Gabriel Suswan, Senator representing Benue North-East Senatorial District recently told a newspaper that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would still zone the office of the President to the North in 2023. The distinguished senator may not be a member of the PDP’s National Executive Committee (NEC), but as a senior party member, he is in a position to know that the PDP has not come out with any zoning formula or taken such an insensitive decision.
However, the senator was not circumspect and spoke like a prophet without any doubt. Hear him: “Of course, the PDP will maintain zoning. We have not realised it, so the zoning still remains in the North in the PDP. In PDP, we zoned the Presidency to the North and have we realised it? No. So, the zoning still remains in the North for 2023.”
Suswan’s words, as a founding member of the PDP, a former Member of the House of Representatives, a former two-term governor, and now a Senator, carries a lot of weight. Also, knowing the PDP, it is a party that thrives on cliques; and since it lost the 2015 Presidential election, it has blundered from misfortune to misfortune due to bad choices imposed on it by such cliques or cabals.
Recall the imposition of Ali Modu Sheriff on the Party by just two governors of the PDP and how the Party was plagued and nearly wrecked by crisis for two years until the Abubakar Maikarfi/Ben Obi Committee and the likes of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and the governors rallied to rescue the party. These cliques are alive and well; and they are dragging and digging into the soul of the party, never giving a damn about the common interest or preponderances.
In 2011, despite PDP’s convention that the office of the President be rotated between North and South, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan went against the principle. In the heat of the bad feelings and controversies, the grapevine has it that Jonathan eventually called a meeting of PDP and Northern leaders in the Villa where the South-South Leader at the time, the now late General Samuel Ogbemudia, sought the understanding of party leaders, especially Northern political leaders concerning the peculiar circumstance that brought their son to power. Ogbemudia asked that their son be allowed to do one term and power would rotate to the North. Everybody was happy and clapped. Even at that, the 2011 election turned into a festival of blood by the then-candidate Mohammadu Buhari’s supporters. The rest, they say, is history.
Rather than rotate power to the North in 2015, a clique convinced Jonathan ahead of that year’s presidential race to run for another term and damn the consequences. This polarised the PDP at its 2013 mini-convention as the North protested and felt so betrayed. Their political sagacity was called into play as they worked across political leanings to teach Jonathan and the PDP a lesson.
The likes of Bola Ahmed Tinubu saw the gap and cashed in, teaming up with the North and formed the mega coalition with Buhari as the arrowhead, which became the All Progressives Congress(APC). And it was so strange that the PDP believed they would retain the presidency in 2015 after its five governors, nearly two dozen senators and nearly a hundred members of House of Reps formed the New PDP (nPDP) broke away, becoming the fifth legacy political group to form the APC. Even the mere fact that Chibuike Amaechi retained the chairmanship of Nigeria’s Governors Forum against the wishes of a sitting President, Jonathan, was enough signal for the PDP to understand that there was fire on the mountain; yet they refused to smell the coffee.
Power, they say, corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Impunity reigned supreme and to ensure that nobody contested with Jonathan, the PDP printed only one nomination form for the office of the president and handed it to Goodluck. But at the end of the day, PDP defeated PDP in the 2015 Presidential election in the sense that the ranks of the former opposition APC, was inspired and swelled by members of the PDP and in that it is no secret that Northern PDP chieftains worked for their regional candidate- Buhari. PDP lost scandalously but predictably. It was a self-inflicted injury, an own goal.
Today, it appears the PDP is at it again and the sad history is about repeating itself. Otherwise, what is the rationale behind the claim that the PDP was bound to zone the President to the North in 2023? Senator Suswan who disclosed the plan said the party failed to win the last presidential election after zoning the office of the President to the North, and as such, the party would still zone the office that way since it hadn’t succeeded.
It is preposterous for Suswan to feign ignorance of the dynamics that informed that zoning decision in 2019. That decision was a sequel to the recommendation of the Ekweremadu Committee (PDP Post-Election Review Committee), which unravelled the reasons behind PDP’s epic loss of power in 2015. The Committee, which traversed the six geopolitical zones overwhelmingly established that the North voted against Jonathan, not necessarily for Buhari but due to the breach of the zoning and failure of PDP and Jonathan to honour the 2011 gentleman agreement at the Villa.
The report states: “In particular, since the last President of PDP extraction came from the southern part of Nigeria, it is recommended that PDP’s presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections should come from the northern part of the country. This is in accordance with the popular views and will also assuage any ill feelings in the North over any perceived breach of the Party’s zoning principle”.
Again, it was so zoned because the incumbent President, Buhari, who had only done four years then, hails from the North and it was in the party’s interest to have a fellow northerner square up against him. The understanding was that against APC’s propaganda to Ndigbo that it was the South East shortest route to the presidency since Buhari would not be seeking reelection after a second term, PDP would also tell Ndigbo that its presidential candidate would only do one term.
Therefore, Suswan’s logic is embarrassing, to say the least, especially when he knows that the dynamics that informed the zoning of the presidential ticket to the North ahead of the 2019 general election have greatly changed and Ekweremadu Committee was specific when it said “…in the 2019 general elections”.
Power has stayed for two terms in the North and has to move South in the spirit of rotation and zoning, which has been the practice since 1999. All the political parties ought to flow with this national consensus. PDP and indeed the APC and other major parties cannot be moving North when power is supposed to be moving South if they hold the unity and continued corporate existence of this country dear to heart.
Besides, Suswan’s kite is so offensive and unfortunate for ignoring the monumental contributions of the South East to PDP’s electoral fortunes in four straight presidential elections. The South East has particularly stuck to the PDP in thick and thin and was the bastion of opposition and PDP’s revival since it lost power in 2015.
It was alleged in 2019 that the PDP South-East leaders had an understanding with Atiku Abubakar on restructuring and presidential candidate of South-East extraction in 2023 ahead of the Port Harcourt National Convention. But Suswan’s statement appears to confirm that lack of commitment to these two key demands informed Atiku’s and party’s decision to ditch PDP South-East leaders post-presidential primary so as not to be pinned down to anything. But the South-East people appeared too obsessed with the possibilities of a Vice President of South-East extraction to pay attention.
However, those flying this kite with Suswan should be forewarned that they are taking the support of Ndigbo for granted. And they must depart from this treacherous path or reap bountiful protest votes come 2023 because the South-East would follow en mass any credible alternative to realise their aspiration of leading the country since the end of the civil war. This aspiration is not only legitimate but also moral and has gained so much national traction and acceptance.
Dr. Mefor writes from Abuja