2019: Struggle for PDP presidential ticket takes zonal dimension

Bukola Saraki

Apart from having crowded presidential race ahead of 2019 polls, unlike in 2015, one issue that is troubling the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) The Guardian learnt is how to manage the regional dimension the struggle for the presidential ticket has taken.

It would be recalled that immediately after 2015 elections, which the PDP lost power for the first time since the return of democracy, to the All Progressives Congress (APC), PDP leadership set up a committee headed by the deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremmadu to look into the party’s zoning principle that was altered in 2010 following the sudden demise of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in office.

It was in the light of this that Ekweremadu’s committee zoned the presidency to the North without being specific on the zone in the North. North is made of three geopolitical zones-Northcentral, Northeast and Northwest. Among the three zones, the Northeast produced Vice President on the party platform for eight years between 1999-2007, the Northwest produced president between 2007-2010.

It is only the Northcentral that has not produced President or Vice President on the PDP platform since 1999, even though the zone produced the longest serving Senate President in the person of David Mark.

It would be recalled that upon Yar’Adua’s death in 2010, the PDP Northern political leaders comprised of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Dr. Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Aliyu Gusua, Adamu Ciroma, and others came together and commenced meetings with Southeast PDP leaders that included Senator Uche Chukwumerije, Senator Ken Nnamani, Prof. ABC Nwosu, Simon Okeke, and others ahead of 2011 elections.

They made it clear to Southeast PDP leaders and other party members that President Goodluck Jonathan should not contest election in 2011 in order not to alter PDP zoning principle that would favour Southeast and Northcentral zones in 2015.

The Northern leaders insisted that zoning principle must be upheld in 2011, by allowing the North to produce a President of Northern extraction to complete Yar’Adua’s remaining for first term, contest for second term in 2015 to make up for the North’s eight years.

While majority of Southeast PDP leaders pulled out of the arrangement to align with President Jonathan, few stayed back, while the Northern leaders continued with the push for zoning in 2011. It was due to this development that Atiku emerged the North’s consensus candidate in 2011 from a committee headed by Adamu Ciroma, where he defeated Saraki, Ibrahim Babangida, Aliyu Gusua and others. Saraki, Babangida and others did not only congratulate Atiku, they collapsed their structures into his own and worked with him. Despite all these, President Jonathan defeated Atiku in the primary, with the support of majority of PDP governors, who were also seeking second term in office.

Before Saraki’s defection to PDP and his subsequent declaration of presidential ambition, many had thought that the battle for PDP presidential ticket would be a Northeast/ Northwest affair. Since Saraki’s entry into the race alongside his fellow Northcentral duo of David Mark and Senator Jonah Jang, the political calculation appeared to have changed, giving the party leadership tough times on how to handle the primary to avoid backlash and acrimony.

The Guardian learnt that it was in line with this development that PDP Board of Trustees members tried to set up a committee to pick a consensus candidate, but the move was opposed by the state governors, who insisted for a free and fair primary, where every aspirant will test his popularity.

Some party members and observers have expressed worry with the governors’ position, knowing that whosoever the governors support will win the party ticket as usual.

Besides, it was also observed that aspirants from the Northcentral zone, apart from insisting that giving any of them the ticket will be in the interest of fairness and equity, are also banking on the support of majority of PDP governors who are from the Southsouth and Southeast zones to win the ticket.

A move the PDP governors are weighing its consequences, considering that apart from two Christian-dominated states of Benue and Plateau that are under APC government, other states in the Northcentral zone are predominantly Muslims and controlled by APC. Besides, among the three geopolitical zones in the North, the Northcentral has the least number of voters.

Speaking during his recent consultative visit to Benue State, Senate President Bukola Saraki said that his presidential aspiration is driven by an obsession for justice, fairness and respect for the rule of law.

“I want to be President so that I can ensure justice and fairness for everyone. I want a country where the rule of law will be respected by all,” Saraki said in Makurdi, where he met with Benue State Working Committee of the PDP.

Saraki said it was the turn of the Northcentral geopolitical zone to produce the nation’s president, declaring that he was ready to provide quality leadership.

“As a zone, we have paid our dues. It is the turn of our zone to lead Nigeria to stability. We have gone through bad times. The nation has become crises-ridden; the killings are uncalled for and the Benue valley is the worst hit. There should be justice to every citizen, regardless of geographical location.
Democracy entails freedom or rights of the people. Our rights should not be imprisoned,” he said.

Saraki’s position was not different from that issued by his campaign organisation upon his declaration to run for the presidency. According to a statement issued in Abuja by director-general, Abubakar Bukola Saraki Campaign Organisation, Wakil Mohammed after their meeting, it said: “The PDP leaders from the region also emphasised that it was the turn of the Northcentral region to produce the president of Nigeria, while also mandating the leaders to engage their counterparts in other geopolitical zones, with a view to convincing them to support the Northcentral.

“Our zone has been the stabilising factor in Nigeria for many years, and it is clear that we need to continue to fight for the soul of our nation. The 2019 polls is not just an election, it is about winning the soul of Nigeria. Right now, to me and – I’m sure – to all the other contestants under the umbrella of our great party, nothing is more important than for us to rescue our people from the clutches of poverty, insecurity and ensure that we bring development to all Nigerian.”

Saraki’s stand is not different from his counterpart from Plateau, Senator Jonah Jang who said repeatedly that it is turn of the Northcentral to produce President in 2019.

Jang, while submitting his letter of interest at the state secretariat of the party in Jos, said that the ticket should be zoned to the Northcentral geopolitical zone “in the interest of equity and fairness”.

He argued that the zone had been the belt that tied Nigerians together over time, declaring that he was “the face of that middle belt in the presidential contest”.

Jang regretted that the zone is yet to produce an elected president, saying that his election would end that injustice.

But to David Mark, The issue is that the party has zoned the presidential ticket to the North. Whether you are from Northeast, Northwest or Northcentral, we are all northerners. And I think that is what qualifies me in the first place.”

From the Northwest zone, former Kano Governor and one of the presidential aspirants, Rabiu Kwankwaso has been in the forefront of the campaign for PDP to give its ticket to the Northwest because the region boasts of the highest number of voters in the country.

Speaking shortly after picking his presidential forms, Kwankwaso said: “If you come from Kano, it is the most populous state going by the last census in this country and politics is a game of number. Secondly, Northwest is also the most populous zone. If you look at the figures as they stand now, Northwest is roughly Northeast plus Northcentral. And therefore, Northwest has more population when you compare it with any other zone in this country.

But the outgoing governor of Gombe State and PDP presidential aspirant, Ibrahim Dankwabo is of the opinion that if any form of micro zoning has to be done, the Northeast deserves to be considered first.

The director, Media and Strategic Communications of his campaign organisation, Dr Ayoade Adewopo, said: “We believe every Nigerian with credible fit and proper credentials deserves the right to contest the highest office in the country.

[File] Atiku Abubakar

“However, if such condition as micro zoning should be considered for the purpose of fairness, equitable distribution of power and to forge a formidable front in the 2019 Presidential election, the Northeast zone deserves priority in that regard, not the Northwest, which has produced five out of the nine northern Heads of States of the country till date, while the North East has only produced one over 50 years ago. The Northeast is the most marginalised zone in Northern Nigeria.

“It is on record that the only leader ever produced from the North East zone was Late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the selfless and dedicated Prime Minister that served the nation from 1960 to 1966 with all he had, including his dear life.

“The Northeast zone and the country, by extension is about to recover the loss 52 years after Sir Tafawa Balawa’s demise as another true son of the zone, Dr Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, the Executive Governor of Gombe State has been trumped up for election as President of Nigeria on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).”

The 13 PDP presidential aspirants are spread across the three geopolitical zones in the North-Northwest, Northeast and Northcentral. The Northwest zone has former governor of Kaduna State, Senator Ahmed Makarfi; Senator Datti Baba-Ahmed; Sokoto State governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, former minister of special duties and intergovernmental affairs, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki; former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido and former Kano State governor, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso.

The Northeast has former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the Gombe State governor Ibrahim Dankambo, while the North Central has Senate President Bukola Saraki; his immediate predecessor, David Mark and immediate past governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang.

Speaking to The Guardian on the issue, former governor of Enugu and ex-national chairman of PDP, Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo said PDP will not be swayed by any regional agitation for the party’s presidential ticket.

“Aspirants should be allowed to test their popularity in the contest, but if consensus arrangement will be applied, then Northeast appears to have an edge over any other zone in the North. The Northcentral had a fair share of the Presidency in the era of military. The fact is there for everyone to see.”

Observers are of the opinion that the success or failure of the PDP in 2019 elections is largely dependent on how it manages its presidential primary and its fallout.

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