A fresh crisis capable of rupturing the current peace in Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is unfolding.
Against the party’s zoning arrangement, one of its prominent members and governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose, on Thursday, formally declared his intention to run for president in 2019 on the ticket.
“My inviting you today, distinguished leaders of our party, is to inform you formally that I will be seeking the ticket of our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to contest the 2019 presidential election,” he told a gathering of supporters and party faithful at Chelsea Hotel, Abuja venue of the event.
The governor, who will round off his tenure in 2018, said he is a supporter of competence and capacity, saying Nigeria needs leaders that can take it out of “this present state of hopelessness.”
He further explained that he joined the race in order to tackle the myriad of problems confronting Nigeria and also engender its unity which he said was being threatened by nepotism, religious bigotry and favouritism of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Mr. Fayose’s declaration did not come to many as a surprise.
He had repeatedly hinted at every opportunity that he was interested in Mr. Buhari’s job after completing his gubernatorial job in October next year.
While hosting journalists in Ekiti in February this year, the governor had declared, “It is according to God’s will that I will one day become the president of Nigeria.”
Mr. Fayose was first elected governor of Ekiti in the southwestern part of Nigeria in 2003, but was impeached over alleged corruption in 2006, about a year to the end of his tenure. His impeachment was later annulled by the court.
He was however re-elected in 2014 defeating the incumbent, Kayode Fayemi, currently Minister of Mines and Solid Minerals.
Initially the Ekiti governor indicated that he would approach the Supreme Court to determine his eligibility to contest for the state governorship election due to his inability to complete his first term in office.
Perhaps, seeing the futility of that exercise, the governor opted for the nation’s highest political office.
But Mr. Fayose’s ambition appears to be tearing the PDP apart. Not a few members of the party believe that the governor is running against his party’s zoning arrangement for future electoral contests.
In May 2015, after its candidate and former president, Goodluck Jonathan lost to Mr. Buhari, the party, determined to reposition and reinvent itself, set up a committee, to work out suitable zoning arrangement.
The committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, came out with a recommendation zoning the presidential slot to the North for the 2019 election and the chairmanship of the party to the South.
There are 19 states in the North of Nigeria while the South has 17 states.
While submitting its report to the PDP national working committee in September of that year, Mr. Ekweremadu explained that the recommendation for the zoning of the presidential slot of the party to the North was not only informed by the fact that the last president produced by the party, Mr. Jonathan, was a southerner but also because it was a view popularly expressed during the work of his panel.
He also said the party should strictly apply the zoning principle at all levels of governance.
“It is also recommended to the party to strictly apply the zoning principle at all levels,” he said.
“In particular, since the last president of PDP extraction came from the southern part of Nigeria, it is recommended that PDP’s presidential candidate in the 2019 general elections should come from the northern part of the country.
“This is in accordance with the popular views expressed in the submissions to the Committee. This will also assuage any ill feelings in the North over any perceived breach of the party’s zoning principle.”
Mr. Fayose acknowledge all of that while declaring his intention last Thursday.
He nevertheless explained that his ambition was without prejudice to the position of the party.
“This ambition is however without prejudice to our party’s position, but in the overall interest of the party and our country,” he had proclaimed in a letter to the PDP leaders, a few days before the Abuja event.
He later pushed an argument at the Abuja gathering where he made his declaration. For him, what happens if nobody in the North showed interest in the presidency on the platform of the party?
“Most importantly, despite that the party has zoned the presidency to the North, it may interest you that no one has come out in the manner to show interest and our party should wait or beg anyone to fly its flag.”
“Do we say that if no one comes out from the North, the party won’t have a candidate?”
Even so, Mr. Fayose argued that his declaration had precedents.
Taking his listeners down the memory lane, the governor, a fierce critic of President Buhari, recounted that in 1999 and 2003, despite the zoning of the presidency to the South, the likes of the late former governor of the old Kano State, Abubakar Rimi, and Barnabas Gemade contested the ticket.
He also recalled that in 2007, some party members from the south also declared interest to succeed former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner, even though the North was more favoured to produce the president.
According to Mr. Fayose, former Governors Victor Attah, Peter Odili, Sam Egwu, Donald Duke, Chimaroke Nnamani and incumbent governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, all from the South, “did not only declare their intention to contest, they also showed interest and obtained nomination forms.
“This, in itself, assisted in deepening democracy,” the governor argued.
“Our party must not lose sight that Nigerians at this period are desirous of a president with demonstrated capacity to change their fortunes.
“Furthermore, we must be mindful of the fact that our party needs a candidate like me, with a penchant for defeating incumbent,” referring to his defeat of former Ekiti Governors Kayode Fayemi and Niyi Adebayo at different times.
But Mr. Fayose has not impressed some members of his party with his perspective.
One of them is a former National Chairman of the party, Okwesilieze Nwodo, who is currently a member of its Board of Trustees.
Shortly after Mr. Fayose’s declaration, Mr. Nwodo, Third Republic governor of Enugu State, slammed the governor for showing interest in the presidency and vowed that the party would not give him nomination forms to pursue his ambition.
“….we did not only zone the presidency to the North, we have re-emphasised at every opportunity we had that the zoning will take place.
“So, the party will not collect expression of interest money from anybody else who is not from the North and will not issue him a nomination form to contest; no, we will not do that.’’
Mr. Nwodo also said the ideology of the party forbids Mr. Fayose from contesting.
“Fayose cannot run and I will tell you my reason. When we formed PDP, the first battle we fought and won as a party was to zone the presidency to the South.
“Those of us from the South made a case because in the first republic, prime minister was from the North; in the second republic, the president was from the North, and in the third republic, a southerner won and the election was annulled.
“There was no way we could go back to the South and say let’s elect a northerner again without giving the South a slot.
“A decision was taken that the presidency should come from the South and the chairman of the party to come from the North.
“That was how Solomon Lar became the chairman of PDP and secretary was zoned to the South; that was how I became the first secretary of the party.”
Mr. Nwodo is not alone. Mr. Fayose’s kinsman and spokesperson of the PDP, Dayo Adeyeye, described the governor’s interest in the presidency as a mere waste of time.
He said the governor is not eligible to be the presidential candidate, but could seek to contest for the office of the national chairman of the party which has been zoned to the three geo-political zones in the South.
“The highest organ of the party, which is the national convention, zoned the presidential ticket of the PDP to the North. That has not changed. The same national convention zoned the position of the national chairman to the South. The convention has yet to change any of these two.
“That (national convention) is the supreme organ of the party. Those decisions are binding on all members of the party. Nobody can alter these decisions.”
But a former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode disagrees with Messrs. Nwodo and Adeyeye.
For him, Mr. Fayose can express his fundamental rights under the nation’s constitution by seeking to be president of the country.
“It is just that somebody (Fayose) is exercising his fundamental rights. What is wrong with that? ” Mr. Fani-Kayode told PREMIUM TIMES on phone on Saturday.
The former minister who was one of the senior PDP members that attended Mr. Fayose’s declaration, however, said everything would be settled during the convention.
A former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Abdullahi Jalo, told PREMIUM TIMES that by violating the agreed principle of zoning, Mr. Fayose is trying to cause confusion in the party.
“He wants to bring confusion to the party. That is political rascality. Fayose should not bring crisis to the party now. He shouldn’t return us to the Modu Sheriff time.
“The party zoned the presidency to the North and the chairmanship of the party to the South. He was a party to that zoning arrangement because he was already governor when it was agreed.
“Why is he causing confusion now? Fayose should be a leader to encourage people to join the party to vote out APC and not to cause confusion,” Mr. Jalo said on Saturday.
The former spokesperson is even more saddened by Mr. Fayose’s claim that northerners are not showing interest in running for president on the platform of the PDP.
Mr. Jalo listed those showing interest to include the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the party, Ahmed Makarfi; Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State; former Kano governor, Ibrahim Shekarau; former Special Duties Minister, Kabiru Turaki; former Jigawa State governor, Sule Lamido; and former Deputy Governor of Sokoto State, Mukthar Shagari.
“I can tell you that there are many northerners eyeing the presidency and I can name more,” Mr. Jalo told this newspaper.
He state further, “This is the same Fayose that said Murtala Muhammed died in office, Yar’Adua died in office, and Abacha died in office and Buhari will die in office. You want to contest presidential election and you are looking for votes and you are abusing people. Rather than appealing to people and using persuasive statements you are abusing people.”
These outbursts over Mr. Fayose’s ambition may just be the trigger for a fresh crisis in a party which recently emerged from a protracted leadership squabble.
Mr. Fani-Kayode, however, said it will not lead to another crisis, saying “everything will be settled at the (national) convention.”
However, not a few feel that Mr. Fayose decision to declare for president is a subtle way of rooting to remain relevant on the political scene after his exit from the Ekiti Government House next year.
Some analysts have claimed that the governor is eyeing the vice presidential slot having worked hard to keep the party.
Mr. Fayose is currently the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum. Besides, he has arguably spoken against the APC administration more than any of the party’s current governors or officials.
Others allege that some people in Mr. Fayose’s camp feel the northerners are behaving as if they own the party hence the governor had to “make noise.” Quick reference is made to the agitation by the North in 2011 to complete the tenure of late President Umaru Yar’Adua by stopping Mr. Jonathan from running.
Yet, there are others who say Mr. Fayose is coming as a spoiler for some of those seeking to office of the national chairmanship, zoned to the South, which includes the south west zone where he hails from.
Currently, no fewer than five party members from that zone have indicated interest to run for the chairmanship position of the party.
Among them are a former Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Bode George, a former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel and a former Minister of Education, Tunde Adeniran, who like Mr. Fayose is from Ekiti State.
There are party members from other zones in the South preparing to slug it out with them.
But Mr. Fani-Kayode insists Mr. Fayose’s ambition cannot stop the chairmanship of the party from going to the zone.
As the former minister told this newspaper on Saturday, “Why should it affect our chances of producing the national chairman?
“I am one of those who believe that the national chairmanship of the party should come to the southwest and it would be a very big mistake to deny us that.
‘The battle for the presidential ticket come a full year after the national chairmanship election. If we get the chairmanship now we can make the necessary changes to get the presidency or vice presidency later.
“There is no crime in aspiring or fighting for the best for your zone. One thing that I know is that if you cheat the Yoruba out of what is rightfully theirs or if you do not treat them with the respect that they deserve you will lose the presidential election. That is the lesson of 2015.”
The former minister said the southwest zone has done very well and has been at the forefront of fighting the Buhari government.
“They have kept the evil government on their toes more than anyone else. Fayose and I have been outspoken and so are many sons and daughters of the southwest. We deserve to be treated with respect and we deserve the very best.
“The national chairmanship is our due and if it is taken away from us there will be dire consequences at the polls for the party. This has nothing to do with the presidential ticket,” he said.
Mr. Fani-Kayode may be right. What is, however, clear is that Mr. Fayose’s ambition is unsettling the opposition party.