BY HENRY UMORU
EVENTS of Monday June 6, 2011 that culminated in the election of Reps Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Emeka Ihedioha as speaker and deputy speaker, Federal House of Representatives respectively may have come and gone but they took the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP unawares.
The wounds and pains of scheming and betrayal inflicted on the party and its leadership still linger, though both the Speaker and his deputy have apologised and the leadership of the party had asked them to go and sin no more. Some observers view the ‘forgiveness’ as cosmetic given the character of the ruling party that hardly forgets wrongs when pay back time comes.
Before the distortion of the party’s zoning formula by Speaker Tambuwal and his men, tempers were high. The party hierarchy had threatened to discipline any member who failed to follow the dictates of the PDP; warning that all members must subject themselves to its ‘rules.’ There were insinuations in some quarters that the party might suspend the legislators for disobeying the party under whose platform they got elected to the National Assembly.
The Acting National Chairman, Bello Haliru Mohammed had said at a Retreat organised for the President, Governors, and National Assembly members-elect that, “surely, we cannot continue to allow individuals and groups to do what they liked and undermine our unity, cohesion and effectiveness. Henceforth, we shall not condone acts of indiscipline in our party.”
In spite of the threat, some members of the PDP dumped the zoning arrangement of the party, by electing their own, even before the watchful eyes of the acting national chairman; former Chairman, Board of Trustees, BoT, Chief Anthony Anenih; and governors.
The PDP had zoned the speakership position to South West and had a favoured candidate in the person of Mrs Mulikat Akande-Adeola. A combination of Tambuwal and other members crushed Adeola. The new Speaker polled 252 votes as against Akande-Adeola’s 90. It was a dark day for the ruling party, as it was humiliated by some of its members.
And the PDP zoning formula ‘died’ on the floor of the House – the South-West lost the speakership and even the North-East that would have got the position of deputy speaker lost out to Emeka Ihedioha of the South-East, leaving many questions unanswered.
The questions include: Is zoning dead in PDP? Was is it ever in existence? At what point did it go? How will the party get itself back and strike a balance following the over bloated nature of some zones in the country leaving others almost politically irrelevant?
Now, the South-South has the President of the country; South-East, Deputy Senate President, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Deputy Speaker, Federal House of Representatives.
Also, in the present arrangement, the North-Central has the Senate President while the North West has the Vice President, Speaker House of Representatives and PDP Acting National Chairman while the South-West holds Chairman BoT of the party.
Tambuwal’s action was not the first in the history of PDP when positions were zoned to a particular area or region and others from other areas contested for the slots. However, what may be unique in what happened on the floor of the House of Representatives was the fact that the party failed to have its way this time. In the past, each time PDP zoned positions, it always had its way by ensuring that the anointed persons emerged. But it got it wrong this time, before its very eyes, with a combination of the opposition and PDP members, the party was ridiculed.
For instance, in 1998, there was zoning and the party zoned the presidency to the South-West but former Vice President Alex Ekwueme and Late Abubakar Rimi among others contested with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2003, Barnabas Gemade, Rimi and Ekwueme also came out and contested, though Rimi was given back his N2million nomination fee and he withdrew before the primaries.
Asked to comment on zoning in the PDP, former National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, had said: “Yes I said to BBC and I repeat to you again that zoning in PDP has been jettisoned. There is no zoning on ground right now. Absolutely there is no zoning. In 1999, there was zoning and only one Northerner insisted on his inalienable right to the Nigerian Constitution to contest against the zoning arrangement of the PDP. The PDP put its foot down and I wrote a letter to him and returned his cheque. That is the late Abubakar Rimi of blessed memory.
“In 2003, after four years of Obasanjo, candidates sprang up from across the country. They paid, they canvassed. Nobody returned their money. Nobody wrote them that there was a zoning. In 2007, there were more candidates from Southern Nigeria than Northern Nigeria and I think if that election was allowed to hold without interference, may be anybody among Peter Odili, Donald Duke or Sam Egwu would have won.
They all paid. Nobody returned their money. Nobody stopped them. Nobody talked about zoning. They all contested. Why zoning now? Why? We have jettisoned it but we can revisit it. I’m not afraid about revisiting it. If we think that we need to revisit zoning today, let us revisit zoning. But the one we did in 1999, no, no, no, no, it has been jettisoned by PDP itself. So those who are talking about that agreement are not following the history of the party. The party has never stopped anybody after 1999 on the altar of zoning.”
To save the zoning formula from total eclipse, the PDP is rejigging its positions from the top and one of the top offices is that of National Secretary, which is being zeroed down to the South-West at least to compensate the region for the near political oblivion it is presently experiencing in the fold of the PDP, even as the zone is being pencilled down for the office of House Chief Whip.
The PDP is also readjusting the zoning arrangement to appease the North-East geo-political zone that is presently complaining that the North West had marginalised the area because the North-West presently boasts of Vice President Namadi Sambo (Kaduna), Speaker, Tambuwal (Sokoto) and acting national chairman, Dr. Mohammed (Kebbi).
To ensure that the North-East was not left out in the political equation, President Goodluck Jonathan and governors from the zone have settled for the Party’s National Chairman to emerge from the zone, just as they have agreed on Dr. Bamanga Tukur, former member, Board of Trustees, BoT of the PDP, to pick the seat.
The North East, which is made up of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states, Vanguard gathered complained to the President that it lost the deputy speakership position, which they had anointed Yakubu Dogara (Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa Balewa Federal Constituency), to occupy as well as immediate past Governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje, who was also schemed out of the race for Senate Presidency.
It was gathered that at the meeting held at the Asokoro residence of one of the North-East governors, the state helmsmen except that of Adamawa State, who was absent, deliberated on three names submitted by the President. The names were Alhaji Hassan Adamu, Wakili Adamawa, Dr. Bamanga Tukur and former governor of Bauchi State and chairman, board of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Alhaji Ahmed Adamu Mauzu.
President Jonathan was said to have told the governors that he would want a National Chairman he could work with and that the membership of the party would also respect. At the end of the day, Tukur, from Adamawa State, was chosen for his connections and his contributions to the party.
Also, as part of the rejigging process, there are plans for the party to hold a Special National Convention soon (earlier than the March date) against the backdrop that names of some members of the Present National Working Committee, NWC like the National Organising Secretary, Prince Uche Secondus, National Publicity Secretary, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali, National Legal Adviser, Chief Olusola Oke, National Woman Leader, Hajia Inna Ciroma, and National Treasurer, William Makinde have been submitted from their states for Ministerial appointments.
Mohammed, the acting national chairman, as gathered, may also be posted out for an ambassadorial job for his roles during the presidential primaries, and traveling to all the geo-political zones of the country and the states with the PDP Leadership, the President, his Vice as well as other party members. And when this happens, the NWC will be porous hence the need to have a Special Convention for the composition of a new NWC has become very imperative.
The President as gathered wants a quick action on the appointment of a National Chairman for the party because he wants to avoid a situation where he would be distracted because of the fight for the position, just as the source added that the President was said to have told the meeting that there were a lot to be done in the country, so the issue of Party Chairmanship must not set the country and his administration backward.
It was also gathered that the governors from the North-East would have preferred a situation where non-PDP States like Yobe and Borno produce the party’s national chairman to avoid a repeat of ‘cold war’ between governors of such states and the national chairman like what happened in Enugu State. A political war ranged for months between governor Sullivan Chime and former PDP National Chairman, Nwodo, but they had to respect the views and nomination of the President.
Now that the Party is trying to bring to bear the zoning formula, which appeared dead, we watch as events unfold.