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Peoples Democratic Party leadership conspiracy to undermine zoning is unfair, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

Speculations were rife earlier in the week that the Samuel Ortom-led 37-man committee, constituted by the Peoples Democratic Party to advise it on the part of the country that should be allotted its presidential ticket, had recommended that the top job should be thrown open. This understandably generated a lot of adverse reactions albeit from mostly southern politicians and socio-political pressure groups who contended that it would amount to an act of insensitivity for the national executive committee of the party to approve the recommendation.

“We condemn in its entirety the political suicide that has been committed by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) by its position on Zoning,” George Obiozor, professor of Political Science and president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo World Wide, was quoted to have said in a statement by Chiedozie Ogbonnia, its publicity secretary. Obiozor reportedly wondered why the party’s zoning and rotation policy would be terminated when it became the turn of the South to take the top job. Ohanaeze’s allies, including the Afenifere and the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum, had also expressed their displeasure, warning of the dire consequences for the PDP.

In apparent damage control, Ortom immediately issued a denial, saying his committee had not asked the party to throw the job open. “As the chairman of the committee, we did not say that,” he told ARISE NEWS Channel, stating, “It is very wrong for anyone to insinuate that we have thrown the presidential ticket open.” He explained, “Whatever we did, we have submitted our report to NEC. So it is wrong for the media to come out with a position despite the fact that they were not members of the committee.”

Given the propensity of politicians for double-speak and deceit, not a few Nigerians would dismiss Ortom’s denial as many of them are wont to say that there is usually no smoke without fire in the country’s murky politics. The media, they contend must have scooped the committee’s decision that now awaits the party’s NEC decision. In any case, the inclination of the current leadership under the watch of Iyorchia Ayu towards an open presidential contest became public knowledge earlier in the year when Abdullahi Ibrahim, the party’s deputy national publicity secretary, hinted during an official engagement on behalf of the chairman that it was committed to granting every Nigerian the opportunity to contest the presidential ticket.

It is not on record that Ayu ever clarified the position expressed by Ibrahim. In fact, at the inauguration of the Ortom committee, the party’s national chairman spoke eloquently about the imperative of nominating a candidate that would not only have the capacity to win the presidential contest but would also be able to provide the leadership that would be acceptable to the cross-section of the country. This, no doubt, was a euphemism for merit, an anti-zoning argument being pushed by a power bloc in the party.

However, whatever Ortom and his committee may have agreed upon cannot fail to take cognisance of the zoning and rotation policy as enshrined in Article 3 (c) of the party’s 2017 Constitution which says, “The party shall pursue these aims and objectives by adhering to the policy of rotation and zoning of the party and public elective offices in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness.”

What this clearly means is that the party has an obligation to zone the various elective public offices on offer during the 2023 general election. The task before the committee, therefore, was to help the NEC to determine the zone the presidency should be allotted. It should be NEC’s expectation that the criteria for the allotment would be stated so that on the basis of the stated principles it could make an informed decision that would aid the party’s quest to seize power next year.

Recommending an open contest would, therefore, not only be a shocking misunderstanding of the party’s constitution but also a waste of the time of the NEC that had looked forward to a guide that would simplify its decision-making on this very important issue.

Not only would such a recommendation and decision violate the constitution, but it would also undermine the moral authority of the party leadership. Since its formation in 1998, the PDP had always zoned and rotated its elective offices in every election circle with equity as the central principle. Its founding fathers in enshrining zoning and rotation in the constitution were clear in their purpose which was to promote inclusion and a sense of national belonging among the disparate ethnic groups in the country.

Inherent in this thinking was the understanding that democracy being a game of numbers, smaller groups were in danger of perpetual domination by larger groups. To prevent this and the consequential tension and possible strife, a mitigating policy that would protect and assure the weaker groups had to be put in place. Such a policy, though discriminatory, was nonetheless necessary in order not to endanger peaceful co-existence. Reserving key positions for disadvantaged groups, which zoning stands for, was, therefore, the founding fathers’ antidote to domination.

Suspending such a policy, particularly at this time that it is so glaring that a sub-zone which, without a doubt, needs to be assuaged in view of its evident marginalisation that has instigated intermittent uprisings among its youths, would be manifestly unfair and could have an intense backlash for the PDP.

Happily, the open presidency proposition remains speculation which in the coming days may be shown to be false even as the NEC of the PDP is strongly advised to remain faithful to the spirit and letter of its constitution on equal access to power.

Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from

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