By OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
Emerging from its prolonged crisis, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recently scaled up its game plan for the 2019 presidential contest a notch higher insisting that the slot must go to the North. But caught in a dilemma as to how to strike a balance between the desire to strengthen its internal democracy and the overarching commitment to rotational arrangement, it also tactly threw it open to aspirants from other geo-political zones to contest the primary.
The leadership further resolved not to give automatic ticket to new members or old members who had defected to other parties to contest offices, unless if given a waiver in line with the party’s constitution for fair play. According to a former governor of Niger State, Babandiga Aliyu, the resolution was to avoid the pitfall of the past and to be able to square-up to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 presidential election.
His words: “Any party that wants to win election must first put its house in order. If you have a vehicle without an engine, you do not have a vehicle. The people are the engine of the party”.
“We want to avoid the same mistake we made in 2015 that led to our dismal outing at the polls.”
“If you left the party for one reason or the other and returned and have the ambition of contesting, you cannot just be given the ticket, no matter how influential such an aspirant is, except a waiver is given and you will also join the queue.
He added that though the party had zoned the Presidency to the North for the 2019 presidential election, it had not, however, zoned the vice presidential slot anywhere, explaining that it was not the responsibility of the party to pick a vice presidential candidate but that of the president. In line with zoning arrangement, he said the party had zoned the chairmanship of the party to the South West.
Aliyu also explained that even with the zoning, the caucus of the party had said that any member of the party was still free to contest any position.
There is a strong conviction among the hard line pro-North advocates that only a candidate from the region can square up to the APC. In their view, if former President Goodluck Jonathan had not sought re-election and the PDP fielded a young candidate from the north, Buhari wouldn’t have won the 2015 presidential election. “If Jonathan had been clever enough to say he would not run and had stuck with the PDP zoning formula by supporting a young northern candidate, I am most certain Buhari would have shelved his ambition to contest in 2015, knowing there was no way he would win,” Aliyu said.
With the resolution to zone the slot to the North, Sunday Sun gathered, efforts are now being made by the leadership to shop for a young candidate who has an electoral value with national appeal to fly the ticket of the party in 2019. “As you know, reconciliation process is still ongoing. At present, we are reaching out to some members of our party who defected to the APC in the run up to the last general elections. We want to see, if we can bring some of them back to our fold. As soon as we put our house in order, we will constitute a search team to look for a credible, young and dynamic candidate who will be our standard bearer. And, of course, in doing so, age is going to be a prime factor in whatever choice we are going to make, a source close to the party hierarchy told Sunday Sun.
Although zoning arrangement is contained in the PDP constitution from the inception of the present civilian dispensation, some party members, particularly from the South argue that the policy had outlived its usefulness, saying that precluding other sections of the country from aspiring to the presidency would aggravate the current feeling of marginalization and the attendant separatist agitations.
The policy of zoning elective positions to specific geo-political regions has been heavily criticized by some political analysts. By playing barriers on aspiring individuals on the basis of ethnicity or place of birth, not only that the policy is against the principle of fairness, it also limits the choices available to the people in an electoral process. “We are going to have a scenario where the two dominant parties will be fielding candidates from one geo-political zone of the country.” Feelers from members of the party: posited.
However, an aggrieved aspirant from the Southeast, who spoke with Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity, barring his mind on the development, maintained that the policy was no longer in tune with the current reality. He noted that the zoning arrangement, which the PDP has been harping on since 1999, was responsible for the rising wave of separatist agitations owing to the perceived feeling of marginalization by some particular sections of the country. He condemned the party leadership for being hypocritical by telling aspirants from other geo-political zones other than the North, who have presidential ambition to go ahead, knowing full well that open and fair contest had already been foreclosed. According to him, if the slot goes to the North, it will take not less than eight years for the Southeast to have a taste of power at the centre. “I don’t want to rock the boat now because we are just coming from the protracted crisis. But then, I don’t think there is fairness in a policy that precludes certain people who have legitimate rights from aspiring to the position of president simply because they are from a particular geo-political zone. For instance, if the slot eludes the Southeast again in 2019, it will take another eight years to be the turn of the region. For me, the greatest damage the rotational arrangement has done to this country is this perpetuation of mediocrity in governance. At best, the policy only serves the interest of a mediocre few, who cannot compete. Under the policy, it will be difficult to produce high quality leadership that Nigeria deserves to facilitate economic development.”
Sunday Sun learnt that the idea to zone the presidency to the North to woo and appease them may backfire. The design may end up alienating the electorate in the South especially the South-east and South-south who may “waste” their votes on a candidate from their area from another party, at a time there is no guarantee that its presidential candidate from the north may fare well against Buhari or another candidate.
If the APC takes northern votes or splits it with PDP and the latter fails to sweep the southern votes to edge APC out, then the game is lost. Another sore paint or dilemma in the party is in the constitution of the electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which they insist is skewed in favour of the incumbent president and may not guarantee fairness. The source said PDP should begin to sensitize the people now with a view for a fair composition of the electoral umpire instead of dissipating energy on zoning formulae.
But a former minister of transport and BOT member, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, speaking in a telephone interview with Sunday Sun, dismissed the argument as baseless and unfounded.
His words: “That is why the party said anybody who thinks he can contest can go and contest. But within the zoning policy of our party, the presidency has been zoned to the North. Our zoning policy does not cover entire Nigeria, it covers only a party. And if we are going to present a candidate, we are going to present a candidate for the whole country. So, anybody who thinks he can strike himself against the party can go ahead and do it. The bottom line is that we have zoned the presidency to the North and I am very sure that loyal party members will not strike their head against the position of the party. By the grace of God, we are working 100 percent to win for our party in 2019.”
He maintained that the Southwest would abide by the position of the party leadership which assigned the National Chairmanship position to the region. Throwing his weight behind the ambition of Bode George to contest the chairmanship ahead of the national convention scheduled for December 9, he said: “I want to say it categorically that by the grace of God, Olabode George will be contesting the national chairman of our party at the December 9 convention. Anybody who feels he is capable enough to contest can go and contest. With the zoning arrangement which we have been following since the inception of our party, Southwest will produce the next chairman of our party. The last president of our party came from the South-South. North will produce the next president.”
While many supporters of the party are still basking in the euphoria of the resolution of its protracted crisis, some political analysts say that the policy of zoning arrangement negates the doctrine of internal democracy. Senator Joseph Waku told Sunday Sun that APC would have crisis if the PDP could make a departure from the old era of impunity. “If the PDP could make good its words to discard the idea of impunity and strengthen internal democracy, APC will have crisis, unless the leadership stops the impunity of running the party like a one man show.”
The dilemma of the PDP now is to find a balance between the desire to sustain internal democracy and its commitment to zoning arrangement, which is already creating ripples within the supporters.