NWODO, HONOUR AND AMBITION
Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo is intelligent, focused and politically savvy. I came away with that impression after an interview in his Independence Layout residence in Enugu, months before he returned to the Peoples Democratic Party. Nwodo said he never intended dropping his stethoscope for the murky waters of politics. But he was no stranger to the power game. His late father's name still rings a bell in the political annals of Nigeria, having been a very prominent politician whose children grew to coalesce into what the media love to describe as 'the Nwodo political dynasty'. Okweslieze says his father set no such goal for himself. If any such thing emerged it was as much an accident as his entry into politics.
In the hey days of General Ibrahim Babangida's experiment with unintended diarchy when the race for Lion Building in Enugu became an unprecedented battle between Reverend Hyde Onuaguluchi and Nnia Nwodo, matters came to a head when Professor Humphrey Nwosu's National Electoral Commission promptly disqualified both combatants. It was akin to the Sarumi-Agbalajobi feud in Lagos.
That was how the mantle fell on Okwesilieze since his people were hell bent on getting a candidate from his family. So the soft-spoken medical practitioner put down his stethoscope. He never returned to his clinic ever since. He was pioneer scribe of Peoples Democratic Party. The party's primaries in Jos, which we all watched on national television in the days of yore, looked like a dream. It was light years away from the current magic called primaries. Nwodo walked out on the party when Obasanjo's jack booths kicked open the party's door to let in autocracy. That was strange to the die-hard democrat. He went through the All Nigeria Peoples Party[ANPP] to the Action Congress of Nigeria.
When Nwodo returned to the party recently and, on account of his antecedents, became party chairman, he did not reckon with the large mass of water that had passed under the bridge in his absence. He was fired with enthusiasm, a zeal propelled by a desire from the good old days when there were no 'annointed' candidates, when the party did not substitute names days to the elections, when 'orders from above' did not decide the fate of contestants who won primaries only to be handed a fait accompli of automatic candidates.
In those recent days of filth and lucre, the size of your Ghana-must-go decided what you got. The sleaze grew beyond the code name of 'PDP family affair'. Citizens worried about affairs of the party. It was right they did, for you cannot cede power to a group and not bother what they do with it. You ought to take some blame given that all it takes for evil to thrive is for good people to keep quiet. As Wole Soyinka would say, The Man Died who kept silent in the face of injustice. People shouted but the party sank deeper into malaise.
Okwesilieze Nwodo showed up again and did not want to be linked with the systematic massacre of democratic ethos by the party he helped to found. But he did not know that power had changed hands. His Excellencies the Imperial Governors had seized the reigns of the party. Every chairman would swim or sink on the side of the governors.
As an old broom that knew the nooks and cranny Nwodo began reading the riot act. First he got the party to outlaw the subtle electoral advantage of governors whose advisers and Assistants were automatic party delegates. The governors watched in dismay. Nwodo pointedly said something else we all knew but had never heard in the open. He admitted that people visited the chairman's office with GMGs. He promised public disgrace to party men who turned deaf ear to his previous warnings on the matter. Where did he want them to take the heavy load? Just when they imagined that the big bags were better taken to his house the PDP boss took the warning a notch higher. Nobody, not even the Imperial Excellencies were permitted to visit him at home.
Nwodo had touched the tiger's tail. The governors whose ego he seem to have deflated moved swiftly. They called for Nwodo's head. He had pronounced death to the era of automatic candidacy, not even for the governors. They wanted him cowed and subdued, a feat they had achieved in the past. Nwodo must go became the new song of His Imperial Excellencies. They knew how he got there but they did not know that the erstwhile governor of Enugu state was as idealistic as the same Nwodo who was secretary of PDP.
They were not in the mood for this reform minded chairman, which is dilemma for both Nwodo and President Jonathan. The governors are so powerful and have the financial muscle and bureaucratic sleight to swing elections to their desired direction. Nwodo, and to some extent President Jonathan, now stand on the cross. None of them can afford to take on the governors. Nwodo promptly caved in on the matter of online registration, even after the President had been so registered, when the governors insisted the new concept must be jettisoned.
Jonathans' ambition, weighing against the spirit and perhaps the letter of the party constitution, make him less authoritative in the matter of confronting his former colleagues. They have the muscle to scuttle that ambition. Now against Nwodo's pronouncements, the y have asked for automatic re-election tickets, and they have justified it on the grounds that Jonathan is himself invariably asking for automatic ticket given what transpired at the crucial exco meeing where zoning appeared to have survived, but may have been killed on the alter of incumbency.
The governors are not averse to horse trading but they do not want the holy posturing of the presidency and the party leadership when everyone knows how badly they want Jonathan back on the saddle. where does all these leave Nwodo in his crusade to reform the party? Honour and ambition are heading on a collision course. The party boss stands at the middle and could be the cannon fodder for both sides of the divide. How does he have his cake when he may have eaten the delicacy? Compromises are inevitable, not in the return of GMGs but in the political brinksmanship, which now tasks the erudite, intelligent and savvy Nwodo. But I have no doubt that he would swim out of the mud and still inject the much-desired sanity into the largest political party in the African continent.