The Day PDP Died:By Levi Obijiofor
When the national executive committee of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) met last week to consider the combustible question of retaining or ditching the zoning arrangement within the party, little did members of that committee realise the weight of anger that would greet their decision. Misunderstandings over the zoning pact in the PDP were given further impetus following the death of Umaru Musa Yar'Adua on May 5, 2010 . Yar'Adua's departure left the PDP kingmakers ill prepared to answer questions about a problem which the framers of the zoning arrangement never anticipated.
Initial disputes over the zoning deal revolved around the question of its existence. Was there a zoning contract in the PDP which stipulated clearly and unambiguously the ethnic group or geographic region that should produce the party's presidential candidate during an election? Within the hierarchy of the PDP opinions vary. It was Olusegun Obasanjo who raised the tenor of the debate and set off the gunfight when he said publicly there was no such thing as zoning in the PDP. Atiku Abubakar, a man who for eight torrid years served regrettably as Obasanjo's handmaiden, shot back, accusing Obasanjo of betraying an arrangement that enabled him (Obasanjo) to serve as president for two terms.
Since that initial public stoush between Obasanjo and Atiku, other PDP members have joined the fray, arguing either in support of zoning or against it. Long after the executive committee members rose from their meeting, there have been countless interpretations of the committee's decisions. Angry remarks and arguments by PDP leaders show how serious the disagreement over the zoning deal has fragmented the party. For a long time in the PDP, zoning has always been perceived as an incendiary subject, indeed the bad pill that will poison the soul of the party.
That perception was upheld by events that unfolded last week. First, the PDP went into coma the day the national executive committee members cobbled together incomprehensible views that served as solutions to the main problem at the heart of the party's unity. Unfortunately, the position adopted by the national executive committee members did little to calm sore nerves or to resuscitate the dying patient.
The PDP has always been sick since birth. It was born with major life-threatening deformities which often required regular emergency surgery at Aso Rock. On Thursday, 12 August 2010 , the PDP executive members came out of their operating theatre with an oxygen bag designed to keep their sick child on life-support. Unfortunately, the PDP died a spiritual death the very moment the national executive members equivocated over the contentious zoning pact.
The key contradiction in the entire debate is that zoning, which is supposed to unify politicians from diverse political orientations and people from different geographic regions, has exposed deep divisions within the PDP and beyond. Believe it or not, the divisions in the PDP, engendered by a disputed zoning pact, are driven first by primordial selfish interests, and secondly by regional, religious and ethnic differences and intolerance. These are nostalgic expressions for a return to ancient Nigeria in which one region tilled the soil, produced the national resources and watched as the other regions consumed the benefits.
The cracks in the PDP signal atavistic feelings among regional politicians for a return to an earlier age - an age marked by dogmatic beliefs about why one part of the country has the divine right to produce presidents or military dictators. Unfortunately, the national mood has changed. The world has changed too and Nigeria must respond vigorously to the challenges and realities that confront her in the 21st century.
PDP chairperson Okwesilieze Nwodo and members of the national executive committee were smart by half when they resolved that the party would hold firm to its zoning philosophy (meant to appease the hawks from the North who do not want Jonathan to contest) and at the same time inform Jonathan that he was free, like anyone else, to contest the 2011 presidential election. How do you tell a president (with concealed ambition to remain in Aso Rock) that he has the right to contest the 2011 presidential election but at the same time signal to him that the presidency has actually been zoned to the north till 2015? That is a codeword for Jonathan to drop his presidential ambition.
Jonathan's supporters who jumped for joy at the decision announced by the national executive committee probably didn't understand the fundamentals of the English language. Jonathan might be free to contest the presidential election but his candidacy has not been endorsed by the PDP. In essence, the PDP has not given Jonathan the nod to represent the party as its presidential candidate. The national executive committee lacks the power to select and approve the PDP's presidential candidate. It is the national convention of the party that selects and ratifies the presidential candidate. It is this fact that has emboldened people like Atiku Abubakar and Ibrahim Babangida to hit the accelerator of their presidential campaign truck on the basis that they too have the same right as Jonathan to contest the presidential election. Whether the PDP will endorse any of them as the authentic presidential candidate is a different matter.
Adamu Ciroma, flag waver of the Northern Leaders' Forum, has already reinforced the point that the PDP executive committee did not endorse the candidacy of Jonathan in the 2011 election. Four days ago, Ciroma advanced his personal deconstruction of the decision of the PDP national executive committee when he told the Daily Sun in an interview: 'The decision of the NEC has two sides to it: The first is that any Nigerian, according to the constitution and the electoral law, can contest. It is incontrovertible. It is not an endorsement for the President to run. It is also not an endorsement for anyone. That can only come after the national convention. Secondly, the position of the party is that zoning and rotation remain the guiding policy of the party. There is nothing to dispute about it. We, who are pro-zoning, are happy with it.'
That kind of interpretation offers no consolation to Jonathan and his supporters. If anything, the double talk from the PDP chairperson and the national executive committee members represents a direct challenge to Jonathan's silent ambition to contest the presidential election, regardless of his refusal to clarify his position in regard to the 2011 election.
The acrimony over whether Jonathan should contest next year's presidential election on a ticket already reserved for the north will not end on an easy note. The battle lines are drawn. Unfortunately, rather than offer clarity and reduce the lines of dispute, the national executive committee delivered further ambiguity on the subject of zoning in the PDP. This is what you get when you are confronted with politicians who speak from both sides of their mouth, in their eagerness to unify odd couples who belong to the same political family.
Why is it difficult for PDP leaders to take a clear stand on a subject that has attracted more disagreement than accord? Perhaps the national executive committee failed to deal with the problem decisively because the origins of the crisis are also contentious. For example, in the PDP, there are as many people who say that zoning never existed as there are those who claim to have witnessed the signing of the pact. Even among those who say they observed the birth of the deal, none has been able to point to a document as evidence or identify the framework that underpinned the agreement. This all makes the zoning debate a fertile ground for everyone to say so much about something they know nothing about.
If Jonathan decides to contest the presidential election, and if he receives the all important endorsement of his party's national convention, it would not be because Jonathan is the best qualified presidential candidate. It would be because, in the PDP, they have a bizarre way of anointing mediocre politicians ahead of candidates with more impressive leadership qualities. Jonathan's achievement record in the past few months should serve as a serious source of worry for everyone. Why should we be subjected to four more years of presidential indolence and dearth of policy from a man who does not seem to know the direction in which he should take the nation?