By WILLY EYA
Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will today be literally set on fire as the delegates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the nation’s main opposition party, converge for the party’s national convention.
For followers of events in the party, it would be a “make or mar” convention as its outcome would predictably determine the future of the PDP.
Considering its pedigree, the art of politics would resonate in the FCT as members of the party converge on the Eagles Square venue to participate in the elective congress. In the estimation of critical observers, the convention will largely task the party’s internal mechanism of electing key officials that will position it solidly for the general elections in 2019.
There is no gainsaying that the ‘success or failure’ of the exercise will certainly rub off on the nation’s polity and democratic governance.
For obvious reasons, many are in agreement that the convention has become a national programme that would test the sagacity of power brokers in the country and set agenda for the next general elections. This is in view of the fact that the PDP is the only major and functional opposition party with the capacity to challenge the current dominance of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the nation’s power equation.
The calculation in many quarters is however that without a well-organised and coordinated PDP, there are fears Nigeria may be tailored towards a one party state, a development that was halted by the Supreme Court verdict of July 12, which eventually resolved the protracted leadership crises in the erstwhile ruling party.
So, in the next 24 hours, the power brokers in the PDP hitherto touted as the largest party in black Africa would go for broke as they try to outwit one another in the titanic battle for the party’s structure ahead of 2019.
But as the development unfolds, two questions that come to the minds of critical observers are: will the PDP get it right after the convention or relapse into another round of crisis following clashes of interests among the major gladiators?. Many believe that head or tail, the outcome of the convention would jumpstart activities ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the PDP reigned supreme at the centre, and in most states in the country until 2014 when the APC was formed. But not a few argue that even though the PDP lost power in 2015, it still has a formidable structure to pull surprises in the next general elections if it can get the national convention right.
At the last count, not less than nine leading chieftains of the party picked forms to contest for the apex position.
Those from the South-West are Bode George, Jimi Agbaje, Gbenga Daniel, Tunde Adeniran, Taoheed Adedoja, Aderemi Olusegun and Rashidi Ladoja. The other two from the South-South are Raymond Dokpesi and Uche Secondus.
Even though the intention and capacity of the individuals are not the same, the contenders seem to have similar messages to the members – to provide viable opposition capable of unseating the APC in 2019.
Ahead of today’s event, the party’s national leadership set up different committees that would organise the convention.
All the 11 governors elected on the platform of the party are members of the committees, which were announced by the National Organising Secretary, Senator Abdul Ningi.
The 14 committees are made up of 1,706 members with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State leading the 87-member Convention Planning Committee.
The largest committee is that of Entertainment and Welfare, which has 248 members followed by the Venue and Protocol Committee with 238 members.
Role of money
Speaking on Sunrise Daily on Channels Television yesterday, one of the major actors in the ensuing power struggle and governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike dismissed rumours that he is one of the moneybags that are trying to influence the outcome of the convention.
He said: “I cannot be a moneybag. I am a member of the PDP and a delegate, so I am supporting a candidate. The party has zoned the presidency to the North and chairmanship position to the South. The issue of gentleman agreement on the issue of micro-zoning does not arise in this convention.
“I am supporting Uche Secondus because he is the most experienced in managing the affairs of the party. He is the only aspirant from a state that has been controlled by the PDP since 1999. I believe that he has what it takes to be the chairman of the PDP. We want a situation where whoever emerges from this convention would be somebody who believes in the party.
“There is no election that money would not play a role because of the issue of logistics but every committed party member should be ready to support the candidate that emerges as the PDP chairman. And looking at the caliber of persons who are in charge of the convention, I believe that the exercise would be acceptable to all.”
He said that if you looked at the history of voting in Nigeria, it is the South South that had always given the PDP more votes than any other region in the country.
“ I am sure that after the convention, people would see a different PDP. I have analysed the states and the votes and there is no way the South south would not produce the chairmanship candidate. Ahead of the convention, so many states have taken their position on who to vote for”, he said.
In his reaction also on the same programme, Sunrise Daily, Dr Adetokumbo Pearse who is a chieftain of the PDP and the Lagos State coordinator of Prof Tunde Adeniran’s campaign said that in politics, people cannot always agree with one all the time as it is all part of democracy.
He said that all the talk about narrowing the candidate to a particular zone in the name of micro-zoning the chairmanship position is not democratic, adding that everybody who wants to contest should come out and exercise his right.
“Let me assure you that irrespective of the number that comes out, some of them may not even get any votes. The PDP has a formula for voting and the issue of micro-zoning is a gentleman’s agreement which people believe is for equity and fairness but you cannot stop any other person who wants to contest not to do so.
“I am convinced the PDP is looking for the best. I believe that our delegates would not be bought with money. We want a candidate who can prepare the party ahead of the 2019 general elections”, he said.
Another stalwart of the PDP in Enugu State and former member of the House of Representatives, USA Igwesi said that the party has learnt its lessons based on its experience after the 2015 general elections where it lost to the APC.
He said the era of impunity and imposition is over as the convention would stand as a litmus test to how the PDP would fare in the 2019 presidential race.
He said: “The PDP has a chance to launch itself back to serious reckoning if it gets its acts right in the convention. No matter the individual political differences, the party should make sure that they stay together by ensuring that they conduct a free and fair elective congress on Saturday. Anything that would mar the convention will be synonymous to what would happen to the party after the convention and even in the 2019 general elections.
“The PDP should be careful and cautious of how they conduct elections to reduce post convention acrimony and grievances. The party should make sure that every PDP member should be given a sense of belonging this time around.”
On the arrangement for the convention, Secretary, National Caretaker Committee of the PDP, Ben Obi said the PDP is not interested in who emerges as the chairman of the PDP but is concerned about how free, transparent and fair the process is. He said: “What we are saying is that the convention committee should help us conduct a free and fair election. Part of the sub-committees we inaugurated is the Post-convention Reconciliation Committee chaired by the Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson. No matter how transparent an election is, some people would still be aggrieved. What we would give to every delegate is a booklet that would contain all the elective offices and the delegate just fills the names of aspirants he wants to vote for.”
Many believe that head or tail, the outcome of the convention would determine the future of the PDP and jumpstart activities ahead of the 2019 general elections. The convention provides a fresh opportunity for the opposition party to make a statement that it is ready to take over power from the APC in 2019.
The calculation is that the PDP may appeal to many Nigerians who are disenchanted with the APC-led government if it gets it right by organizing a credible and acceptable convention. But it still remains at the realm of permutation whether the PDP would be able to make a bold statement with the convention ahead of the next general election.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the PDP reigned supreme at the centre and in most states of the country until 2014 when the APC was formed. It is based on that, that observers argue that even though the PDP lost power, it still has a formidable structure to pull surprises in 2019. Not a few still believe that it would have a bright chance against the APC if it can get the national convention right. At the last count, not less than eight leading chieftains of the party picked forms to contest for the apex position. Even though the intention and capacity of the individuals are not the same, the contenders seem to have similar messages to the members – to provide viable opposition capable of unseating the APC in 2019.
But who are the aspirants for the plum position?
He held sway in the party in acting capacity in the past, immediately after the ouster of Adamu Mu’azu, so, he is not new to the chairmanship position. From permutations, he appears to be ahead of other aspirants because of the array of power brokers rallying round him.
But many believe that it was his sit-tight in acting capacity that was exploited by Ahmad Gulak which paved the way for Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff that threw the party into a needless and damaging 13-month internal crisis.
The thinking is that if he had handled the party well, held convention and handed over properly, PDP would not have witnessed the internal crisis that almost crippled it. Not a few may not also be comfortable with the perception that a ‘powerful’ governor from the South-South is sponsoring him and may turn him into a puppet when he emerges.
The chairman of AIT/Raypower is one of the aspirants considered highly experienced in the workings of the opposition party. He is perceived to have been there for the party through its moments of ups and down, hence regarded as a committed party member.
He is believed to have suffered for the party in the hands of the ruling APC.
Since the PDP lost power in 2015, he has been attacked and demonized by the Buhari-led government. But many believe that party politics is not about morality and rationalisation.
Otunba Gbenga Daniel:
The former Ogun State governor is also an experienced aspirant in his own rights having been a governor for eight years. It is believed that having ruled a state for that long, he is eminently qualified to lead the PDP. The successful engineer in the perception of many would have easily got the job but for the many questions trailing his administration in Ogun State. Otunba made many enemies, even within his party during his reign including former President Olusegun Obasanjo. This led him to dump the party and work against its success in 2011 at the state level. His antecedents may count against him.
He is believed to be one of the most experienced among the aspirants. Not a few are in agreement that he has what it takes to run PDP as he is well connected to power brokers in Nigeria. His supporters are optimistic that the former PDP Deputy National Chairman is one of the aspirants to beat in today’s convention. However, his critics believe that his emergence will defeat the call for a new order in PDP as he represents the old order in the party. There are also others who argue that he is not particularly very popular with the powers that be in the Southwest region of the country and may not be able to market the party.
Prof. Tunde Adeniran:
The Professor of Political Science and former Minister of Education has remained committed to the PDP since its formation in 1998 and has worked in so many committees within the party.
He is also perceived to be well-connected to all the power brokers in the party and boasts a good knowledge of the workings of the party and its core vision, having been one of the founding fathers. His major selling point is that with all his years in both public and private sector services, there is no single allegation against the Ekiti-state born politician. The snag to his ambition is that many see him more as a technocrat and an academic giant than a politician who can mobilize votes for the PDP when the time comes.
Chief Rasheed Ladoja
The former Oyo State governor is a political guru who is popular in the politics of the Southwest especially his home state of Oyo. One of the things going for him is also that he has a lot of experience in the game of politics. However, what may count against him is that he just returned to the PDP months ago even though his entrance to the race is good to justify the all-inclusiveness policy of the party. The former governor was recently received with funfair when he dumped the Accord Party for the PDP.
Prof Taoheed Adedoja
The former minister of Sports is seen as a dedicated and committed party man who believes in the growth of the PDP. People believe he can swim and drown with the PDP but he is perceived as lacking the ability to be a great mobiliser.
He was a former governorship candidate of the party in 2015 and represents a breath of fresh air in terms of age and branding for the party. The thinking is that if party politics is all about branding and perception, Agbaje stands tall among other aspirants. However, his critics would argue that he is a green horn when it comes to national politics. People in this school of thought insist that he lacks the clout, connection and the experience to lead a party like the PDP.
Leadership as PDP’s albatross
For those conversant with the history of the PDP, one source of its crisis has always been the choice of its national leaders especially during national conventions. It has been the case since the party emerged in August 1998 with nine founding fathers in the persons of Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief Solomon Lar, Senator Francis Ellah, AlhajiAbubakarRimi, Chief Bola Ige, Dr. Iyorcha Ayu, Prof. Jerry Gana, AlhajiSuleLamido and MallamAdamuCiroma. Dr. Alex Ekwueme who recently died in a hospital in London was the founding chairman and held the office for only three months. The exit of Ekwueme paved the way for the emergence of Solomon Lar, who was the First Republic’s governor of Plateau State. He led the party from 1998 to 1999 when he handed over to Chief Barnabas Gemade who later also handed over to Chief Audu Ogbeh, who served for four years as chairman of the party. Ogbeh’s tenure was largely calm but towards the end of his tenure, his vocal disposition against the excesses of former Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration ended his reign.
In early January 2005, Ogbeh finally bowed out in the same year out of pressure. His resignation paved the way for the emergence of Dr. Ahmadu Ali as chairman in 2005. He left office for Prince Vincent Ogbulafor in 2008 following the zoning of the party chairman to the South East of the country. But the crisis that erupted following a criminal case against him forced him out of office in May 2010. With so much noise from all quarters, including the media, Ogbulafor had no option but to give way for a new chairman to emerge. After him came Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo whose efforts to rebrand the party were viciously resisted by the PDP governors, then led by the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, the former Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State.
Amidst the intrigues, and with the governors vowing to get a full pound of flesh from him, and associates of Jonathan fearful of Nwodo’s intentions, he was axed in favour of Dr. Haliru Mohammed, his deputy, who replaced him. Mohammed acted as the national chairman of the party until he was appointed a minister and was replaced still in an acting capacity by Alhaji Kawu Baraje, who served as national chairman until the election of Dr. BamangaTukur in March 2012.
Also in 2013, Tukur was removed to pave the way for the emergence of AdamuMu’azu as chairman in January 2014. But following the party’s failure in the 2015 presidential election, the party felt betrayed and that Adamu had sold the party tactically to the APC, since he was of northern extraction. Another battle ensued, which forced him out of office and his deputy,Uche Secondus became the acting chairman. Again, his leadership ended in crisis, thereby leading to the emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as another acting chairman, who was only to be in office for three months. He was expected to conduct the National Congress and bring in the new executive that would pilot the affairs of the party for the next presidential election. But that was not to be. Rather than hold office for the three months as stipulated by the party, Sheriff allegedly plotted to perpetuate himself in power and eventually emerge as a substantive PDP national chairman. His subtle moves again led to a crisis of interest whereby the governors were divided over support for his emergence as a substantive chairman.
The legal battle that ensued threw the party into confusion, leading to the sealing off by the police of the party’s national secretariat pending the determination of the substantive suits in different courts in the nation. The battle was taken to the point where two high courts delivered judgments on the same day, each sacking a different man and giving the office to the other.
However, after the protracted legal battle, the Supreme court ruled on the case and gave a favourable verdict to the Markafi-led faction of the PDP.
So, as the party makes preparation for today’s convention, critical observers are anxious to see how the politics of the election of the PDP principal officers would play out.