Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Attempts by the Peoples Democratic Party to reinvent itself as a formidable platform continued to reverberate across the country at the weekend as members braced for the May 21 national convention, which promises tough decisions that could strengthen or further weaken the erstwhile ruling party.
National officers who would run the affairs of the party for the next four years will be elected at the convention. And interests in the various geopolitical zones are trying to position themselves well for the coveted post of national chairman, with those from the South making the strongest moves.
THISDAY learnt that many influential stakeholders of PDP are favourably disposed to zoning the seat of national chairman to the South. This is in view of the fact that the party is likely to zone its presidential position to the North in 2019, as recommended by the Senator Ike Ekweremadu- led 2015 post-election panel.
But some members from the northern zones argue that taking the headship of the party away from the North, where PDP controls only two of the 19 states, to the South would portray PDP as a southern party. They also insist that the proposed emergence of the presidential candidate of the party from the North would not really affect the chairmanship post, as the chairman would be on the last lap of his tenure at the time of the 2019 presidential primaries.
With five of its six states under PDP control, South-south, the zone of Bayelsa-born former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who lost to President Muhammadu Buhari at the last general election, currently has the highest number of PDP governors. Those disposed to zoning the chairmanship to South-south say apart from representing the loudest voice for the party at present, the zone also provides the biggest funding for the party.
South-south man and PDP deputy national chairman, Chief Uche Secondus, who had been serving as acting national chairman, last month handed over to Borno State Governor, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, following his ratification as substantive chairman. Some party leaders feel the zone that is providing the strongest pillar of support for PDP should be compensated with the chairmanship post.
South-east has the second highest number of PDP governors, with three of the zone’s five states controlled by the party. Party members there, too, are struggling for the national chairmanship post. Two former national chairmen of the party – Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo and Chief Vincent Ogbulafor – are from the South-east.
The South-west is also making out a strong case for the chairmanship. The argument here is that the zone, which has two PDP governors, has never produced a national chairman of the party since 1999. Besides, the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State, and the man currently regarded as the loudest voice of the party in the South, Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose, are from the South-west. But sources within the party say power struggle between the two most prominent leaders of PDP in the South-west may cost the zone the coveted position.
Though, the scrambling to secure the chair of the leading opposition party is more intense in the South for the obvious reason of the zoning arrangement, which PDP members are still keeping secret, the North is not left out of the struggle. Party insiders say there is a groundswell of opinion in the North that the region should retain the national chairmanship post, currently held by Sheriff from the North-east, to give the people a sense of belonging and curtail a growing impression that PDP is a southern party.
The North-east states of Gombe and Taraba are the only PDP states in the North, but many in the North think that retaining the post of national chairman there may isolate the other zones in the region, giving Buhari and his All Progressives Congress unfettered hold on the North.
PDP had during its 69th National Executive Committee meeting on Monday in Abuja approved the timetable for its congresses and national convention. The congresses will commence on April 23 and culminate in the national convention, scheduled to hold on May 21 in Port Harcourt. The NEC also approved the setting up of four special committees to prepare for the national convention, namely, the National Convention Committee, Reconciliation Committee, Zoning Committee, and Finance Committee.
The crucial field of struggle at the moment ahead of the national convention, findings reveal, is the convention committees, which are expected to play a key role in the emergence of the new national officers. The convention and zoning committees are being considered as most strategic, fuelling a frantic struggle to fill the two committees. The party is said to be in a state of great agitation over the modalities for choosing members of the committees.
But nearly every prominent leader of PDP is playing his cards close to his chest on the zoning matter. The deputy senate president, Ekweremadu, said in a statement on Friday by his special adviser on media, Mr. Uche Anichukwu, that there was not secret zoning arrangement, stressing that the party would announce its zoning plan at an appropriate time.
The statement added, “The PDP will soon convene a meeting of the relevant stakeholders and organs of the party as stipulated by our constitution to come up with a clear zoning of the national offices of the party in a transparent, democratic, and fair manner.”