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THE ELECTORAL ACT AMENDMENT PLOT

By NBF News
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These are not the best of times for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as it battles with internal crisis that may consume it. The party has always been bedevilled with crisis especially at every election year but has always weathered through the crisis.

But this time the crisis brewing in PDP may be beyond the crisis control mechanism, which the party had adopted in the past to come out unhurt.

In the history of the party, at no stage had it paraded the calibre of gladiators fighting for the presidential ticket. All the groups fighting for the soul of the party are irrevocably committed for the party to sail with them or get sink. They are using all sorts of intrigues, manoeuvre, arm twist and ambushing – conventional and unconventional to outwit the other. At the end of the internal squabble, the party must have been shred to pieces and get to the battlefield against other parties in tatters.

The present burning issue that is about to consume PDP is zoning of the presidency, which has polarised the party along north and south divides. The party leaders and members have been speaking from both sides of their mouths on this contumacious issue.

The North and the Niger Delta are at daggers drawn over zoning. While the northern political leaders especially the conservatives in the party are insisting that it is the exclusive right of the region to field candidates to complete the two terms for the region that started in 2007 with late President Umaru Yar'Adua, their southern counterparts especially the South South region declare that over their dead bodies would their son, who is the sitting president not run for the presidency.

As the argument rages endlessly, Jonathan maintained a stoic silence. However the chicken finally came to roost when on September 18, the President broke his silence and declared for the 2011 race. Since then political antics, intrigues and desperation are the order of the day. Before the declaration of the President, four presidential aspirants from the North had laid their ambition on the table, they are: former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, former National Security Adviser to President Jonathan, Aliyu Gusau and Kwara State governor and chairman of the influential Governors Forum, Bukola Saraki.

Political pundits believe that what will finally buffet the already weather-beaten umbrella of the party is the new move by the presidency to amend the Electoral Act, which is before the National Assembly to pave the way for the emergence of Jonathan as the party standard bearer.

Instead of a state congress or national convention by political parties to elect their presidential candidates, the presidency is proposing that a party caucus primaries option should be allowed, with the National Executive Committee having the final say. This move is a shortcut and easy ride to pick the ticket. This ironically contradicts the president's refrain to conduct credible election when party members are not given the rights to choose candidates. This proposal which is before the NASS is seen by political watchers as desperate act by the presidency to truncate the ambition of some governors seeking reelection who are said not to be loyal to Jonathan as well as laying to rest the presidential ambition of the presidential aspirants from the North.

In the proposal, the Presidency is also seeking the removal of Section 31 of the Electoral Act that has to do with the time limit for filing and determination of election petitions.

In the 2010 Electoral Act, NASS recommended direct and indirect primaries for the choice of candidates but the proposal for party caucus primaries is already creating tension within the party especially among the presidential aspirants. Commenting on the proposal that has been described as toxic and undemocratic, Atiku said that 'it is unfortunate that most members of our party will not have a say on who becomes their flag bearers, if this evil plot sails.' Saraki noted that the caucus does not give a full representation of the party. I will advise the National Assembly not to pass that section of the amendment.'

Section 87 (1)(2) of the proposed amendment says, ' The procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect or party caucus primaries. Section 87 (11) and (12) (a and b) says: 'Nothing in this section shall empower the courts to stop the holding of primaries or general election under this Act, pending the determination of the suit. 'The National Executive Committee of a political party shall have the final decision in the nomination of candidates for the positions mentioned in this section.

Also part of the proposed amendment of the Electoral Act is the inclusion of ministers, special advisers and assistants, ambassadors and chairmen of federal government parastatals as automatic delegates to the presidential primaries. If this sails through, it is an easy ride for Jonathan to pick the party nomination. This was what Obasanjo employed to trounce second republic vice president, Alex Ekwueme at the PDP presidential primaries for 2003 election.

A situation of beating a child and forcing him not to cry is also playing out in the ruling party where aggrieved aspirants are barred from going to court to seek redress. A comprehensive guideline prepared by the National Executive Committee indicated that its decision on who flies its flag in all categories of the election would be final. The NEC also said its decision on the eligibility or otherwise of aspirants into any elective office would be as advised by the National Working Committee. This is contained in Part III of its guidelines for 2011 general election.

Section 3.3, which deals with the presidential election, stated that: ' The decision of the NEC of the party on all primary election matters shall be final and binding.'

Also section 50 (F) of the guidelines reads, ' Notwithstanding the provisions of the guidelines and any other rules or regulations laid down by the party the decision of the NEC as recommended by the NWC shall be final and binding on all aspirants, officials and organs of the party with respect to eligibility or otherwise of an aspirant.' The other presidential aspirants who accuse Jonathan of employing shortcut to get the party ticket are resisting these guidelines of the party on the conduct of the party primaries.

The position of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in not recognizing candidates from states whose party executive did not emerge from credible internal election is also generating and overheating the beleaguered party.

Already INEC had forwarded a correspondence to the party, drawing its attention to the continued illegal existence of its executive committees in about eight states – Oyo, Ogun, Delta, Plateau, Imo, Enugu, Adamawa and Bayelsa.

According to INEC, the executive committees of the party in these states didn't emerge through democratic congresses as required by the Electoral Act, or the relevant provisions of the party's constitution. This is in line with Section 85 of the Electoral Act (as amended) and pursuant to section 15(b), (c) and (e) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

Consequently, PDP is in an ugly ambivalence, some members of the NWC of the party are products of the manipulation that enthroned the 'illegal' executives in the eight states. The fears are that if the exco in the affected states are dissolved the party may have a big crisis on its hands. Opposition forces within the party have also been fingered in the dissolution move and it is feared that such groups may hijack the processes towards producing new state executives, who in turn will destroy the party the more.

Some of the governors in the affected states are said not to be in the good books of Jonathan or Obasanjo or might have wronged the national chairman of the party, Nwodo.

The recent meeting between PDP and Economic Finance and Crime Commission (EFCC) is ruffling feathers and unsettling some governors and other aspirants into various elective offices. The affected politicians are restless since the party resolved to work with the anti-graft agency to stop so called corrupt members from participating in the elections became public knowledge.

Some of these politicians have started making frantic efforts to stave off the plan by the party to exclude them from the 2011 elections. When EFCC beamed its searchlight on some governors there was the hue and cry that the governors were being hounded by the anti graft body because of their opposition to Jonathan's presidency. This will add to the problem of the ruling party.

PDP has conquered the nation and muscled out opposition. It remains the only opposition to itself. The genesis of the party's problem is Obasanjo. He was in prison when the party was formed and so didn't know the vision and the ideals of the founding fathers. He came out of the prison and was handed the ticket on a platter, he didn't realise that there was a line between democracy and military rule. He employed jackboot democracy and elbowed out the founding fathers to become the alpha and omega of the party. Since then, the party has been at war with self, which prompted former chairman, Audu Ogbe to describe the party as nest of scorpion stinging themselves to death. Also former Speaker of House of Representatives said the party is made up of various sliced vegetable salad without cream to bind them.

In order to take maximum control of the party Obasanjo initiated the amendment of the party constitution to make him the only qualified person to be the chairman of the Board of Trustees. Before then in 2006, the party had come up with reregistration of the members. Irrespective of their positions members were told to go to their wards and register afresh. Those Obasanjo didn't want in the party were denied registration- Atiku, Orji Kalu and the current PDP chairman Okwesileze Nwodo among others were not allowed back to the party through refusal of registration. Atiku went to the Action Congress (AC) to seek his presidential ambition in 2007, Kalu formed a new party, Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) to also run for presidency and Nwodo went to All Nigerians Peoples Party (ANPP).

Then it was thought that the end of the party had come but it weathered the storm and even 'captured' more states.

Early this year, a splinter detachment, Reform Group, came up and was headed by former Senate President, Ken Nnamani. Its mission was to restructure the party and bring back the ideals of the founders. This led to the forced resignation of the then chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor through intrigues and the emergence of Nwodo. The group has also fizzled out as some of them have decamped to other parties to pursue their selfish aspirations.

PDP has survived a lot of crisis, but the brouhaha now is such that it may not only consume the party but also the nation's democracy. The five gladiators battling for the soul of the party are no fries. They are men with enormous war chest and arsenal to sink the party.

While the PDP engages in self immolation, the opposition parties across the country are already warming up for an imminent showdown, with leading opposition parties working out strategies on how to outwit the PDP – a common enemy. Part of the strategy Saturday Sun learnt include consideration for a consensus candidate, whose credibility can match the sitting president or any candidate that may eventually emerge as the PDP standard bearer.

In a move to rally the opposition parties against the PDP ahead of the general election, leading presidential aspirants, chairmen and secretaries of about 20 political parties met penultimate Friday in Benin, Edo State capital with elder statesman, Chief Anthony Enahoro.

It is a question of time whether PDP will be history or continue to rule in the next 60 years as it postulated earlier. Nigerians are watching.