This Tuesday, Engr. Dave Nweze Umahi, the PDP governor of Ebonyi State, told his party leadership that paid him a courtesy visit that he was heading to the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, APC. That ended the speculation that the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum was defecting from his party to another. Governor Umahi told the PDP leadership his reason… “I am heading to the APC where the South East 2023 interest would be (better) served.”
This is a deft political move requiring political courage and conviction but nonetheless controversial. The South East has been a traditional stronghold of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP since the return of the country to democratic dispensation in 1999. The first chairman of the PDP and founding father, Dr. Alex Ekwueme of blessed memory was from there and it was easy for the party to dig in even though he too was played out. Nonetheless, in all the presidential elections since 1999, the zone has always returned over 80% block votes to the PDP, and had unflinchingly supported the emergence and sustenance of the Governments of Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.
The level of support given to Jonathan in his failed bid for reelection in 2015 was such that what the APC received in the zone was tagged ‘5% voters’, for which the zone has grievously suffered and continues to suffer in its ongoing unprecedented marginalization. The PDP is so sure of the South East that the party now believes the zone is permanently in the kitty no matter what, and does not need to reckon with the zone’s interest in the party’s 2023 calculations.
PDP Leader after leader, including its national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, have made it clear that it is either there would be no zoning or the party’s presidential ticket would be zoned to the North. This hardline position has shunted the South East out of the equation and incensed leaders of the zone, Dave Umahi inclusive, which has resulted in the governor’s current decision to opt out of the PDP.
The defection of Dave Umahi may just be a tip of the iceberg about what will soon justifiably happen to the PDP in the South East. Nobody shifts the goalpost in the middle of the game without consequence. PDP is a national political party built on the principle of zoning and rotation of presidential power. What is more, all the other zones in the South have benefited from the principle, only for the principle to be jettisoned now that it is the turn of the South East to benefit as well.
Some have argued that it is too early to predict what the party would do with its presidential ticket. But such issues should be left to no speculation and mischief makers when the said principle has predestined the ticket for the Southern divide of the country. The principle of zoning is so fundamental and sacrosanct that the groundswell of protestations when it was tampered with swept Jonathan away from power and brought in President Muhammadu Buhari.
In other words, zoning is not even a PDP thing. It affects all the political parties in Nigeria, including the ruling party, which came to power because Dr. Goodluck repudiated the zoning principle that brought him to power and deployed his presidential powers to muzzle his way through in the 2015 presidential election despite the fact that the gentlemanly agreement disqualified him.
The huge contributions of the South East to the PDP are such that ordinarily, the zone ought to be prevailed on to field a presidential candidate on its platform. But today, the reverse is the case. The party leaders now carry on as if the South East zone means nothing to it.
It could be recalled that three notable PDP leaders have spoken in this direction, ruling out the South East. Gabriel Suswan, a current PDP senator and former governor of Benue State, recently said that the PDP’s presidential ticket would remain in the North since the party is yet to realise the objective for which the party zoned it as recommended the Ike Ekweremadu committee against the 2019 election. What this presupposes is that, in the thinking of the PDP leaders, the party’s presidential ticket remains permanently in the north until the party wins back the presidency.
This position is patently flawed since the issue of zoning between the North and the South Nigeria and is not limited to the PDP alone but covers all the political parties and predicated on election seasons. In other words, in line with the principle of rotation of presidential power, PDP cannot zone North while other political parties zone South.
What the PDP leaders are forcing will mess up the rotation principle and nullify it in the long run. Gabriel Suswan is not alone. Gov. Nweson Nwike of Rivers State has also said in another media interview that the party is after winning and not zoning.
This position of many PDP leaders was also recently reechoed and reaffirmed by the party’s National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, who recently told the media that the PDP presidential primaries would be open to all Nigerians. By this injudicious declaration, he effectively ruled out zoning, thereby shortchanging the South East, which is best positioned to clinch the party’s ticket given the fact that South West and South South have both produced the President of Nigeria in this dispensation based on the said principle of rotation and zoning.
So, Governor Umahi’s audacious move to APC is a welcome salvo and should serve as a strong warning that 80% of the South East would soon head to the APC, especially during the polls, since their interest can no longer be accommodated in the PDP.
Come to think of it, what has the South East really gained for its massive and unalloyed support for the PDP since 1999? There is practically no federal presence in the South East unless we have to count the ubiquitous, extortionist police and army checkpoints. The federal roads were not constructed or rehabilitated. The PDP played politics with the Second Nigeria Bridge for 16 years. The so-called Enugu Intl Airport was shabbily reconstructed by the PDP government and collapsed within 6 years. Enugu – Port Harcourt and Enugu – Onitsha Expressways were left in total dilapidation for their 16 years in power and of course the party could not establish any industry.
Is it not ironic that it is under Buhari/APC that these infrastructures are receiving any meaningful attention? Since the PDP believes the South East does not count and that their electoral fortune is best served by the North, it is quite strategic that the South East PDP should prove them wrong. In fact, they ought to join forces with Gov. Dave Umahi in exiting unjust party and giving APC a try.
Like Dave Umahi also told the PDP leaders, it is still not too late. Let the PDP respect the principle of rotation of presidential power and zoning. That way, they can halt the looming exodus from the party in the South East, or be prepared to reap bountifully from such mass defections that would leave the party an empty shell in the zone.
A word, they say, is enough for the wise. It is only expedient in the spirit of democracy, equity, justice, and fairness that the position of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria be zoned to the South East in 2023. Not just by the PDP alone but by all the political parties.
· Dr. Law Mefor, a Forensic/Social Psychologist and Journalist, writes from Abuja. E-mail: [email protected]; follow me on tweeter @LawMefor1