week in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State in its attempt to resolve the crisis generated by the zoning arrangement it proposed.

The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, disclosed in a statement that said no date had been fixed for the meeting.

He said that the governors and National Assembly members were holding consultations to ensure that the committee arrives at a zoning arrangement that will be acceptable and beneficial to all the six geopolitical zones.

The move to zone the party chairmanship to the North West or South West, THISDAY gathered, was part of the strategy to keep Sherriff out of the race.

By this strategy, the anti Sheriff elements within the party believe that they would have succeeded in zoning the position out the reach of the former Borno State governor and give the party the opportunity to pick someone from President Muhammadu Buhari’s Northwest geopolitical who will try to whittle down the President’s support base ahead of 2019 general elections.

Sherriff who until recently enjoyed the backing of governors within the party was said have clinched the chairmanship position after the exit of acting national chairman, Chief Uche Secondus, because of his massive wealth and the belief that he would be able fund party activities from his personal resources. But the image crisis he suffers following the controversy surrounding his tenure as governor during which the deadly Boko Haram sect came to national consciousness and the growing opposition to his chairmanship by other key stakeholders in the party forced the governors to have a rethink about their support for his candidacy.

Ondo and Bayelsa governors are now among those leading the campaign against Sheriff’s bid to retain his position, said the party source.

“For now, many party stakeholders do not believe that Sheriff is the right person for the job and once we have these kind of forces uniting against the leadership, they will likely yield to reason. Governors of Ondo and Bayelsa States as well as most of the PDP members in the National Assembly are presently against Sheriff as an option,” the source said.

The source further said the reason most of the governors kept quiet on the matter for so long was because they did not want a situation where their opposition to Sherriff’s aspiration would threaten their grip on party structures in their respective states.

Sherriff is however not oblivious of this development as he has adjusted the timetable for the party congresses to hold very close to the national convention so as not to provide opportunity for the governors to move against him.

A highly reliable party source told THISDAY that among those being tipped to take up the chairmanship seat is the former governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau.

Shekarau, a former presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), is believed to possess the right kind of leadership qualities and political experience that could help PDP in future electoral contest.

The source noted that, “plans are on to get the North West to produce the chairman of the party, and Shekarau is being seriously considered because the governors see him as one of their own having served as governor of Kano state.

“He is also perceived as an orator compared to Sheriff who may not be able to electrify a campaign rally or market the party effectively when the time comes.”

Another option being considered by stakeholders, THISDAY gathered, is to zone the chairmanship slot to the South West, which has the second largest population among the zones but has yet to produce a national chairman for the party since its formation. The consideration of the South West for the chairmanship is also based on the argument by some stakeholders that since the presidential candidate would come from the North, the South West should have the chairmanship slot. The South West which played the role of game-changer in the last two presidential elections is considered a good option.