John Alechenu examines the recently submitted report of the Governor Bala Mohammed-led Peoples Democratic Party 2019 Election Review Committee, amid agitations for zoning of the party’s 2023 presidential ticket.

Graeme Garrard and James Murphy, in their book: How to Think Politically, observed that “it is fashionable today to describe politics as a swamp. For many, it has become nothing more than a vulgar spectacle of deceit, ambition and opportunism.”

Generally, opinions on the subject of politics differ among scholars and politicians.

As such, a former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Abdullahi Jalo, in his submission, said, “Success in the game of politics is often achieved when preparation/ambition meets opportunity.”

For the second time in its over two-decade history, the PDP found itself in unfamiliar territory -the opposition.

After its failure to retain power in 2015, a problem many attributed to its inability to manage its internal crisis, the party set up the Senator Ike Ekweremadu-led Committee to review its performance and make recommendations.

Ekweremadu and his team identified some of the remote and immediate causes of the party’s electoral defeat.

They include: the subversion of the party’s internal mechanisms for party finance, absence of internal democracy and the emergence of the All Progressives Congress, among other things.

In summary, the report noted, “Majority of the submissions presented to the Review Committee blamed the party’s poor performance at the 2015 elections on the lack of transparency in the selection of delegates and candidates.

“This process failed to provide a level playing field for all aspirants and therefore resulted in contentious outcomes. These outcomes led to defections and anti-party activities by the aggrieved candidates and their supporters.

“In addition, the Review Committee received concerns on the substitution of nominated candidates by either the NWC and/or State Working Committees. Imposition of candidates and the violation of the zoning principle in the selection of candidates worsened the party’s electoral fortunes in the 2015 election.

“The party’s loss of majority in both chambers of the National Assembly is a direct consequence of its imposition of unpopular candidates.”

A major highlight of the committee’s recommendation was that, “The party should seek its 2019 presidential candidate from the North of Nigeria to compensate for the obvious violation of the zoning arrangement in the 2011 election, which led to a major apathy against the party in the North from 2011, culminating in the poor performance of the party in 2015 elections.”

The Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee of the party complied substantially with the panel’s recommendations.

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As recommended by the committee, the party fielded former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a northerner and a former Governor of Anambra State Peter Obi, from the South-East, as his running mate.

Although it made some gains in the state and National Assembly elections and won more governorship seats, the PDP’s failure to clinch the ultimate prize-the Presidency- despite coming so close, led to the setting up of the Governor Bala Mohammed 2019 Presidential Election Review Committee.

Speaking on a general note, the Mohammed-led panel which submitted its report on March 17, 2021, largely blamed external factors such as the alleged unfair use of state institutions including security forces and the Independent National Electoral Commission, for the party’s loss.

The panel also acknowledged that godfatherism and the erosion of internal democracy within the party must be addressed for the party to return to its winning ways.

However, unlike Ekweremadu who recommended the zoning of the party’s presidential ticket to the North in 2019, Mohammed recommended an open contest for the ticket in 2023.

While presenting the report, Mohammed said, “In line with certain unwritten conventions of the nation’s history, many people think that, for fairness and equity, the North-East and South-East geo-political zones that have had the shortest stints at the Presidency, should be given special consideration, in choosing the presidential standard bearers of the party, for the 2023 elections.

“While we admit that this is a strong argument, we should not lose sight of the fact that Nigeria is endowed with many capable and very experienced leaders in every part of the country. Moreover, the exigencies of the moment demand that nothing should be compromised in choosing the leader, with the attributes to disentangle the country from the present quagmire.

“Therefore, we think that every Nigerian, from every part of the country should be given the opportunity to choose the best candidate, through a credible primary election; as a way of institutionalising a merit-based leadership recruitment process, for the country.”

As was to be expected, this recommendation drew mixed reactions from a cross-section of the people especially those who had expected a definitive declaration.

Recall, the Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, and his handful of supporters hinged their defection from the PDP on the fact that the party was non-committal on the issue of zoning its 2023 presidential ticket to the South-East.

The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbodiyan, however, explained that the party would follow its processes and procedures before arriving at a decision about zoning in 2023.

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He said, “Remember, this committee report has to pass through the rigours of scrutiny by a technical committee to be set up by the NWC. It will go through all the necessary organs of the party and several factors will be considered before a decision is taken. We are the only political party in Nigeria today that made provision for this in our constitution.”

A senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Joseph Anuga, while responding to questions about some aspects of the report, noted that, the game of politics especially in Nigeria was such that, “the more you look, the less you understand.”

According to him, the Mohammed report to a large extent, suggests that the party is considering zoning its 2023 ticket to either the North or leaving it open to all zones.

He said, “Either way, your guess is as good as mine.”

Whatever decision taken, he noted, would naturally attract public attention.

Anuga said, “We must admit, the PDP as a political party is probably the oldest in the game since 1999, even though one can safely say, the PDP and the APC are two sides of the same coin. It is also a truism that the struggle for power these days is driven more by an individual or group interest.

“We have a situation where the PDP after being locked out of the centre for eight straight years (2015 to 2023), is looking towards a comeback. The ruling APC which currently enjoys the trappings of power at the centre has declared its intention to remain beyond 2023. Like we said from the beginning, interests will be the deciding factor when it comes to which zone or who gets the ticket in both parties.”

While arguments and counter-arguments rage over which zone should produce the next candidate, another aspect of the Mohammed committee report which attracted comments is the recommendation to give priority to youths and women.

The panel, which cited the ripple effect of the #EndSARS protests on the polity, noted that the PDP would be doing itself harm if it failed to take note of and make room for this new generation of Nigerians who it described as young, bold, ambitious and detribalised.

It said, “The clamour by this segment for inclusion and good governance can only be ignored to the peril of the party and indeed Nigeria.”

Perhaps taking a cue from the pronouncement, the National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, while speaking at an event organised for zonal and state youth leaders, noted, “The future of our country lies in the hands of the youth, it can’t be otherwise. You are aware that the APC is a conglomerate of the old generation. You can see them, 80 years, 90 years they are still in government, when will the youth take over? And the world has gone digital, it’s no longer analogue.

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“This is not acceptable; this must change and it is only the youth that can effect this change. We can no longer mortgage the future of the youth because that is exactly what the APC has done.”

He went on to note the role played by the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mathew Mbu, Generals Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo and others in providing leadership for the country at various levels in their youth.

This position has fueled speculations about the age factor when looking at the resume of some of the leading northern contenders for the ticket.

These include serial aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, who is currently 74 and will be 76 years old by 2023; former Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido; who is now 72 years and will be 75 by 2023; Rabiu Kwankwaso now 64, who will turn 67 by 2023; and Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, who is currently 55 years old and will be 58 by 2023.

Convener of the Coalition In Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo Dare, said, “I believe a younger and experienced Nigerian should be given preference in 2023. This is not to say that age alone should be the criteria, national appeal and demonstrable commitment to upholding the rule of law should also be considered.”

However, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Writers Association, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said, “I think it is a question of the attitude of the person because the American President, Joe Biden, is an old man by every standard but he is doing well for his people.”

Party insiders, however, noted that the party would be guided by the dynamism of politics in taking a final decision.

A highly placed party source told Saturday PUNCH, “We are aware of the role some of our members played in the emergence of The President, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) in 2015 and why they did that. It is important to observe the trends before making a decision, it is too early to begin to stoke another crisis over zoning.”

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