By Dirisu Yakubu
As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) inches closer to its December 9 national elective convention; one issue that has been bothering the mind of party stakeholders, particularly those seeking elective offices at the convention is micro-zoning.
The PDP once famed for its omnivorous presence at all tiers of government across almost all States of the federation for about 16 years suddenly witnessed a reversal of fortunes following its defeat by the hurriedly-put-together All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 general elections. As if the defeat was not enough, the party for more than a year was engulfed in a leadership tussle that posed an existential threat until the Supreme Court judgment on July 12, 2017.
For party chieftains, members and supporters across the land, the only way to reposition the party as the major opposition platform ahead of 2019 was to avoid a repeat of the mistakes that cost the party the 2015 Presidential seat. Not surprisingly, the post-election committee empanelled by the PDP and headed by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu recommended the zoning of the Office of the President to the North and the National Chairmanship to the South. This, according to the party was to avoid a similar conundrum which led to the emergence of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as the party’s Presidential flag bearer in 2015, as against a candidate of Northern extraction.
The recommendations of the Ekweremadu Committee were subsequently adopted by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party and ratified by the non-elective convention which held on August 12, 2017, in Abuja.
At various fora and press conferences of the party, the National Caretaker Committee (NCC) led by Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi made it a point of duty to throw more light on the zoning arrangement reached by the party ahead of the 2019 general elections. While noting that micro-zoning was not contemplated at the Port-Harcourt convention, Makarfi regularly insisted that the leadership of the party would recognise a consensus arrangement reached by stakeholders of particular zones on any elective position.
In the last couple of weeks, Makarfi again drew the attention of party members to the limited powers of the NCC, arguing that some forces wanted the committee to wield the powers not vested on it by the constitution of the party. Of particular concern to the caretaker committee was the national chairmanship of the party, which in the reasoning of some analysts ought to go the South-West, owing largely to the fact that the zone had never occupied the office in acting or substantive capacity since the inception of the party in 1998.
However, that argument was rebutted by other party stakeholders who contended that the South-South had also never occupied the position in a substantive capacity given the fact that Prince Uche Secondus from Rivers State only served in an acting capacity.
In the words of Makarfi, it was left for the South-West to intensify lobby of the other two zones in the South to quit the race and pave the way for one of its own to emerge victorious at the December convention. With just a little over a week to the big event, the two South-South chairmanship aspirants, Uche Secondus and Raymond Dokpesi are as consistent in the race as they have been; thus giving credence that the matter would be resolved at the convention.
On why some positions were micro zoned in other regions, Makarfi said the development was a product of the political arrangement by stakeholders in the states involved. For instance, it was gathered that the office of the National Secretary which was zoned to Katsina, was a political arrangement by the North even as the NCC didn’t preclude interested aspirants outside Katsina, from vying for the office. It was for this reason that two prominent chieftains of the party, Senator Umar Ibrahim Tsauri ( Katsina) and Alhaji Abubakar Mustapha (Kaduna) are set to slug it out in December for the plum seat of the party’s national scribe.
In an exclusive chat with Vanguard on the controversial micro-zoning on Thursday, Makarfi said, “Micro zoning is a political tool which the North or South and indeed any of the six geo-political zones are at liberty to deploy to build as much consensus of like-minds as possible. The NCC which I lead will not oppose such arrangement but will equally not enforce it, being a political arrangement and not a decision of convention or the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the party.”
Clear and simplistic as the arrangement appears, allegations of a lack of will to do the right thing is getting louder by the day. A contender for one of the key offices of the party in the forthcoming convention insisted that the leadership of the party had not handled the micro-zoning issue very well.
In a chat with Vanguard, the aspirant who pleaded anonymity said: “I pray that we will be able to manage the outcome of the convention because to say the truth, we have not done the right thing. The party has always done micro-zoning, and that was why at inception, we had the late Chief Solomon Lar, Engineer Barnabas Gemade, and Chief Audu Ogbeh, all from the North Central zone. It was the same when it got to the turn of the South-East. So, why do you now have to make it an all-comer affair, more so now that we are coming into the 2019 general elections from a position of weakness? Don’t forget that we will be coming into that election as an opposition.
“Why is it that now that we are trying to put our house in order, we are creating artificial problems to make things difficult for the party? What has happened to the gentleman agreement that has worked so well for us for so many years now, as far as the chairmanship of the party is concerned?”,he asked.
Be that as it may, Senator Makarfi has continued to insist that those who want certain positions should be prepared to work for same, saying nothing good comes easy. Party politics, it must be stated comes with a lot of negotiations and interface, the end of which may birth a common ground. How the party fares in the forthcoming convention is left to be seen.
Just as it is with Kaduna and Katsina States, the position of the National Publicity Secretary (NPS) has birthed a feud between Kwara and Kogi States, with each state bent on producing a successor for Prince Dayo Adeyeye.
While Kogi has Mr Mohammed Kabir Usman, the former PDP zonal legal adviser (North Central) and Kola Ologbodiyon (ex-media aide to immediate past Senate President, David Mark, Kwara parades Professor Abubakar Sulaiman, the former Minister of National Planning who served in the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.
As it were, it is only at the convention that the matter is expected to be settled in spite of the North giving its nod of approval for Kogi State to produce the party’s next spokesperson.
Sources claimed that Barrister Usman was being backed by the former Kogi State governor, Ibrahim Idris following the zoning of the position to Kogi State.
That has neither stopped Senator Mark’s desire for his onetime protégée nor dissuaded Professor Sulaiman from testing his popularity amongst the delegates at the convention.
It was in that light that the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, the party’s highest elected political office holder has counselled those who would not be fortunate to realise the ambition of serving the party at one level or the other to embrace peace and work in the interest of the party. He said micro-zoning or the lack of it should not be allowed to sink a party just rising from the ashes of a shock defeat in 2015.