Battle Of Wits As Power Brokers Fight For Soul Of PDP Today
Members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who have been selected across the 36 States of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as National Delegates, will today converge in Abuja to elect a new set of party executives who will run the party for the next four years. ROTIMI AKINWUMI, in this piece, takes a retrospective look into the internal politics that have played out within the ranks of the party stakeholders in the run to today’s convention, especially the ‘bitter’ tussle for the chairmanship position. This, analysts believe, will be the most controversial election ever undertaken by the party.
Having spent a year and half managing the affairs of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the National Caretaker Committee of the party will officially wound down today with the National Convention of the party holding in Abuja. The elections are expected to produce a new set of leaders for the party.
The national caretaker committee was a child of circumstances, which was birthed due to the crisis that erupted during the May 21, 2016 National Convention of the party which was held in Port Harcourt, River State.
The crisis that emanated from the convention saw the party polarised and managed by two structures, with one in the grip of the disenchanted national chairman of the party then, Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff and the caretaker committee, headed by Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
The affair witnessed in the legal battle for the soul of the party made mincemeat of the attempt to put in place an acceptable membership of the party’s NWC at another convention held in same Port Harcourt on August 16, 2016 at a time the first three month mandate of the Caretaker Committee came to an end.
Seeking for the easiest way out, the party once again at the disrupted convention elongated the life span of the Caretaker Committee to a full year which expired in August this year.
The hopes of the party members that the legal battle which had held the progress of the party down would have been finished on time, enabling the committee to hold an acceptable convention, was a mirage as the matters before the courts were not decided on time until the July 12, 2017 pronouncement by the Supreme Court halted the slide off the cliff that was putting the existence of the party in jeopardy.
Left with months to fulfill the purpose for which it was created, the caretaker committee was put in a tight corner and therefore, had to hold a non-elective convention four days to the termination of its mandate, to seek a new lease of life.
The mandate of putting together an elective convention within four months handed down to the caretaker committee during the August 12 non-elective convention is being fulfilled today, to the admiration of ecstatic party members who were apprehensive that the Modu-Sheriff saga would consume the party.
With a new opportunity given to the party to put its house in order and prepare fully for its new found role of opposition party while preparing to wrest with the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Federal Power come 2019, one would expect that the PDP would have been more circumspect in its handling of the struggle for the party offices, in the run-off to today, but what was witnessed during the campaign period did not show that any lesson has been learnt by the party and its members.
While contest is the hallmark of representative democracy, the sort of contest and blind struggle for space and acceptance by the aspirants seeking to be elected as Chairman of the party leaves much to be desired.
The PDP as a political party, had developed the beauty of giving every geo-political zone in the country a sense of belonging through the adoption of the zoning arrangement which ensured that even the minority of the minority in the country, could have a sense of belonging.
Zoning and micro-zoning was adopted in sharing of political offices, be it at the party level or the general elections contested with other political parties. It had worked like magic for the party.
Incidentally, the party in its developmental stages, grew a set of hegemonic minded individuals who usually see and act as if the world must stop at their doorsteps, but the fact that occupiers of the office of the President have always cut such individuals to size, helped in preventing unnecessary upheaval in the party in the past.
The failure of the party at the general elections in 2015 has left the party without a father figure as obtained in past president, thereby, exposing the party to whims and caprice of “powerful individuals” who are now squeezing the jugular of the party in an attempts at enforcing their authority and getting the biggest chunk of the cake.
The convention holding today holds the destiny of the party on a tether-hook as the struggle, the bitter struggle for the Chairmanship, by eight aspirants is set to test the wits of the party, even more as some of the candidates are being backed by powerful individuals and groups who are refusing to back down, even in the interest of party cohesion and survival.
One fundamental challenge that will put to test the strength of the party is the decision by some stakeholders in the South-South to insist on having a shot at the chairmanship position which was abinitio micro-zoned to the South-West.
With the entrance into the race of party big guns like Prince Uche Secondus, a onetime Acting National Chairman of the party, and High chief Raymond Dokpesi into the race from the South-South zone, it was difficult convincing the men of means to drop their ambition as it was virtually impossible to find anything to convince them that they are less qualified for the position.
The big division within the South-West, which for the first time, saw six aspirants in persons of Chief. Olabode George, Prof Tunde Adeniran, Prof Tahoeed Adedoja, Jimi Agbaje, Otunba Gbenga Daniel and Chief Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja, entering into the race and refusing to step down for one another has thrown the race open that, no one can easily predict who will emerge as the Chairman of the party until the votes are cast today.
While a group of Northern elders tried to show direction by openly adopting the South-West for the seat, the fact that majority of them have openly showed commitments to a particular candidate or the other pooh-poohed their attempts to rail-road the north into casting their votes for the South west.
The Northern Elders incurred the wrath of the younger generation when at the end of a meeting held at Ajuji Hotel in Abuja on November 30, came up with a communique saying it has been decided that the votes of the north should go to the south west.
“As we head to the national convention, the forum showed keen interest on the position of the National Chairman. After extensive deliberations, it was resolved that, in the spirit of fairness, equity, carrying every part of the country along, giving every geo-political zone a sense of participation and inclusion in the affairs of the PDP, we strongly support the quest of the Southwest geo-political zone to produce the next National Chairman of the party.
“In line with our resolve to rebuild and reposition the PDP, we urge delegates from all the Northern States to abide by this decision and vote for only aspirants from the Southwest geo-political zone in the forthcoming national convention, in the best interest of the party. This is without prejudice to the right of aspirants from other geo-political zones to contest,” the most contentious part of the communique jointly signed by Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, former Kano State Governor and Rt. Hon. Margaret Icheen Former Speaker, Benue State House of Assembly, read.
But the integrity of the leaders were called to question when a group of younger elements also from the North led by former Acting Governor of Taraba State, Fintiri rose in opposition to the said agreement and declared that the declaration by the Northern Elders was null and void.
They insisted that it was wrong for the Northern elders to wade into the non-workable micro-zoning attempt in the Southern region, as doing so would be counter-productive for the party at large and the North in particular.
Several unprintable words were freely used by the youths at describing the elders who were accused to have been compromised by some aspirants.
The fireworks against the ‘forced’ micro-zoning was upped when the coalition of State Chairmen of the PDP in the Northern zone also tore into the elders and dissociate themselves from the adoption of the South-West by the Northern elders.
Hassan Hyat, Chairman, Forum of PDP State Chairmen in the North, who addressed the media after their meeting called purposely to discuss the so-called adoption of the South-West by the Northern elders, said the effort is unpopular and is actually in futility.
“The position cannot be sub-zoned to a particular zone in the south because that will disenfranchise other contestants. We, as state chairmen, cannot be party to any micro-zoning.
“The party’s decision at the Port Harcourt Convention is final and binding on all. No one has the right to change or tamper with it,
“The party’s decision is that all parts of the south should be given the opportunity to present their candidates so that delegates can choose the best material for the position of National Chairman.
“We stand by that position and have resolved to reject any sub-zoning to a particular area,” the forum declared.
The forum further declared that zoning was a cardinal principle of the PDP and should “never be toyed with”.
“As the national convention gets closer, our stance on the zoning arrangement remains unshakeable. We believe that our party will only get stronger if we remain committed to it,” Hyat said.
One disturbing trend that slowly crept into the contest for the chairmanship was the alleged unbridled and shameful usage of money to induce would-be voters at the convention.
While it was done discreetly under the guise of campaigning around the country, some founding fathers of the party saw through the screen and cried out, that the soul of the party was being sold to the highest bidder.
Former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd) spoke the mind of the real party elders when he warned on the dangers of the money politics being played.
“An elective convention presents as it were, a rare opportunity and veritable platform to elect in a holistic manner a credible, tested, down-to-earth and truly urbane candidate with enough stamina, distinguished character and national acceptability who is driven by incurable optimism and passion for a united Nigeria.
“At this point of our political history as a party, we need a National Chairman who is driven by uncommon initiatives, creativity in ideas and a rich content of character to lead and stabilize the party in line with the laudable ideals of the founding fathers of the party.
“Such an individual must possess national recognition to be able to galvanize political opportunities and transform them into tangible outcomes in our democratic engagements.
“When we were conceptualizing the idea of the PDP at formation, we had in mind a party that offers platform for all Nigerians in their pursuit of legitimate political aspirations. The choice of her motto; ‘Power To The People’ was in sync with our clear objective of recognizing the people as the repository of power. In any democratic engagement, the people decide the outcome of elections through popular and inclusive participation.
“The monetisation of our electoral process is disturbingly eroding that power which should ordinarily reside in the people.
“In the last few days, I get frightened by the monetary consideration that is likely to dictate who emerges as the National Chairman of our great party rather than what the people truly want.
“The discussion is more on the side of heavy monetization of the process and ultimate “procurement” of the position of the Chairman by the highest bidder. This approach, in my humble view, defeats the whole essence of participation, free choice and voting which are the essential attributes of any democracy without inducement and outright manipulation.
“I wish to plead that we tread on the path of caution and common sense, conscious of our recent history of avoidable political crisis” Babangida said in a statement issued as a warning against the desperation being shown by the aspirants and their backers.
Same stern warning was issued by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees (BoT) Senator Walid Jibrin who pleaded with the aspirants to tread with caution.
Much as the party delegates are ready to file out today to elect the next set of the party leadership, one fact is undeniable, money is set to play a major role in deciding who wins the race.
Bank accounts have been depleted by desperate godfathers to win the ink on the thumbs of delegates, and one can only wait to see who among the big spenders will rejoice at tomorrow morning when the result of the voting would be announced.