The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential aspirants from the northern part of the country would have heaved a sigh of relief on Tuesday when the political party’s zoning committee, led by Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, ruled that the presidential ticket would not be zoned to any particular region. The decision was what they fought for. It was a position they longed for. They wanted an inclusive contest where aspirants from the North and South would test their popularity in the search for a presidential candidate.

The PDP’s 37-member zoning committee, had declared that the contest for the political party’s presidential ticket would be open to all aspirants. The committee stated that: “Zoning, as in our party constitution, is affirmed. In spite of (1) above, (presidential) ticket is thrown open, this time round due to exigency of time. Our party is encouraged to always make the issue of zoning very clear at least six months before sale of forms. Our party should commend the efforts of some of our contestants on the issue of consensus candidacy. The efforts should be seen to a peaceful and logical conclusion.”

With this audacious verdict, all the presidential aspirants of the PDP who have obtained nomination and expression of interest forms are free to contest and would not be seen as going against the party’s wishes. It is, therefore, victory for aspirants from the North, most especially, comprising a former Vice-President, ex-Senate President and serving governors. Aspirants from southern Nigeria, made up of serving governors, former governors and ex-Senate President, among others, had expected that since the outgoing president is from the North, the South should be favoured to produce his successor. However, despite the fact that the Ortom committee has recommended that there would be no zoning, the battle is not over. The battle shifts to the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP, which would ratify or reject the recommendation. In taking the final decision, the NWC should bear in mind that what it decides eventually will make or mar the PDP.

Before the PDP zoning committee arrived at a position, it was glaring that the committee had an uphill task. At a time when aspirants and party members from the North argued that they would seek the party’s presidential ticket, no matter what, just as aspirants and party members from the South said that, in the spirit of power rotation, southern Nigeria should be given concession to produce the candidate for the PDP, it was apparent that the matter was delicate. However, the decision that has been taken has made the matter more precarious.

As expected, there have been shock and condemnation trailing the position of the PDP zoning committee. Members of the PDP and non-members from the South have expressed disappointment over the fact that the political party did not give them the sole right to produce the presidential candidate. The apex-Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has figuratively cried blue murder over non-zoning of the presidential ticket to the South and the South-East in particular. The group’s president-general, Prof. George Obiozor, said the PDP had committed political suicide for making its presidential contest open to all. The pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, and the Middle Belt Forum have threatened to campaign and mobilise against any northern candidate the PDP presents in next year’s election. With this, PDP is in the eye of the storm. The way the political party manages this crisis will determine its fate next year.

The position of the PDP zoning committee was expected. The committee was caught in the middle, in the quest for power between the North and the South. Apparently, not to be seen as rocking the boat, the PDP zoning committee simply played safe by making the contest open. What the committee has done is to technically shift the decision as to which zone would produce the presidential candidate to the delegates who would pick the presidential candidate of the party at the convention next month.

Perhaps, for the PDP zoning committee, the most pragmatic thing to do, in the circumstance, was to throw open the contest, even though the argument of the South is founded. If a northerner is relinquishing power, the natural thing to do, is to have power rotate to the South. The zoning committee just postponed the “evil day.” It may have reasoned that announcing zoning has great consequences for the party because, either way, North or South, there would be aggrieved people. The decision may turn out to show that the committee is too clever by half.

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One must say that, although the Ortom committee has declared that the contest for the PDP presidential ticket is open to all, the matter has been foreclosed. PDP could still subtly zone its presidential ticket to the South, for example, without celebrating it. The political party should look carefully at the collateral damage not favouring the South may cause it. The opposition party has always had the South as its strong base. Damning the region without any convincing reason may be dangerous. One is therefore persuaded that the South is very much in the race, strong.

In the hope that the South could still be the favourite in the choice of a presidential candidate of the PDP, aspirants from the zone should not be deterred by what has happened. They should, rather, press forward in their quest to produce the PDP presidential candidate. The southern aspirants should continue to tell the delegates, as they go round the country, that justice demands that the political party’s candidate should come from their zone. The aspirants should tell the delegates their strategy to win the presidential election, if they are chosen as candidate, their grassroots and national appeal and their acceptability across geopolitical zones.

We know that national conventions of political parties have become platforms where the highest bidders stand as colossuses, wherein delegates tend to favour aspirants with deep pockets. However, there are still delegates who would be amenable to reason. Presidential candidates had emerged in the country not because of money they gave delegates as inducement but because of their popularity, the mood of the country and directives given by powerbrokers. We saw this when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo emerged as presidential candidate of the PDP in 1999. Obasanjo came out of prison broke but he was handed the presidential ticket of the PDP months after. He could not have financially induced any delegate to get the ticket. We also saw how President Muhammadu Buhari contested four presidential elections when he was not the highest bidder in the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2003 and 2007, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in 2011 and the APC in 2015. Buhari could not have given any delegate money because he was not rich at those times. There is nothing that says an aspirant today cannot pick the PDP presidential ticket without paying off the majority of the delegates. It takes the conviction of kingmakers, who would give directives that could sway the delegates.

PDP should not believe that the most important thing in the coming presidential election is to win. Apart from winning the presidential election and taking back power at the centre, the PDP should also be concerned about the ability of whosoever gets its presidential ticket to govern well. The PDP should not make the same mistake the APC made in 2015, when the only thing that mattered to it was to produce the President at all cost, without looking at the shortcomings of the “winning” candidate. The APC desperately wanted power in 2015. It won the presidential election then with its preferred candidate, but Nigerians now know better regarding the competence of the candidate in office as President. Therefore, no political party should separate ability to win and capability to govern.

PDP aspirants and members who believe that only a northern presidential candidate can defeat the APC next year are in delusion. North or South, a PDP candidate is the political party’s product on sale. The 2023 presidential election is a project of the PDP and should be treated as much. No northern candidate would win any presidential election without the support or votes of southerners. Likewise, no southern candidate will win the presidential election without the support or votes of the North. It is the combination of the support and votes of northern and southern Nigeria that would give any candidate victory at the polls.

PDP should, therefore, not think or believe that picking a southern candidate would cost it the presidential election. Not picking a southern candidate may injure it the more. A southern candidate could only be a risk for PDP if the political party’s members from the North refuse to see such candidate as their project/treasured product and, therefore, sabotage the party. This is partly what happened in 2015 when chieftains of the PDP from the North took a walk from the political party because President Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner, was given the presidential ticket. They did it by way of defection to other political parties and by outright trade-off, even as PDP members.

The opposition political party should not believe that its salvation lies in one particular political bloc, perhaps, because of the voting strength, and, therefore, prefer someone from there as presidential candidate. The leadership of the party and the members at large should look at the voting pattern in the past. They must collectively support whosoever emerges as presidential candidate, even if he comes from a minority tribe. When this becomes the case, the PDP would know that a southern candidate supported by all members and the majority of the Nigerian electorate would win the presidential election. After all, ex-President Jonathan, from the Ijaw, a minority ethnic group from the South, won an election for PDP in this country.