PDP: THE HISTORY OF ZONING AND ITS CONSEQUENCES: A political party and the many rivers to cross
By Jide Ajani
Perhaps, the single most egregious, yet, ironic, thing happening in this Fourth Republic is the continuing unraveling of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. For a party, which had its nucleus strongly embedded in the anti-dictatorship struggle, culminating in the G-18 group of eminent Nigerians, metamorphosing into G-34, and, in the process, trumping geo-political and ethno-religious boundaries, to describe as shameful what the party has been reduced to, would be an understatement. Had the tenets of democracy, as espoused by its founding fathers, been its watchword, the PDP would have laid a very strong foundation for Nigeria’s democracy.
However, what the military did in 1993, via the annulment of the June 12 Presidential Election and which Nigerians fought and battled against, was forgotten and quickly thrown into the waste bin by leaders of the PDP, thereby enthroning a fresh brand of whimsical, selfish and parsimonious political doctrine hinged on the quest to control the party. That the PDP has now come to this sorry pass is not only ignominious, it further serves to accentuate – with all its abundant negativity – the mentality of the Nigerian politician and his understanding and appreciation of the power calculus.
And with the way the All Progressives Congress, APC, is carrying on, hopes for a better polity continue to dim. In interrogating the present stasis in the PDP as well as contextually situating the blame for the rot, it would serve the public good to embark on an exploration of the root cause of the PDP’s present situation. With its confusing plethora of court cases, one of which was disposed of at the Appeal Court affirming that Ali Modu Sheriff is the authentic National Chairman of the party, and a further appeal that is bound for the Supreme Court, the PDP is not new to crisis. Mind you, the hoola-baloo over the chairmanship of PDP is a consequence of a warped zoning arrangement.
This report will show how PDP leaders walked themselves into this bind by breaking their own rules, as well as present the over 40 documented cases of infractions in the PDP and why the party will remain crisis-prone – without prejudice to the present victory by the Sheriff faction.
They possess the awkward mix of making rules and breaking them. That is what leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have perfected in the last 18years.
Even forced out of power by a debilitating blow dealt them by the All Progressives Congress, APC, leaders of the PDP carry on like ‘possessed demons’ seeking a body to take over.
With a history of political philandering, most of its leaders, not known to operate within the confines of fidelity, constitute themselves into an ugly billboard on which are displayed conducts of political advancement in reverse gear.
That is why, after going out of their way to source for and enthrone Ali Modu Sheriff, as fit and proper to complete the party’s national chairmanship zoning tenure of the North East geo-political zone, some leaders of the party changed their mind.
Whereas they looked into the eyes of Sheriff and assumed, having perfected the art of sorcery, they could puppeteer with the latter, they underrated Sheriff’s history of political brinksmanship.
So, how did zoning become a major aspect of the life of PDP? And why has it been difficult for the party to abide by its own rules? An exploration of PDP’s history would help.
Day of Decision, Monday, December 2, 2002
Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo hoped that what he wished for would come to pass after the expanded caucus meeting of the PDP fixed for that day inside Aso Rock Presidential Villa. The meeting had been called to put paid to the growing discontent in some quarters that then President needed to step down and not contest for second term.
To douse tension and resolve the matter, the leadership of the PDP had called the meeting.
The minutes of that meeting, first published exclusively by SundayVanguard in July 2010, read: “The National Chairman (Chief Audu Ogbeh) explained that he has been inundated with calls seeking clarification on the subject. The matter had also been discussed at the last caucus meeting and a position taken. The National Secretary was asked to read the caucus position which in summary stated that the national caucus generally decided that the 1998 zoning of the positions of the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker, Party Chairman, Party Secretary, etc, should remain as it would stabilise the party but advised that it be presented to the larger house.
“The National Chairman explained that it was brought to the enlarged caucus meeting because of the need to discuss the matter with an enlarged audience.
“Contributing, the Speaker(Ghali Na’Abba) said that, in 1999, the zoning arrangement was determined by the presidential election. He was of the view that the presidential election should be open to everybody this time (2003) around, adding that the flag bearer must be somebody capable of winning elections for the party.
“Chief Tony Anenih, however, clarified that the zoning arrangement did not revolve around the presidential candidate in 1999.
“It went down the line even to party officers. Even at the last national convention of the party where national officers were elected, the chairmanship of the party went to the North.
“The National Organising Secretary (Hon. Inuwa Labaran) stated that the fact that the North produced the current National Chairman has made it clear what the zoning arrangement is.
“The National Youth Leader (Farouk Bibi Farouk), however, said that the laws of the country did not allow disenfranchisement through zoning. He wondered whether PDP was ready to convince the court that, by zoning, it was not discriminating against those affected, adding that it will be tactically wrong to zone out anybody.
“Niger State Governor (now late Eng. A A Kure) wondered whether whatever decision taken on the matter would be binding. He said if the position of the President is zoned, the same must be done for other positions. He said he supported the South to produce the next President but let nobody support any governorship (read presidential) aspirant from another zone against him.
“Alhaji Lawal Kaita explained that zoning was a gentleman’s agreement, which started at the constitutional conference. The minorities fought hard to have it (presidency) zoned to them but at the end it was agreed that it should be between the North and the South. He said that they in the North persuaded northerners not to put up candidates in 1998/1999. He then moved that the party allow the South have eight years after which it would then return to the North where it would stay for eight years.
“National Vice Chairman, (SS) (Aminasoari Kala Dikibo), explained that in a party situation, a party has the right to make rules that would enable it manage its affairs. He said people must make sacrifices for the unity of the country. He said zoning was being done even at local levels and aligned himself with the views and motion of Alhaji Lawal (Kaita). He emphasised that even the national officers were products of zoning, adding that if people wanted to change the zoning arrangement, they should have raised it at the last convention.
“National Chairman (
) pointed out that zoning ended up in the 1999 Abacha Constitution. It was five-year single term to be rotated among the six geo-political zones.
“Vice President (Atiku Abubakar) highlighted that the thinking then was that, at the end of 30 years, every geo-political zone would have produced a president. He said the caucus should take into consideration that there was already a move to amend the Constitution, introduce a single five-year term. He reasoned that if it was agreed that the South should hold the presidency for eight years and the Constitution is amended to a five year term, the North would be shortchanged.
“Akwa Ibom State Governor (Victor Attah) said zoning as an arrangement cannot be fixed for the future. It is an issue that we must agree on when each term expires. There can be dissidents but the party would know that it has decided on a particular (person). He said the South should be allowed to have a second term.
“Rivers State Governor (Peter Odili), while noting that every human organisation functioned in groups, said group laws were made for man. He noted that the wisdom of the founding fathers created the situation we have today. He suggested we stick to what we have as it is good for the country. After eight years, the matter can be looked at again.
“Chief Solomon Daushep Lar (now late) emphasised that if it is eight years for the South, it must be eight years for the (North).
“The Speaker, while aligning himself with the views of Alhaji Lawal Kaita, however, suggested that each zone should be allowed to go and discuss the matter. In the alternative, he said politicians should sacrifice their (ambitious) sic and settle for the VP’s option of amending the Constitution.
“The Ebonyi State Governor (Sam Egwu), however, pointed out that those who were arguing that the North would be shortchanged should remember how long the North had ruled.
“The Governor of Nassararwa State (Abdullahi Adamu) noted that zoning was a weighty issue which demanded immediate attention. The country has not gone too far away from democracy and its institutions were still very fragile. He said the eight-year zoning arrangement should stay provided it would be eight years for the North also. He said changing the Constitution to a five-year single term is a kite, which, barring unforeseen circumstances, cannot go through.
“Senator Maina Lawan said the idea of zoning was excellent. He supported the views of Alhaji Lawal Kaita and suggested that a firm decision be taken immediately. He expressed fears that the five-year single term proposal may not be the solution to the nation’s problems.
“Nze Fidelis Ozickukwu (Nat. Vice Chairman, SE) noted that leadership entails a lot of sacrifices. He pointed out that power sharing was historical, tracing the arrangement from Balewa to Shagari and the fact that Shagari was allowed to go for a second term. The NVC (SE) aligned himself with the view of Alhaji Lawal Kaita, adding that the South should be allowed to have two terms of four years each.
“Deputy Senate President, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, reacting to opinions that when power returns to the North it should not be to North-Central because the zone had dominated power, said the circumstances that led to North-Central ruling for about 20 years were different. It was under the military and the people shot themselves to power, stressing that North-Central has never produced a democratically elected president.
“Chief Sunday Afolabi then formally supported Alhaji Kaita’s motion to retain the present zoning arrangement in the party and for the South to have two terms of four years each after which it would return to the North for the same number of years (eight years).
“Chief Tony Anenih, in also supporting the motion, gave the following reasons:
- If the PDP, as a party, wants to retain the eight-year zoning arrangement, it can be done
- Five-year single term would promote acts of indiscipline
iii. It could lead to abandoning the party manifesto.
- If the Constitution is amended, it cannot be backdated. This can result in a situation where a president may end up spending 9 years instead of the maximum eight.
- Retaining the zoning arrangement would be in the interest of the unity of the country.
“National Youth Leader (Bibi Farouk), however, moved a counter-motion, saying in view of the fact that zoning was unconstitutional, it should be thrown out.
“The National Chairman (Audu Ogbeh) then asked those who wanted the party to ensure that the South had two terms of four years each beginning from May 1999, after which power revolves to the North for the same period (of eight years) to raise their hands. The following results were recorded.
Those for = 47
Against = 2
Abstention = 2″
Early signs of indiscipline
But the story of zoning and its validation by the PDP, which predated 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 presidential elections, engaged a different gear at the height of the attempt to impeach then President Obasanjo. Prior to that meeting in December, Anenih, who was then Minister of Works, in August of that year, noticed the macabre dance of some members of the party towards acts that would later be captured as anti-party activities – that is, acts going against the grain of rules, guidelines or conventions of the party.
As if sensing the danger, which appears to be consuming the PDP today, Anenih, in a letter, dated August 5, 2002, and addressed to the National Chairman of the PDP, titled ‘PDP ZONING ARRANGEMENT’, explained, “You will recall that the sanctity of PDP’s zoning arrangement was obeyed to the letter in 1998/’99 General Elections. It was the zoning, which is still valid, that gave the principal officers both in the party and executive the following positions in 1998/’99:
*National Chairman – North
*President – South
*Vice President – North
*President of the Senate – South
*Speaker, House of reps – North
*National Secretary – South
*Dep. Senate Presiden – North
*Deputy Speaker – South
Anenih then went ahead to recall: “As it was in 1998 up to date, only candidates from the North were allowed to contest for the post of National Chairman. In the same vein, only candidates from the South collected presidential nomination forms. The only aspirant from the North, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, withdrew from the race before the convention. As a result, only Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Chief Graham Douglas and Chief Don Etiebet, attended the convention in Jos and contested. Of course, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo won and became the party’s presidential candidate. I am writing this to put you on notice so that you will remember when you are considering the guidelines for the presidential primaries that the above zoning arrangement stands till 2007 when the reverse will be the case”.
This was in 2002. But something was to happen and it shocked even Anenih and some leaders of the party. Despite this letter to the National Chairman of his party, some northerners flagrantly disregarded the zoning arrangement in the PDP. Thus, at the presidential primaries of the party in January 2003, and despite the zoning arrangement that ceded power to the South for another four years, then President Obasanjo, Dr. Alex Ekweme and Chief Rochas Okorocha from the South collected the forms, while Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Chief Banabas Gemade, from the North, also did. Again, in 2007, inspite of the zoning of the presidency to the North; whereas 14 aspirants picked the nomination form from the North, 16 aspirants from the South picked the form too, further validating Anenih’s submission that the zoning arrangement was observed in the breach rather than observance.
This was to come back and haunt the party in 2011 when, against the grain of the agreement for the eight years South and eight years North, then incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan insisted on contesting on the platform of the PDP.
PDP and Sheriff: Chairmanship zoning, the root of this evil
After Lar, but from Barnabas Gemade, Audu Ogbeh, Ahmadu Ali, Vincent Ogbulafor, Okwesilieze Nwodo, Haliru Mohammed, Bamangar Tukur and Adamu Muazu, the emergence of a National Chairman of the party almost always left a sour taste in the mouth. Gemade, after being disgraced out of power by Obasanjo who imposed him, placed a curse on the party, declaring, in anger, that the fate that would befall subsequent chairmen of the PDP would be worse than what he was being made to suffer at that time.
From the time of his exit as Chairman, successive chairmen of the party have suffered one form of ignominy or the other.
Tukur’s exit, funny enough, was endorsed in an ironic manner. Whereas Jonathan praised him to high heavens as being a man of integrity and virtue, he, nonetheless, endorsed his removal as Chairman. Tukur is from Adamawa State in the North-East. Muazu, who took over from him, hails from Bauchi State, also in the North-East. Therefore, when Sheriff, who hails from Borno State ( the North-East), was brought on board to lead the party into its convention, the people, who went shopping for him, ignored other contenders from the same North-East zone, who had a more charitable history as PDP leaders. But they also underrated Sheriff’s capacity for manipulative political dogma, having survived, thorough the years, many political expeditions.
For example, of all his contemporaries in the All Peoples Party, APP, which became the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, before the merger into what has become the APC, no other politician (except, of course, apart from President Muhammadu Buhari) has garnered the type of clout Sheriff boasts of in content, context and political calculus.
Yet, for all his antecedents and history per politics, Sheriff does not pass for your typical PDP leader. While it would have been much more fashionable for your average Nigerian politician to pitch tent with the ruling APC – which even has familial relationship with Sheriff because he is an in-law of President Buhari – Sheriff’s foray into the PDP remains what it is: strange.
But Ogbulafor was once a PDP Chairman – he also moved over from ANPP.
Whatever some leaders of PDP have against Sheriff, to claim that he is not qualified by virtue of state of origin or political operation would not be one of such.