At the recently concluded gubernatorial election in Ekiti State, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Mr Biodun Oyebanji, was declared the winner with 187,057 votes. But unlike in the past, when the contest was usually with the Peoples Democratic Party, another party had pushed the PDP out of contention. The Social Democratic Party took the second position with 82,211 votes, pushing the PDP to the third position with 67,457 votes.
In 2003 when the Alliance for Democracy (which later morphed into Action Congress of Nigeria, which later joined other parties to form the APC) was the ruling party in Ekiti, the PDP, with Mr Ayo Fayose as its candidate, had beaten the incumbent governor, Otunba Niyi Adebayo. Since then, the office has alternated between the PDP and the ACN/APC. But this time around, the PDP was not a contender.
What happened? Local factors, including allegations of injustice, were fingered as the reasons, which we will not like to delve into now. But it shows how a party can be edged out of contention by voters. This should serve as a warning to the PDP at the national level based on some recent actions it has taken. It should also be a warning to the APC regarding its attitude to power at the federal level.
In 1999 when the Fourth Republic began and the PDP became the ruling party in Nigeria, the party displayed impressive proclivity for justice, fairness and inclusiveness. It made it a policy that no zone in Nigeria would be excluded from power. It shared its key offices to the six zones in Nigeria. While Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from the South-West was president, the vice president was zoned to the North-East (Alhaji Atiku Abubakar). The office of the senate president was zoned to the South-East (Senator Evans Enwerem), while that of the speaker of the House of Representatives was zoned to the North-West (Salisu Buhari). The North-Central zone had the office of the deputy senate president (Senator Ibrahim Mantu), while the South-South got the office of the deputy speaker (Chibudom Nwuche). For the eight years between 1999 and 2007, each zone was in control of the position zoned to it. No zone was allowed to use its size, power or influence to grab any position reserved for another zone. Even when someone from a particular zone was removed from office, another person from the same zone took over the position.
By 2007, though there were strong politicians like Dr Peter Odili of Rivers State and Mr Donald Duke of Cross River State, who were warming up to take over from Obasanjo, the presidency moved from the South to the North. In the North, it went to the North-West with Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua as the president. The position of the vice president was zoned to the South-South (Dr Goodluck Jonathan). The North-Central got the position of senate president (Senator David Mark), while the South-West had the office of the speaker (Patricia Etteh). The position of the deputy senate president went to the South-East (Senator Ike Ekweremadu), while the North-East got the position of deputy speaker (Babangida Njuroje).
When Yar’Adua died in 2010, his deputy, Jonathan, became the president. He chose his vice president from the North-West (Alhaji Namadi Sambo), the same zone as the late president. Every other position remained the same. When Jonathan was re-elected in 2011, virtually all the positions remained the same. The main position that changed was that of the office of the speaker zoned to the South-West. The obvious political leader of the South-West, Senator Bola Tinubu, rejected the position of the speaker, handing it over to the North-West which already had the vice president. The argument was that the ACN in the South-West did not want a top member of the PDP in its zone.
However, in 2015 when the APC took over the presidency through Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), a new dispensation began. It has been the era of survival of the fittest and the winner takes it all. By 2019 when Buhari got a second term, the APC discarded all the vestiges of justice, balance and inclusiveness in governance and no longer hid its attitude to power. Buhari from the North-West holds the position of president, while Prof Yemi Osinbajo (South-West) holds the position of vice president. The office of the senate president is held by someone from the North-East (Senator Ahmad Lawan), while the office of the speaker is held by someone from the South-West (Femi Gbajabiamila). The position of the deputy senate president is occupied by someone from the South-South (Senator Ovie Omo-Agege), while that of the deputy speaker is occupied by someone from the North-Central (Ahmed Wase). Since 2015, nobody from the South-East has held any of these positions, but the APC leadership is not bothered that this does not portend a good omen to a country that has been battling for unity and peace.
Furthermore, in addition to the political positions being shared among the six zones, there has always been a conscious effort to ensure that the heads of the three arms of government (Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary) are not from one section of the country. But that was also breached in January 2019 when Buhari took the unprecedented step of removing the head of the judiciary, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen (South-South), replacing him with Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad (North-East). Since then, the heads of the Executive (Buhari), Legislature (Lawan) and Judiciary (Muhammad) have all been from the North. In addition, they are all Muslims. This had not happened in Nigeria until this dispensation.
In recent times, PDP has also acted like the APC by jettisoning the foundation of fairness and inclusion that it was known for because of the personal ambition of a handful of individuals who have taken over the party leadership. In September 2021, the PDP announced that it had zoned the position of the chairman of the party to the North. “The decision of the PDP zoning committee is in line with the constitution of the party on zoning, and rotation of party, and national offices in the interest of justice, equity and fairness,” the party said.
In October, it chose Senator Iyorchia Ayu as its chairman (North-Central). The PDP has Senator Walid Jibrin as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (North-Central). The conclusion was that in line with its tradition, its presidential candidate would be from the South, precisely the South-East, which is the only zone in the South that has not produced a president. However, during its 2023 primaries, the PDP changed the goal post and made the presidential primaries open, with Atiku Abubakar (North-East) emerging as its candidate.
Consequently, the South-East which has supported the PDP since 1999 is displeased with that. The people supporting Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party today are people who should be supporting the PDP. Another group supporting Alhaji Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party are also people who should be supporting the PDP. Therefore, from two sides, the PDP is haemorrhaging. It may not end well for the PDP.
In addition to the anger in the land over decades of misrule and corruption, there is also anger over injustice and exclusion that have crept into governance and justified as “politics.” Nigeria has a big problem of ethnicity and religion. Nigeria has not developed to the level where these two factors no longer matter. Putting self-interest and sectional interest above national interest and cohesion may seem lucrative in the short run but may not turn out well in the long run for the political parties and the country.