LEON USIGBE, in this piece, examines the remark by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to the recent meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) expressing his opposition to zoning.
Atiku Abubakar may have commenced a journey on a familiar route. At the last meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he raised a flag. It was not white. It was red. Observers say he meant to send a subtle threat to the party hierarchy who were poised to endorse the zoning of the national chairmanship position to the north.
The implication of NEC’s endorsement of the zoning is that the south will likely produce the presidential candidate of the party for the 2023 election. This will be in sync with the time-tested practice of the party, which distributes major political positions equitably to the different geo-political zones. It makes mandatory, sort of, for the region that produces the chairman not to also have the president. This is the dilemma for the former vice president.
Atiku, the 2019 presidential candidate of the PDP, has not officially declared intention to seek the 2023 ticket. But from his body language and the actions of his associates and supporters, he is well underway to asking for it. With 2023 political activities ramping up, he has become a constant variable in party affairs after a sustained absence from the scene. He said he was absent because he had to concentrate on obtaining a higher university degree.
The chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid JIbrin, made sure every member of NEC became aware of Atiku’s recent regularity in meetings by announcing that the former vice president had not missed any of the BoT recent sessions. But observers believe that his participation, coming at a time a section of the party had accused him of abandoning it and only re-identifying with the PDP because elections inched closer, was a way to reap where he did not sow just as his internal PDP critics had feared.
His demeanour suggested that his was not perturbed by such criticisms. He had, indeed, appeared focused on giving the plumb job one more push. Therefore, cynics were hardly caught unawares when he openly kicked against the offices zoning that was about the ratified by NEC. In his obligatory address to the NEC, the former Vice President posited: “The People’s Democratic Party has the right to determine its rules on how the party should be governed. The people of Nigeria also have the right to determine who governs them. 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. Talking about inclusions, I would like to see a new national working committee of our party, our great party that has sizable numbers of our youth and woman. The decision of NEC today will either see PDP into the villa in 2023 or not. Since the inception, this party has faced serious challenges and have risen above sentiments to solve those challenges and moved forward.”
The NEC had as its main objective for the day, the consideration of the Governor Ifeanyi Uguanyi-led Zoning Committee report. But its decision on the zoning of the National Working Committee (NWC) posts was already public knowledge just as its argument that it had no mandate to zone the offices of the president, vice president and the legislature.
Working in line with its mandate, the committee declared that “the current offices being held by officers in the southern zones of the country, namely, Southwest, Southeast and South-south zones, should swap places with the offices currently in the northern zones of Nigeria, namely, Northwest, Northeast and North central zones.” In arriving at its recommendation, the committee reminded the NEC that it did not act in isolation but that “the decision of the PDP Zoning Committee is in line with the Constitution of the Party on Zoning and rotation of Party and national offices in the interest of justice, equity and fairness.”
The ratification of the recommendation makes a fait accompli that a northerner will succeed Prince Uche Secondus, a southerner, as the national chairman of the main opposition party in the planned national convention. If that happens as it is now expected, political watchers are of the view that the way to a southern presidential candidate for the PDP in 2023 is virtually assured. This is apparently what does not bode well for Atiku, who despite failing to lead the PDP to victory in 2019, sees himself as still best placed to lead the party’s restoration to power.
His remark at the NEC, was therefore, to alert the party hierarchy to the dangers ahead should the PDP zone the 2023 presidential to the south and exclude him from the race as a northerner. The former vice president believes that rather than toe the zoning path, the PDP should revert to consensus building, the type, he observed, that threw up General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
While referencing the case of MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election who, according to him, was killed, Atiku recalled that the incident led to a consensus between north and south to present only southern presidential candidates for the 1999 election no matter the political party.
He told the party leaders that he also declined to run against President Obasanjo in the 2003 election despite pressure from state governors because he reasoned that the consensus, which called for two tenures of eight, must be respected.
The PDP has left the decision on presidency zoning for another day. The party may yet throw the presidential ticket open and give the likes of Atiku an opportunity to vie. That is a risk political commentators think may be too much for a party seeking to bounce back from its ignoble fall in 2015, especially as it seems that the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), which it is looking to upstage, may select its candidate from the south after the eight years of President Muhammadu Bhari, a northerner.
However, if the main opposition party is resolved to stick to its constitutionally ingrained zoning formula, Atiku may have already served notice that he will have none of it. What this implies, according to observers, is that he may be prepared to dump the party as he did in 2014 for a new coalition.