The contentious zoning threatening the fragile peace in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was settled yesterday with the party retaining the arrangement, but with an addendum that its presidential ticket is open to all interested aspirants.
National Chairman Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo had given an indication of how the controversial issue would be resolved at the partyâ€™s National Executive Committee (NEC) in his opening speech before the attendees went into a closed-door session.
Nwodo told the party faithful at Wadata Plaza, venue of the NEC meeting in Abuja that the PDP had not jettisoned the zoning arrangement for party and elective offices. Daily Sun also learnt that the PDP governors had also at their meeting on Wednesday night as well as at the expanded caucus meeting later at the Presidential Villa, canvassed the retention of zoning, while also allowing any willing aspirant to seek partyâ€™s presidential ticket.
The NEC ended at about 6.pm yesterday without a communiquÃ© from the partyâ€™s National Working Committee (NWC).
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But a Daily Sun source revealed that the party resolved to sustain the existing zoning arrangement, even as it resolved to throw open the partyâ€™s presidential ticket to interested aspirants. The source further revealed that the Katsina State Governor, Ibrahim Shema moved the motion to sustain zoning, while the former chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, (BoT), Chief Tony Anenih seconded it.
The party, however, advised the PDP NWC to stay action on the orchestrated e-registration scheme for party members. The PDP governors spoke in unison against it at the well-attended meeting.
The NEC also resolved to re-admit the Abia State Governor, Theodore Orji into the party. The Abia governor had on Wednesday paid a visit to the party national secretariat to formally declare his intention to return to the PDP.
Incidentally, most of the positions taken at yesterdayâ€™s NEC meeting seemed to tally with what was agreed upon at the late night meeting of the expanded caucus meeting of Wednesday as well as another meeting of PDP governors, which held at the Kwara Lodge, Abuja.
At that meeting which began at about 5.00 p.m. the governors agreed to harmonise their position on zoning before proceeding for the expanded caucus meeting at the Presidential Villa. The governorsâ€™ positions are: 1. Zoning should be retained, because itâ€™s in the party constitution and the constitution of Nigeria through federal character provision. 2 Itâ€™s the constitutional right of President Goodluck Jonathan to contest and he shouldnâ€™t be denied that opportunity going by the circumstance he emerged as the president.
3 The party should allow any member of the party to contest and also provide a level playing field for all contestants in principles of equity, fairness and justice. The national caucus was expanded to accommodate the governors to make whatever agreed upon to sail through at the NEC. All the positions of the governors were adopted by the expanded caucus and literally all of them sailed through at the NEC meeting. To ensure that nothing went amiss, the governors met again before going for yesterdayâ€™s NEC meeting.
Speaking earlier at the opening of the NEC meeting, the PDP Chairman, Dr Nwodo said: â€œThe PDP as a responsible organization is responsive to the spirit and letters of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which enjoins the practice of federal character in the distribution of public offices.
â€œThe misconception and accusations that PDP has abandoned zoning is very far from the truth. When our president emerged, he chose a northern Muslim as his vice president. When the chairman resigned, he was replaced by another chairman from the South-eastern zone. Our Senate President, Speaker, Deputy Senate President and Deputy Speaker are from different zones of the country.
â€œAt the state level, we encourage rotation of our governors among the three senatorial zones in our state. How then can PDP be said to have abandoned zoning or rotation?â€ But Nwodo declared that even when zoning existed in the party constitution, there had never been hindrance to the aspiration of individual members within the party who showed interests in the presidential ticket, since the inception of the party in 1999. But he acknowledged that the speculated presidential ambition of President Jonathan was a test case for the partyâ€™s constitution and could be likened to the dilemma the nation faced when the late president Umaru Yarâ€˜Adua was ill and his office was vacant.
â€œIn the 2011 presidential primary, we were faced with unforeseen circumstances, which can only be likened to a national crisis we faced recently when our late president Umaru Musa Yarâ€˜Adua was ill and couldnâ€™t transfer power to the then vice president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. â€œThe country rose to the occasion and parliament successfully transmitted power to the vice president as acting president. â€œIn the zoning arrangement, we didnâ€™t envisage that a serving president would die in office, unfortunately we lost our dear president.
â€œToday, Dr Goodluck Jonathan by the dictate of our constitution is exercising the term of a joint mandate, given by the people of our great country. If our late president were alive today, we wouldnâ€™t be contesting his right to run for a second term under our national constitution. It was his entitlement.
â€œBut Dr Jonathan who is part and parcel of that mandate has a right to contest the remaining of that joint ticket in 2011. This will of course, not exclude any other aspirant from any part of the country from contesting the presidential primary, as it has become the custom of our party.
â€œYou will all recall that this scenario played out in the past in Adamawa State in the case of his Excellency, Atiku Abubakar and His Excellency Boni Haruna. This was when Atiku Abubakar was nominated as the running mate to President Obasanjo. Boni Haruna, in spite of the court challenge to deny him that mandate was adjudged by the courts as the right beneficiary of that ticket and he went on to do two terms as governor of Adamawa State.
Nwodo also told the PDP NEC members that a special convention to amend the partyâ€™s constitution would soon be convened to take care of emerging development, in line with the dictate of the Electoral Act.
In his remarks before the gathering entered into a closed-door session, President Jonathan appealed to the PDP members to work for the progress of the party and admitted that party faithful were bound to hold dissenting views on issues, but must be amicably resolved in the overall interest of the party. He observed non-PDP members had showed more than passing interest in the contentious issue on zoning, in the party, an indication that they had conceded the 2011 presidency to the PDP.
â€œAt our NEC, we donâ€™t stay here and box ourselves and we must maintain that tradition, because that is one of the good things we must bequeath to the next generation and we will disappoint Nigerians if we box ourselves and burn down our houses.
â€œWe will work together as a party, because what happens in the PDP happens in the whole country. Just look at the issue of zoning or no zoning, it is PDP primaries, whether we zone or donâ€™t zone, it is our own internal affairs. But the debate is even being spearheaded more by non-PDP members. That shows that what happens in PDP, in fact, they already conceded the presidency to us. Otherwise, they have no business coming to join our own debate. That means that already they know that the PDP will produce the president of this country, but do it well.â€
Meanwhile, former Plateau State governor and foundation chairman of the party, Chief Solomon Lar, yesterday expressed delight over the decision taken by the NEC to allow President Jonathan to contest the 2011 presidential election. Lar told journalists that the position taken on zoning was in the best interest of the country.
â€œThe party has been able to resolve the matter in the interest of the country.
I am happy that the party has said President Jonathan can continue with the joint ticket he enjoyed with the late President Yarâ€˜Adua. Thatâ€™s the position of the party,â€ the former national chairman of PDP submitted.
But elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai in his reaction last night said the outcome of the PDP NEC meeting was a total defeat for President Jonathan and his aides given that â€œtechnically speaking, it means that Jonathan is disqualified to contest the 2011 elections on the platform of the PDP.â€
Yakasai explained that the two core items, which the president expected to happen in his favour, did not materialize at the end of the day, noting that the NEC did not eventually anoint him as the PDPâ€™s presidential candidate for the 2011 elections, just as he failed to get the party to register its members by e-registration.
Yakasai, who admitted that he was yet to be fully briefed on the decisions reached by the NEC, explained that he was also not unaware of the structure of the partyâ€™s decision, which sounded rather ambiguous.
In his words: â€œI am happy that the NEC retained zoning in the party. But if they say that Jonathan can contest the elections in their party, then something is still wrong with their decision. My feeling is that they lacked the courage to come out and tell Jonathan that he cannot contest… because they cannot retain zoning and still say that anybody, including President Jonathan, can contest.â€
He expressed joy over the cloud that is gathering in favour of zoning the presidency to the North, but expressed bitterness over the attitude of Jonathan and his supporters. Hear him: â€œWhat is worrying me is that Jonathan and his supporters are now holding us hostage. This is because we are being asked to give him our votes as ransom money. It is wrong for Jonathan to encourage the division of this country because of his political ambition.â€
He concluded that, â€œMy fear is that the way the whole drama (on zoning) is going, it is going to eventually end up creating a dichotomy between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria and that would be most unfortunate. All over the world, the president is seen as an agent of unity, but more and more, the way things are being played out, Jonathan and his supporters are becoming the agents of disunity in the land.â€
Suleiman Argungu, former deputy governor of Kebbi State and a chieftain of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in another reaction last night said the decision was PDPâ€™s pecular of playing with peopleâ€™s intelligence.
â€œOrdinarily, the party should have come clearly to state where it stands instead of the usual abracadabra. It is also an indication that the party is not willing to follow due process and rule of law, because the constitution of any party or organisation is supposed to be sacrosanct and any deviation from the constitution is supposed to be met with severe sanction.
â€œAlthough I am not a member of the ruling party but I want to advise Jonathan to abide strictly by his partyâ€™s constitution and not to allow PDP to mess him up,â€ Argungu stressed.
Roll call at the PDP NEC meeting
President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice President Namadi Sambo, PDP Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo and other members of the NWC, former national chairmen, Ahmadu Ali, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, Barnabas Gemade, Chief Solomon Lar.
Speaker Dimeji Bankole, Deputy Speaker Bayero Nafada, President of the Senate, David Mark, Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.
Former Board of Trustees Chairman, Chief Tony Anenih, Deputy Governor Kaduna, Alhaji Ramalan Yero, former Deputy President of the Senate, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, Governor Oyo, Adebayo Alao-Akala, Sokoto Governor, Aliyu Wamakko, Ebonyi Governor, Martins Elechi, Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Governor of Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akpabio, Governor of Niger, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, Governor of Enugu, Sullivan Chime, Governor of Jigawa, Sule Lamido, Governor of Bayelsa, Timipre Silva, Governor of Adamawa, Murtala Nyako, Governor of Katsina, Ibrahim Shema, Governor of Imo, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, Governor of Ogun, Gbenga Daniel, Governor of Rivers, Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Nasarawa, Akwe Doma, Deputy Governor of Plateau, Paulin Talen, Governor of Osun, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Governor of Ekiti, Olusegun Oni, Governor of Delta, Emmanuel Uduaghan, Governor of Bauchi, Isa Yuguda, Governor of Gombe, Danjuma Goje, Governor of Kwara, Bukola Saraki, Governor of Cross River, Lyel Imoke, Governor of Benue, Gabriel Suswan, Governor of Kebbi, Saidu Dakingari, Governor of Zamfara, Aliu Shinkafi.
Senators Annie Okonkwo, Lee Maeba, Osita Isunazo, Nicholas Yahaya Ugbane.
Samuel Ogbemudia, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Professor Jerry Gana, Adamu Hassan, Senator Walid Jibrin, Senator Stella Omu, Major-General Mohammadu Magoro (retd), Senator Abubakar Sodangi, Shuaibu Oyedokun, Nana Aisha Kadiri, Yekini Adeojo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Kassim Ibrahim Imam, Hajia Hauwa Kida, Mrs Christy Silas, Hajia Rabi Murktar Mohammed, Garba Matazu, Farouk Lawal, Ataii Idoko.