Amid intense calls for power shift from the North to the South for the 2023 presidential election, the main opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, has said it will not stop aspirants of northern origin from contesting its presidential ticket.
It said it would leave the ticket open for all aspirants irrespective of their states or geopolitical zones.
This implies that prospective aspirants from the North including former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; a former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki; Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, his counterpart in Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, a former Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, and others are free to contest the party’s presidential primary as against the clamour for power shift to the South.
As of the time of filing this report, Saraki is the only northern aspirant to have declared his intention on the PDP platform, even though there are clear indications that others would contest. The Governor of Oyo State, Mr Seyi Makinde, revealed in October 2021 that Atiku and Tambuwal had indicated interest to contest the 2023 election.
In the South, however, only a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and ex-Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, and a former Chairman of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Sam Ohuabunwa, have indicated interest in the race in the PDP.
Southern groups such as Afenifere in the South-West and Ohanaeze in the South-East, prominent individuals across the country, the Southern Governors Forum and many others had called for power shift to the South when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), serves out his second tenure in May 2023.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum on January 13 said in Abuja that political parties that fielded northern presidential candidates would not enjoy its support in the 2023 general elections. Some persons have also called for the inclusion of a rotational presidency in the constitution to ensure that every geopolitical zone has a chance to produce the president.
However, some northern groups, including the Northern Governors Forum, opposed the position of the Southern Governors Forum, saying zoning was unconstitutional and that the president could come from any part of the country.
Despite the clamour for power rotation, however, none of the 18 political parties has made its position known on the issue of zoning, even though several aspirants from the different parts of the country have declared their intention to contest the coveted office, mostly on the platform of the PDP and the All Progressives Congress.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr Debo Ologunagba, said the party would not stop anyone on the basis of age or where they come from.
He stated, “We must rescue the country from where it is today, and in doing that, we do not have to think of where the next President would come from, but the ability, experience and integrity to work.
“In the PDP, persons from every part of the country will be allowed to contest, but we can only boast that the primary will be free, fair, transparent and credible. We cannot be talking about zones in deciding on who becomes the presidential candidate of the party.
“Everybody that qualifies to run and is interested will be allowed to run. Nobody will be stopped. We will be guided by the party’s and the country’s constitutions.
“We won’t shut anybody out of the electoral process. When the time comes, all organs of the party will however be involved in the decision-making process on the guidelines for the party’s presidential primary. These organs include the ward, local government, state, zonal executives, the National Assembly members, Board of Trustees and the National Executive Committee of the party.”
Meanwhile, a ranking member of the PDP Board of Trustees in the South-West, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an opposition party that wants to win an election may not prioritise zoning, unlike a ruling party that should ensure power rotation.
He said the PDP would have to ensure the emergence of its best aspirant that could guarantee its victory at the poll regardless of who other parties present.
He added, “We want to win the election. Therefore, we may not insist on zoning. Any opposition political party that wants to win an election should not allow a ruling party to push it to do what is not right for it.
“Winning an election involves every legal means and that is what we are expected to do as the main opposition party that wants to win the presidency next year. We won’t allow the APC to push us to decide what might not be good for us. That is what we are trying to do. PDP does not need to zone. We are not in government; therefore, we won’t be pushed.”
Reacting to the issue, a former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, said the party would need to have roundtable talks on the issue and possibly embark on constitutional amendments to avoid similar issues subsequently.
He added, “Naturally, the position of the national chairman of the party and its presidential candidate must not come from the same zone. So, let us wait for the time when we would pick our presidential candidate.
“Our founding fathers never thought that another political party would win the presidency and that was why we never envisaged what is happening now, that another party would win the presidency apart from the PDP.
“Now, the opposition won in 2015 and it is time for another election. We have a northerner now as the President, but he was not produced by the PDP. What do we do? We need to go back to the roundtable, embark on consultations, deliberations and even amend the party’s constitution.
“We have so much to discuss. I am happy that the current national chairman of the party (Iyorchia Ayu) is one of the nine founding fathers of the party. We must put the zoning issue in black and white. I believe we have to settle this issue of zoning once and for all. God will teach us what to do.”
The PDP Chairman in Adamawa State, Tahir Shehu, described as a good development the lifting of the restriction on zoning of the presidency within the party.
Shehu, who is a loyalist of Atiku, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Friday evening, said Nigerians were looking forward to the party to rescue them.
He added, “The PDP remains the solution to the myriad of problems bedevilling Nigeria, and Atiku remains better placed with his records to turn things around. It is therefore a good development for our party to throw open the ticket to allow whoever wishes to contest the presidency to vie for it.”
Asked if zoning was a bad idea, Shehu said, “Zoning violates the principle of democracy because the position will be restricted to a particular zone. I believe the PDP has taken the clue that Nigerians are all anticipating that it is the party that will emancipate them from their present predicament. The PDP remains the only solution to insecurity, poverty, unemployment and a wobbling economy foisted on Nigerians by the ruling APC.”
Meanwhile, Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, said on Friday that it was the turn of the North to produce the president, adding that the Presidency was not for any section of the country but for everyone.
The governor spoke when a Contact and Consultation Committee he set up for his presidential ambition, which went round some states in the country, submitted its report to him on Friday at the Government House in Bauchi.
He said, “As the chairman of the committee said, they couldn’t go to all the states but they damned the consequences and went to Zamfara State. I don’t know how many people will agree to go to Zamfara at this time but they went and they went to Katsina State. There are very few states they did not go because I told them not to.
“Presidency is not just for the North, the South or the centre; it is for the country. The Nigerian situation is so bad, we have never been on the brink like we are today, a lot of sentiments here and there being expressed, issues of self-actualisation, self-determination by some communities that feel shortchanged or excluded in the federation.
“The federating entities which are the states are so divided between the North and the South and some of us that benefited so much from the federation, we believe there is nothing better than the Federal Republic of Nigeria because it has a lot to offer.”
He said further, “We are aware of the agitations of the southern part of the country because the leader of the country today, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is from the North, will finish his tenure in 2023, so power should rotate to the South.
“But I want to say that I am in PDP, I am not in APC. It is the APC that has this burden (of zoning the presidency to the South). In my party, the last President was from the South and he was my President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. During this period, my party was at the center for 16 years, 14 of those years were led by the people from the South, so where is the justice and the justification? Therefore, it is the turn of the North (to produce the President).
“This presidency, if we want to be just and equitable to Nigerians, especially the young generation, should be open to everybody from every section of the country, even from the South, the North, everywhere so that Nigerians will be given the opportunity to elect or recruit the best that can provide a solution.”
In a related development, the party also reacted to the statement made by Makinde, a chieftain of the party, who on Tuesday warned Nigerians against electing persons above 70 years.
Makinde, who spoke in Ibadan during the 65th birthday anniversary and thanksgiving service of the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev Supo Ayokunle, advised Nigerians to vote for a younger person.
The governor said, “We have seen a lot of elder statesmen who want to run this country at age 75 or 78. I want them to think twice and I am saying to the people of Oyo State and Nigeria that this world is not easy.
“It is possible for you to delegate, ask people to go all over the place but when they are reporting to you, if something has not been added, a few things may have been removed. We are in an election season basically and what I will say to us as a people is that we need to choose wisely and elect the people who have the energy to truly serve the country.”
In his response, Ologunagba said further that the party would be guided by the constitutional requirements on age limit for party members aspiring to be the President of Nigeria.
He added, “We are guided by the Nigerian Constitution. This constitution and the Electoral Act (as amended) stipulate the age limit for those qualified to contest for all the elective positions. Therefore, that would guide us. We won’t impose any other age limit on any of our aspirants into any of the elective offices.”
Speaking on behalf of Atiku, who is about 74 years old, his media aide, Paul Ibe, said age had nothing to do with leadership and that in line with the popular saying, “his (Atiku) fine wine gets better with age”.
Citing former United States President, Donald Trump, and the incumbent, Joe Biden, who are both over 70 years as examples, Ibe said experience, capacity and competence should be considered, noting that some young political leaders had performed below expectation.
Ibe said, “The governor should know that age is not a measure of leadership. We have seen governors and leaders at different levels who are young but have not done well. They may have energy but it is directed in the wrong direction.
“Leadership is a mix of experience, capacity and competence. Look at some of our governors who are young and establish for yourself what they have done with the opportunity they were given, so I think that’s a wrong way to look at it.
“Nigeria is facing an existential threat of insecurity, an economy that is not working for the average Nigerian, joblessness and other challenges. As a stakeholder, he (Makinde) should know better. If you are going for a critical football game, for example, you go with your best and not with players with broken legs.
“At the point we are now, we have all acknowledged that we face serious challenges. We need the kind of leadership that can get us out of this situation. If that is the case, we should be looking for someone that can deliver on all those fronts.”
According to Ibe, Nigeria needs a president who is able to bring people together and a detribalised Nigerian who understands the issues at hand.
“That is the kind of person we are looking for and those are the conversations we should be having,” he added. “Age should not be a barrier. In Malaysia, they had a president, who, after he had retired, was elected at about 92 years to come and clean the mess that had been made.”
Ibe advised Nigerians to make informed decisions and consider the health, preparedness of aspirants and those with well articulated policies in making a choice.
Asked when Atiku would declare his interest, Ibe said consultations were ongoing. He added, “The presidency of Nigeria is not a tea party. You need to be able to build a consensus around your ambition. People must buy into it. The process of getting people to buy into that bid is what is going on right now. The declaration is just a formal thing and is the end of that part of the process. So, we don’t want to put the cart before the horse.”