The just concluded state congress of the PDP Cross River State Chapter obviously confounded the traducers of the party in the state, particularly the de-campees from PDP led by Gov. Ben Ayade who have gone to congregate in the APC.
The PDP showed its maturity and political sagacity in the manner in which the conflicting tendencies in the party were managed, culminating in the peaceful consensual emergence of a state executive committee.
This approach has ensured unity in the party which is critical in the preparation towards electoral contests in 2023. In the build up to 2023, it is critical for the party to maintain this unity if it is to regain power in the state in 2023. In the light of recent political developments in the state, there is no doubt that if this unity is maintained, the party is more than halfway to winning the next general elections in the state.
This is a critical leadership challenge before the newly elected state executive committee of the party led by Mr. Venatius Ikem. Mr. Ikem himself is a very experienced party man and this is significant as he will be required to bring all his experience to bear in piloting the affairs of the party and achieve victory in 2023. He has served as local government chairman, commissioner in the state executive council, a Special Adviser to the president as well as a former member of the NWC of the PDP. This is considerable political experience which should stand the party in good stead.
A knotty issue which could challenge the unity of the party if not handled deftly is the choice of the gubernatorial candidate of the party. There are two contending schools of thought. One school of thought believes that the party should zone the governorship ticket exclusively to the Southern Senatorial District of the state. They contend that it is now the turn of the Southern Senatorial District to produce the governor of the state as the Northern Senatorial District has produced the governor like the other two zones.
The other school of thought in contradistinction posits that all the senatorial zones in the state – the southern, central and northern – have produced a governor so there is no compelling or overarching reason why the south should feel that they ought to have exclusive right to the ticket. Those in this school of thought argue that notwithstanding PDP’s principle of zoning, in the past, every governorship election in the state has had contenders from all zones in the state.
Those who canvass for the exclusive zoning of the governorship ticket to the south, base their argument on the moral ground of the amicable accord among the zones that the governorship ticket will rotate among the zones. Some refer to a Calabar-Ogoja Accord on the rotation of the governorship. They contend that if other aspirants from other zones contest, this would amount to a breach of that accord and thus disrupt the harmony that has existed in the politics of the state.
Those who assert that the governorship ticket should not be exclusively zoned to the south maintain that historically in the politics of the state, the governorship ticket has not been exclusively contested by one zone. They contend that what has happened is that contestants rise up from all the zones to contest and after a winner emerges, the zone from where the winner emerges is deemed to have taken the slot of the zone and that zone then is eliminated from future contests.
Both sides are passionate about the positions they hold and herein lies the challenge for the leadership of the party in the state. This passion must be managed wisely to prevent an implosion within the party.
One fact which both sides to this argument must come to terms with is that at this time in the political life of the PDP in the state, the party is not in government. By far the biggest challenge before the leadership of the party is getting back into power. The leadership of the party in my view must adopt the most pragmatic approach to winning elections and returning the PDP to power. The issue of zoning is secondary to this objective.
Zoning is a type of political affirmative action policy which is adopted in the politics of particularly pluralistic societies to ensure that otherwise electorally disadvantaged segments in that society will have the chance to participate in the exercise of governmental power. It is a policy which has also been deployed strategically to gain political advantage where necessary. In other words, zoning has been used in two different types of political circumstances: To assuage the sentiments of electorally disadvantaged segments of society.
For politically strategic reasons.
I will now examine the arguments for zoning in the context of these two circumstances. To assuage the sentiments of electorally disadvantaged segments of the society:
In the politics of Cross River State today, there is no senatorial zone that has not produced the governor of the state. The south, central and now the north, have all each produced a governor. In the circumstances, no zone can say it is suffering such huge political deprivation that would make zoning a compelling necessity as was the case in 2015 when only the northern zone had not produced a governor. In fact, that all the three senatorial zones have produced a governor of the state frees the leadership of the party to adopt a pragmatic approach to selecting the candidate to fly the flag of the party in the gubernatorial elections.
Proponents of zoning the governorship ticket exclusively to the Southern Senatorial Zone argue that it has been 16 years since a candidate from the south was governor and the understanding in 2015 when the governorship ticket was zoned to the north had been that upon completion of the tenure of the north, the ticket would be zoned to the south. This argument has a lot of merit. Without challenging the integrity of this argument, it must be pointed out that the political circumstances of the party today have so fundamentally changed that it militates against the enforcement or implementation of this understanding in its purity. Today, the candidate from the north to whom the party entrusted its governorship ticket in 2015 has betrayed the party and decamped with the governorship ticket to the APC thus automatically putting the PDP in opposition. For the first time since 1999, the party is contesting elections as an opposition party outside the corridors of power and thus not enjoying the benefits that the powers of incumbency bestow. This is a fundamental change in the circumstances of the party, tantamount to a “force majeure”. The decamping of the governor means that PDP as it was in 2015 is no more and has to be rebuilt. The PDP as it is today must make its decisions based on its circumstances today and not yesterday.
The proponents of not zoning exclusively to the south have argued that in the history of the governorship contest in the state, there has never been exclusive zoning. This argument may, historically speaking, be factually correct. However, the weakness in this proposition is that it is insensitive to the sentiment that the south (whether by omission or commission) has not had a candidate as governor for 16 years. This is a sentiment which must not be whimsically dismissed in the context of the politics in the state.
This sentiment notwithstanding, I make the point that the key challenge before the party is to win the next governorship elections in the state and return the party to power. There is no compelling or overarching reason to exclusively zone the governorship ticket to any particular zone since the three zones in the state have produced a governor and no zone can be said to have been deprived. The principles that must guide the party leadership in the state in choosing the governorship candidate for the party must be prudence and pragmatism and not the sentiment of zoning. In 1999 when a governor of southern extraction emerged as governor, it was not because the party zoned the ticket to the south exclusively. The party was not in power at that time and prudence and pragmatism guided the party to choose a governor of southern extraction who eventually won the elections. Today, like in 1999, the party is not in power and it must be guided by the principles of prudence and pragmatism in selecting a candidate and to achieve this it may not necessarily limit itself to any particular zone.
Deploying zoning for politically strategic reasons:
Zoning has been deployed to achieve some politically strategic goals in some instances. Usually this happens where you know where your opponents’ candidate will come from or where there exists a political bloc with huge electoral significance in terms of demographics. In terms of demographics, there is no senatorial zone in Cross River State today that can produce a governor without the cooperation of the other zones.
With the movement of the governor to the APC, the elections in 2023 will be keenly contested unlike in the past where PDP was patently dominant. In this situation one may say that the party should watch to see where the APC selects its candidate from before making a decision on where to select its own candidate from. At the moment, it is not clear where the APC may select its candidate from. It may therefore not be prudent for the party to wait in limbo to have its strategic course of action dictated by the APC. In this regard therefore, I will maintain my assertion that relying on zoning alone as the criteria for the leadership of the party in selecting a governorship candidate is not prudent.
I would in conclusion recommend strongly to the party leadership to carry out a thorough, holistic analysis of what will be required to win the elections in the state and then set out a transparent process to select a governorship candidate who has statewide appeal. It will be diminishing for the party to allow itself to be trapped by the restrictive sentiments of zoning.
Let me congratulate the incoming members of the state executive committee of our great party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party. The task before them is daunting but they have the requisite resources to deliver on their mandate. I wish them a successful tenure.
Wilfred Usani Esq., wrote in from Calabar.
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