In less than 48 hours, the die will be cast and a new chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party will emerge. Segun James examines the machinations that have made it impossible for a consensus candidate to emerge
After two years of hiatus, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) appears to be getting its groove back. The party is not only on its way from the edge of extinction, but preparing to give the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) a run for its money.
With many of its former members who decamped to the APC at the height of the leadership crisis that rocked the party towards and immediately after the 2015 general election on their way back, the PDP is indeed back; and roaring to go.
However, the great revival of the party will be depend on what happens this weekend as the party moves to elect a new leadership that will shepherd the party to the 2019 election. Unless the party gets this particular act right, it may be headed back to political doldrums.
So far, the party has achieved a political coup in the return of a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar back to its fold. This has triggered the return of many others. To many, this may not be much, but for members of the party, it is indeed the catalyst that is now propelling a rebirth in the party.
For much of the past year, as Nigeria was plunged into economic recession and political stagnation, the PDP was comatose and unable to play its role as the opposition party in the country. But with a new and rejuvenated leadership, Nigerians will have a choice at the 2019 election.
In the PDP today, there are nine aspirants locking horns to clinch the national chairmanship position, the most coveted trophy.
Geographic balance is, relatively speaking, the strength of the Nigerian political system. The PDP understood this and had exploited it to its advantage. However, President Muhammadu Buhari and his party appear not to have mastered this time tested system. However, that will definitely depend on who the PDP fields, and how the party will effectively convince Nigerians that it will not repeat the mistakes of the last time.
If hegemons are good for anything, it is for conferring stability on the system they dominate. For 16 years, the PDP had been the superpower of the Nigerian political system before it was dislodged. But from all indications, it is set to come back; but on the condition that it gets its cards right.
But the race for the national chairman of the party has created a sharp division among party members to the extent that a group of northern elders led by Professor Jerry Gana who preferred the south-west zone for the national chairman is now pitched against a group of northern youths who are rooting for a candidate from the south-south zone.
The group, led by former Adamawa State acting governor, Umar Fintiri and a former House of Representatives member, Sani Kutigi wanted the chairmanship position reserved for the entire south of the country.
The northern PDP youths dissociated themselves from the resolution of the PDP northern elders that the south-west should produce the party chairman. The PDP youths described as obnoxious and objectionable the plot by some party members from the north to micro-zone the National Chairmanship of the party to the south-west in a bid to give advantage to a preferred aspirant.
The PDP youths declared that the plot was contrary to the agreed arrangement of the party, which they said remained unchanged.
â€œTheir action is hereby rejected and totally condemned. Majority of members from the north dissociate themselves from this misadventure, which portends unintended consequences if left unchallenged.
â€œIt is an insult to southern politicians and leaders that few members from the north could sit down and determine who to elect as chairman.
â€œParty members from the north pledge to support only a free and fair process where a new national chairman will emerge regardless of where he comes, so long as he is from any state in Southern Nigeria,â€ they said.
But despite the cries of the youths, the elders in a communiquÃ© signed by former Kano State governor, Ibrahim Shekarau and former speaker, Benue State House of Assembly, Margaret Icheen after the meeting of the PDP Northern Elders and Leaders Forum urged northern delegates to vote for only aspirants from the south-west zone.
â€œAs we head to the national convention, the forum showed keen interest on the position of the national chairman.
â€œAfter extensive deliberations, it was resolved that, in the spirit of fairness, equity, giving every geo-political zone a sense of participation and inclusion in the affairs of the PDP, we strongly support the southwest zone to produce the next chairman of the party.
â€œThis is without prejudice to the right of aspirants from other geo-political zones to contest,â€ it stated.
With these sharp divisions, leaders from the region have pitched their tent with different aspirants vying for the office of the national chairman of the party. It means that whoever emerges the national chairman will face a daunting task of not only shepherding the party towards an election that is barely 14 months away, but will also spend a considerable time trying to reconcile warring members and political enemies who may constitute obstacles in the run towards the election.
The national leadership of the party had zoned the office of the national chairman to the southern part of the country, while it also ceded the presidential ticket to the north.
However, the party has refused to micro-zone the office of the national chairman to any of the three geo-political zones in the southern region.
While no candidate has shown interest in the race from the South-east, two have emerged from the South-south and seven have shown interest from the South-west.
In the race are Chief Olabode George, a former deputy national chairman of the party; Prof. Tunde Adeniran, a former minister of Education; Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, another former minister; Mr. Jimi Agbaje, the former Lagos state governorship candidate of the party in the 2015 election and Uche Secondus, a former acting national chairman of the party.
Others are Otunba Gbenga Daniel, a former governor of Ogun state; Chief Rasheed Ladoja, former governor of Oyo state; Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, a media mogul and Chief Akintayo Akin-Deko.
The party has recently been agitated over allegations by some of the national chairmanship candidates of favouritism by the National Caretaker Committee, NCC towards one of the candidates. Two of the major candidates, Chief Bode George and Prof. Tunde Adeniran had recently called for the resignation of Senator Ahmed Makarfi as chairman of the NCC on the basis of the allegations. Prof. Adedoja warned yesterday that if the South-west does not produce the next national chairman of the party, there would be consequences for the PDP, especially in the 2019 general elections.
Also a former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Nenadi Usman, who is aspiring to be the first female national secretary of the party, expressed concern about the acrimony that has shadowed the contest for the office of national chairman.
Already there has been a call and a plot for a second and parallel convention. The possibility of this forced the Bayelsa State governor, Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson, to appeal to leaders and members of the PDP to eschew rancour and divisive tendencies that could mar the convention of the party.
Dickson, in a press release by his Special Adviser on Public Affairs, Daniel Alabrah, urged members to close ranks and put aside selfish interests for the overall interest of the party and the country’s democracy.
“The December 9 convention of our great party offers yet another opportunity for all leaders, members and contestants for various offices to close ranks, show commitment and loyalty to the PDP as well as enhance the democratic culture of tolerance and sportsmanship,” he said.
The governor who was chairman of the party’s reconciliation committee, condemned the reported plot by a group within the party to hold a parallel convention, noting that the PDP had had enough of crises and that there was no better time to rebuild the party than now.
He added that Nigerians looked up to the party to provide strong leadership, especially at this critical time in the nation’s democratic experience.
“I call on all party leaders and aspirants for various offices to prepare for the convention. Elders and leaders of the party at all levels should also support the caretaker committee to deliver a successful convention.
“A rancour-free convention is a sine qua non to get back to power again at the centre in 2019. So members and all contestants must subsume their individual interests in the overall interest of our party and the brighter future ahead of us,” he said.
The Chairman of the PDP National Elective Convention Planning Committee and Governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa had also warned members of the party against doing anything that will undermine next Saturday’s national convention saying that the party will die if it fails to conduct a free and fair elective convention.
Okowa said that the convention would either make or mar the party even as he warned those seeking to be elected as members of the party’s exco to put the interest of the party above their personal interest and refrain from doing anything that would make the election not to be credible.
“If we allow any manipulation, PDP will dieâ€Ž”, he added.
In this regard, he said about 50 members of the electoral committee who are also delegates with â€Žvoting rights had been asked to step down as members of the electoral committee. This, he said was done to ensure that the results of the votes reflect the decision of the delegates who would have the freedom to choose those they wanted to run the affairs of the party.
He also dismissed claims that a governor was funding the convention so that his candidate for the chairmanship office would be supported for the post.
Okowa said: â€Ž”It will not be easy for anyone to influence the process. We know that if we do not get this right, the party will be the loser. We have talked to ourselvesâ€Ž.
“This is the convention that will make or mar the PDP. There are 21 national officers, 19 are being contested. We will deliver an election that is credible. The convention will strength the PDP. It will be free and fair. It is going to be a serious business. No fun fare. No dancing.”
Whoever emerges the chairman tomorrow has an unenviable task ahead of him.
We know that if we do not get this right, the party will be the loser.