The Peoples Democratic Party has unleashed its most powerful onslaught on former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s influence yet, but it is an offensive that further exposes the party as one that picks and chooses when to obey the rule of law, writes Vincent Obia
Whether it is former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s resignation as chairman of Peoples Democratic Party’s Board of Trustees, petty public quarrels over Odi and Boko Haram, or court-ordered sack of Chief Olagunsoye Oyinlola as PDP National Secretary, President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be growing tired of hiding his differences with Obasanjo. Thanks to prior judicial orders, the latest phase of the strained relations between the two leaders is unfolding like clockwork.
On January 11, a Federal High Court in Abuja sacked Oyinlola while ruling in a suit filed by an anti-Obasanjo faction of PDP’s Ogun State chapter, led by a businessman, Buruji Kashamu. In the suit filed by the chairman of the state chapter, Adebayo Dayo, and secretary, Alhaji Semiu Sodipo, the plaintiffs challenged the retention of Oyinlola as PDP National Secretary, despite the voiding of the zonal congresses that allegedly produced him by a Lagos Federal High Court. The court, presided over by Justice Abdul Kafarati, agreed with the plaintiffs and sacked Oyinlola.
The said South-west congress of PDP was held on March 21 last year, but it was nullified about one month later by the high court in an order of April 27 that was reaffirmed by another judgment on May 2. But the PDP national leadership chose to ignore the court ruling. It elected to retain Oyinlola, a nominee of Obasanjo who was widely alleged to have been imposed on the zone by the former president and PDP governors, following his election at the party’s national convention held on March 24 last year.
It was the beginning of what was to be a tsunami more or less for Obasanjo’s men in the ruling party where his apparent indisposition to Jonathan’s second term bid goes against the grain.
The PDP National Working Committee proceeded to sack Bode Mustapha and former Ekiti State Governor Segun Oni as the party’s national auditor and National Vice Chairman, South-west respectively. It also removed the entire South-west zonal executive that emerged from the March last year’s congress and constituted a 17-member caretaker committee to run the affairs of the party in the zone pending the conduct of a fresh congress to elect new officers. All the decisions were based on the court nullification of the party’s South-west zonal congress. If Oni being a zonal officer was directly affected by that court order, the cases of Oyinlola and Mustapha remain unclear because their election was conducted in Abuja, not at the South-west zone. They were also not nominated at the zone. In fact, in the case of Oyinlola, the person that was nominated at the zone for the party’s national secretary position was former minister, Chief Ebenezer Babatope.
Most members of the sacked South-west executive of PDP are believed to be protégés of Obasanjo. Ordinarily, the removal of such a highly compromised executive should not cause a great uproar if the essence is to follow the rule of law and enthrone a regime of internal party democracy.
But the timing of the ruling party’s move, according to analysts, puts a completely different hue on the whole issue.
First, the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, had on June 25 last year granted a stay of execution of the same order on which PDP has based its latest move, pending the appeal filed by Oni. In fact, the Bamanga Tukur-led NWC and Oyinlola had used the appeal court order to avoid a contempt charge slammed on them by the high court.
Obasanjo was instrumental to Jonathan’s nomination as the PDP presidential candidate and his eventual victory at the 2011 presidential election. But the visibly emotional godson/godfather relationship between the two men collapsed soon after Jonathan’s inauguration. Sources close to them said Obasanjo’s advice against a second term bid by Jonathan was behind the breakdown in their relations.
Recurring interludes of public disagreement on issues and denial of any frosty relations defined the association between Jonathan and Obasanjo since the former president began to show disapproval for the incumbent’s second term. This continued until the latest moves against the former president’s men by the national leadership of PDP, a party that has the president as its national leader.
Before now, there were alleged attempts by the president to weaken the PDP BoT under Obasanjo’s chairmanship, which had led to the former president’s resignation as BoT chairman on April 3 last year. During a media chat on November 18 last year, Jonathan openly criticised the 1999 bloody invasion of Odi community in the president’s home state of Bayelsa by the Nigerian military during the Obasanjo administration. The reference to Odi was made in a controversial anecdote Jonathan had drawn to justify his handling of the Boko Haram insurgence, which Obasanjo had earlier berated. It was followed by a stern rebuttal from the Obasanjo camp.
Odi seemed to be a pawn in the game of power. Many, however, feel the federal government’s obedience of last week’s Federal High Court order to pay the people of Odi N37.618 billion in damages for the 1999 killings and destruction would prove if Jonathan’s sentiments on Odi are genuine or mere politics.
Analysts say the faceoff between Jonathan and Obasanjo is also behind the divisions that have prevented PDP from electing a new BoT chairman. Jonathan seems simply bent on erasing whatever remains of Obasanjo’s influence in the party he supervises as national leader to pave the way for a smooth emergence as PDP’s candidate for the 2015 presidential election.
In all these things, it is the rule of law that suffers. PDP is consistently proving to be a party that obeys court orders only when it is convenient, which is yet another disastrous story for democracy in the Fourth Republic.