Despite Clamour for Power Shift, PDP Panel Wants Zoning Scrapped

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•Overriding party’s interest will determine our next step, says Secondus

By Chuks Okocha

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may discard zoning as a criterion for picking its presidential candidate for the 2023 election cycle, if the party hierarchy ratifies the recommendation of a committee it set up to investigate its loss in the 2019 general election.

The committee, set up by the PDP National Working Committee (NWC), and headed by Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, in its report submitted yesterday, recommended that the 2023 presidential ticket should be thrown open to all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, region and religion.

It, however, acknowledged the clamour for either the North-east or the South-east to produce the next presidential candidate of the party.

The campaign for the zoning of the presidency to the South-east reached a denouement last year when Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Dave Umahi, left the PDP, on whose platform he got to power, citing alleged marginalisation of Igbo in the party.

Umahi had moved to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) along with some of his cabinet members, members of the state House of Assembly, local government chairmen councillors as well as members of the state executive committee of the opposition party.

However, the PDP had dismissed Umahi’s allegation, saying the governor was being driven by his 2023 political ambition.

Besides the call on the PDP to dump zoning, which the party has made an article of faith since coming to power in 1999, the committee also called for an immediate restructuring of the country.

Presenting the report yesterday in Abuja, Mohammed said: “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.”

He, however, stated that while his committee admitted that this is a strong argument, the party should also not lose sight of the fact that Nigeria is endowed with many capable and experienced leaders in every part of the country.

He added that the exigencies of the moment demand that nothing should be compromised in choosing a leader with the attributes to reposition the country.

He said: “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.”

According to him, the endemic frictions in inter-governmental relations, especially between states and the federal government, indicated that the present constitutional arrangement is grossly inadequate to contend with the changing democratic and demographic challenges.

The governor said his committee also recommended that the PDP should push for either a review or an endorsement of the 2014 Constitutional Conference report or for a new constitutional conference to be organised.

“In short, the party should advocate genuine restructuring that fosters decentralisation, engenders national unity, guarantees the security of lives and properties of all Nigerians, no matter where they reside in the country, and which promotes economic prosperity and the overall well-being of all our people,” he said.

He said the main opposition party should encourage the current reforms by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enhance the commission’s independence and to be able to conduct elections devoid of the coercive apparatus of the state, underhand manipulations and outright intimidation of voters.

Mohammed stated that the military should be insulated from the conduct of elections as its presence breeds intimidation and questions the integrity of the process.

According to him, “It denies some of the candidates the level-playing field that is the singular barometer for ascertaining the wishes of the people. Similarly, the police should be made to be more impartial in the supervision of elections.

“Cognisant of the generational and gender shifts all over the globe and the emergence of a new generation of Nigerians who are not held down by religion, ethnicity or such other primordial considerations but who are determined to mainstream the country into global best practices, the party should set aside a certain percentage of elective and appointive offices, for the youth and women,” Mohammed said.

He said the #EndSARS movement last October was an indication that a new generation of young, bold, ambitious and detribalised Nigerians have taken centre-stage and “that their legitimate clamour for inclusion and good governance can only be ignored at the peril of the party and indeed Nigeria.”

He urged the party to commit to the promotion of internal democracy, discourage godfathers and ensure that the will of the people prevails in the choice of candidates to run for electoral positions.

“That, in our view, is the pedestal upon which electoral success can be seamlessly sustained.

“Our great party should continue to lead by example. Our past records, which ushered in an era of economic growth, were only possible because we had members in elected and appointed positions that performed very well. It goes without saying that those of us who are privileged to hold offices, at this point must see themselves as the image-makers of the party whose actions or inactions could determine the future success or otherwise of the party,” he said.

On why the PDP is still a force to reckon with even after losing power to the APC, the governor said: “We are talking about an era that gave Nigerians the opportunity to buy a litre of fuel at N97 (as against N165 today), a 50kg bag of rice at N9,000 (as against N23,000 today); when a one-way flight between Port Harcourt and Abuja never cost more than N30,000 (as against N65,000 today) and travellers could travel by road between Calabar and Maiduguri without their families losing sleep over their safety unlike the present nightmare scenario where kidnappers have turned every road trip into a journey to the unknown. We are talking about an era when the government said what it meant and meant what it said!”
Responding, the National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, said the party would study the report, analyse and adopt what would be beneficial to the party.

He said: “I have no doubt in my mind that your report will form the bedrock of our party’s plan ahead of the 2023 general election. The NWC is going to study and analyse your report meticulously and come up with a position that will be beneficial to the party.”

He added that the PDP will do all it can to reclaim the presidency and the control of the National Assembly, adding that the report will be the take-off point and keystone to its subsequent actions ahead of 2023.

He urged President Muhammadu Buhari and his APC administration to embark on immediate electoral reform to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the country and put Nigeria in parity with other developed democracies in the world.

“Having failed roundly in the delivery of any dividend to Nigerian people, and having brought the country to the status of a failed nation with an unprecedented collapse of all structures, APC knows as a fact that Nigerians would not want to do anything with them again.

“As a result, they are putting all studs on the way to conducting credible elections. But we need to warn that the only thing keeping this country alive today is the fact that APC will be history by 2023.

They are aware of this reality and they are trying to use their usual propaganda to create a different image of themselves, but Nigeria knows better and cannot be fooled again,” he said.

Secondus stated that based on the recommendations of Mohammed’s committee, the NWC will work with think-tanks, consultants and all critical stakeholders of the party to enhance the new PDP narratives that will help address the absence of leadership in the country.

“We will continue to build the party along the line of the recommendations with a view to cultivating a wide support base with utmost urgency towards 2023.

“Aside from the frightening security situation which we all know, just this Monday, the National Bureau of Statistics released fearful data on the unemployment situation in the country to be over 33 per cent. By the time you minus minors and aged in our population, you will discover that virtually all our youth population are unemployed,” the national chairman said.

The PDP chairman stated that by 2015 when PDP left office, inflation was at 4.31 per cent.
He added: “Why then should we be surprised that the nation is being overwhelmed with banditry when our useful population are ignored and abandoned?”

Secondus charged PDP members and all lovers of democracy to put their acts together ahead of the 2023 general election.

The presentation of the report was witnessed by many stakeholders of the party, including a former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki; former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Tom Ikimi; and a former Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido.