Mahdi, Waziri, Aji, others in battle for PDP chairmanship

By The Rainbow
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Following President's Goodluck Jonathan's confirmation that Alhaji Bamanga Mohammed Tukur, the beleaguered National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had resigned, the contest for his replacement gathered momentum with the emergence of at least seven contenders from the North-east geopolitical zone of the country.

Speaking Thursday at the 63rd National Executive Committee meeting of the party, the president also announced that the party would hold another NEC meeting on Monday to elect a replacement for Tukur.

Tukur's exit, however, elicited mixed reactions with former President Olusegun Obasanjo saying he has nothing against the former chairman and never called for his ouster, while former Kwara State Governor, Senator Bukola Saraki, said Tukur's resignation had vindicated the aggrieved members of the party who were forced to decamp to the All Progressives Party (APC).

Their reactions, notwithstanding, THISDAY gathered that the primary focus of the key stakeholders of the PDP in the next 72 hours will be getting a new chairman to steer the ship of the party from either Borno or Yobe States.

Explaining the rational for narrowing the search to either of the two states, a PDP source said though the six states in the North-east, where the party's chairmanship post has been zoned, is evenly split between the PDP and APC, the governors from the PDP-controlled states had expressed reservations about the next chairman emerging from one of their states.

The PDP-controlled states are Taraba, Gombe and Bauchi, while Adamawa Borno and Yobe are controlled by APC.

'Their preference is for a chairman to be elected from one of the APC-controlled states in the zone. The PDP governors have hinged their opposition to the strong likelihood of a clash between the chairman and the governor of his state over the control of party structures, as was the case in the past,' he said.

The source pointed out that one of the reasons that was adduced for the ouster of Tukur was his prolonged battle with the governor of his home state, Murtala Nyako, and the factionalisation of the party in Adamawa.

A similar clash occurred between another former chairman of the party, Okwesileze Nwodo, and the governor of his state, Sullivan Chime, he added.

'If the PDP governors have their way, it is expected that the PDP stakeholders would focus their attention on Yobe and Borno. Adamawa is out of the question because the goal is to recover the state at the 2015 election, so we don't want anything that would upset the balance there,' he said.

Irrespective of the choice of Borno and Yobe State, the PDP source said the party's stakeholders had not foreclosed on other states in the North-east.

'Contenders from PDP-controlled states will still be considered in the event we are unable to pick someone from Borno or Yobe. But the two states will be the first port of call before other states in the zone,' he said.

Frontline contenders, THISDAY gathered, include Senator Abubakar Mahdi, who is from Borno State and the leader of the faction of the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) that elected to remain with the PDP. He is also an ally of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.

Mahdi, according to the source, has the backing of the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih.

Should Mahdi emerge the PDP chairman, this could checkmate Atiku, who was believed to have supported the registration of the breakaway faction of PDM as a political party by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Another contender, it was learnt, is Mallam Adamu Maina Waziri from Yobe State.

Waziri was respectively the former Minister of Agriculture and later Police Affairs under the Yar'Adua and Joanthan administrations.

He was also the party's governorship candidate in Yobe in the 2003 and 2007 elections. He is related to the former Minister of Finance and PDP party chieftain, Adamu Ciroma.

Also in contention is Senator Abba Aji, who was the only senator elected on the platform of the PDP in Borno State in 2007.

Aji has also held the post of Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters and before his foray into politics was once the Managing Director of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF).

THISDAY was also informed that the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, is another contender expected to join the contest for the chairmanship post.

Umar is widely seen as the candidate of the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan and was a serving senator from Gombe State before he was appointed Minister of Transport.

He was a member of the House of Representatives for eight years before he was elected into the senate in 2011.

But he will have to contend with his state governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, who like other PDP governors, is opposed to the chairman coming from his state. A party source also explained that the fact that his candidacy is being pushed forward by the first lady would count against him, as the party's governors would resist any attempts by her to have a say in the emergence of the chairman of the PDP.

The former Governor of Bauchi State, Adamu Mu'azu, who is the chairman of the National Pension Commission (Pencom), is another contender for the post. But his albatross is the governor of his state, Isa Yuguda. Mu'azu and Yuguda are sworn political enemies.

Yuguda had to defect to the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to contest the 2007 governorship election, which he won and thereafter returned to the PDP.

Although it has been reported that the president has been making frantic efforts to reconcile Yuguda and Mu'azu, it is uncertain if Yuguda will yield to the effort. But if the reconciliation effort succeeds, then the office of the national chairman of PDP could be his for the taking.

Another candidate, Alhaji Habu Fari from Taraba State, is one of the founding members of the PDP. He was the first National Administrative Secretary of PDP and later chief of staff to Tukur before he resigned on his own accord.

Fari, a veteran of many political parties, is said to have the support of his governor, Umar Garba. Since leaving office as chief of staff, he has established a political consultancy in Abuja and has become a core loyalist in the system. His political sagacity and experience are regarded to be his strong points.

Dr. Musa Babayo, from Bauch State, is another aspirant. He is   the immediate past national secretary of the PDP. He was elected as the deputy national secretary, but by the time he left office, Babayo was the acting national secretary of the party.

Although he was the choice of the North-east PDP before the March 2012 national convention of the party, owing to party intrigues, he was dropped and Tukur emerged chairman. He had roundly defeated Tukur at the North-east zonal congress of the party.

At the moment, Babayo is the Chairman of the Tertfund Governing Board. Meanwhile, Tukur's departure yesterday as the chairman of the party was handled with sensitivity by the president and others present at the NEC meeting. Addressing the members of NEC, the president said Tukur stepped down effective yesterday and elected to depart the meeting with Tukur to enable those present address other issues on the agenda.

But before their departure, he brought out Tukur's letter of resignation and handed it over to the National Secretary, Prof. Adewale Oladipo.

According to the President, 'We have some internal problems that have been agitating the minds of the people but let us really thank the party's National Working Committee (NWC) headed by Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.

'He did not just wake up to be the chairman of our party, he has paid his dues, he has held several offices and worked for this country and he has done very well.

'And for us to make sure that we rest these issues, the party chairman agreed to step aside. He is not guilty in any way. In fact, I have to give him another assignment that is tougher than handling PDP because we need people like Bamanga Tukur to market this country and the PDP.

'He has been doing that on the platform of African Roundtable (ART) but we need a tougher job than the African Roundtable for him.

'Within this period from now till Monday, we will look among ourselves, particularly our leaders from the North-east, for a new chairman,' he said.

In this regard, Jonathan said he would over the weekend meet with relevant stakeholders to ensure that the new chairman is acceptable to members of the PDP. He added that he and the PDP governors would henceforth meet regularly, while NEC meetings would also meet as and when due.

The president also promised that members of the party who had defected to other political parties would soon return to the PDP.

After his remarks, he called on the Cross River State Governor, Liyel Imoke, to move a motion on Tukur's resignation.

In moving the motion, Imoke eulogised and showered encomiums on the former national chairman by acknowledging his efforts in stabilising the economy, polity and role in the international politics as the Chairman of the African Roundtable. Imoke said for 60 years, Tukur bestrode the nation's political economy as a colossus starting from his days at the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) where he was the managing director.

Seconding the motion, the Senate Deputy Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi, like Imoke, spoke glowingly of Tukur as a politician, statesman and businessman who has the interest of the nation at heart at all times.

With this, he seconded the motion and the president put the question of his resignation to the NEC in session and they answered with a thunderous 'yea', then capped it with a standing ovation and the song, For He's a Jolly Good Fellow. Earlier in his speech, Tukur said: 'May I use this medium to again emphasise that if our party must continue to serve as a viable vehicle for the interests of our people, the hierarchy of the institution must imbibe and promote processes and practices that enhance good governance, both within and outside of government.

'In other words, the primacy of politics in our country must continuously strive to install norms and processes through which decisions are made and implemented,' He said it had been an honour to have served the PDP 'and indeed was a rare privilege to have become its national chairman. I am grateful to the seven deities of good luck with which Almighty God has endowed me.

'I am delighted to have had the opportunity to nurture and deliver an idea, that is, the need for discipline and internal democratic practices within our party.' Commenting on Tukur's departure, Obasanjo said he had no personal animosity against the former chairman.

Speaking with journalists in Abeokuta yesterday, Obasanjo’s media aide, Mr. Tunde Oladunjoye, said his principal held no grudge against Tukur, stressing, 'I want you to note that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has nothing personal against Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.'

While making references to Obasanjo’s recent letter to Tukur, Oladunjoyo said the former president never called for Tukur’s resignation. He said the issues raised in the letter were based purely on principles.

'If you look at Chief Olusegun Obasanjo's last letter to the former national chairman, the issues he raised in that letter were much more than Tukur's resignation,' pointing out that the issues raised in the letter were yet to be addressed. He added: 'If you have a copy of the letter, you will agree with me that those issues were yet to be addressed.' In his reaction, Saraki declared that he had been vindicated like other progressives in the country with Tukur's resignation.

Saraki, who is representing Kwara Central Senatorial District, in a statement issued in Ilorin yesterday by his Special Assistant, Media and Advocacy, Mr. Bamikole Omisore, said he and other progressives in the country had to leave the party 'at a point, but some of the issues we clamoured for are coming to light.'

He said: 'Over the last seven months, we were blackmailed and called names, ranging from rebels, dissidents, ingrates and that we were self-centred.  Unfortunately, it has become obvious today that PDP under the leadership of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur was a failure and a big tumor that was allowed to become a cancerous one.'

He also said he received the news of Tukur’s resignation after the latter had inflicted incalculable damage on the PDP.

Saraki said: 'PDP, as a party, was built by the founding fathers on a solid foundation but this was derailed with the in coming of Bamanga Tukur who came to damage the party beyond repair.

'After doing the damage, he's now leaving the party in tatters with no respite in sight. History will continue to judge all of us as we tried our best to put PDP on the right track before this.'

Saraki said he would continue to defend the injustice done to himself and other 'progressives' and protect the interest of Nigeria “wherever we find ourselves now and in the future.”

'We strongly believe this country needs change and change must come,' pledging that he and other 'progressives' shall not relent in their efforts and beliefs that Nigeria is bigger than anyone and so 'we must nurture it, defend it and protect it.'