THE FALL OF OGBULAFOR
And the big man came crashing. Poor Vincent Ogbulafor. For two weeks or thereabout since he became embattled, he cut the picture of a rain-beaten chicken. I watched him walk forlornly into the courtroom where he is facing corruption charges. Even though he had a gold necklace on and dressed sharply, his demeanour showed a sad man, a troubled soul, a man at point zero. I also saw him on television and the newspapers when he went with the new president, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan and his entourage to pay condolence visit to the family of the late president, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. He sat quietly in a corner, hemmed between some state governors and other powerful government officials, like a school boy before his prefects.
With those two images playing in my mind, I knew it was a question of time before Ogbulafor was shoved into the long night. I knew his tenure as national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was about to come to an inglorious end like some others before him. I knew that the 'anointing' had left him. He no longer struck the pose and confidence of a man of power presiding over the affairs of the powerful party with enormous clout to do and undo, or as former President Obasanjo would have put it, a party that engages in a do-or-die battle anytime elections are held.
Ogbulafor had become literally finished, only waiting for a formal announcement of the expiration of his chequered tenure. It came on Thursday, November 14, 2010. According to newspaper reports, the Prince from Abia, finally caved into pressures from a vocal group in the party, PDP Reform Forum, which seeks internal democracy and constitutionalism in the party. He resigned as chairman of the party, to join a list of others like Barnabas Gemade, Audu Ogbeh who had also been forced to seek the exit door.
The Reform Group led by former National Assembly leaders, Senator Ken Nnamani and Rt. Hon. Aminu Bello Masari, has been consistent in its position that only a return to the original ideals of the party would save it and our nation's fledgling democracy from the self-destruct path. They had for several months fought the party's leadership on the need for rule of law and reason in the party. Branded as rebels, 19 members of the group were reportedly suspended by the National Working Committee, NWC, over alleged anti-party activities. They took it as a joke. That couldn't stop them from pushing for Ogbulafor's exit from office. His arraignment over alleged corrupt activities while he was special duties minister in the Obasanjo administration seemed to be the final straw for the embattled chairman.
Members were traumatised by the embarrassing picture of their chairman sequestered in a courtroom and being asked if he was a thief or not by a judge and prosecuting counsels. Even though the party had seen all kinds of things and gone through the reigns of all manner of chairmen, some of whom behaved as if they were next to God, they had never been so embarrassed with the spectre of a whole chairman of the 'largest party in Africa' being led into the court room like a common felon. That, and pressures from the group[allegedly backed by the presidency] proved too formidable for the psychologically and emotionally broken Ogbulafor to contend with. And he crashed like the fabled Humpty Dumpty.
Of course, the Ogbulafor saga is not all about corruption or no corruption charges. It is about the battle for the soul of the PDP and the forthcoming 2011 presidential polls. It is also about who gets the ticket to fly the party's flag in next year's general elections. In this clime as we all know, the man who controls the party's machinery decides who gets what in the party. If Jonathan decides to run for the highest office in the land as it is becoming clear by the day, he has to have his men in the right positions in the party so he can get the ticket. Ogbulafor, given the manner he got to power, and going by what he has been saying before his belated volte face, was unlikely to be Jonathan's man.
On the other hand, it would have been difficult to throw away the high moral position and persuasion of the Reform Group. Every cursory observer of the party would no doubt agree that this has been a party of anything goes. A party lacking in integrity and nobility. The widespread disenchantment of Nigerians with the governments it leads at the centre and the states should send home the message that the party is indeed living on borrowed time. The Reform Group believes it is trying to save the party from itself.
However, like I noted recently in this column, there must be some lessons to learn in the rise and fall of Ogbulafor. 'First, it's high time the party stopped the culture of imposition, impunity and arbitrariness that have characterised its leadership since its inception. Apart from, perhaps Chief Solomon Lar, who got popular acceptance, other chairmen and members of the NWC have been products of cronyism and imposition, anointed by the potentates of Aso Rock. They have truly never enjoyed the confidence of its larger membership. After Lar's tenure expired, Chiefs Audu Ogbeh, Barnabas Gemade and 'Chemical Ali' had excruciating time trying to belatedly assert their independence. The tragic irony was that the man who imposed them on the party was the same person who shoved them out of its leadership after he had used them for his selfish ends and got fed up. When the men tried to flex muscles, they were reminded of how they came to power in the first place and allegedly shown their dirty dossiers. They melted into the dark night without a whimper. End of story.'
Ogbulafor, like others before him, I further noted, ' is paying the price of a flawed system that threw him up in the first place. In the build up to the elections into the NWC, the then expiring emperor, Obasanjo, wanted one of his lackeys, Dr. Sam Egwu, former governor of Ebonyi State, as chairman of the party. Because the chicken farmer had so despoiled the land and polarised the party, his support for Egwu, an otherwise fecund gentleman, worked against him. The powerful PDP governors saw a life time chance to cut the emperor to size. They brought out Ogbulafor, a man Obasanjo had once eased out as federal minister and Secretary of the party, to run for the exalted position. In the manipulated polls, Obasanjo's camp was given a bloody nose as most of his candidates failed to get on the winning ticket. It was victory for the governors' camp.
Ogbulafor and his executive, since their ascendance to power, have left no one in doubt where their loyalty lie. When the chairman also had the Freudian slip of admonishing Acting President Jonathan not to bother with the PDP ticket in 2011 going by the party's zoning formula, his 'cup of iniquities' had become full. He had to go. Pronto, his 2001 case file was dusted up by the ICPC, the anti-corruption panel.
'It's academic x-raying the morality or otherwise of the corruption charges against him. The party he presides over has no history of morality, fairness or justice. What I think should matter to all is for those who seek position of authority to worry about the processes that throw them up, rather than seeking offices as a matter of life and death. If not, the fates of Ogbeh, Gemade and now, Ogbulafor awaits them, no matter the temporary benefits they may enjoy in office. That's why, I honestly believe, the argument for internal democracy and a level-playing field for all members of the party ought not be waved off.'
The biggest bane of the PDP, I am sure many of its members would agree, I concluded, 'is undoubtedly godfatherism; godfathers are perennially locked in supremacy battle. One godfather is always seeking to knock out another godfather. If PDP eliminates godfatherism today, the party would begin to see clearly and would then be ready to be a truly people's party. The 'democratic' in its name would then begin to make sense to its members and indeed, other Nigerians.'