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PDP: Zoning as Secondus’ litmus test.

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As Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) returns to the drawing board to strategise ahead of the 2023 general elections, Assistant Editor, ‘Dare Odufowokan, reports that its national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus is currently under severe pressure as a fierce debate rages within and outside the party over which zone should get its presidential ticket.

Following the spark he drew early in the year when he allegedly made a statement that was interpreted to mean the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may do away with the zoning arrangement in determining who will be its presidential candidate in 2023, national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, has been under immense pressure from both the groups supporting zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket within the party and those opposed to the idea.

Party sources told The Nation that the raging debate over zoning has become some sort of litmus test for the Rivers state born-politician as many stakeholders within the party are eagerly waiting to know which side he will be favouring ahead of the already unfolding struggle for the 2023 presidential ticket of the opposition party. “The most troubled person in the PDP today is the national chairman. He is almost like between the devil and the deep blue sea over the issue of zoning.

“Already, our most prominent chieftains are divided down the line over the issue and as the leader of the party, whichever side he supports, he will lose the support of the other side and this means a lot to his continued leadership of the National Working Committee (NWC). Both parties see him as very instrumental to their struggle and as it is, he is barely managing to keep his cards to his chest after one or two statements almost gave him out,” our source claimed.

The Nation learnt that with the tenure of the Secondus-led NWC ending before the 2023 general election, a lot now depends on how he handles the zoning debate whether he will continue in office or not. “That has even complicated the matter the more. Apart from the fact that many of the party’s kingmakers, including those who made it possible for Secondus to emerge as chairman in 2017, are currently watching every of his moves, some are even calling for his removal to pave way for a northern national chairman in preparation for the emergence of a southern presidential candidate,” another source added.

A slip or hint?

It would be recalled that in January, the PDP national chairman made his now famous pronouncement concerning the zoning issue. Speaking on plans by the party to strengthen its structures ahead of future elections, Secondus said “you know the Constitution allows everybody, whether you are from north, whether you are from south, to contest. No one is going to stop anyone from contesting even when it is zoned to a particular region, and I have been talking about this in the past. So, every person still has a right to contest; so, if you are qualified and desire to run for the office of the President you are free to contest.

While quickly adding that the party is at the moment more concerned with rebuilding it than zoning of 2023 presidential ticket, he said the issue of zoning would be looked into at the appropriate time. He said, “Today we are more concerned in rebuilding our party. When the time comes for the nomination of a Presidential candidate the party will come out with its position. Our focus is in making sure that our party is strong and viral and ready to win elections.”

But the import of his claims that the party may not bar contestant from any part of the country was not lost on pro zoning agitators within the party. Expectedly, not a few condemned the statement while warning against any attempt to throw open the contest, insisting that the presidential ticket must be zoned to the southern part of the country in accordance with the party’s unwritten gentlemen’s zoning arrangement.

Already, Chief Bode George, a former deputy national chairman of the party, has warned that peace will elude Nigeria if the presidency does not rotate to the South from the North in 2023. The retired military top brass urged the current leaders of the party to emulate and repeat the understanding and patriotism with which the party was able to implement the zoning arrangement peacefully from 1999 when it came into existence till it was voted out of power in 2015.

“I am not a soothsayer; I do not look at crystal balls. Can there be peace when only one tribe monopolizes power? That was the route we passed, why should we go through that same route now? Why don’t you live the day and ensure that your neighbor is as comfortable as you are? That is the only way you can guarantee your comfort. In summary, there would not be peace if power refuses to rotate in 2023,” George, who contested against Secondus in 2017 for the chairmanship, said.

Reliable party sources claimed the rumoured interest of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was the PDP’s presidential candidate in 2019, in the party’s ticket for the 2023 contest, is currently Secondus’ greatest headache. “The chairman’s rumoured loyalty to the Atiku camp is his major problem today. Should Atiku decide to run, Secondus may not find it easy to work against him as he strongly believe the former Vice President has what it takes to win for PDP.

“But if Atiku is out of the race, Secondus will naturally support the clamour for a southern presidential candidate, especially if his friend and kinsman, Governor Nyesom Wike, is in the race. He is currently struggling to balance the sides as the debates rage. Ordinarily, as the leader of all, he shouldn’t be seen to be taken side, but beyond that, many of the gladiators are watching him closely. They want him to show his hands as regards the zoning issue,” our source claimed.

When asked about Atiku’s rumoured interest in the race in spite of the clamour for the ticket to be zoned to the south, Dr. Sani Adamu, a pro Atiku campaigner, said: “The important question is not the consequences of not nominating Atiku, but the right move for the party at this time. As a party faithful, Atiku’s interest is the best for the party. If we all agreed that Atiku/Obi actually won the 2019 presidential elections, then we have no reason to change the winning team. The Atiku/Obi ticket is the only asset the party has.

“The resources deployed to the 2019 project are intact; this makes the 2023 presidential elections cheaper to undertake. However, the important thing is for the party to come together and put its house in order for a strong and united opposition party. Party members should be involved in the decision–making processes, and party elders should refrain from making unguarded statements on issues requiring consultations and other sensitivities.”

Already, the various interest groups within the party are getting at each other as the debates over zoning and the 2023 presidential ticket get hotter. Chairman Board of Trustees of the party, Senator Walid Jibrin, fired the first salvo when he said his life is under threat of attack following his recent comments concerning the 2023 presidential ticket of the PDP. According to him, his life is being threatened for not saying that the 2023 PDP ticket be zoned to the North-East, where Atiku hails from.

The BoT chairman said, “I have received anonymous calls from some people threatening my life for not saying that the party’s presidential candidate should come from the North-East geopolitical zone of the country. They said I ought to have said that Atiku Abubakar should be the automatic candidate of the party in 2023.” He added that some faceless people had even gone to the PDP National Secretariat at Wadata Plaza, saying that those that went there had the intention to deal with him.

While saying he remained unperturbed to threat from faceless people, Walid noted that he received similar threats during the ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration because he was considered to be too frank about party matters. He said he had since petitioned the Inspector- General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, over the development. Jibrin, a Second Republic senator, added that he hoped the IG would swing into action to unmask those behind the threats and apprehend them.

Following Walid’s public outcry, two pro-Atiku Abubakar support groups, Desecration.Org and Project774 For Atiku2019, warned the BoT chairman to always ensure that his views reflect the position of the party at all times. Coordinator of the groups, Dr. Sani Adamu, said the BoT chairman either under-estimated the magnitude of his comment or was flippant with his mouth, urging him to use his exalted office to unite, and not divide the party.

He said the BoT chairman should ordinarily be the soul or moral high ground of the PDP, explaining that by implications, “this means that at all times his public statement should reflect the view of the party, its followers and its leadership. His public comments on party affairs are assumed the official standing of the party. Therefore, when he makes comments without the due regards to the party leadership, he is actually on his own.

“He should bear the full consequences of his comments. The big lesson there is that there is no thin line between his personal comment and that of the party, especially when it is in the media. He should refrain from controversial comments or issues not reflecting the position of the party leadership. He needs to apologise and withdraw his comments rather than making more wild allegations on threat to his life.”

Adding his weight to the raging debate, National Vice chairman (southwest) of the PDP, Eddy Olafeso, said those calling for scrapping of zoning will regret it. “If they scrap zoning, there will be no Nigeria beyond 2023. Mark my word, that’s what will exactly happen. Zoning is what has kept Nigeria together this far but if they now want to jettison it, it will have consequences. Any attempt to jettison zoning will have disastrous consequences. Without zoning, Nigeria’s corporate existence is in danger,” he warned.

As things stand, there is no gainsaying in the fact that the zoning debate and its outcome will play major roles in the political trajectory of Prince Secondus and his leadership of the opposition PDP. Will he weather the storm and emerge stronger at the end of it all, or will the raging debate consume him and end his chairmanship of the nation’s largest opposition party? Time will surely tell. sources the nation Newspaper.

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