By Ndubuisi Orji and Mark Pippah
Barring unforeseen circumstances, tomorrow, members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will assemble for its national convention. The expectation is that at the event, the party would elect its substantive national chairman and other principal officers. But recent events indicate that the convention will likely hold simultaneously in Port Harcourt and Abuja. The implication of the foregoing is that the party is in for another major crisis after its dismal outing in the last general elections.
The party’s attempt to reposition itself for greater challenges is threatened by controversy over which zone produces the next national chairman with the party splitting into two factions. While one faction is led by former Borno State governor and national chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu sheriff, the other faction under the aegis of Concerned PDP stakeholders is lead by former Minister of Information, Professor Jerry Gana. The Gana group, which consists of about 12 former PDP governors and 14 former ministers and many other party heavyweights is threatening to hold a parallel national convention of the party in Abuja tomorrow.
However, even at the time of filing this report, there were doubts if the convention would hold as scheduled following different court rulings on the issue.
Since the PDP lost the 2015 general election, things have not been the same for the former ruling party. It has actually been one crisis after another. Shortly after the last general election, there was crisis over calls for the resignation of members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC). The NWC members were accused of leading the party to a very humiliating defeat in last year’s general election.
Apart from losing the presidential election, the PDP lost its majority in the two chambers of the National Assembly and a number of governorship seats across the country to the rival All Progressives Congress(APC).
Arising from that controversy, the former national chairman of the party, Adamu Muazu threw in the towel. But other members of the NWC refused to quit.
After much bickering, the party at the end of its 68th National Executive Committee(NEC) meeting in March, announced Sheriff, as its new National Chairman. Sheriff, a former member of the APC had joined the PDP in the run-up to the last year’s general election.
Expectedly, the former Borno governor’s appointment as the leader of the PDP generated a fresh row in the party. But his backers which include members of the PDP Governors Forum and some members of the National Assembly, stood by him.
At last, the party leaders resolved that Sheriff would only be in office to midwife the emergence of a new national chairman at the party’s convention slated today, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
To effectively block Sheriff from emerging as national chairman in the Port Harcourt convention, the Forum of Former PDP Ministers opposed to his leadership of the party recommended that members of the outgoing NWC be barred from contesting any of the positions at the convention.
The group, which is led by former Special Duties Minister, Saminu Turaki, argued that that would give the party a fresh start.
“In order to give the party a new lease of life, it is imperative that a clause in the guidelines for the 2016 National Convention should include a provision barring all those who have served the party especially during the immediate past tenure of the outgoing National Working Committee members from contesting for any office of the party under the new dispensation,” the former ministers said.
Everything was going on fine in the party or so it seemed, until the Senator representing Ogun East, Buruji Kashamu led some leaders of the party from South West on a solidarity visit to the national chairman of the party.
In the wake of the speculation that Sheriff may want to succeed himself, Acting chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, Walid Jubrin, warned the former Borno governor not to attempt to stay in office as chairman beyond the agreed three months.
Jubrin said the PDP may not overcome the crisis that will trail any attempt by Sheriff to stay beyond May 21, agreed by the major stakeholders of the party as the terminal date for his leadership.
He urged the chairman to publicly disassociate himself from the tenure elongation plan and maintain his stand on the three months given him by the NEC, noting that if Sheriff honours the agreement on his tenure. he will remain in the PDP record book of achievers.
In the aftermath of the 2015 general elections, which the party lost, the PDP set up a committee headed by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu to come up with a way of rebuilding the party. One of the recommendations of the Ekweremadu committee was the zoning of the PDP presidential candidate to the North, a decision which the party has accepted.
Therefore, it was taken for granted that after all said and done, the chairmanship will be zoned to the South. However, hopes that the party would zone the chairmanship seat to the South and save itself from the problem that Sheriff’s possible candidature at the Port Harcourt convention would cause was dashed on April 28, when the zoning committee headed by Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel surprisingly zoned the much coveted chairmanship position to the North East, where Sheriff hails from. The decision was later affirmed by the NEC of the party.
Consequently, at a time where everyone was looking forward to the Port Harcourt convention, where a rejuvenated PDP would emerge, the party leaders are up in arms against themselves over the zoning of the top party job.
Critical members of the party see the new zoning formula as very distasteful and a fatal blow to plans to rebuild the party.
Besides, analysts say zoning the chairmanship to the North is against the principles of the PDP, as the party had earlier zoned its 2019 presidential ticket to the North. Therefore, the development would mean giving the two topmost positions in the party to one section of the country.
Besides, there are those who see the zoning of the PDP chairmanship to the North East as akin to handing it over to Sheriff. At its zonal congress on May 14, the North East zone endorsed Sheriff as its sole candidate for the position.
In the history of the party, the positions of the presidential candidate and the national chairmanship have always been shared between the North and South. For instance, between 1999 to 2007, the South produced the presidential candidate in the person of former President Olusegun Obasanjo while Solomon Lar, Barnabas Gemade, Audu Ogbeh and Ahmadu Ali from the North occupied the position of national chairman.
In 2007, when the North produced the presidential candidate in late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Okwesilieze Nwodo from the South emerged the national chairman. With the emergence of former President Jonathan as the party flag bearer, the national chairmanship seat returned to the North with Haliru Bello, Bamangar Tukur and Muazu occupying the seat.
A former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George said the greatness of the party lies in its ability to accommodate all the sections of the country in the sharing of government and party positions. He maintained that any arrangement that tries to give a section of the country an unfair advantage over another section of the country would not aurgur well. This is the only party that has the full colours of this country,” George said. A school of thought believes that zoning the chairmanship to the North East, is one issue that would hurt the party greatly in the 2019 presidential election. The argument is that by zoning the PDP chairmanship to the North East, the party may have unwittingly restricted its presidential ticket to only the North Central and North West, thereby shutting out those from North East, who might be interested in the presidential ticket of the party in 2019.
Besides, analysts say it is obvious that the PDP had not learnt any lessons from the dip in its electoral fortunes, which is traceable to the mismanagement of its zoning formula in the last general election.
A party source who, preferred anonymity said the zoning arrangement, if not reviewed would cost the party dearly. Also, the deputy national publicity secretary of the party, Ibrahim Jalo described the zoning of the national chairmanship seat to the North East as “a bad calculation”.
However, in a twist, elders of the party in South West led by George after a meeting in Akure on Wednesday accepted the zoning of the chairmanship seat to the North. However, they gave a caveat: that Sheriff must vacate office next year. But there are those who argue that there is no guarantee that the former Borno governor will buy into that once he clinches the chairmanship seat.
Already, Sheriff’s ambition got a major boost last week, as the North East zone of the PDP endorsed him as its sole candidate for the position. The party’s Board of Trustees (BoT) has also supported Sheriff’s candidature. The support of the BoT not withstanding, those opposed to his continued leadership are not relenting in their bid to push him out.
Following the events in the PDP so far, many insist that the party is at the precipice with fears that with one slight slip, it would be all over for the party that once dominated the nation’s political landscape.