As predicted by many and against the mood of the nation, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), may have finally settled for its chairmanship to come from the South, paving way for a northern presidential candidate and dashing hope of those asking that the party fields a southerner to fly its presidential ticket.
Thursday night, at a long-winding meeting of its zoning committee, headed by the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the committee could not summon the courage to go with the mood of the nation. Instead, the party resolved to retain its chairmanship in the South of the country, ahead of its national convention slated for October 30 and 31, after majority’s opinions supported the decision. What transpired in the committee meeting and ultimately, its outcome is seen as mission accomplished for norther members with presidential ambition.
Although no official would speak on record about what transpired at the meeting, several, however, spoke on the condition of anonymity and confirmed the development.
Mindful of the sensitivity of the matter, the party leadership has also decided to delay the announcement of the outcome, using the period between now and next Thursday to calm frayed nerves and to also use the next few days to consult further as well as sell the majority opinion reached at yesterday’s meeting to other members, who wanted the chairmanship to go to north.
THISDAY gathered that the PDP was able to swing the idea, because a majority of those, who made up the committee were sympathetic to the aspirations of the northern presidential hopefuls, thus making the decision a lot easier for those in support of retaining the chairmanship in the south.
A stakeholder, who pleaded anonymity and was opposed to the road being travelled by the PDP leadership, claimed that the eventual decision of the committee was not surprising, because they had simply worked to the answer, including through the composition of the zoning committee.
His words: “The outcome was not surprising, given that key members of the committee are either northern presidential candidates or are supporters of northern presidential candidates. They include the secretary and Aliyu Mohammed, who is a Saraki supporter; Muazu Aliyu Babangida, who supports Atiku openly; Ayodele Fayose, whose interest is not clear, but some believe he is eyeing the chairmanship; Sule Lamido, who is a candidate; Boni Haruna,who supports Atiku, Attahiru Bafarawa, and Baraje who support Saraki.
“These members were nominated to please the said candidates, so, the outcome was supposed to be expected. Any talk that they are not zoning presidency to the region is a fallacy, because once you zone the chairmanship to the south, the presidency automatically goes to the north. That is the tradition. There is no way the chairman and the presidential candidates can come from same place.”
The meeting had earlier run into a dilemma as there was an open division amongst members of the committee over the zoning of the office of the national chairman of the party, leading to the emergence of two different groups with different positions.
Not surprisingly, however, while a group largely made up of northern members of the party preferred the south to produce the national chairman, some of their southern counterparts wanted a northerner to emerge the national chairman.
Ugwuanyi, after the meeting had clarified that his committee had no mandate to zone political offices such as the president or the vice President but strictly party offices.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the PDP National Convention Organising Committee (NCOC) and Governor of Adamawa State, Ahmadu Fintiri, yesterday, hinted that over six thousand delegates were expected to elect new members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party at their October national convention.
THISDAY is reliably informed that at its meeting yesterday, attended by 25 northern members and 23 southerners, it was four regions against two, as all the northerners, THISDAY gathered, spoke in support of the chairmanship to be zoned to the South as well as maintain the status quo in terms of zoning of other NWC offices.
They were joined by seven South West members thereby reducing the votes of the southerners, who wanted the chairman to come from the North to 16 against the 32 that wanted the Status Quo to be maintained.
The South West leaders, who aligned with their northern members, because their zone was strongly bidding for the chairmanship, included a former deputy governor of Oyo State, Hon. Taofeek Arapaja; a former Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory, Chief (Mrs.) Jumoke Akinjide; former governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose; a former Lagos PDP chairman, Hon. Deji Doherty; Senator Hosea Agboola, Senator Duro Faseyi and Hon. Rita Orji (from Lagos).
It was also decided that the party should suspend discussion on the issue of zoning of the presidential ticket as that was a bridge to be crossed when the time comes.
THISDAY gathered the chairman of the committee, Ugwuanyi, had allowed everybody two minutes each to speak and the majority spoke strongly in favour of retaining the status quo, a development said to be clear to all that a decision had been taken as far as the chairmanship of the party was concerned.
Interestingly, the announcement of the decision of the Committee after the voting exercise was allegedly delayed deliberately till another meeting scheduled for Thursday September 30, 2021 in Abuja, for strategic reasons, including subduing likely tension as a result of the outcome and to secure the buy-in of others, who were unhappy.
The party leadership, THISDAY learnt, had decided to appeal to all members not to rock the boat as the decision over where to push the chairmanship was openly and transparently debated.
That, nonetheless, the adjournment, other sources claimed, was to allow for more consultations.
The meeting was attended by 47 out of the 48 members. The Southerners in attendance were 22 and the northerners were 25 members. While all the 25 northern members agreed that the national chairman should come from the south, their southern colleagues insisted that the national chairman must come from the north.
A former Senate President and erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, led the group that wanted the office of the national chairman zoned to the north.
Another source claimed it was agreed that whatever position there was before the meeting between the north and south should be retained but that the zones should decide what position would go where.
“The office of the national chairman remains in the south, particularly, to the South West but remains subject to ratification, when we meet next Thursday September 30,” a source said.
The two groups have emerged from within and outside the 48, originally 44 members, before four other members were added, bringing the committee membership to 48.
The first group, identified as the ‘Maintain the Status Quo Group’ wanted all the party offices to be retained in the geographical side to which they presently were. The second group called the ‘Move Around Group’ wanted all the posts presently in the South to be transferred to the North while the ones in the North should move southward.
By the calculation of the ‘Maintain the Status Quo’ group, the chairmanship of the party would be retained in the South while the National Secretary would move to the North. But the ‘Move Around Group’ wanted the next chairman of PDP to emerge from the North while the South produced the Secretary.
Also, while the ‘Move Around Group’ believed that zoning the chairmanship to the North would make the presidential ticket to be automatically zoned to the South, they insisted that the issue at hand was party position and whenever the party got to the point, where it had to nominate the presidential standard bearer, the matter would be resolved.
The ‘Maintain the Status Quo’ group held the opinion that the zoning committee should adopt the position of the Bala Mohammed Committee, which reviewed the performance of the party in the 2019 general election and declared that the presidential ticket of the party would be thrown open for aspirants from all the six zones.
Anyim, who led the Move Around Group, had the support of some elements in the South-south and Southeast zones. The ‘Maintain the Staus Quo Group, led by the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, had the buy-in of key leaders of the party across the Southwest, and the three zones in the North, making it four zones against the two of South-south and Southeast.
Also, a PDP governor from the North was said be supporting the former group, because he did not want a certain section of the North to produce the next President. But the Status Quo group enjoyed the support of another key governor from the South.
The ‘Maintain the Status Quo’ group has been anchoring its position on the fact that if the party did mass transposition from North to South and Vice versa in the zoning, then, it would defeat the argument that some members of the current NWC led by Uche Secondus were being removed from office, because of their performance in office. It was believed that a mass transposition system would make it obvious that the Secondus NWC was just a victim of politics.
“If not for the issue of performance, which some leaders raised against the continuation of Secondus and his team, the members of the current NWC would have been eligible to seek second term. We are prevailing on them not to seek second term, because we believe they did not do well and that there is need for change of strategy, approach, injection of new hands and some energy, vigour and wisdom into the party. So, to make mass switch across geo-political divide will defeat the argument,” the source said.
Another source, which condemned the ‘Move Around Group’ argued that, “This group consists of people, who want the presidential ticket zoned to their backyard. They are afraid of going across the country to canvass for votes and seek support that will give them a popular party mandate.”
Ugwuanyi, while addressing newsmen after the closed-door meeting held at the Government House, Enugu, reiterated that, “We had a fruitful meeting and we adjourned to conclude next week,” but earlier, he cleared the air that the committee had no mandate to zone political offices.
His words: “Our Committee is strictly limited to the PDP National Executive Offices to be contested at the 2021 PDP National Convention scheduled for the end of October, 2021. We have no mandate to zone political offices such as President or Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
The Enugu governor maintained that the PDP remained the most credible platform to deliver good and accountable governance to Nigeria, adding that the work of the committee would contribute immensely “in this deliberate search for National Officers of our Party that will help PDP achieve the lofty ideals and goals of our founding fathers.”
He encouraged members of the committee to be frank, open and constructive in their proposals and debates, as well as exhibit consistency with the weight of their mandate.
“The membership and leadership of this committee have been carefully selected as it is composed of very experienced, competent and eminent Nigerians, who are desirous of repositioning the PDP to play its role not just as the main opposition political party in Nigeria but to build a party that offers alternative policy proposals and hope to Nigerians that there is still light at the end of the tunnel,” Ugwuanyi said.
Members of the committee present at the meeting included the Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, who is the Deputy Chairman; the Deputy Governor of Zamfara State, Mahdi Aliyu Mohammed, who serves as Secretary; former Presidents of the Senate, Senator Iyorchia Ayu and Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, and former Governors of Niger, Ekiti, Sokoto, Jigawa and Adamawa States, Dr. Muazu Aliyu Babangida, Ayodele Fayose, Attahiru Bafarawa, Sule Lamido, and Boni Haruna, respectively.
Also at the meeting were Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, Hon. Sunday K. E Okoye, Chief Dan Orbih, Chief Ali Odefa, Mrs. Dr. Kema Chikwe, Chief Osita Chidoka, Chidi Lloyd, Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw, Senator Emmanuel Nwaka, andDonatus Udeh, among others.
In a related development, Fintiri, while announcing that over six thousand delegates were expected at the national convention, said all new members of the national conversations must first be elected as delegates to enable them contest as party officials in the working committee.
Though there were provisions for statutory delegates as provided for in the PDP constitution, the party also inaugurated a sub-committee on the review of the PDP constitution.
Fintiri, who spoke after the Bayelsa State Governor, Senator Douye Diri, inaugurated the 15 various sub-committees of the convention, said the party was ready for the national confab.
According to Fintiri, “As you can see, we are here with all the 15 sub-committee members. The chairman, the vice chairman and the secretaries are here. I’ve given them directions. I’ve given them a template as to what is expected of them and they will go back and adequately prepare and submit the report back to me in the next five days, after which the main committee will sit and approve.”
Specifically, on the number of delegates expected, Fintiri said, “We are expecting over 6000 delegates by our new constitution and we’re fully prepared for that. We’re expecting everybody in every ward that is a delegate to attend the convention.”
Speaking also on how far the party has gone in resolving the leadership crisis, the chairman of the convention committee explained that, “We are moving on, I’m the chairman of the convention committee, you can see we are doing our work, and everybody is happy, everybody is participating. I don’t seem to see any crisis in this party except the one that is coming from the journalist.”
The convention had earlier inaugurated 15 various committees for the success of the convention, and amongst those named was a former Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase as Chairman of Security committee; his deputy is a former Chief of Army Staff, Ishaya Bamayi.
The governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, was named chairman of the special committee.
Other committee chairmen were Udom Emmanuel, Constitutional Amendment Committee; Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Zoning Committee; Mohammed Bello Adoke, Screening Committee; Ike Ekweremadu, Screening Appeal Committee; and Ifeanyi Okowa, Accreditation Committee
Other are Ahmadu Fintiri, Electoral (statutory) Committee; Godwin Obaseki, Publicity Committee; Bala Mohammed, Venue Committee; Mariya Waziri, Welfare & Entertainment Committee; Ibrahim Dankwambo, Transportation Committee; Darius Ishaku, Contact and Mobilisation Committee; Biodun Olujimi, Protocol Committee; Nuhu Zagbayi, Medical Committee; and Umaru Ibrahim Tsauri, Secretariat Committee
They were all expected to submit their report in five days time to the main convention committee.
Chuks Okocha in Abuja