Barely two years to the next presidential election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s strongest opposition political party, is making hay while the sun shines. This once ruling political party in Nigeria, which boasted when it was overwhelmed by arrogance that it would rule the country for 60 years at a stretch, is already planning how to position itself to reclaim power at the centre in 2023. The PDP, which would have been out of power at the federal level for eight years by 2023, is feeling the pinch.
The PDP controlled the federal government for 16 unbroken years, from 1999 to 2015. At present, it has its members as governors of 14 states. Therefore, the PDP is still an alternative to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). With the way APC has managed governance since 2015, the PDP stands a chance in the next presidential election. Going by the power equation and configuration in the country, this may look impossible, but it is doable. The ability of the PDP to manage its affairs and politics, henceforth, would determine what happens.
Certainly, many things would come into play in the PDP in the politics of 2023. One of the things that would determine the fate of the political party is the decision on which geopolitical zone would produce the presidential candidate in 2023. Already, there is clamour that the unwritten but prevailing zoning arrangement of the political party, whereby power rotates between North and South, should be respected. Since the North produced the presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 election, the expectation is that the political party would give its ticket in 2023 to the South. The South East has been unequivocal in demanding that the position should be ceded to it, on the following premises: That it has supported the PDP through thick and thin and has actually paid the price, especially in the last six years, for doing so, and that it is the only zone in the South that has not produced the President of Nigeria in the current democratic dispensation. The South East, therefore, expects that when power rotates to the South in 2023, it should produce the presidential candidate.
When, therefore, the PDP constituted a panel to advise it on what to do to regain power at the centre in 2023, members of the political party and Nigerians in general took it seriously. The PDP panel has submitted its report, making far-reaching recommendations, which it said are in the best interest of the political party. One of the cardinal recommendations of the panel is for the PDP not to cede the presidency to the South in 2023. Put in a plain language, the panel wants the PDP to throw its presidential ticket open for all zones in the country.
Even though the position of the panel is just a recommendation, which would be considered by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP, a body that could adopt or reject it, this still has far-reaching implications. I do not think it is really wise for a panel of the PDP to make a recommendation on the presidential ticket of an election coming in the next two years at this point in time. This kind of exercise, coming now, could be counter-productive, knowing that feathers would be ruffled, confidence would be eroded and political shift could be made by those who feel that they have been alienated.
The PDP panel, in recommending all-comers’ bid for the presidential ticket, said it is in the best interest of the political party. However, the underlying meaning of what it did is still not lost. Already, the panel’s recommendation has been interpreted, and correctly too. The press did not fail to underline the meaning of what the PDP panel recommended, as seen in the headlines for reports on the panel in various newspapers. One of the newspapers screamed: “Despite clamour for power shift, PDP panel wants zoning scrapped.” Another newspaper said: “PDP rejects zoning.” Yet another newspaper declared, “2023 president: PDP panel dashes South’s zoning hope.”
The PDP panel may think that by humouring South East and North East with the recognition that the two zones have had least stint at the presidency, Nigerian would be deceived. By failing to say outright that power should rotate to the South, it is obvious that the PDP panel believes that a southerner cannot win the presidential election for the party in 2023. This is rather strange. At present, the PDP has southern Nigeria as its strongest political base. The political party controls 10 states in the South, with good support in three others (Imo, Ebonyi and Anambra). It also has the capacity to produce a governor in Anambra State, if it takes the right decisions in the coming governorship election scheduled for November 6. The PDP would, therefore, be wallowing in self-denial if it thinks that, with the support it has in the South, combined with the Sokoto, Bauchi, Taraba, Adamawa and Benue connection presently, it cannot cause an upset in the presidential election of 2023 with a southern presidential candidate.
By the recommendation of its panel, the PDP is unknowingly vindicating the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, who said one of the reasons for his defection from the PDP to the APC was because the opposition political party does not value what the South East has done for it. Even though one has some reservations about Umahi’s defection, the point he made is germane. If the South East stood with and for the PDP right from 1999 till date, not minding the political consequences of such action, especially at a time when the PDP is not in control of the federal government, the least it expects is recognition and encouragement. The South East is the only zone in the South that has not produced a presidential candidate of the PDP or an elected President of Nigeria since 1999. The South East is solid PDP. The South East has qualified and competent people who would make good President of Nigeria.
Some people would say that the South East is trying to whip up sentiment by reminding the nation that it has not produced a President of Nigeria since 1999. They may also say that sentiment has no place in politics. However, it must be stated that whoever picks the presidential ticket of any political party becomes the project of the party. A South East presidential candidate of the PDP is a project of the political party who should be supported by all. It is the push the PDP gives its presidential candidate, as a political party, that would determine how far such a candidate would go. Besides, there is nothing wrong with the PDP supporting the South East for the 2023 presidency. In 1999, all geopolitical zones, except South West, supported PDP’s presidential candidate, Olusegun Obasanjo. And he won the presidential election. Therefore, supporting a South East aspirant to pick the ticket would not be out of place.
Despite the PDP panel’s recommendation, which has prepared the ground for the emergence of a northern candidate in 2023, my candid advice to the South East is to bid for the presidential ticket in the PDP and APC. The zone should also have consensus aspirants for both political parties who have towering credentials. The South East should not shy away from this or fight shy. It has the wherewithal to try this political adventure.
PDP may just be shooting itself in the foot by dumping the zoning arrangement that has been practiced since 1999. I disagree that stopping power rotation between North and South is in the best interest of the PDP. It would spell doom for the political party. At a time when the APC is pushing hard in the South, to have a stronger foothold, the PDP would be taking great risk alienating the South. Already, APC has two governors in the South East and five in South West. The APC is strong in one-third of Abia State and could cause an upset in the state in 2023. If PDP pushes South East, for example, out of its support base, it would pay dearly for it.
The PDP could make the South a political force that would decide its fate in 2023. What it should do is to mobilise the zone and the entire South, to increase the voting strength and activeness. There is an opportunity during the voters registration exercise that would come before the next general election. PDP should also encourage registered voters to exercise their franchise in 2023. With strong voting strength and participation, the South would give PDP a big deal.