After the protracted leadership crisis that threatened to sink the Peoples Democratic Party, choosing a new national chairman for the party isn’t going to be easyâ€Ž. The party will have to proceed with caution to ensure that the leadership contest does not plunge PDP into another crisis, writes Tobi Soniyi
Many are holding their breath and watching with keen interest the race to appoint a chairman for the Peoples Democratic Party. They believe that if the PDP can get it right, it will provide the country with a viable opposition capable of keeping the ruling All Progressives Congress in check.
Yet, the fear that the party, which was in government for sixteen years, may bungle the opportunity created by the lifeline handed it by the Supreme Court is real. Before the Supreme Court’s judgment of 12 July, 2017, getting members of the party to agree to a ceasefire proved impossible. Now that there appears to be a semblance of peace, the party can not afford not to get it right, otherwise, it will end up playing into the hands of its enemies. So, the stakes are high.
The party’s situation is further made precarious because it is no longer in government and now lacks the wherewithal to appease disillusioned members. However, the situation is not that of hopelessness. There are capable hands within the party that can lead PDP at this challenging period. Therefore, the next national chairman of the party will assume the position of leader of the opposition in the country, but more importantly, he will have the burden of piloting the party to the 2019 election. These are no mean tasks.
To beat APC to its game, the leadership of the PDP had chosen to zone the presidential ticket to the north. The same zone of President Muhammadu Buhari. The reasoning is that had PDP fielded a candidate from the north in 2015, it would probably have defeated the APC. Not to make the same mistake twice, PDP agreed to take the battle to the president’s stronghold.
The implication of that decision is that the national chairman of the party must come from the south. This much was agreed by the party. But that is where the agreement ends. Which zone among the three geographical zones in the south should produce the chairman? The South-east had produced the party chairman in the past. Equity, justice and fairness demand that the zone allows other zones in the south to take a shot at the partyâ€™s chairmanship. Besides, many in the party are looking at the south-east to clinch the vice-president position.
The south-south had also had a brief chance at the party’s chairmanship leaving the south-west as the only zone that has yet to produce the party’s chairman. Allowing the south-west to produce the next chairman appears to be the most sensible line of action except that it is not so simple. Leaders of the party in the south-south including a former governor of River State, Dr Peter Odili are reported to have said that the south-west zone be allowed to produce the next chairman.
Some of the aspirants that have shown serious interest in taking the chairmanship seat are former Deputy National Chairman of the party Chief Olabode George, founder of Daar Communication Plc, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, former Acting National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, Ex-Ministers, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, Prof Tunde Adeniran, a former Oyo State governor, Alhaji Rasheed Ladoja, a former Ogun State governor, Chief Gbenga Daniel and Mr. Jimi Agbaje.
Chief Olabode George
Obviously one of the most experienced of the lots.
He was also at various times the national vice chairman of the PDP in the south west, deputy national chairman, South and the national deputy chairman of the party.
However, George was charged before a Lagos High Court for alleged fraud he committed while he was chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority. On October 26, 2009 he was sentenced to 28 years jail term for contract splitting and inflation. However, the Supreme Court on December 13, 2013 quashed his conviction.
A retired naval officer, George is firm, disciplined and a straight talker who is not likely to be swayed by material things. He possessed some of the qualities the party required in its chairman at this critical stage. Strong-willed, inflexible and somewhat arrogant, George is one man who the hawks in the party will find it hard to push around. He is not afraid to say his mind on issues.
However, many in the party believe that at 72, he is old and that he should leave the party for the younger generation to take over. Those who are likely to finance the party are young and may not be comfortable with him. He needs to convince the younger generation that he has all it takes to take the party to the next level given his age. He will need to relate with them and convince them that he is what the party needs at this critical junction.
Prof. Tunde Adeniran
Born in Ekiti State in 1945, Adeniran is a Political Scientist and a product of the University of Ibadan and Columbia University, U.S.A. He was a staff of the United Nations in the mid-seventies and taught in some American universities before he took up appointment at the University of Ibadan where he worked for twenty years before joining politics in 1998.
While in the university, Adeniran was appointed Minister for Education before being appointed Nigeriaâ€™s Ambassador to the United States of America.
A recipient of many honours and winner of many distinctions, Adeniran was a beneficiary of scholarships and fellowships while a student (including being the first Nigerian to win the youth foundation fellowship and the first African to win the Dana Backus Award
Like George, he is 72. He is also rumoured to have empathy for former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. Whether that is an asset or liability, only time will tell.
Another attribute he shares with George is that he is a loyal party man. He does not jump ship at the slightest provocation.
There appears to be a consensus within the south-west that Ogun-Lagos axis should produce the chairman. This may be his Achilles heel.
Prof. Taoheed Adedoja
Adedoja who was governorship candidate in Oyo state in 1998 and 2007, has also indicated his interest in becoming the party’s national chairman. However, he has not shown enough zeal and many are not convinced he is genuinely keen on the job.
A former provost of the College of Education (Special) Oyo State, Adedoja was also a former Minister of Youths and Sport.
Critics said he needed to convince himself that he needed the PDP top job before convincing others.
Rashidi Ladoja was a governor of Oyo State elected under the PDP platform. He was impeached while office but was reinstated by the Supreme Court after quashing the impeachment.
When PDP plunged into crisis, he sought refuge in Accord Party. He even contested for the governorship of Oyo State under Accord Party and against the PDP. That decision may be his undoing. He is not considered a loyal party man. He was recently wooed back to the PDP. However, going by the provisions of the PDP constitution, he will need a waiver from the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the party to enable him be on the ballot on December 9.
Ladoja is loved by many in his state. But to be national chairman, he needs more that his state.
Raymond Dokpesi, the founder of Daar Communications Plc owner of AIT and Ray Power (television and radio stations) is a founding member of the PDP.
He has been reaching out to party members across the country to convince them on why he should be considered for the PDP top job.
Fearing that the leadership crisis rocking the party might spell doom for the PDP, Dokpesi joined others to form a new party, the Advance Peoples Democratic Alliance, (APDA). He was named the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party.
However, when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Makarfi, Dokpesi quickly retraced his steps and returned to the PDP.
While he can use his influence in the media to get things done for the party, the party will have to think twice before settling for him as the chairman. He is facing charges of alleged corruption at the Federal High Court. Under Nigerian laws, he remains innocent until his guilt is proved. Nevertheless, the charges can constitute an encumbrance which the APC may use to attack the party.
He is also not from the south-west that is favoured to produce the chairman. To many in the party, he is on a frolic of his own.
That apart, his decision to leave the party for APDA at the time the party needed him most may work against him.
Chief Gbenga Daniel
He was governor two times in Ogun State under the PDP. As a former governor, he is said to enjoy the support of his colleagues former governors.
At 61, he is not too old to relate with the younger generation. He also has a gift of relating with people with ease.
However, he once sinned against the party he now wants to lead. During the 2011 governorship election his sponsored Gboyega Nasir Isiaka to run on the platform of People’s Party of Nigeria (PPN) instead of supporting Adetunji Olurin the PDP’s candidate. That decision resulted in Ibikunle Amosun of the Action Congress of Nigeria winning the election.
There is also a pending criminal charge against. Daniel dismissed the charges as spurious and maintained his innocence. He also remains innocent under the law. Nevertheless, the party may prefer someone who is not facing any trial.
Olujimi Kolawole Agbaje, a pharmacist was born on March 2, 1957. He was the party’s gubernatorial candidate in Lagos State during the 2015 election.
Based on his affiliation with Afenifere, Jimi Agbaje joined the Action Congress (AC) – his first political party. In 2007, Agbaje who had initially aspired to contest for the governorship election in Lagos on the platform of the Action Congress (AC) left the party to join the Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA).
He left DPA in 2011 to join the PDP. In 2015, he defeated Musliu Obaikoro in the primary but lost the election to APC’s Akinwunmi Ambode.
He is also young. Many, in the party can easily relate with him.
However, many are of the view that he has not been a member of the party long enough to be trusted with the office of national chairman. They also want an assurance that he will not move to another party when the going get tough.
Nevertheless, If there is one man who fits into the bill of those shopping for a true consensus chairman of the party, Agbaje is the one. He is the one that neither threatens the hawk nor drive away the doves. Yet he is a man of his own. He has the capacity to carry every shade of opinion along while also maintaining the partyâ€™s agenda and manifesto.
Uche Secondus is from Rivers State, south-south. He was a deputy national chairman of the party and later became the party’s acting chairman. Before then, he had been chairman of the party in Rivers State twice.
He is experienced. He enjoys the support of the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike. If the leadership of the party decides to pick the chairman from the south-south, Secondus is the man likely to get it. But for now, that is not the direction the party appears to be going.
Consensus Remains the Best Option
While the national caretaker of the party should be commended for its decision not to intervene in the process to elect a new chairman, it must continue to watch the race very closely. It may also need to step in and persuade members, in the interest of the party, to support a candidate. The party was built through consensus. It has also survived this long because it worked through consensus.