PDP Permutations and the South-west Gamble



Bolaji Adebiyi

After more than two years of bickering, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), will on Saturday make another move to reunite and rebuild its broken structures by holding its National Convention in Abuja.

A total of 2,800 delegates from its 36 states branches and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will elect fresh officials into the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) that will lead the party to the impending 2019 general election.

However, not a few party chieftains have expressed fears that the processes leading to the Convention regretfully show that its leadership, like the Leopard, may have refused to shed its skin. The pre-crisis allegations of impunity, arising from whimsical breaches of the party’s constitution, rules and guidelines, according to many aspirants, marred the ward and state congresses that produced the convention’s delegates nation-wide.

Discontented aspirants have fingered the scheming for 2019 general election as the source of the alleged manipulations, accusing the interim chairman and some of the party’s governors of plotting to impose a new chairman that would serve their personal political interests at the impending presidential contest.

The discontent, which started as a whimper had become so deafening by last weekend that a founding leader of the party, former military president Ibrahim Babangida, had to caution that the PDP risked receding into crisis if its current helmsmen failed to play by the rules. His warning is significant, not only because it showed how deep-seated the dissatisfaction in the party is, but also served as a reminder of how disregard for age-long principles enshrined in the PDP constitution led to its fall in 2015.

One of such principles is zoning and rotation as established in Article 7 (3) (c ) of its Constitution as amended (2012), which provides that: “The Party shall pursue these objectives by… adhering to the policy of the rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness…”

The provision is in aid of an objective in Article 7 (2) (b), which states that the party shall: “Promote federalism and an equitable revenue sharing formula…”

In fulfilment of these dictates of the constitution, the founding fathers of the party established a convention by which party and public offices are zoned and rotated among the six geo-political zones of the country in such a way that there is a balance of power that gives every section of the country a sense of belonging. And usually, once the Presidency is zoned to the North, the National Chairman of the party is zoned to the South. The two main regions are thereafter left to micro zone the positions among the sub-regions. And in subsequent election circle, the positions are rotated. This was the situation until 2010 when the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua disrupted the arrangement.

Upon Yar’Adua’s death, his deputy, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, become president to serve out his boss’ tenure, resulting in a situation in which both the president and the national chairman came from the South. With Jonathan opting to serve a fresh term in 2011, the principle of rotation was violated as by the party’s policy, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner having served eight years as president, the North, but for the death of Yar’Adua, was to also serve eight years. The least that was expected was that Jonathan would serve out his boss’ tenure and yield the post to another northerner.

Although northern party faithful were prevailed upon to allow Jonathan run in 2011 in the hope that the position would revert to the North in 2015 even as the zoning policy as related to the chairman restored in 2012 with Alhaji Bamanga Tukur becoming national chairman, Jonathan’s decision to run for a second term caused bad blood in the party.

Meanwhile, more trouble was to come for the party when in the House of Representatives, a northerner, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, in violation of the zoning policy, became the Speaker, a position allotted to the Southwest. That disruption left the Southwest out of the power loop as it had no significant position either in the party or government for four years.

Virtually all the party leaders, including the current interim chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, have traced the loss of the PDP in the 2015 presidential election to the violation of the zoning and rotation principle as both the North and the South-west felt politically marginalised in the power equation. Not only did the North vote solidly for the All Progressives Congress (APC) that fielded a northerner, Buhari, it also got a massive helping hand from the South-west where five of its six states switched allegiance.

Incidentally, the winning strategy of the APC in 2015 was a complete reversal of the PDP’s in 2011. Whereas the PDP locked down the entire South and scrambled for votes in the North in 2011 to clinch the presidency with a majority vote of over 10 million, the APC locked down the North and raked in votes in five of the six South-west states that were previously PDP stronghold leaving it with a vote advantage of just over two million.

Given the foregoing, many PDP leaders are concerned that the party’s opportunity to restore the zoning and rotation policy is now being frittered away with the refusal of the current power holders to allow micro-zoning that would cede the position of national chairman to the South-west as had earlier been agreed before the 2015 presidential election.

The fear is that the current permutation, which is scheming to give the national chairman to the South-south, at the expense of the South-west, would leave the party vulnerable in the region and make it susceptible to the continued influence of the ruling APC, with a likely outcome similar to 2015 in which not only did the APC close its 2.5 million votes gap of 2011 but also got 581,777 advantage.

Besides, the emerging new arrangement, which is scheming the vice presidency for the South-west, may threaten the PDP’s dominance in the South-east as the preference (for the VP ticket) of the leading politicians from that zone may be upset. Adding the South-east to the growing enclave of the discontented will no doubt further deem the chances of any possible rebound for the PDP in 2019.

In all the cold calculations, what is ignored is that the cost of ignoring the South-west goes beyond the votes the PDP may lose. It is a strategic zone that made all the difference between victory and defeat for the party at the 2015 general election and may yet do so again in 2019.
It must be recalled that the PDP slipped into crisis moments after it lost the 2015 presidential election. A web of political intrigues and legal battles polarised the party into two with a former APC chieftain, Senator Ali Sheriff, leading one faction, and Senator Ahmed Makarfi, heading another. Yet, without an organised political platform to mobilise the people to apply pressure for the implementation of viable alternative policy options, democracy risks a slide into authoritarianism.

The Supreme Court redressed the situation when, in July, it firmly separated the fight among the warring PDP factions and declared the Makarfi-led group as the valid leadership of the party. The Supreme Court’s ruling provided the opportunity for the PDP to rebuild its broken structure and emerge stronger from the debilitating crisis, which almost killed and buried it.

However, should the party make a wrong move at its National Convention on Saturday just to satisfy the ego of some governors, then the PDP can forget making any serious impact at the 2019 general election.