By Mike Odiakose
From 1999 the Peoples Democratic Party operated an informal ‘zoning’ arrangement, under which the presidency would alternate every two terms between southern and northern parts of the country. The zoning arrangement was intact until the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua when his deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan took over as president. The ascension of Dr Jonathan did not go down well with the northern elites who felt it was their turn. When Dr Jonathan went into the race to contest in 2011 the northern political elites protested strongly and eventually six PDP state governors defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC, along with about one-third of the PDP’s members of both houses of the National Assembly, leaving the PDP without a majority in the lower house for the first time since 1999.
In the build-up to the 2023 election it is expected that power should rotate back to the south as the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari would be completing two terms of eight years in office. However, some PDP leaders in the north are angling for power to remain in the region, a position that is in sharp contrast to their position in 2011. Some of these PDP leaders who are already in the race to contest the PDP presidential primary came up with the idea of producing a single consensus candidate from the north to tackle aspirants from the south. The four presidential aspirants in the forefront of the campaign for consensus are former President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki; Gov. Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State; Gov. Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State and the former Managing Director of FSB International Bank, Alhaji Mohammed Hayatudeen.
These four aspirants have been going round the country canvassing for support for whoever emerges as their consensus candidate. However, they have met brick wall in some of the PDP leaders and governors they have met to canvass for support. For instance, Governor Ifeanyi Ughwuanyi of Enugu state told the northern presidential aspirants that “justice, equity and fairness” should be given top priority in the choice of who emerges as the PDP presidential candidate. The PDP presidential aspirants from the north would rather want the words “justice, equity and fairness” to be downplayed. Rather, they argued that the PDP should grab power from the APC first before talking about how to share power.
While the issue of zoning is still unresolved in the PDP, some northern leaders led by General Ibrahim Babangida and Prof Ango Abdullahi, who is not known to be a current card-carrying member of PDP, on April 22 announced in Minna, Niger state that that have picked Governor Bala Mohammed and former Senate President Bukola Saraki as their consensus aspirants. This decision did not go down well with other aspirants from the north who felt short-changed by the ambiguous process used in arriving at the decision.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was very emphatic that he was never a party to Northern consensus arrangement. Reacting to the announcement, The Technical Committee for the actualization of Atiku Abubakar’s Presidency in 2023, TEECOM, stressed that the aspirants who presented themselves for the exercise are: Gov Aminu Tambuwwal; Gov Bala Mohammed, Dr Bukola Saraki and Mohammed Hayatu-Deen.
“Waziri Atiku Abubakar Vice President Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999-2007 was never a part of this purported consensus arrangement and did not subject himself to this process. Therefore, he is not bound by any of the recommendations and conclusions of the purported report.
“Waziri Atiku Abubakar as a nationalist strongly believes that Nigeria has never been so divided as it is today, and any regional, zonal, ethno-religious gang up or consensus driven in this manner will further deepen and widen the wounds that urgently require to be healed. He is anxious to implement plans, policies and programmes that will rescue and rebuild Nigeria”
TEECOM urged supporters of Atiku to continue with consultations and town hall meetings with delegates across the country as the party prepares for the presidential primaries scheduled for Saturday/ Sunday May 28 and 29, 2022.
In a related reaction, the Tambuwal Campaign Organization, TCO, said the consensus drive failed, and their principal is not part of any agreement. The TCO went ahead to narrate how the process was manipulated by Dr Bukola Saraki.
A statement by Director Organization and Mobilization for TCO, Nicholas Msheliza, reads: “The attention of Tambuwal Campaign Organization (TCO) has been drawn to a news item that former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Gov. Bala Muhammad of Bauchi state have emerged as consensus candidates from amongst the four of us announced at a meeting in Minna, Niger state. This is, to be candid and forthright, not correct.
“The correct situation is that the team met on Wednesday 20th April, 2022, at Bauchi Governor’s lodge in Abuja and had a review meeting; and, unanimously agreed that the consensus arrangement was not working.
“The team further agreed that Sen. Saraki should come up with a draft statement on how to communicate this decision to the Nigerian public. This was the last time that members of the team sat and mutually agreed on anything. The proposed meeting to review and vet the statement scheduled for 10 pm of the same day was aborted unilaterally by Sen. Saraki via a WhatsApp message.
“However, on Thursday, 21st, 2022, same Sen Saraki circulated yet another WhatsApp message suggesting that members of the team should head to Minna for a meeting on Friday, Gov. Tambuwal reached other members of the team and informed them that he stands by the decision of the team that the initiative is not working. This is the reason Gov. Tambuwal was absent at today’s (Friday) meeting in Minna. As a result therefore, the outcome of the Minna meeting has no consequence or any implication on the aspiration of Gov. Tambuwal, who had earlier on informed his colleagues of maintaining their agreed position that the initiative has collapsed.
“Members of the public should be reminded that what was canvassed for was a consensus candidate and not consensus candidates. For the avoidance of doubt, Gov Tambuwal has submitted his Presidential nomination forms and now that the quest for a consensus candidate out of the four has clearly collapsed, will go ahead and face screening and indeed contest the PDP presidential primaries.
“This is in consonance with his acclaimed outlook as a pan-Nigerian candidate, with pedigree of national service as the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, life member of the Body of Benchers and now in his second and final term as Governor of Sokoto state.”
One of the PDP presidential aspirants who was among the four that were spearheading the consensus arrangement, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen also distanced himself from alleged consensus candidacy arrangement on PDP platform and rejected the alleged endorsement of Governor Bala Mohammad and Senator Bukola Saraki as the preferred Northern consensus candidates for the Peoples Democratic Party.
In a statement by the Director-General, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen Campaign Organization, Lamis Shehu Dikko, the group said it consulted with the Northern Elders’ Forum and agreed that the campaign of Mohammed Hayatu-Deen would now be undertaken independently to maintain the sanctity and integrity of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Key stakeholders of the PDP in the Northern States led by former Governor of Jigawa state, Sule Lamido, have also kicked against the decision of Northern Elders to shortlisted two aspirants as consensus PDP presidential aspirants.
A short statement by Lamido reads: “Having widely consulted Party Leaders across the 19 Northern States and FCT, it is hereby stated to our teeming Party members and the general public that what is reported in the Media is only the personal opinion of those who issued the statement and not the position of the PDP members in the North! Discussions are ongoing with all the aspirants in our Party with a view to having a National Consensus if possible or a least working towards having a smooth acrimony free National Convention.
“The position of the Northern Elders is not only injurious to the North but equally injurious to the Northern aspirants!”
Expectedly, the two aspirants favoured by the consensus arrangement have applauded the northern elders for their wisdom in narrowing the number of aspirants from the north to only two.
A statement by Sen. Bala Mohammed Presidential Campaign Organization issued by Prof. Udenta 0 Udenta Chairman PIU/ Spokesman reads: “On Wednesday 20th April, 2022 Gen. Ibrahim Babangida GCFR, through the channel of the platform he inaugurated announced Sen. Bala Mohammed and Sen. Bukola Saraki as the selected Consensus Aspirants. The Sen. Bala Mohammed Presidential Campaign Organization will thus like to place on record its eternal gratitude to President Ibrahim Babangida, GCFR and the entirety of Northern Elders who assisted him in reaching this decision. Our deep appreciation to them stems less from the fact that Sen. Mohammed is among the two selected Consensus Aspirants and more on their Labour of thankless patriotic duty and uncommon leadership in attempting to bring order and coherence to bear in a condition of acute political uncertainty and fractured political process. We thank you our leaders from the depth of our heart.
“We wish to place it on record that Gen. Babangida never approached nor lobbied anybody to superintend the process that will lead to the emergence of a Consensus Presidential Aspirant. Rather it was the group of Presidential aspirants made up of Sen. Bala Mohammed, Hon Aminu Tambuwal. Sen. Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Mohammed Hayatu-Deen that collectively, freely and willingly approached Gen Babangida to help select from amongst themselves a Consensus Presidential Aspirant. The above four named individuals not only initiated the Consensus Arrangement on their own volition but also agreed to fully and unequivocally abide by the decision that Gen Babangida will arrive at in consultation with other elders as well as accept, honour the steps and procedures he will deploy in arriving at any decision.
“We therefore reject the current insinuations in the media from some quarters that purport that Gen Babangida and the elders either did not consult very widely or imposed a decision on an unwilling band of presidential aspirants. Gen Babangida and elders deserve nothing but commendation for the conclusions they reached and the outcome of the Consensus exercise by anybody who believes in the tenets of truth, honour and integrity. Political ambition should not and cannot be a condition precedent to cast overboard these time honoured verities and inviolable norms and ask those are desecrating these values to have a sober rethink.
“The Sen. Bale Mohammed Campaign Organization will not join issues with anybody on the question of the Consensus Arrangement because the truth needs no further protection from its traducers but will rather press on in rallying the nation around its progressive “Nigeria First” Governance Vision on the heels of the successful execution of the Consensus Arrangement. The Campaign Organization, however advises all those who are not happy with the result of the selection process or who did not participate in it to focus on their individual political trajectories without let or hindrance and not muddy the political waters any further.
“Let us clarify to the millions of members and supporters of the PDP that the Consensus Arrangement was not designed as an end in itself but as means to an end; not as a goal with a limited regional vision or appeal but first in the series of processes and exercises aimed at building inclusiveness, harmony and unity within the ranks of the Presidential Aspirants in the PDP.
“It’s on record that the participants in the process toured the whole country together and reached out to critical political stakeholders in the party including its elected governors to explain the meaning and purpose of the arrangement and to seek their buy-in into the process if possible. It is commendable that South East Presidential aspiry have also acceded to this mode! and we wish them success in their current endeavors in this regard.
“The Sen. Bala Mohammed Presidential Campaign Organization believes strongly that the search for consensus, unity, solidarity and shared vision among the PDP presidential aspirants is a worthy move and a patriotic venture that aims at reducing unnecessary tension, acrimony and unhealthy diatribe among competitors and restore back to our politics the culture of reaching common ground, the reduction of the politics of bitterness and the respect of all shades of political opinion.
“Even if the process doesn’t secure all of its set goals at the end of the day, meaning that every aspirant participates in the Presidential primaries. It would have imbibed in all aspirants the culture of placing the group above the self in the party’s shared vision of the future and in accepting the very results of the primary election.
“For the avoidance of doubt, Sen. Bala Mohammed will build on the success of the consensus arrangement and unfold his grand “Nigeria First” Governance Vision in the coming days and weeks. Building also on his successful consultations with wide ranging critical party holders including but not limited to the Forum of Former Ministers, NWC, BOT. the Nigerian Senate and House of Reps Caucuses. He will reach out to every single party delegate and influencers- a process he has long initiated unabatedly.
“Sen. Bala Mohammed is a bridge builder and the composition of his Campaign Organization will reflect our Notional Diversity and mission of inclusivity on the basis of equity, justice and equal access to opportunities. His vision of Nigeria is a wholesome one just as his passion for party work and duty is almost peerless in the range of assignments he executed for it, not least beig the Report on the 2019 Elections and the Modalities for balanced allocation of positions to be adopted by the party.
“The Sen. Bala Mohammed Presidential Campaign Organization will contest for every political space and fight for every single delegate to the very end with robust energy and matchless passion but will continue to respect and honour our elders and critical party stakeholders as well as accepting and abiding by the ultimate decision this concourse of forces reach at the end of the day.”
In his own reaction, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, described the decision of the Northern leaders on PDP consensus arrangement as a welcome development.
Dr Saraki said through his Media Aide, Yusuph Olaniyonu that the process cannot be faulted as claimed by Governor Aminu Tambuwal.
“It is a welcome development. The process that eventually led to this decision cannot be faulted. It was pain-staking, thorough and transparent. One needs to commend and appreciate the elders who worked to actualise the process. May Allah bless them all.
“Their decision was based on equity, justice, and need for inclusion of all. Yes, one consensus candidate has not emerged but they have initiated a process which can help the party later on. The process is a work-in-progress. One person will still emerge from the on-going process here in the North.
“The South also has an example to emulate in deciding on the aspirants that should proceed to the primaries considering the zones that have not produced a President before like the South East. A nation like Nigeria with all the current problems needs consensus building as a way of healing the nation and enlarging grounds of co-operation, unity and understanding.”
From every indication the move by some PDP presidential aspirants to produce a consensus aspirant is now dead and the process has divided the aspirants. Mutual distrust is now very strong among the northern PDP presidential aspirants over allegations of manipulation of the process that threw up two aspirants. All their efforts to ensure the north produces the PDP presidential candidate may be exercise in futility as the clamour for power to go back to the south after Buhari’s tenure gets stronger.