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Some leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are fretting over the growing rapport between former President Goodluck Jonathan and some leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in recent times. GBADE OGUNWALE reports that some of the opposition leaders are worried by the implications of the unfolding development for 2023 elections
To the casual onlooker, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) appears to be relatively calm, going by the lack of serious crisis at the national level. The party has so far been able to manage its crisis from erupting into the open. There are muffled disagreements among key party chieftains, which have continued to nibble at its unity and cohesion at the national, zonal and state levels. The party appears to be doing well at papering over the cracks.

But, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike recently reversed the gains made by the party when he took a swipe at the Uche Secondus led National Working Committee (NWC). Governor Wike had in a press statement accused the NWC of widening existing cracks in the party and sowing seeds of discord among governors elected on the platform of the party. The governor had warned that by its actions, the party leadership was jeopardising the chances of the PDP unseating the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) during the 2023 presidential election.

Apparently venting some deep-seated animosity against the party leadership, Wike accused the NWC of using two unnamed former governors of Imo and Cross River states and another serving senator from Benue State, to create a crisis in the party. Knocking the party leadership further, the governor said the NWC, as presently constituted, was merely interested in retaining the current party structure to enable its members retain their positions. Wike added: “An opposition party that ought to be united, to work, to take over the affairs of government because people are waiting for this opportunity; but the current leadership of NWC is not prepared for that. Rather, what they have done is to constitute some people to sow a seed of discord among governors for their own selfish interest. And that will boomerang; that will consume them.”

Not surprisingly, the PDP has set the machinery in motion to douse the tension within the fold. The party’s leadership has set up a six-man reconciliation committee to address grievances among members and to reconcile aggrieved members across the six geopolitical zones. The committee, which was inaugurated by the party chairman, is headed by a former President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki. In an acceptance speech shortly after the committee was inaugurated, Saraki had cautioned Secondus and other members of the NWC against interfering with the work of the committee. Also in the committee are another former President of the Senate, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim; a former governor of Cross River State, Mr Liyel Imoke; and a former Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Mrs Mulikat Adeola Akande. Others are former Katsina State Governor Ibrahim Shema; and former Gombe State Governor Ibrahim Dankwabo.

Why Wike attacked Secondus

Some party chieftains are of the view that Wike’s attack on the party leadership might not be unconnected with the position taken by Secondus on the eligibility of former President Goodluck Jonathan to seek the PDP presidential ticket for the 2023 election if the former president so desired. Secondus had made the declaration in Abuja a few weeks ago while briefing reporters on the activities of the NWC in the three years it has been in office. The party chairman had made the off-the-cuff statement while answering a reporter’s question seeking to know if Jonathan would be eligible to seek the party’s presidential ticket in 2023. The reporter had asked the question in the backdrop of the growing affinity between Jonathan, a strong pillar in the PDP, with some chieftains of the APC. Secondus’ response: “I believe that whoever that is interested in 2023 (presidential ticket), maybe including the former President, the chances are there, because the PDP is a party for all… Everybody will have that opportunity but in clear terms, we have not taken any decision to give anybody a ticket for now.”

Party sources said the chairman’s position on Jonathan’s eligibility must have rattled a few PDP bigwigs believed to be interested in the party’s 2023 presidential ticket. There has been heightened anxiety in the party over Jonathan’s visibility in the public arena in recent times, particularly in the APC camp.

Key stakeholders, including some governors and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, are said to be ill at ease with the former President’s newfound romance with the APC. Of particular concern to these stakeholders was the visit to Jonathan’s Abuja residence during his recent birthday celebration. The visitors, including some governors and chieftains of the ruling party, led by the APC Caretaker Committee chairman, Mai Mala Buni, had gone to pay the former President a “birthday visit”. Among the APC governors on Buni’s entourage were David Umahi (Ebonyi), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi) and Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa). Former Senate President Ken Nnamani was also on the entourage.

The PDP chieftains considered the visit to Jonathan curious for the fact that the former president had never received such august visitors from the APC camp since he lost election and consequently vacated office in 2015. And coming a few days after the defection of Governor Umahi from the PDP to the APC, there was cause for concern in the opposition camp. This was not helped by speculations making the rounds that the APC may consider Jonathan for its 2023 presidential ticket through some compromises and political horse-trading. More disturbing to the PDP leaders is the former President’s perceived taciturnity over the seemingly Greek offer from the ruling party. Also disturbing to the opposition chieftains was the frequency of Jonathan’s visits to the Presidential Villa in recent times. The last of such visits was on December 15. Neither Jonathan nor the Presidency said a word about the purpose of the former President’s visits.

But, Jonathan has remained non-committal about his newfound romance with key figures in the APC and speculated moves by some elements in the ruling party to drag him into the 2023 presidential contest. The former President has continued to maintain that it is too early in the day to start discussing the 2023 election. That coy response has continued to rattle some of his compatriots in the opposition party.

Even though the prospects of Jonathan flying the APC ticket in 2023 may seem quite remote, the fluid nature of Nigerian politics and the ever shifty loyalty of the average Nigerian politician is said to have raised anxiety among those perceived to be nursing presidential ambitions in the PDP. The prospects of Jonathan getting corralled into the 2023 race by the APC may likely sink the presidential ambitions and political future of a number of PDP bigwigs. It could also spell doom for the opposition party in the short and medium-term. In the event of Jonathan picking the APC ticket and winning the election, agitations for power to revert to the North in 2027 may be inevitable. Constitutionally, Jonathan is eligible for only one term if he chooses to contest in 2023.

Those that may fall casualty to a fresh presidential term for Jonathan may include the former Vice President who is believed to be oiling his political machinery ahead of the 2023 contest. Also said to be waiting in the wings is the Sokoto State Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Governor Wike, who are believed to be contenders for a joint presidential ticket of the party. Party sources say this might be the reason behind Wike’s recent attack on Secondus, who the governor accused of scheming for a fresh tenure at the expiration of his current one. Secondus’ tenure as chairman will end in December this year. A fresh tenure for Secondus could rob Wike of his speculated ambition. If tradition in the PDP is anything to go by, a candidate on a joint presidential ticket cannot emerge from the same zone with the chairman of the party. So, for Wike to have his way, the chairmanship of the party would have to shift to another zone. The PDP chairman is from Rives State. Reported to be the main financier of the PDP, Wike would not have to labour too hard to get Secondus out of the way. It is an open secret that the PDP chairman owed his present position to Wike’s domineering influence in the party. The governor, against all odds, had deployed enormous human and material resources to ensure that Secondus emerged victorious at the party’s 2017 national convention.

Why Jonathan?
It is becoming increasingly clear to the leadership of the APC that fielding another presidential candidate of northern extraction in 2023 may be a hard sell. Notable figures in the ruling party have been urging caution in the handling of the zoning of the party’s 2023 presidential ticket. With the perceived poor performance of the Muhammadu Buhari administration so far, political watchers are of the view that it may be difficult for the APC to conveniently sell the idea of another northern candidate in 2023, even in the North. More so, agitations for power shift have continued to gain currency in recent times, with some key stakeholders in the ruling party mounting pressure for the presidential ticket to shift to the South.

The various APC power blocs in the Southwest and Southeast geo-political zones have been unrelenting in the campaign. The two zones are presently in healthy competition for the party’s presidential ticket. The agitation by the two zones appears to have drowned the voices of a few individuals in the ruling party pushing for another candidate of northern extraction. The entire southern flank of the APC appears to be speaking with one voice on zoning. Analysts say that the leadership of the APC might have indeed realised the political implications of fielding another northern candidate in 2023.

However, an insignificant number of the APC members are of the view that the ruling party should leave the contest for its 2023 presidential ticket open to all interested aspirants from all parts of the country, including the North. Promoters of this position have hinged their argument on the plank that the party’s constitution did not make any provision for zoning. A prominent APC leader in the South-South, Prince Tony Momoh has added his voice to the zoning campaign. Momoh was quoted as saying that it is ill-advised for the APC to consider the North again for the 2023 presidential contest, after President Buhari’s tenure.

He said: “You don’t need an agreement about power rotation. In a presidential system, when you have one person to be the president, it is inevitable that, if he comes from one area, his successor will come from another area. It is not a question of gentleman’s agreement. That is understood. If you don’t want power rotation, then you go to the parliamentary system.”

Momoh added: “If someone in the North has been president, the next time someone from the South has to be considered to be president. The same party will be ill-advised to say they want to pick another person from the North. However, it is not that if they zoned the ticket to a particular zone, others will be stopped from contesting.”

The Edo born former Information Minister buttressed his point with the example of Owelle Rochas Okorocha who participated in the 2014 presidential primary of the APC, despite his knowledge of the party’s decision zoning the ticket to the North. Other notable APC chieftains that have also canvassed the zoning option in recent times include the Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi; his counterpart in Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; and former Ogun State Governor Olusegun Osoba, among others.

Analysts are of the view that the strident calls by these party chieftains of southern extraction for power shift, might have informed the decision of a faction in the APC interim leadership to play the Jonathan card. The calculation, according to inside sources, is to have one of the members of the faction run a joint ticket with the former President.

A source said: “If Jonathan swallows the bait and the plan scales through, it means there will be demands by the same promoters for power to move back to the North in 2027.”

Another highly placed source in the PDP who described the Jonathan option as self-serving said it was part of the reason some power mongers in the APC hijacked the party machinery in June 2020. His words: “In a bid to realise their inordinate ambitions, these power seekers hijacked the leadership of the APC. Their sole aim is to shut out more experienced party leaders, particularly a leader in the Southwest who has the required political clout to fly the APC presidential flag in 2023. But having hijacked the party, they are now desperately struggling with what to do with it. It is out of desperation that they are now flying the Jonathan kite and it would be quite unfortunate if the former President falls for such temptation. That would amount to total sellout of the entire southern Nigeria, politically.”

Jonathan’s constitutional eligibility
However, what appears a snag in Jonathan’s eligibility to contest was the Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 16, assented to by President Buhari in June 2018.

The Bill prescribed that a vice president or a deputy governor who succeeds and completes the tenure of a president or governor can only run for the office one more time. As Vice President, Jonathan had succeeded the late President Umaru Yar ‘Adua who died in 2010. He had gone ahead to contest and win the presidential election in 2015. He had contested again in 2019 but lost to Buhari and the APC. Constitutional analysts, however, hold the view that the law cannot be made to take a retroactive effect in the Jonathan case. They insist the law could only take effect from June 2018 when the bill was assented to by the president. However, the leadership of the APC has yet to take a definite position on zoning. Will Jonathan’s APC friends offer him the ticket? Will Jonathan accept the offer if he is considered? Time will tell.

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