By Chinelo Obogo
Former Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has said despite the fact that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has zoned its national chairmanship to the North Central, it did not prevent any qualified aspirant from any zone from contesting the presidency in 2023.
Speaking on a national television programme monitored in Lagos, yesterday, the former Kwara State governor debunked speculations that the party would zone its presidency to the south since it zoned its national chairmanship to the north.
He said the leadership of the party had at different fora reiterated its commitment to throwing open the contest for the 2023 presidential ticket to all zones as long as it gets the best candidate from the process.
“On the issue of zoning, the party has made it very clear in all our meetings that even though we have zoned the position of party offices, it does not preclude anybody that has any presidential ambition. Most of our leaders have said that, and we have said that at our NEC, and all the possible meetings, that even though we have taken the chairmanship of the party to the North Central, it does not preclude anyone from contesting. What we are looking for is the best candidate that would win the election.”
Saraki said the party was undaunted by the defection of three of its governors (Ebonyi, Zamfara and Cross River), federal and state legislators, saying that such actions were expected. He, however, said the PDP will receive a former governor into its fold this week, and that Nigerians should not be surprise if bigwigs from the All Progressives Congress (APC) defect to the PDP when the 2023 elections draws closer.
“It is not true that we are haemorrhaging members because I had said it a couple of times that there were certain governors that we knew were going to leave. In fact, they had left, but we were just waiting for their final exit, so we were not surprised. We have got some big wigs that will be coming to our party this week, there is a former governor that would join us and you should know that when leaders in the ruling party want to defect, they don’t defect early. I think Nigerians should not be surprised when they begin to see some defections from the ruling party.
“In 2015, the number of states that APC has now is almost the same as what we had in the PDP, and the concern that people are defecting should not matter. More importantly, the country is in a different place now and Nigerians have seen what the ruling party has to offer. We all have differences in our party and we are resolving because this is the only alternative party for Nigerians that would provide leadership, that is why we in the PDP believe that the interest of Nigerians should supersede our individual interests. We have been able to resolve our differences across the states so that we can convince Nigerians that we are able to take over the leadership of the country,” he said.
When asked if he will contest for the presidency in 2023, he said it was too early for anyone to declare such ambition even as he debunked speculations that if he contested and lost, he would leave the PDP.
“Because some people defected from the PDP to APC does not mean that I would defect. You have to look at my antecedents in 2019 and you will see that the fact that I didn’t win elections didn’t make me defect, so I can’t see why that would come up. Where we are now is not about anyone’s personal ambition, it is about how we can work to make this country better. What is important for us is to build a strong party and that was why I took up the responsibility of leading the reconciliation committee because there was concern that the party was losing a lot of steam. We can’t talk about our ambition without a strong party and in due time I will answer the question of whether I will contest or not.”
On the court case brought against the PDP by its former national chairman, Uche Secondus, he said: “We have a court case involving him because he is still our chairman, but we are looking beyond that and looking at our congress. Do we look like a party that is resolving its issues and trying to move forward to its convention to elect new leaders? Today, we are not meeting to resolve state congresses because we have been able to move forward. We cannot afford to get it wrong in 2023 and PDP is in a better position to give credible leadership.”