2011: BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF PDP BEGINS

By NBF NEWS
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L-R: Acting President Jonathan, PDP Chairman Ogbulafor

Things seem no longer at ease in the fold of the Peoples Democratic Party as top members engage in power play and plots to gain political advantage ahead of the 2011 polls, writes OLUSOLA FABIYI

The struggle of man begins at birth, so says King Odewale in the adaptation of the greek classic, Oedipux Rex: The gods are not to blame written by Ola Rotimi. However, the struggle may not end there. Perhaps, members of the Peoples Democratic Party have taken a cue from this and that is why they are beginning to contend for the control of the party ahead of the 2011 general elections. Right now, all is not well within the leadership of the party. For more than three times, the Prince Vincent Ogbulafor-led National Working Committee of the party had struggled in vain to fix a date for the party's National Executive Committee. The efforts had not yielded any encouraging result. Several reasons have been adduced for this. Ogbulafor on his part said the dates were cancelled due the death of some members of the party.

Specifically, he said that it would be wrong for the party to be holding NEC meeting when two senators from Gombe State died, while a former minister also lost her life in a fatal motor accident. Besides, he also said that members of the NWC took cognisance of the recess by members of the Senate, adding that a new date for the meeting would be announced. Ogbulafor also cited the recent visit of Acting President Goodluck Jonathan to the United States as one of the reasons.

However, developments from the Wadata House headquarters of the party might have indicated that Ogbulafor was stating the case as it is. Our correspondent gathered that Jonathan had not been comfortable with the leadership style of the party's chairman. Hence, he has refused to authorise the meeting.

Sources close to the Acting President also said that Ogbulafor incurred the wrath of Jonathan when he refused to take charge of the party during the period President Umaru Yar'Adua was away for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for more than three months. Those in Jonathan's camp felt Ogbulafor ought to play the role of a father-figure to all members of the party and make sure that Jonathan assumed the leadership of the country in an acting capacity having realised that the country was seriously drifting apart. But he was allegedly accused of allowing himself to be hoodwinked by some governors and former ministers who were believed to be working against the emergence of Jonathan as Acting President. It was also believed that it was in the light of this that Ogbulafor made the now infamous statement that Jonathan should realise that 'Power belongs to God'.

Again, Ogbulafor, who was said to have enjoyed the support of some of the governors led by the Kwara State Governor, Dr. Bukola Saraki while eyeing the office,allegedly aligned with the governors when he told the nation after emerging from a meeting with them that the party would still make sure that the North produced its presidential candidate come 2011. Now, the heat is on him as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission has filed a criminal charge at An Abuja High Court against him.

A copy of the charge obtained by our correspondent showed that Ogbulafor was said to have fraudulently received the sum of N170 million while he was the Minister in charge of Special Duties. The offences were allegedly committed by Ogbulafor and other people charged with him sometimes in March 2001. Investigation carried out by our correspondent showed that the Chief Judge of the Abuja High Court, Lawal Gumi, was yet to assign the case to a judge. At the Abuja High Court, ICPC has two designated judges that handle cases from the commission with a view to accelerating actions in criminal cases filed by the commission. A court source said that Ogbulafor and those charged with him would be arraigned next week. Others charged with him are Emeka Ebilah and Emmanuel Bosah, Secretary/Member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee and Director, Budget Implementation, Federal Ministry of Finance respectively.

Count one of the charges reads: 'That you Vincent Ogbulafor , Emeka Ebilah and Emmanuel Bosah in the month of March 2001, being public officers, to wit; Minister In Charge of Special Duties, Secretary/Member of the National Economic Intelligence Committee and Director, Budget Implementation, Federal Ministry of Finance respectively, did use your positions to confer corrupt advantage upon yourselves by fraudulently receiving for yourselves through a proxy Henry Ikoh, the sum of N82,631,03.41 from the Federal Government of Nigeria in the name of a company Henchriko Nigeria Limited as payment for a fictitious contract purportedly executed for the Federal Government of Nigeria and you thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000''.

Ogbulafor and the two persons charged along with him were also accused of conspiracy to use NEIC contract verification panel to verify fictitious contract purportedly executed on behalf of the Federal Government by Henchriko Nig. Ltd from which they received the sum of N82 million.

Also, the PDP Chairman was accused of using his position as Minister of Special Duties to confer corrupt advantage upon himself by fraudulently receiving from the Federal Government the sum of N11.5m as payment for a fictitious contract. The said money was allegedly received through a proxy Chris Abuajah in the name of a company DHL Consultants.

In count five, the three accused persons were charged with using their positions to confer corrupt advantage on themselves by fraudulently receiving from the FG through a proxy Sunday Nmesirianye the sum of N13.7m in the name of Emeprol Co. Limited.

Similarly, Ogbulafor and the two accused persons were charged with receiving fraudulently the sum of N6.2 m from the FG through a proxy Chekwas Obinna using the name of a company Chekwas Industries Limited as payment for an imaginary contract executed on behalf of the FG.

Out of the 16 count- charges filed against the suspects, Ogbulafor would answer to 12. In October 2001, he was said to have received N28m belonging to the FG from one Emeka Ebilah through a proxy Chris Nwoke knowing same to be fraudulently obtained through the verification and payment of make-believe contracts purportedly executed on behalf of the FG; an act which constituted a felony contrary to Section 13 read in conjunction with Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Act 2000. A presidency source told our correspondent that the NEC meeting might not hold until Ogbulafor is charged to court.

'Then, let us see if NEC members will be comfortable having an accused person presiding over the affairs of the party,' the source said.

As weighty as the allegations are, it is however curious that the governors elected on the platform of the party are saying he should not be tried. The reasons for their actions are not far-fetched. The governors are believed to be afraid that if the accusation or the case led to Ogbulafor's removal, their individual calculations for the 2011 general elections could also be in jeopardy. That is not all. Sources close to some of the governors said since many of them were yet to recover from the shock they received during the ministerial nominations by losing out in the power play in their states, they thought that they could also lose out in the power calculations that would culminate into the 2011 elections. Our correspondent gathered that the apprehension made several of them to turn up for their meeting, which was held at Kwara Lodge, Abuja on Monday night.

Even many of those who had hitherto stayed away from the meeting were present and Saraki presided. The governors who disagreed with the ministerial nominees from their states and were at the meeting included, Otunba Gbenga Daniel (Ogun), Gabriel Suswan (Benue) and Dr. Emmanuel Uduagha(Delta). Presenting the outcome of the meeting, which started at 8pm and lasted till the early morning of Tuesday, Saraki said the governors were not happy that despite the fact that allegations against Ogbulafor had not been proved, several people had started calling for his removal.

He said, 'The governors noted recently how the press had been inundated with allegation of corruption against the National Chairman of the party, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, and that none of those allegations have been proved. Despite this, some are calling for his removal. The governors condemn any move to remove the party chairman or members of the National Working Committee, other than as laid down or stipulated in the party's constitution.' Our correspondent also learnt that some northern governors, who were said to be supported by some of their colleagues from the South-South, were also afraid that Jonathan could use the removal of Ogbulafor to settle down and consolidate his hold on the party.

This, it was further learnt, could affect the zoning arrangement of the party of which Ogbulafor was said to have been forced to announce when he had a meeting with the governors. When our correspondent asked Saraki why the governors were not calling for proper investigation of Ogbulafor to determine if he was culpable or not, he said they were not saying Ogbulafor should not be removed but that the right process should be followed.

Saraki said, 'We did not say that he should not be removed. What we said was that the removal of the chairman or any member of the NWC should be in accordance with the laid down guidelines and constitution of the party. The PDP government has been known for due process so when we talk of laid down procedures, internal democracy and so on; we must lead by example and ensure that we follow the party's constitution. Anything we do must be in line with the constitution of the party.'

Saraki also said that he and his colleagues had noticed that the barrage of criticisms against Ogbulafor were being spearheaded by a group named 'PDP Reform Forum led by one Honourable Bello Masari, former Speaker of House of Representatives and one High Chief Aleogho Dokpesi.'

He added that grouping was not in line with the party's constitution, disclosing that he and his co-travellers had called on the party to take disciplinary actions against those accused of fraud in line with the party's constitution. As if the party was awaiting the directive, it immediately summoned 19 members of the party to appear before the NWC for anti-party activities.

The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Prof. Rufai Alkali, claimed that it was in possession of 'facts' linking the concerned members to activities capable of subjecting the party to disrepute.

Those invited are former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani; Masari, former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili and Owelle Rochas Okorocha. Also invited are Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Chief Tony Ukasanya, Senator Adolf Wabara, Chief Sunny Iroche, Senator Agboti, Senator Ngele, Senator Ifeanyichukwu Ararume, Chief Achike Udenwa, Chief Ekpeyoung, Chief Abiye Sekibo and Alhaji Awal Tukur.

Also included on the list are former Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon. Buhari, Prof. ABC Nwosu, and an unnamed former Commissioner of Works, Edo State and Mr. Kelechi Igwe.

But rather than being cowed, members of the group immediately replied both the governors and the party's leadership, saying that the leadership of the party must consist of men of integrity. In a statement signed by the former Speaker of the House of Representatives and leader of the group, Alhaji Bello Masari titled 'Who we are, What they want', members of the group said they were of the opinion that the effectiveness of any organisation depends on its leadership and therefore their desire 'is that persons of proven capability and high integrity shall be elected always to run its affairs, especially as member of the NWC

'Our mission, as a reform group is to return to the founding ideals of PDP, seek to re-engineer the party and make it more people oriented, be more creative in the generation of party fund, streamline extant parallel structures in PDP states and ensure more internal democracy, where there shall be a free and fair primary election at all levels.'

Claiming that they were not rebels, the members of the group said that 'members of the forum are bona-fide and authentic members of the PDP who are genuinely and sincerely concerned that the party has progressively and incrementally drifted away from its founding ideals and has completely lost focus under the watch of the current NWC.

'The PDP Reform Forum is not about agitators, professional grumblers and protesters. Rather, it comprises PDP members who have played major roles in the growth and development of the party and have had the privileges of holding office at government and party levels at various times in the past. If therefore our sin at the PDP Reform Forum is that we dare to question the capability of the NWC of the PDP, so be it.'

As the march towards 2011 begins, political analysts are of the opinion that more troubles may lie in wait for the party which prides itself as the largest in Africa.