• Concerns mount over appointment of convention planning committee
• Court orders speedy hearing of suit challenging PDP’s primary
• Umahi: If Jonathan joins APC, it’ll be one of the wonders of this century
All eyes will be on the major opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) today, as its National Executive Committee (NEC) meets in Abuja to consider among others the report of the Samuel Ortom Committee on zoning.
Like in a high-stake football match of two top teams, where each side keeps an eye on tactics and winning formula of the opposing side, the decision of the PDP to either zone or throw open its presidential ticket will be crucial to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), as the PDP squares up to the ruling party in a renewed bid to reclaim the presidency it lost in 2015 and would be holding its presidential primary two days before APC’s primary.
The decision of NEC, which has been awaited since the zoning committee submitted its report few weeks ago, is expected to put a seal on the debate on zoning.
The committee had recommended that the party’s ticket be thrown open to all zones of the country. If the recommendation is adopted by NEC, aspirants from any of the six geopolitical zones could run for the presidency.
This is against calls and expectations that the party should zone the ticket to the South. The Ortom panel reportedly cited the exigency of time as its reason for throwing open the ticket to all interested aspirants.
But ahead of the meeting, many party leaders had canvassed the adoption of part of the report that recommended throwing the presidential contest open just as others wanted the party to zone the presidency to the South.
Checks within the party, however, revealed that preponderance of opinion are in favour of leaving the contest open to all aspirants.
Those with this opinion believe the issue of zoning is already belated because apart from buying and submitting forms, aspirants had already been screened and cleared for the primary election.
Today’s NEC meeting, which is the 97th since the formation of PDP in 1998 and may be the last before the May 28 to 29 presidential primary, is also expected to approve venue for the primary election, which last held in Port Harcourt in October 2018.
Of the 17 presidential aspirants, two were disqualified last week, leaving 15 to contest for the ticket.
Sources close to the party secretariat hinted yesterday that one of the crucial issues the NEC meeting would resolve is the appointment of persons who will serve in the convention planning committee. The rule is to appoint very neutral persons whose political interests would not disturb the conduct of the convention.
It was learnt that some aspirants are becoming concerned about the capacity of the party’s leadership to appoint an impartial planning committee for the primary election, but this was dismissed by a member of the National Working Committee (NWC), who disclosed that the leadership would restrict itself to the culture of fair and free primary.
In one of his visits to the Iyorchia Ayu-led NWC, governor of Rivers State and one of the presidential aspirants, Nyesom Wike, cautioned that efforts must be made to avoid appointing persons loyal to any of the aspirants. According to Wike, this is the only way to avert litigation after the convention.
National chairman of the party, Ayu, had equally defended himself against insinuations that his closeness to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar might influnce the appointment of persons to serve in the convention planning committee.
Bauchi State governor and another presidential aspirant (PDP), Senator Bala Mohammed, yesterday, dispelled insinuations that the PDP was thriving on crisis, saying there is no division or rancour in the party.
He said what the aspirants need from the party was justice, fairness, equity and a level playing ground at all times and promised to abide by the decision of the party if the zoning arrangement is adopted.
Speaking while addressing delegates and other PDP members in Nasarawa State in continuation of his consultations, Bala said as a dedicated Nigerian and party loyalist, he believes in party supremacy.
MEANWHILE, the Federal High Court in Abuja, yesterday, ordered an accelerated hearing of a suit seeking to stop the scheduled presidential primary election of the PDP as it refused to rule on a preliminary objection filed by the party against a motion exparte challenging the May 28 primary.
A presidential aspirant and Commissioner for Trade and Investment in Abia State, Cosmos Ndukwe, had asked the court to stop it from proceeding with the presidential primary on the grounds of its alleged refusal to zone the presidential ticket to the Southeast.
But the judge, Donatus Okorowo, gave the PDP, its national chairman, Ayu, as well as its national secretary, Samuel Anyanwu, four days within which to file their responses to the suit filed against them.
Justice Okorowo gave the order in his ruling on an application for abridgement of time argued by Paul Erokoro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), on behalf of the plaintiff, Ndukwe. The judge scheduled May 18 for the adoption of closing arguments in the suit.
In the ruling, the judge held that it would be in the interest of justice for the suit of the plaintiff to be fully determined before the May 28 date of the primary election. Erokoro had in the application pleaded with the court to abridge time for the suit of his client to be expeditiously heard.
IN another development, governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, has said if former President Goodluck Jonathan defects from the PDP and joins APC, it will be a development worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records.
On Monday, a coalition of Northern groups bought the presidential nomination form of the APC for the former president, urging him to join the race, but in a swift reaction, Jonathan had disowned the groups and distanced himself from the actions of the members.
Speaking yesterday at the State House, Abuja, Umahi said the form was purchased to embarrass Jonathan. The governor said he came to present a ‘thank you’ letter from Southeast leaders to President Muhammadu Buhari, who was recently in Ebonyi for a two-day working visit.
Commenting on the Jonathan situation, Umahi said it would be difficult for the ruling party to campaign with the former president as its candidate.
He said: “Jonathan is my father and God used him and his wife to make me a governor of the state, and so, anybody who has done anything for me, I’ve always remained very grateful to such person and I will continue to be very grateful to him, the wife for being available as my destiny helper.
“We don’t forget people who have helped us, but on the question of joining, I may not say much about that because I’ve seen a lot of write ups, denials, but if he decides to join and to run, it will, for me, become one of the wonders in this century.
“The reason is that if you go and see the campaign programmes of APC and you now ask President Jonathan to come and run, I don’t know what will be our campaign promises and what will be the stories we’ll be telling Nigerians.
“I believe strongly that he was not aware of the forms and I want to believe that people that are mischievous would have bought the forms to embarrass him.
“But from what I read, he has quickly distanced himself from that. But like I said, if that is not the case, then the Guinness Book of Records is not totally filled up.”