The mutual mistrust and suspicion playing out between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors and the party’s National Chairman Bamanga Tukur did not start last Saturday with the launch of a book on the PDP chairman.
The feeling of mistrust has always been there from the very beginning. Let me preface this with this anecdote and it all happened in the build-up to the election of a new PDP chairman early this year. President Jonathan had at the time made up his mind to install Tukur as chairman, seeing him as a statesman with a fatherly figure that can help wield the party together.
But some of the governors, particularly those from the North-east zone to which the chairmanship position was ceded, among them Governors Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) and Isa Yuguda (Bauchi), were vehemently opposed to Tukur’s candidacy. One day in the build-up to the election in March this year, the President invited the governors over to Aso Rock to come and state their grievance and present their candidate. Unknown to them he had also invited Tukur to the Villa. As they assembled for the meeting, without much ado, without allowing the governors to say much, the President just called on Tukur, saying, “These governors are opposed to you o, you better come and address them so they can support you”.
Tukur instantly did as instructed. The governors were left dumbfounded; their tails in between their legs, they had to ramble through while speaking to State House correspondents on why they were at the Villa. Talk of political brinkmanship on the part of the President! But the governors waited to extract their own pound of flesh. A few days to that PDP national convention at which Tukur was eventually crowned chairman, the governors, however, pulled a surprise. They did a kangaroo voting of delegates from the North-east zone and came with results that showed that Tukur had been badly defeated as the candidate of the zone for the chairmanship and his opponent, Dr. Musa Babayo, then acting National Secretary of the party, had been endorsed for the office.
It was to embarrass President Jonathan and Tukur and both of them were flustered. Tukur did not know what hit him. He condemned the alleged voting in strong terms. Many analysts interpreted that to mean the governors had defeated President Jonathan and his candidate. By PDP convention, the zone to which a position had been ceded had no business conducting any election to pick a preferred candidate, though the zone could endorse if they like. What the governors of the North-east did was to play politics and embarrass the President. However, in the end, at the Eagle Square in Abuja, Tukur won; the President won, as Babayo had in the previous night stepped down and apologised to the PDP chairman. The rest as they say is history.
So since then, there has been mutual suspicion between Tukur and the governors. The governors didn’t trust their chairman, seeing him as Jonathan’s candidate who would always do the president’s bidding. The governors’ absence at last week’s book launch was therefore no surprise. The book, Global Villager, was written by veteran journalist and poet Eddie Aderinokun and launched in commemoration of Tukur’s 77th birthday. Of all the 23 PDP governors at present, only three attended that book launch, yet there were indications that virtually all the governors were in Abuja at the time.
The three governors that attended the book launch were Yuguda (Bauchi), Patrick Yakowa (Kaduna) and Theodore Orji (Abia). Governors Ibrahim Shema (Katsina) and Jonah Jang (Plateau) sent their deputies. Forget the Abia State Governor Orji who tried to apologise on behalf of his colleagues who failed to show up, saying they could not make it “because of circumstances beyond their control,” the governors have some differences with Tukur. What are these differences exacerbated by the mutual suspicion between them and Tukur? Some have said the move by the PDP chairman to engage in reconciliation and bring aggrieved former chieftains back to the party’s fold has irked the governors, as they fear it would whittle down their influence in PDP.
But truth is it’s all about 2015 and the politics of 2015. Of the 23 PDP governors, 17 are in their second terms in office and at least four of them namely Niger State Governor Mua’zu Babangida Aliyu, Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido, Yuguda and Shema have been linked with 2015 presidency. President Jonathan is also likely to run for a second term, though he has not publicly declared his intention for the race but claims those talking about 2015 at present are distracting him. Really? The governors however believe Tukur, being the President’s man, would do anything to favour President Jonathan in the race. So for them since they are in their final term in office (only five of them are in their first terms) I guess they believe it’s time to go for broke, it’s time to answer their “fathers’ names”.
And this feeling of mistrust is bound to continue as the countdown to the 2015 election continues. What to do is for the party leadership to assure the governors and the generality of PDP stalwarts of a level-playing field and to be seen to be openly working towards that realisation going forward. Indeed, 2015 is going to be tricky for President Jonathan and I think he and his minders know already. The President is likely to be up against formidable opponents from the North who may emerge from the rank of the party’s governors who represent a formidable bloc in PDP. How will he tame the governors going forward? That would be the challenge as we march towards 2015.