Atiku challenging PDP zoning dilemma

Atiku challenging PDP zoning dilemma
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By Emmanuel Oladesu

ATIKU Abubakar, Waziri Adamawa and former Vice President, seems to be waging a curious war against zoning. This has been the cardinal principle and pillar of his current party, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), a platform he has served, loved, benefited from, bruised, hated, repudiated and fallen back upon, as dictated by circumstances.

He has an ultimate ambition, a life-long aspiration too, to rule Nigeria. It is his fundamental right. He is also qualified for the job.

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The 37-member Committee on Zoning by PDP’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has not taken off when Atiku’s supporters presented the nomination form to him in Abuja on Thursday. The form cost N40 million, non-refundable.

Also, Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal unfolded his plan to run for President before the party’s state chairmen at a meeting in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). He could not wait for the recommendation of the zoning panel to be submitted.

For almost 30 years, Atiku has continually gazed at Aso Villa, assured by spiritual consultants or marabouts, as revealed by Nasir El-Rufai, that he will one day become the Commander-in-Chief of the most populous black nation on earth.

Many believe the eminent politician has paid his dues. As one of the founding fathers of the main opposition party, he cannot be ignored, although as a serial defector, his exit from the fold twice also impacted negatively on the platform, particularly in 2014.

Nobody is pursuing the Adamawa-born gladiator; he is he one pursuing power, which has so far eluded him. But as a courageous fighter, he is not eager to leave the firing line.

Atiku has applied for the Number One job a record six times: in 1993, under the Social Democratic Party (SDP); in 2003, under the PDP; in 2007, under the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN); in 2011, again under the PDP; in 2015, under the All Progressives Congress (APC) and in 2019, under the PDP.

In 1999, he did not raise any eyebrow at zoning. The then Adamawa State governor-elect had paired with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was a beneficiary of power rotation. But as an impatient deputy, he attempted to wrest the ticket from his boss who wanted a second term, until the General, decked in a voluminous agbada, was said to have prostrated for him. That deft move, which dazed Obasanjo, who later accused him of disloyalty, marked the beginning of Atiku’s resistance to zoning, if it would not be to his advantage.

In 2007, when PDP and ACN upheld zoning, Atiku contested. But, the PDP candidate, the late Umaru Yar’Adua, was too formidable because of the weight of the ruling party.

The death of Yar’Adua led to an attempt to truncate zoning, following the inauguration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as President. In 2011, it became a weak factor. Nevertheless, Atiku still threw his hat in the ring, but without success.

Jonathan, wielding a power of incumbency, decided to run, instead of upholding zoning. He leaned on the 1999 Constitution, saying he was exercising his right to aspire.

However, he was booted out in 2015 because Nigeria favoured zoning of the PDP and APC presidential tickets to the North. Although Atiku tried his luck at the APC primary, it was evident that majority preferred Muhammadu Buhari as candidate.

In 2019, APC zoned the ticket to the North again. Also, the PDP had an opportunity to zone its ticket to the same bloc regions, having resuscitated zoning in post-Jonathan era. Buhari and Atiku, who had retraced his steps to the PDP, clashed at the poll. Although the battle shifted from the ballot box to the court, Atiku still failed to realise his dream.

Two factors now tend to make his chances slimmer. First, the Southern Caucus of the main opposition party seems to be united in their demand for power shift, saying a Northerner, either on the platform of the APC or PDP, should not succeed Buhari, a Northerner. It will mean that the Presidency will be in the North for 16 years.

The struggle for rotation is popular because Southern APC and Southern PDP are on the same page over zoning.

To the Southern Caucus, the argument that the last PDP president came from the South is not convincing. Neither can the South be persuaded by the admonition by another Northerner aspirant, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, that PDP should elevate merit and competence over zoning.

Second, the younger elements who hold the levers of party power and influence in the opposition party are not looking in the direction of the former Vice President. Atiku is competent; he has resources and experience. But the class of old brigade and founding fathers is fading in PDP. There is an inexplicable gap between the old and the young. Atiku needs skills to re-engage the disunited PDP governors, who also find it difficult to reach amity.

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However, these factors, notwithstanding, other aspirants can only underrate the consummate politician to their peril.

By 2023, PDP would have been out of power for eight years. In its bid to bounce back, the party may have to confront another reality. There is the pervasive feeling that potential PDP presidential aspirants from the South may not pose a serious threat to the APC, which, having zoned its presidential ticket to the South, may likely micro-zone to the Southwest.

Elder statesman Atiku evoked sympathy during the week as he complained that 2023 is the last chance for the party’s elders to aspire to the highest office. God has been kind to the 76-year-old former Customs officer who learnt politics at the feet of the political warhorse, the late Major-General Shehu Yar’Adua. Nothing is more important to him in life again than Aso Villa. Its attainment is perceived as a source of self-actualisation.

In a voice laced with emotion, the Waziri Adamawa tried to persuade PDP’s Board of Trustees (BoT) to jettison zoning for the platform to survive. But, those fighting for zoning are also hinging the survival of the party on zoning. The goals of the two divides do not align.

Atiku argued that 14 of PDP’s 16 years in power were led by Southern Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan. While conveying the impression that only him could lead the party to victory, he expressed worry about its future. He feared the party would remain in opposition for another eight years.

Urging party elders to adopt his view, Atiku said: “By the next eight years, I don’t know how many of us will be left in politics, and it may even ultimately lead to the death of the party because people gravitate, particularly in developing countries, towards governments. So, this is a very crucial and historical moment in history for our survival.

“We invented and formulated this zoning policy simply because we wanted every part of this country to have a sense of belonging and I personally have paid my dues on the issue of zoning.

“Therefore, you cannot come and try to imply that the PDP has not been following the zoning policy. The many years of PDP government – eight years and six years – all of them were from the South. So, we should not be stampeded by the opposition party. They have a moral obligation.”

Atiku and Tambuwal have reportedly made up their minds on the presidential forms. A group of supporters has reportedly purchased the N40 million form for Atiku. Probably, other supporters could have done the same for him even at a higher cost.

Adoption or non-adoption of zoning in PDP has implications. Either of the approaches could be negotiated so that any position taken by the party could become a product of agreement.

If there is no mutual agreement between the North and South, the PDP faces a perilous future. Without the South, the North cannot solely or exclusively install a PDP president. Dialogue becomes essential here.

Also, the Southern PDP cannot make one of its own the President without the support of the Northern Caucus. The mishandling of the contentious issue is risky. PDP may not smell power for a long time to come, unless it puts its house in order, jettison ego and foster cohesion. A costly mistake on the part of PDP will be to the advantage of the ruling party.

The founding fathers of PDP laid the foundation for presidential zoning. Being a national party, they loathed the skewed or lopsided distribution of power. The President of Nigeria is more powerful than all the 36 governors and 774 council chairmen. He is the sole distributor of power and huge resources. Therefore, it was felt that the continued hold on power by a particular zone, based on its relative numerical strength, could result into a feel of marginalisation and fear of domination.

The architects of zoning also knew that Nigeria was not one. National unity has always remained a tall order. Unity in diversity is still an illusion. In particular, it was felt that owing to ethno-religious politics, the President may not have a national outlook, if he is tossed around by centrifugal forces. The approach of ‘turn by turn’ was projected to give the two bloc zones – North and South – a sense of belonging in an atmosphere of equity, justice and fair play.

But, while the Atiku camp may be right in its push for zoning to the North because the last PDP president came from the South, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and other agitators for power shift are also right in their observation and fear that if a northern PDP president is elected as a successor to President Buhari next year, then, the South may be left in the cold for 16 years.

A 37-member zoning committee has been set up by the PDP to make recommendations. The outcome is predictable. The majority of committee members is from the North.

Atiku is fighting for himself, although he has cleverly made his personal battle a regional agitation. Also, Wike and his Southern co-travellers are leaning on regional sentiments as they intensify agitation for zoning and power shift.

How would the main opposition resolve the protracted conflict?

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