PDP in uncertain battle to save its future

Atiku Abubakar

The stage is set for the national convention of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the Eagle Square in Abuja tomorrow. The party is set to elect its national chairman and other officers. There is anxiety about a possible backlash from the scramble for the soul of the party. Assistant Editor GBADE OGUNWALE reports.

After coming out of a major leadership crisis that plagued the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for 14 months, the main opposition party is heading for a make or mar national convention tomorrow. The party appears to be at the crossroads as key stakeholders have continued to bicker over who becomes the national chairman. Of all the positions up for grabs, national chairman has attracted a fierce battle between the Southwest and Southsouth zones. There are six aspirants from the Southwest lining up for the position. The Southsouth is fielding  two.

From the Southwest are: former Education Minister Prof Tunde Adeniran; former Deputy National Chairman Commodore Olabode George; former Ogun State Governor Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former Oyo State Governor Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja; one-time Sports & Special Duties Minister Prof Taoheed Adedoja and former Lagos governorship candidate Jimi Agbaje.

The two contestants from the South South  are former Acting National Chairman Prince Uche Secondus and media mogul Raymond Dokpesi.

The Southwest has been justifying  its quest for the plum job because the zone has yet to occupy the position of chairman since the formation of the PDP in 1998.

In sympathy with the Southwest, a number of interest groups and stakeholders, particularly from the North, have also called for the position to be micro-zoned to the Southwest to enable it produce the chair.

But, gladiators in the Southsouth countered that being the major financier of the party since the PDP lost political power in 2015, the zone should naturally produce the chairman.

After weeks of push and pull, the contest has been narrowed down to a two-horse race between Adeniran and Secondus. Adeniran, 72, is being backed by a coalition of forces, comprising mainly of party leaders and elders spread across the three geopolitical zones in the North. A former Information Minister, Prof Jerry Gana, is leading the support outreach for Adeniran with a number of prominent politicians from the North in the tow.

Secondus is being propelled by a heavy war chest, apparently deployed for the epic battle by Governor Nyesom Wike of his native Rivers State. But, efforts are still being made by many prominent party leaders and senior citizens, including former military President Ibrahim Babangida to find a common ground before tomorrow’s convention.

The Gana group, under the aegis of PDP Northern Leaders and Elders Forum, is sticking out its neck for Adeniran.

Rising from an all-night stakeholders meeting last Friday, the group announced the Northern stakeholders’ decision to have the chairmanship micro-zoned to the Southwest.

In a communique issued after the meeting and jointly signed by a former Kano State Governor and one-time Education Minister, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau and Mrs. Margaret Icheen, the group called on delegates from the North to vote for only chairmanship aspirants from the Southwest at the convention.

The communique, dated December 1, 2017, stated among others: “As we head to the national convention, the forum showed keen interest in the position of the National Chairman.

The forum received reports from the three geo-political zones of the region, regarding the micro-zoning of positions zoned to them, in line with the spirit of rotation.

“The forum resolved that capable and competent aspirants should be identified and supported. After extensive deliberations, it was resolved that, in the spirit of fairness, equity, carrying every part of the country along, giving every geo-political zone a sense of participation and inclusion in the affairs of the PDP, we strongly support the quest of the Southwest geo-political zone to produce the next National Chairman of the party.

“In line with our resolve to rebuild and reposition the PDP, we urge delegates from all the Northern states to abide by this decision and vote for only aspirants from the Southwest geo-political zone in the forthcoming national convention, in the best interest of the party. This is without prejudice to the right of aspirants from other geo-political zones to contest.”

But, in a swift reaction, members of another sub-group at the meeting, countered the position of the Northern political leaders. Led by Mallam Sani Kutigi, the younger elements denounced Gana and his fellow elders, insisting that the position remained open to contestants from the three zones in the South. At a media briefing same day, Kutigi described the declaration by the Gana and others as an “obnoxious and objectionable” plot to rail-road the region into illegality.

Kutigi said: “This group of people lacks any authority or voice to speak on behalf of the North as a homogeneous entity and is therefore on its own.

“Their action is hereby rejected and totally condemned. Majority of members from the North dissociate themselves from this misadventure which potents unintended consequences if left unchallenged. It is a slap on the face of and an insult to Southern politicians/leaders that a few members from the North can sit down and determine who to elect.

“While rejecting micro-zoning, we affirm our belief in the sanctity of the larger, more inclusive arrangement which gave Southern Nigeria the position of National Chairman of our great party.

“Party members from the North pledge to support only a free and fair process where a new National Chairman will emerge, regardless of which place he comes from, once he is from any of the states that make up Southern Nigeria.

“This decision is to forestall a situation where the action under scrutiny is used to deny certain section a shot at the offices as currently zoned through a dubious and undemocratic means of micro-zoning.

“Finally, if the party must reinvent itself as the true vanguard of democracy,  it should not allow certain elements to hijack and abuse due process in the up coming national convention as this will only amount to going back to an inglorious past that we’ll rather forget”. Power brokers in the two opposition zones have continued to push arguments why they should take the slot.

One of the chairmanship aspirants (George) said it would be extremely difficult for leaders of the party in the Southwest to continue to mobilise support for the PDP in the zone if the Southwest did not produce the party chair.

He told reporters at the PDP Abuja secretariat last week: “If they take the chairmanship away from us, how do they expect us to continue persuading our members and supporters to vote for the PDP in 2019. The position of chairman has been micro-zoned in the past.”

He recalled that at inception, the chair was micro-zoned to the North central, starting with the pioneer chairman, the late Chief Solomon Lar from Plateau State. He was succeeded by Chief Barnabas Gemade from Benue, also in the North central. Followed by Chief Audu Ogbe, also from Benue State.

Ogbeh was forced out as a result of disagreement with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. He was replaced by Dr. Ahmadu Ali from Kogi State, also in the Northcentral. The chair then moved to the Southeast in 2008 with the emergence of Prince Vincent Ogbulafor (Abia), who was succeeded by Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo from Enugu State, also in the Southeast. Two acting chairmen occupied the position interim capacities, following the unceremonious removal of Nwodo at the convention ground in 2011. They are Dr. Mohammed Bello Haliru (Kebbi State) and Alhaji Kawu Baraje (Kwara State). The chair again moved to the Northeast in 2012 with Alhaji Bamanga Tukur (Adamawa State) as chairman. before he was removed in 2014 and replaced with a former Bauchi State governor,  Adamu Mu’azu, also from the Northeast. Mu’azu was forced to resign in May 2015 for failing to lead the PDP to victory in the 2015 general elections.

His exit paved the way for Secondus, who was deputy national chairman. Secundus was asked to step in as acting chairman while the party struggled to shake off its post election defeat trauma. Going by the party’s constitution, Secondus was to act as chairman for six months to enable the party pick a substantive chairman from the Northeast to complete Mu’azu’s truncated tenure.

However, owing to hopelessness occasioned by the party’s electoral misfortune, the PDP became almost rudderless and Secondus continued to occupy the position for over nine months. It took the intervention of a former presidential adviser, Dr. Ahmed Gulak for the PDP to wake up from slumber. Gulak had in February 2016, stormed the party secretariat with a number of supporters.

He declared himself the new party chairman. Gulak, who is from Adamawa State in the Northeast, had argued that he decided to take the seat to complete the tenure for the Northeast. The crisis was, however, resolved when the party’s governors, against wise counsel, picked a controversial former Borno State governor Ali Modu Sheriff in 2016 to serve out the remaining term of the Northeast.

Attempts to elect a substantive chairman under Sheriff led to a fourteen-month leadership crisis that almost consumed the PDP. Having seen through Sheriff’s inordinate ambition to grab the party’s 2019 presidential ticket by default, the governors eased out Sheriff at a botched May 23, 2016 convention, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

A caretaker committee, headed by a former Kaduna State governor Ahmed Makarfi, was appointed to run the affairs of the party, pending the election of a  substantive chairman. But, Sheriff remained adamant and continued to lay claim to the party’s chairmanship. He had fought through the courts to remain in office for 14 months, trampling on every rule and guideline in the party’s constitution.

Sheriff fought Makarfi and his team to a standstill, leaving the party in disarray. It took the intervention of the Supreme Court to free the party from Sheriff’s grip with a landmark judgment delivered on July 12, 2017. With Sheriff out of the way, the PDP got its bearings under Makarfi, whose tenure expires at tomorrow’s  convention.

The convention is, however, being threatened by ambitions and vested interests of a few gladiators, gunning for the control of the party structure at the national level. The 19 states in the North succeeded in micro-zoning the elective positions allotted to them without much rancour.

Similarly, the 17 states in the South were able to micro-zone some of the positions given to them, except the chairmanship slot.

The Makarfi led committee was under pressure to micro-zone the chairmanship position to the Southwest, but the former Kaduna governor said his committee lacked the power to do so.

The party may be plunged into another round of leadership crisis that the convention may throw. The power blocs have been unwilling to shift ground.

Governor Wike, who is Secondus’ main backer, has insisted that the chair must go to the Southsouth.

He told party leaders and supporters from the zone in Port Harcourt on Monday that his zone has been the major financier of the PDP.

Wike was reported to have bankrolled the legal expenses the party incurred in the battle to take the PDP from Sheriff. But stakeholders argue that making Secondus party chair would amount to handing the PDP over to Wike.

Incidentally, most party leaders, particularly the older generation, appear not to be comfortable with Wike’s sense of judgment. The governor’s approach to decision making has become a major concern to many of them. Tagging along with Wike is  Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose who is also insisting on Secondus.

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Author: GBADE OGUNWALE