PDP’s zoning quandary: A northern presidential candidate will affront national unity
Mar 28, 2022
The PDP’s zoning policy has been recognised internationally as a good example of how to achieve inclusivity and manage diversity in multi-ethnic countries
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is in a deep quagmire over the sensitive issue of presidential zoning. This issue has divided the party down the middle, pitching its anti-zoning northern axis and its pro-zoning southern bloc against each other.
Surely, if the party fails to unite on this delicate issue, it will pay a heavy price at the next presidential poll.
This is ironic because the PDP introduced the concept of zoning and power shift into Nigerian politics to promote national peace and unity. Section 7(2)(c) of the party’s constitution says: “… in pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices.”
The PDP’s zoning policy has been recognised internationally as a good example of how to achieve inclusivity and manage diversity in multi-ethnic countries. In a seminal report entitled “Escaping the fragility trap,” jointly published by Oxford University and the London School of Economics, the authors, Professor Sir Paul Collier and Professor Sir Tim Besley, wrote: “In Nigeria, the dominant party had a rule that required the Presidency to alternate between three regions in a complex formula.” The report was referring to PDP’s zoning policy.
Yet, however, well-meaning the PDP was, the truth is that its zoning rule is not justiciable. The court is unlikely to enforce a provision that deprives any eligible Nigerian from running for a public elective office because such a provision is discriminatory and, thus, contrary to section 42 of the 1999 Constitution.
Therefore, any zoning arrangement in a party’s constitution can only be effective if there is consensus and goodwill in the party to respect and adhere to the zoning policy.
However, there’s no consensus or goodwill in the PDP to ensure adherence to the party’s zoning arrangement. Rather, the party’s northern and southern groups have entrenched sectional positions that make it extremely difficult to agree on the way forward.
The main argument of PDP’s northern leaders, chiefly adduced by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his supporters, is based on a predilected interpretation of the party’s constitution and goes thus: PDP ruled Nigeria for 16 years, from 1999 to 2015; out of these 16 years, the South governed for 13 years, the North for only 3 years. After President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, the party’s next president should be a northerner. Therefore, the PDP can’t zone its presidential ticket for the 2023 election to the South.
If you consider the above reasoning superficially, there’s some merit in it. Put simply, with respect to the presidency, the South has been more privileged than the North in the PDP: South, 13 years; North, 3 years! But look deeper, the reasoning is fundamentally flawed.
The PDP’s zoning system was designed for a party that would be in power for a long time. Surely, if the PDP had ruled Nigeria for 60 years, as it vowed it would, the Presidency would have alternated seamlessly between northerners and southerners in the party. But something happened.
In 2015, a northerner, Muhammadu Buhari, from another party, All Progressives Congress (APC), defeated Jonathan, a southern PDP president. That defeat upended PDP’s zoning arrangement, which, all things being equal, would have produced a northern PDP president after Jonathan’s tenure.
But all things were not equal: a northern president, albeit from another party, replaced a southern PDP president. Yet, Atiku and his fellow PDP northern presidential aspirants, such as Bukola Saraki and Aminu Tambuwal, who helped cause PDP’s defeat in 2015, are behaving as if a southerner, not a northerner, has been ruling Nigeria since 2015. They want another northerner to succeed President Buhari in 2023!
In the 61 years and six months that Nigeria has existed as an independent country, the North has ruled it, under both military and civilian regimes, for nearly 45 years. Thus, the North has enjoyed political dominance over the South. Anything that stretches that political advantage is certainly bound to engender disunity and instability. That’s not mentioning the provocation of a northern president succeeding a northern president!
Yet, the PDP is handling the delicate issue recklessly. The party set up a 37-man panel on zoning, but immediately undermined the panel by selling nomination forms to its northern presidential aspirants, including Atiku, who is determined to become the party’s candidate come hell or high water.
Last week, Atiku formally declared his intention to run for president next year under the PDP. Becoming Nigeria’s president is Atiku’s life-long ambition, and he has pursued the ambition five times under different parties since 2007. However, he’s confident about his sixth attempt, in 2023, hoping to build on the 12 million votes he garnered in the 2019 presidential poll when he lost to President Buhari, who is not running next year.
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The mantra of PDP’s northern presidential aspirants, recently enunciated by Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto State, is: “Winning not zoning”! This implies that only a northerner can win the next presidential election for the PDP. But can a northern presidential candidate win without southern votes? Of course not!
Which is why the PDP is in a quagmire. The South has put down a marker; it has nailed its colours to the mast on the zoning issue. Southern leaders and governors, including those from the PDP, joined by their Middle-Belt counterparts, have vowed that the South and the Middle Belt would not vote for a northern presidential candidate in 2023.
But here’s the quandary. If PDP gives its presidential ticket to a Southern candidate, would an aggrieved Atiku and other disappointed northern presidential aspirants enthusiastically support the candidate? The likelihood is they won’t; rather, PDP supporters in the North may cast a protest vote and reject the Southern candidate as they did Jonathan in 2015.
So, head or tail, the PDP may lose unless the party unites. Consider the scenario: the South votes against a northern PDP presidential candidate and the North votes against a Southern PDP presidential candidate. Who’s the default winner? The APC, of course. Thus, the PDP, which ruled Nigeria for 16 years, would be out of power for 16 years or more!
But the biggest loser would be the South-East or the Igbo. For if the APC wins next year, with a Yoruba president, the Igbo won’t, realistically, get another chance to produce president until 2039 after power has first returned to the North in 2031, then the South eight years later.
So, the PDP’s refusal to zone its presidency to the South, especially the South-East, will not only extend the North’s political dominance over the South and create a perverse situation where a northern president succeeds a northern president, it would also prolong the Igbo’s quest for political power. All of these would undermine national peace and unity.
That said, the position of the Southern leaders and governors is intellectually timid and incoherent. They said the Presidency should come to the South, but where in the South? Everyone knows that the South-East is the only one of the three Southern geo-political zones that hasn’t produced president since 1999. Why can’t the Southern leaders acknowledge that?
Secondly, they said they would not vote for a Northern presidential candidate, but who will they vote for? A Yoruba candidate? The same moral argument against a Northern presidential candidate in 2023 extends to a Yoruba candidate.
So, the position of Southern leaders is untenable. They can’t call for fairness between the North and the South, but not within the South. Fairness demands the Presidency be zoned to the South-East. If not, it should be thrown open to all geo-political zones in Nigeria.
Truth is, in 2023, either a northern president or a southern president, except from Ndigbo, will affront national unity!