The opposition Peoples Democratic Party said on Tuesday that all those who had purchased the presidential forms were free to contest its presidential ticket regardless of zones.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Debo Ologunagba, said this during a chat while responding to questions on the zoning controversy raging in the party.
The PDP spokesman said this as it was learnt the National Executive Committee of the party, which would meet on Wednesday next week, would set aside the party’s Zoning Committee report, which recommended that the presidential ticket should be zoned.
Mr. Valentine Obienyem, a media aide of a former Anambra State Governor and PDP presidential aspirant, Mr. Peter Obi, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said although the party’s decision remained supreme, it would be an injustice if the South-East was denied the presidential ticket.
But Ologunagba, in the interview explained the constitution gives all qualified Nigerians the right to contest and not be discriminated against.
He said even if the party decided to zone its presidential ticket, it would not stop anybody from contesting.
The PDP spokesman recalled that when the party zoned its presidential ticket to the South in 1999, the late former Governor of Kano State, Abubakar Rimi, decided to test his popularity on the field.
Ologunagba recalled that during the party’s last national convention, some officers emerged through consensus but a few others decided to test their popularity on the field.
He, therefore, stated that this would be the same strategy that would be adopted by the PDP.
The PDP spokesman added, “Our processes, our constitution are subject to the constitution of Nigeria. The constitution guarantees every qualified Nigerian be able to aspire to any position in this country. The party cannot stop anybody from contesting because that will be at variance with the constitution.
“In 1999, the PDP zoned its presidential ticket to the South. Remember that at the Jos convention, late former Governor Abubakar Rimi of Kano State said he agreed with the party but said as a Nigerian he would contest and the party did not stop him.
“Recently at the national convention, the party decided to zone certain offices. You will recall that at the national convention, three positions were contested: deputy chairman (North) deputy chairman (South), and national youth leader.”
Ologunagba noted that a 37-member committee led by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State had submitted its report which would then be considered by the National Executive Committee of the PDP on Wednesday next week.
He noted that the NEC – which is the highest decision-making body of the party – would be the one to decide on whether there should be zoning or not.
The PDP spokesman, however, assured all contestants that regardless of the decision of the NEC, they would still be allowed to contest.
When asked if the decision of the PDP to sell forms and screen candidates would not alter its intention to zone, Ologunagba answered in the negative.
“The process of collecting forms is one that goes without any conflict with the party’s process as regards zoning. One should not stop for the other. The process of screening cannot stop the process of decisions with the party. If the party decides to zone or not to zone, either way, the screening will still be done.
“If NEC says we go a particular way, as long as it doesn’t go against the constitution and the party, so be it,” he stated.
The Ortom committee had listed about three recommendations which included zoning the Presidency to the South or throwing it open while there was also an option for it to be zoned to the North.
The party’s NEC, which included all elected officials of the party, was expected to have taken a decision on the matter three weeks ago but no date was fixed for the meeting until recently when May 4 was announced.
However, a top source within the PDP said that the party had gone too far with preparations and it was too late to take a definite stand on zoning.
The PDP chieftain, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “It is already too late in the day to talk about zoning. The party ought to have done this before the sale of presidential forms at the cost of N40m. People have bought forms and started campaigning nationwide already.
“It has now become difficult to even take a position on zoning. It is highly unlikely that the party will decide to zone its presidential ticket next week.
Meanwhile, the party is set to begin its screening of aspirants on Wednesday (today). However, the screening for Presidential aspirants will begin on Friday while former Senate President David Mark will head the screening committee.
The PDP presidential aspirants who have been advocating zoning include a former Governor of Ekiti, Ayodele Fayose, his counterpart for Anambra State, Peter Obi, and the Rivers State Governor, Nysom Wike.
But aspirants including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and a former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, had kicked against it.