The foundational ideology of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rigidly supports rotational system of offices, including the office of the president between the northern and southern zones, and this is based on equity and fair play. And if this is the case, which of the two zones will produce the standard-bearer of the party in the 2023 general election?
Since his first appearance in national politics dating back to 1993, Atiku Abubakar has unsuccessfully contested for the Office of the President of Nigeria in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015 and most recently in 2019. In 1993 he contested the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential primaries but lost to Moshood Kashimawo Abiola and Babagana Kingibe. In 1999 he was selected as the running mate to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and he served as his vice from 1999 to 2007. When his term in office as the vice-president was winding down in 2007, he contested again for the presidential ticket under the Action Congress (AC) and came third in that election behind the eventual winner, Umaru Musa Yaradua of the PDP and the runners-up, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Nigeria’s Peoples Party (ANPP). In 2011, he again contested the presidential primaries of the PDP and lost out to incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. In 2014 Atiku left the PDP and became a founding member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) with the ambition of contesting for the presidency ahead of the 2015 presidential election but he lost out again at the primaries to Muhammadu Buhari who won the ticket and eventually triumphed in the 2015 national polls.
Undaunted by these repeated setbacks, Atiku switched parties in 2017 and returned to the PDP ahead of the 2019 elections and contested the party’s presidential primaries which he won. He however, couldn’t get the holy grail as he fell short at the national elections; emerging as the runners-up to Buhari who got re-elected for a second term in office. That particular election was hotly contested; with Atiku disputing the results all the way to the Supreme Court which eventually quashed his entreaties and upheld Buhari’s re-election.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling effectively ended all arguments about the 2019 polls, Atiku did not take the backseat in political matters but has been active in the political domain. He has been making comments on national issues and also prominent in the inner operations of the PDP; all seeming indicators that the Adamawa-born politician is poised at making another attempt at the nation’s apex political seat in 2023.
The existing political culture in PDP is based on a rotational system of the offices of its president/presidential standard-bearer and its national chairman between the north and the south to entrench fairness, equity and harmony in the party. Since its creation, the party has been careful not to cede both positions to the same region at the same time, and key stakeholders of the party have been reiterating the importance of sticking with this foundational ideology of the party.
The party has endured a turbulent period over the past few months with several internal blocs fighting for their interests in the battle for the party’s control in the build-up to 2023. The internal bedlam attempted to put the party into unmitigated crisis and prematurely end the chairmanship of Uche Secondus and his divided National Working Committee (NWC). The Party’s Board of Trustees (BOT), however, waded in and ensured the warring parties maintained a peaceful stance on the condition that the tenure of the Secondus-led NWC would not be truncated, but that the party’s convention to elect people for its new leadership positions would be brought forward from December to October ending.
As part of measures to re-position the party, PDP said it cannot decide where to zone its 2023 presidential ticket as well as the National Working Committee (NWC) offices until some issues were resolved. After its 93rd National Executive Council (NEC) meeting attended by governors, lawmakers, former ministers and other leaders in early September, the party said it had approved two new committees in preparation for its forthcoming national convention. The NEC approved the composition of the National Convention Organising Committee led by Governor Ahmadu Fintiri of Adamawa State and a Zoning Committee led by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State to arrive at a favourable zoning formula for the National Working Committee offices.
By the end of September, the Ugwuanyi-led committee announced that the committee had zoned the position of the national chairman of the party to the North. Ugwuanyi said other positions within the National Working Committee would be swapped between the north and the south. Going by the established tradition of the party, if the national chairman is picked from the north, its presidential candidate will come from the south. He was, however, coy on that position and as he said the committee was not mandated to decide the zoning of the presidential ticket.
The unwavering stance by the Southern Governors Forum on its insistence that the next president must come from the south, and disagreements from prominent stakeholders; especially the Northern Governors Forum and some other pressure groups that zoning is unconstitutional and should not be made the compelling or deciding factor for selecting a president, has further established that PDP norm may yet be jettisoned for the upcoming political cycle.
Meanwhile, as the party’s convention is at hand, the Northern stakeholders of the party have secured a position which might make the tussle for the chairmanship seat a smooth exercise, having agreed to pick former Senate President, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, who is from Benue State (North-Central) as the consensus national chairmanship candidate of the party.
With the zoning of the chairmanship ticket to the north by the Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi-led committee, the party presidential ticket, going by the tradition, should go to the south, a move that will scuttle Atiku’s 2023 ambition. Atiku was therefore among the first party bigwigs to undermine the importance of zoning within the context of the calls by some of the party’s leaders that the 2023 presidential ticket be zoned unconditionally to the south. Speaking at the 94th National Executive Committee meeting of the party in Abuja a few weeks ago, the former vice president argued that the zoning of presidential tickets has never been the cause of the country’s problem nor will it be the solution. He said: “The PDP has the right to determine its rules on how its party should be governed. The people of Nigeria also have the right to determine who governs them. Where the president comes from has never been the problem of Nigeria neither will it be the solution. There is no such thing as the president from Southern Nigeria or president from Northern Nigeria. There is only one president from Nigeria, by Nigeria and for Nigeria,”
However, considerable pressure has been mounting on PDP to either keep to its culture or throw open its presidential candidacy and not zone it to the south as required by the party’s internal culture. For Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and his Oyo State counterpart, Seyi Makinde, zoning PDP presidential ticket to the south is not only the right thing to do but would also comply with the party’s entrenched principle of zoning. While it is not clear who the Oyo State governor is backing from the south for the top job, Wike is believed to be nursing an ambition to run for the exalted office in 2023. Apart from Atiku, southern candidates would be likely up against their Sokoto and Bauchi states’ counterparts, Aminu Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed, who have reportedly shown interest in the race and some others who are still discreet about their intentions.
The party has declared that shortly after its October convention, it will convene another NEC meeting to take a second look at the Bala Mohammed-led PDP Committee on the Review of the 2019 Elections which, amongst other propositions, recommended that the presidential race be thrown open to all six geo-political zones in the country. It cannot be stated with any certainty if this will be considered and adopted instead of outright zoning the ticket to the south, given the current power structure in the party and obtainable national dynamics. Also to be factored in is the heated dimension the matter is assuming in the polity, given the stormy manner politicians and interest groups drawn from the north and south have been laying claims to the ticket in the past couple of months.
What is clear is that Atiku is evidently interested in giving the presidency another shot in 2023 through the vehicle of the PDP, and he certainly possesses a considerable degree of influence, support and backing within the party. The way he won the party’s 2019 presidential primaries by a landslide despite his series of political cross-carpeting is a clear affirmation of his political networking and financial prowess. And while PDP’s dilly-dallying and tepid reluctance to categorically declare its adoption of an established party rotational system up till now is a glaring indication that yet, his long-anticipated dream could still be within the realm of possibility.