By Mike Odiakose
Last Friday the Peoples Democratic Party Presidential Screening Panel screened the 17 aspirants that are jostling for the presidential ticket of the party. Those screened by the Panel are the screening exercise include former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; former Senate Presidents, Bukola Saraki and Pius Anyim; former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi; Bauchi and Sokoto State Governors, Bala Mohammed and Aminu Tambuwal.
Others are Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike; OVATION Publisher, Dele Momodu; former banker, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen; pharmacist, Sam Ohabunwa, Akwa Ibom State Governor, Emmanuel Udom; and the only female presidential aspirant, Olivia Tariela.
Equally successfully screened are former governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose; a lawyer, Charles Okwudili.
Two of the aspirants failed the screening test and it is widely believed that the two aspirants are Cosmos Ndukwe and Chinwendu Kanu – both, incidentally, from Abia State. While Ndukwe is a former commissioner in Abia, Kanu is a one-time Speaker of the State House of Assembly.
Since last year leaders of the leading opposition party have been harping on the imperative of members of the National Working Committee, NWC, staying neutral in the process that will lead to the emergence of the party’s presidential candidate. For instance, in December last year the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin, urged national chairman, Dr Iyorchia Ayu, to be neutral during the presidential primary of the party. At the BoT meeting attended by the Ayu-led NWC in Abuja, Jibrin said Ayu’s neutrality was crucial to the stability of the party and unity among the various contenders.
He said: “May I urge the national chairman to use his wealth of experience to make the party great as it remains the largest party in Africa.
“You must try to reconcile individuals, states and national issues Do not be distracted by the ambition of individual members but keep the party as formidable as possible. Concentrate on your duties and not more of who shall be the President, Vice President, Senate President etc.
“Do not side with any individual with self ambition and try to reduce godfatherism. Please respect the dignity of the individual and dynamism of a group”.
In his response Ayu said he had no personal interest in any of the contenders, adding that he would not be part of any faction, either at the state or national level.
“During my leadership of the party, I will try to be free, fair, and make the interest of the party to be paramount, it should not override a broader interest. I believe that if we go along this route, we will be able to recapture the lost glory of the PDP”.
In furtherance to the pledge made by Ayu, the party constituted a presidential screening panel that is made of very respected eminent Nigerians led by former Senate President, Senator David Mark. Apart from Mark, others on the screening committee are, Celestine Omehia, Mike Shanna (SAN), former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, Edward Ashiekaa, SAN, Mrs. Hilda Makonto, Dr. Akilu Indabawa, Hajia Hassana Dikko, Dr. Esther Uduehi, serves as secretary, while Ms Chinedu Nwchukwu, served as administrative secretary of the screening committee.
Following the disqualification of the two presidential aspirants, they have opportunity of appealing the verdict of the screening panel by approaching the Appeal Committee headed by Ayu, with the deputy national chairman of the party, Ambassador Umar Iliya Damagun, as member.
Others on this committee are Ambassador Taofeek Arapaja, Hon. Setonji Koshoedo, Jonathan. Hon. Umar Bature. Prof. Stella Effah Attorney, Ahmed Yayari Mohammed, Jonathan Daniel Woyen, Hon. DanieL Woygiikuro, Debo Ologunagba, Kamaledeen Adeyemi Ajinade, Okechukwu Obiechina, Daniel Mohammed, Kadade Sulieman and Theoplhilus Dakas Shan.
There’s also Chief Ali Odefa, Chief Dan Orbih, Emmanuel Bovoa, Hon. Soji Adagunodo, Aminu Abdullahi, Mustapha Yaradua, Hajia Zanab Maina, Chief Fidelis Tapgun, Chief Charles Aderemi Akitoye, Chief Onyema Udochukwu, and Austin Opara. The national secretary of the PDP, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, will serve as secretary of the committee.
Prior to the screening of the presidential panel Senator Ayu has always given assurance to all the presidential aspirants that he will be above board and will not favour any aspirant and only after the presidential primaries will he lend support to whoever emerges as the party’s candidate.
For instance, when Atiku Abubakar visited members of the NWC last week to intimate them of his presidential ambition, Ayu was very categorical that he will not work for him despite their long-standing personal relationship.
His words: “I’m saying this to make it clear that those who say oh, because of my personal relationship with you, as chairman, I’ll work for you. Mr. Vice President, I will not work for you as an aspirant. I will work for all the 17 aspirants. It is left to you to convince the delegates of our party that you are the best. You have to market yourself, you have to work hard.
“This National Working Committee for now we remain an umpire. We are not going to take side with any particular aspirants. But we love you all. I’ve said repeatedly that each one of you given the opportunity will run this country better than what APC has done or will be able to do.
“So in that light, our delegates drawn across the 36 states plus Abuja were ultimately gathered hopefully in Abuja and select one of you and the day a candidate emerges we will all rally around that candidate and make sure we win the presidential election next year.
“If you happen to be the choice of our delegates all of us sitting here, the National Working Committee will work very hard to ensure that you win the 2023 elections and when you win it will not be taken away again as it was done in 2019.”
However, one thing that has come out of the screening of the PDP presidential aspirants is that the party has technically thrown the zoning of its presidential ticket into the wasted basket. The party has been playing hide and seek since last year when the issue of zoning came up.
The zoning imbroglio took a new twist two weeks ago when some Northern Elders led by Prof Ango Abdullahi picked Governor Bala Mohammed and Dr Bukola Saraki as the consensus aspirants from the north.
Since the Governor Otom’s committee submitted its report to the NWC, the party has kept the report close to its chest.
However, there are strong indications that the Zoning Committee recommended to the National Executive Committee, NEC, for the presidential ticket of the party. The Zoning Committee was initiated by the NEC of the party at its last meeting to guide it on the zoning of its presidential ticket.
Last year a committee led by Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi state that reviewed the performance of the PDP during the 2019 general election had recommended that the party’s presidential ticket should the thrown open, though the committee admitted that the South East and North East have not been given opportunity to produce the party’s presidential ticket since 1999.
A source who is a member of the 37-man Zoning Committee told an online media that the Ortom-led committee has also recommended that the ticket be open.
The source said: “We have resolved that the ticket be thrown open. This will allow those who have bought forms to contest”.
Many governors on the platform of the PDP from the south are agitating that the ticket be zoned to the south, while those in the north and the Presidential aspirants from the north want zoning jettisoned.
Nigerian Pilot gathered that part of the recommendations of the Zoning Committee includes: “(1) Zoning, as in our party constitution, is affirmed.
(2)In Spite of (1) above, ticket is thrown open, this time around due to exigency of time; (3) Our Party is encouraged to always make the issue of zoning very clear at least six months before sales of forms; and (4) Our Party should commend the efforts of some our contestants on the issue of Consensus candidacy; the efforts should be seen to a peaceful and logical conclusion.”
On last Monday leaders of the Niger Delta, Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo and Middle Belt Forum met in Abuja where they reiterated their earlier position that the South East should produce the next president in 2023.
With the clearance given to aspirants from the North and South it is now definite that PDP has jettisoned the issue of zoning of its presidential ticket as none of the cleared aspirants can now be stopped from participating in the national convention coming up at the end of this month.