Emmanuel Ugwu, in Umuahia, examines the issues behind the open objection to the return of former PDP members by key stakeholders of the party in Abia State
Chairman of the Abia State chapter of Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Emma Nwaka, was on cloud nine as he addressed the expanded caucus meeting of the party held at the Women Development Centre, Umuahia, on November 11. “There was never a time in the past a state chairman invited people to a meeting and got so many dignitaries in attendance,” he enthused.
Who’s Who of Abia PDP
Indeed, the attendance list at the meeting was like the Who’s Who of Abia PDP stakeholders. They included the state governor, Chief Theodore Orji, leading members of his cabinet and personal aides; the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Ude Oko Chukwu, and his 23 colleagues; all the members of the National Assembly from the state – the three senators and eight members of the House of Representatives – and indigenes of the state in appointive positions at both the federal and state levels.
The elders of Abia PDP, including Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Canada, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Senator Ike Nwachukwu, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, and Professor Ihechukwu Madubuike, were not left out. The expanded caucus meeting was so important to Abia politicians in the ruling PDP that those who could not make it sent their regrets, like the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Wogu, who was outside the country on official duty, and Coordinating Minister of the Economy/Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who asked to be excused due to exigency of duty. Ugochukwu, who was the PDP governorship flag bearer in 2007, described the turnout of stakeholders at the meeting as “very impressive” going by what obtained in the past.
The expanded caucus meeting also turned out to be a celebration of newfound peace and unity in Abia PDP, as speaker after speaker spoke glowingly of the harmony in the party. Considering the years of internal divisions that the state’s chapter of PDP had lived through, there was excitement among the party faithful over the coming together of former sworn enemies to discuss a common interest.
“This is a meeting of brothers and sisters who have come together for the purpose of proposing and evaluating the ways and means to move our state forward for the general good of our people,” said the state party chairman.
It was not so in the past, even at the initial period of PDP’s control of Abia, between 1999 and 2006, as the party was factionalised by centripetal and centrifugal forces. Even when the former governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, eventually left the party with his followers and formed the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PDP was still enmeshed in internal divisions. The party’s loss of the governorship election in 2007 was largely attributed to internal wrangling, which the PPA exploited to take control of Government House, Umuahia.
Recalling the party’s unsavoury past, Nwachukwu, who delivered the keynote address at the meeting, said PDP went into a tailspin in 1999 after winning the polls. The party, according to him, plunged into authoritarianism, as the executive arm of government at the national and state levels became hegemonic and took over the functions of party executives.
But with the return of Orji to PDP in August 2010 Abia PDP appeared to discover a rallying point for unity, Nwachukwu said. He said some party elders took the initiative to bring the governor back to the party and it has paid off. With the return of Orji and his followers, who dumped PPA, he stressed, Abia State was brought back to the mainstream of national politics.
Nwaka said, “Under Governor T.A. Orji as the leader of our party, robust and inclusive politics have returned to Abia State. Politics of polarity, divide and rule for personal aggrandisement have suffered a set back in our state, thanks to our reinvigorated PDP. We treat everybody with respect consistent with a refined sense of justice and fair play.”
However, the sense of wellbeing in Abia PDP is being blighted by apprehension about a possible return to crisis following indications that some separated members of the party were about to come back. At the caucus meeting there were constant references to the need to block the readmission of those referred to as potential troublemakers.
The state chairman had said, “We have not relented in our membership drive,” adding that with its new status of the “beautiful bride of Abia politics,” PDP has been flooded with numerous applications from those wishing to join.
From the body language of the PDP leaders who spoke at the meeting it was evident that a good number of the said applications were coming by former members of the party who had left to join other parties, especially PPA. But the dilemma facing Abia PDP leaders is that the national leadership of the ruling party had directed that the door should be thrown open to prospective members.
“Be that as it may, every well-brought up pretty lady knows that she should not be available to all comers,” Nwaka cautioned, adding, “We have been very careful in our assessment of those we open our doors to.”
While they acknowledge that reconciliation is good, Nwaka and his executive harbour the feeling that it could be a double-edged sword, hence “we should not for that reason open our doors to snakes and other scurrilous reptiles.” Even at that, the Abia PDP chairman was not oblivious of the fact that their stance on blocking some people from coming into the party may run afoul of the directive of the national leadership of the party on the contentious issue.
Nwaka said: “We will, therefore, always insist that the higher authorities of our party should allow us at all times to make the decision as to who to admit into our fold. To do otherwise may rupture the peace we enjoy and by extension, jeopardise our ability to deliver.”
A chieftain of PDP, Chief Henry Ikoh, shared this view when he noted that though a political party, like a church, is open to everybody, yet “if a mad man is trying to enter a church people will definitely stop him.” The former governorship aspirant of said anyone with good intentions would be received by the party, adding, “We know the spoilers, those who will come and destroy the party.”
An Eye to Kalu’s Exclusion
Although the identities of the unwanted elements were not made known by any of the speakers at the expanded caucus meeting, there was no doubt on anyone’s mind that Kalu was the target. It was Nwachukwu who hinted that when he said, “The former governor was the architect of all the woes that befell our party.” Nwachukwu had taken his listeners through memory lane, narrating the tortuous path Abia PDP had passed through to the present era, which, according to him, was capped with Orji’s liberation of the state from the divisive politics of the past. He warned, “Except we keep our house in order and truly entrench internal democracy,” the party should not expect to sustain its electoral success.
On November 14, at a stakeholders meeting of PDP members in Bende local government, the agenda was the news that Kalu was making moves to come back to PDP, and members talked about how to stop him. Kalu became Abia governor on the PDP ticket in 1999 and it was not until the middle of his second tenure that he left the party at the height of the internal crisis that engulfed PDP. He subsequently formed PPA barely 10 months before the 2007 general elections with his followers and still used the baby party to humiliate PDP, as the PPA candidate won the governorship election.
The PDP in Abia was never the same again following the electoral blow by Kalu. It was not until August 2010 when Orji rejoined PDP with his followers that the party recovered from the Kalu uppercut, hence it has become a difficult proposition for those he had wounded to welcome him back with open arms. Even when PDP was in opposition and launching malicious attacks against Orji, then of PPA, the PDP leader then, Ugochukwu, said that Kalu was the ultimate target of the attack. The ill feelings against Kalu have persisted. Thus, the present PDP leadership in Abia has embarked on a mission to ensure that Kalu does not gain entry into PDP again. To this end, the party’s stakeholders in Bende, Kalu’s local government, took a resolution not to readmit him. Party chairmen in all the 11 wards were strictly warned against any attempt to register Kalu and his followers.
The PDP constitution requires that prospective members should first get admission at the ward level.
Chairman of PDP in Bende local government, Chief Ihendu Boniface Eke, told THISDAY that he had heard rumours that Kalu had been readmitted into the party at the national headquarters. But he said, “We will not accept anybody who goes to Abuja or Umuahia to be registered as a member of PDP in Bende local government.”
Eke had told the stakeholders that the meeting was convened “to discuss about those who had left our party and sabotaged the party but now want to come back with the same diseases they left with.” He said that it would be inimical to the wellbeing of the party to take back the estranged members already infected with the virus of disunity. “We don’t want them to come back with those diseases and it has become necessary for us to screen them to verify if they still carry the diseases to ensure that our members are not infected,” he said. The Bende local government PDP chairman said that the stakeholders merely ratified a resolution already taken by party members in Kalu’s Igbere ward. The former PPA presidential candidate was said to have been declared unfit to come back to PDP by his own kinsmen.
Taking the Battle to Abuja
On November 20, Orji led a high powered delegation of Abia PDP stakeholders to the national secretariat of PDP in Abuja to tell the national chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, that Kalu was not wanted in the party. But Kalu has, reportedly, told the Hausa Service of the BBC that he is not seeking to rejoin PDP or join any other party, insisting that nobody could stop him when he eventually decides to. But Nwaka said the mission to Abuja was very necessary because “strong intelligence” report had revealed that the founder of PPA had approached the national secretariat of PDP for talks on his readmission from Abuja. The Abia stakeholders knew that Kalu was capable of outsmarting them if they rested on their oars.
Rising to Kalu’s Defence
PPA has fired back at the Abia PDP on what the party leaders considered unbridled attacks on their mentor. Abia State PPA chairman, Chief Emeka Okafor, said the state PDP leaders were afraid of the rising political profile of Kalu, hence the gang up against him. The Abia PDP chairman faulted his PPA counterpart, saying that Kalu’s political status could not have been anything to reckon with given that he was floored in his bid to go to the Senate during the 2011 general election. He further questioned Kalu’s political strength when he could not lead the PPA to win even a single seat in both the state and the National Assembly.
Though, PDP in Abia State seems determined to block Kalu, regardless of the consequences, many believe the chapter risks a major negative consequence from the party’s powerful national leadership if Kalu successfully warms to the national body. Tukur has declared that the former governor should go and reconcile with his state’s chapter. But that does not seem to spell the end of the Kalu readmission debate.