PDP: Resurgence Bogged By Old Fears
THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is going through a painful transition that could decide its future. Consequently, in its present trying times, the party should recognize that the way up is down. Leaders of the party should eat the humble pie, show remorse and seek direction from its founding fathers that are still alive. The recent show of shame by former presidential adviser, Barrister Ahmed Gulak and his fellow former presidential henchmen indicated that most of those who aspire to pilot the affairs of PDP have scant knowledge or learnt anything from history.
The former presidential adviser decided to reap the immediate benefit of his litigation over the party’s disregard for the postulations of its constitution. The party had, as part of its efforts at ensuring stability, spelt out in its constitution that in the event or death, removal or permanent disability of the chairman, somebody from his geopolitical zone or origin should be selected to fill the void.
However, shortly after the disgraceful outing of the party in the 2015 election, especially the presidency, which it lost; the then national chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, was compelled to resign. But instead of selecting a replacement, the erstwhile national vice chairman, Uche Secondus, stepped into Mu’azu’s shoes and began to act. Secondus seemed to have been encouraged by a similar chasm created by the sudden suspension of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, from office in 2010 during the party’s national convention. Nevertheless, though Dr. Haliru Bello, the then national vice chairman acted in Nwodo’s place, the amendment to the PDP constitution was as yet not propounded.
So, in essence, it could be argued that the situation thrown up by Nwodo’s sudden exit and the heated exchanges it stirred up between members from the Southeast geopolitical zone and other segments, led to the proposed amendment. Yet after activating the legal processes to make the party bend towards its statute, Gulak sought to crown himself national chairman. Secondus and his supporters resisted the odd move. In the process, PDP celebrated its tradition of impunity.
But bringing back Nigerians to PDP would depend on how effective the leadership is in the online registration solution it devised to guarantee equal ownership and promote one man one vote. In the past, membership revalidation and constitution reviews in PDP were made to follow the dictates or serve the whims of a potentate. How far the present effort goes to cater to the public interest would determine whether the party would succeed in reinventing itself
On December 16, 2015, an FCT High Court, presided over by Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf, ruled on the suit filed by Gulak challenging the competence of Secondus to occupy the position of acting national chairman of the party. Gulak had earlier contended that the appellation of acting national chairman was unknown to the PDP constitution, praying the court to determine whether not being from the Northeast geopolitical zone, Secondus was qualified to lead the party in such a capacity.
Delivering his ruling, Justice Baba-Yusuf ordered Secondus to “vacate office and allow Mr. Ahmed Gulak or any other person from the Northeast zone to take over” as acting national chairman. It was based on that order that the former special adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on political matters invaded the national headquarters to take over as chairman. Gulak explained the rationale for his overbearing action to journalists saying that he decided to take steps to enforce the order after another court ruled against Secondus’ suit seeking to stall the execution of the December 16 ruling by Justice Baba-Yusuf. “PDP should not be left headless,” he had stated, adding that he wants to take the party back to the people and carry members along in the running of the party.
But while the former political adviser mouthed those electioneering promises, what he was doing rang so loud that nobody could hear him or pay heed to his claims. Analysts believe that in Gulak, PDP seems to be unsure of how to cleanse itself from political sundry iniquities, including exclusion and imposition. For instance, what Gulak should have done immediately he secured the approbation of the court was to tour his immediate geopolitical zone and canvass for support. The failure at building consensus on the path of restoring the party to its basic tenets seems to have necessitated the stonewall being erected against his emergence by other strong characters in the party.
Going from Gulak’s ghastly approach, things got worse with the failure of the Northeast zone to nominate and recommend a potential candidate to the National Executive Committee (NEC), for consideration and possible adoption. There are two PDP governors in the zone and while there seems to be a perceived disinclination of the two governors of Gombe and Taraba to favour a replacement from Bauchi, where the former FCT Minister, Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed (Kauran Bauchi) hails. It would be recalled that Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, it was that first sounded a negative response to Mohammed’s ambition to step into Mu’azu’s shoes.
Speaking to journalists shortly after the former FCT minister paid him a “private visit” last August, Governor Fayose contended that there was not much a substantive national chairman could achieve in the next five months. He explained that leaving Secondus on acting capacity was the best way to recalibrate the party even as he pleaded with those jostling for the position of national chairman to shelve their ambition “for now.” Instructively, Mohammed was accompanied on the visit by Ahmed Gulak. The immediate past FCT minister explained that his ambition to be national chairman of PDP was a sincere attempt to contribute his quota towards the rebuilding of the party ahead of 2019 election year.
Fayose had explained that why Secondus should be retained as acting national chairman was to help him pilot the affairs of the party. He said: “It was to support Secondus to conclude the ongoing restructuring and reoganisation of PDP…I think the party needs a caretaker committee at this period rather than a substantive chairman. We do not need somebody who is trying to just finish the tenure of a former leader.”
There may be some sense in the governors’ solidarity against Gulak. In repairing the breach caused by the terrible loss of the 2015 general election, conventional political wisdom dictates that all those who played active part in both the Jonathan’s administration and the National Working Committee (NWC), of the party should keep dignified distance from the party’s leadership. PDP should not be afraid of telling the truth or espousing the policy framework aimed at rejigging the party. For example, nothing should stop the party’s leadership from disclosing what caliber of members should aspire for the post electoral defeat leadership and thereafter organise a free and fair election for aspirants. PDP needs a big show of internal democracy to convince Nigerians that it has learnt from its mistakes.
That may be why the secretary to the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin, decried the failure of the Northeast zone to arrive at a consensus for the position of national chairman. While announcing that the BoT would meet on Monday to deliberate on issues surrounding the election of a national chairman, Jibrin expressed dismay that the Northeast could not single out an individual as its choice to replace Mu’azu. Alluding to Gulak’s attempts to railroad himself into the chairmanship position, the BoT scribe urged members to shun impunity and selfishness. He disclosed that it was on account of frequent postponement of the Northeast zonal meeting that the BoT plans the emergency meeting to recommend a suitable candidate for the position of national chairman.
Stressing that the party’s constitution must always be the guiding light for the running of PDP, Senator Jibrin noted: “We must realise that we are now in the opposition having ruled the country for 16 years. We must therefore exhibit effective and objective opposition. All kinds of impunity and self-centeredness highlighted in the Ekweremadu committee report must stop in the PDP.”
It is obvious that the paranoia, which set into the party in 1999 after the military helped President Olusegun Obasanjo to supplant Dr. Alex Ekwueme, have become too ingrained to wear off easily. PDP continues to nurse the fear that certain caliber of individuals could take charge and become too independent minded to accommodate godfather influence, which disposes it to impunity and imposition of candidates during elections. That in part explains the inability of the Northeast zone of the party to adopt a democratic method of free election to nominate a candidate for the position of national chairman. But even at that, questions arise whether that system of pursuit does not circumscribe the choice of the members and force down a particular candidate on the party that may not be acceptable to generality of the national membership.
Going by such concerns, the decision of the leaders of the geopolitical zone to shortlist three candidates for the party to choose from appears a better alternative in the search for better caucus cohesion. And despite the merit of that approach, the party should not shut the door against any member that seeks to test his/her popularity at the national level; be it at the NEC or national convention. The underlying principle is that PDP should give internal democracy full expression.
Deregulating The Political Space
IT appears that the party leadership has seen the need to deregulate the political space in the party. Speaking when he received the report of the PDP constitution review committee, the acting national chairman, Secondus, noted that opportunities would be created to encourage more participation of women and youth in the running of the party. Though he explained that the new approach “is to demonstrate that the PDP is the only political party that is open to all, irrespective of age, religion or ethnicity”, there are fears that it could breed cronyism. The true test of whether PDP is indeed, “the only one that represents the interests of Nigerians” is the measure of enabling culture for competition of ideas. Candidates for election should be allowed to canvass for votes and address members or voters on why they should be preferred to other candidates. There is no other way of testing members’ grasp of party manifesto and ideology than in electioneering pitches and campaigns.
With the garrison mentality that permeated party politics in PDP, less emphasis was laid on knowledge, merit and competence than in loyalty to strong and big men. The first test is in the understanding of the party’s constitution because just as Gulak has proved, it takes the vigilance of knowledgeable members to circumvent impunity and political transgression. That may be why Secondus promised that the constitution review committee’s report would be circulated to various states and organs of the party. Should that report be vigorously debated by members, whatever aspects of the recommendations that may ultimately be adopted would definitely “help to reposition the party”, as Secondus stated.
Part of the undoing of PDP was the idea of jettisoning the people and democracy, only for few persons to cling to the structure to serve their ends. But PDP has something going for it, which its rival is grappling with. The party was able to blend, such that the various tendencies that coalesced at the formative stages became diffused. In the All Progressives Congress (APC), for instance, members still trace their genealogy through the legacy parties. There is the possibility that that curious background would take time to dissipate if it does not adversely affect the party.
Uche Secondus must have had that reality at the back of his mind when he stated that “it was becoming clearer that the PDP remains the party of the people” and the only party in the country that subjected its constitution and operational modes to suit the yearnings of the Nigerian people after elections. His words: “This report will be studied carefully in line with the constitution of our party and the country’s laws to make sure that we produce the best document that will serve the best interest of our people in trying to bring back the past glory and to reinvigorate ourselves as an opposition party. We believe that this document when taken to the national convention and approved will be the best document that will attract all Nigerians to the party.”
But bringing back Nigerians to PDP would depend on how effective the leadership is in the online registration solution it devised to guarantee equal ownership and promote one man one vote. In the past, membership revalidation and constitution reviews in PDP were made to follow the dictates or serve the whims of a potentate. How far the present effort goes to cater to the public interest would determine whether the party would succeed in reinventing itself.
Senator Ibrahim Mantu, who was a member of the review committee, disclosed that though he had been involved in several constitutional review processes, “this one had no hidden agenda or interferences from any quarter”. As a former deputy president of the senate, Mantu knew how PDP descended to a citadel of cabals, instead of a ‘people’s’ Democratic Party.
So when Mantu noted that “the constitution of every organisation is like a Bible”, he must have reflected on the Obasanjo years and concluded that, “once you get it right things will definitely go right.” PDP should have recognised that Obasanjo may have been sent to hold the party in trust for the ‘militricians’. So if the PDP begins now to get its acts right, the better for multi-party democracy in the country. In that vein, a lot depends on the credibility of Senator Mantu’s claim that “the review of the party’s constitution was done in a manner as to reflect all the worries and concerns of Nigerians.” “Since the party has been the one that operated the flawed processes before now, it has a better opportunity to correct what was wrong.”
Yet, as the party prepares to review its constitution, they have to confront the challenges of getting Mu’azu’s successor, albeit in the interim. Sources claim that the logjam in Northeast over the choice of a replacement for Mu’azu arose from the disagreement between Governor Hassan Dan Kwambo of Gombe and his Taraba counterpart, Governor Darius Ishaku. But Gulak, who dragged the party to court, insists that the trouble with PDP should be traced to the desire by Uche Secondus to cling to the position, in contravention of the party’s constitution.
Contending that PDP could not be put back on the track without recourse to its constitution Gulak lamented that Secondus refused to initiate appropriate constitutional processes to select a legitimate replacement for the post of national chairman after Mu’azu resigned. “The party’s constitution,” he argued; “made it clear that somebody from the Northeast, where Muazu hails; should be appointed to replace him, but despite this constitutional provision, Secondus who is claiming to be acting chairman refused to initiate the process for the fulfillment of that provision.”
Predicting further problems that lay ahead for the party, Gulak maintained that the National Working Committee (NWC), as presently constituted was not properly constituted, noting that “all acts purported to be have been taken by anybody in an acting capacity was null and void.” It was from Gulak that Nigerians found out the position of some founding fathers on the best approach to adopt in recovering PDP.
The former presidential adviser disclosed that some past leaders and elders told the NWC that if they were serious about rebranding PDP, they must depend on the constitution and constitute the organs of the party, especially the BoT and NWC, in line with the constitutional provisions. Referring to the two vacant positions in the BoT and NWC, Gulak declared: “It appears that members of the present NWC are not prepared and willing to comply with the constitutional provision that calls for the replacement of those that resigned.” Chief tony Anenih resigned from the BoT just as Mu’azu quit as national chairman, shortly after the 2015 election.
What all these complaints suggest is that the old fears and apprehension in the party are still there and it seems some people are not ready to let go.
Governors: Suspicion Of Fifth Columnists
SHORTLY after its loss of the presidential election, PDP had the additional challenge of managing some of the governors that won their election on its platform. Knowing the collateral damage the exit of five state governors from its fold, caused it, the party became apprehensive that the political structure in the country, which disposes the president to dictatorial tendencies; may affect the governors. Sources within PDP national headquarters hinted that even before the inauguration of the APC presidency, some state governors had started warming their way to the erstwhile opposition APC.
It was gathered that while some of the PDP governors made overt moves to join APC, others adopted a cautious approach so as not to be seen as politicians of easy virtue. A source within the APC confided in The Guardian that some PDP governors who indicated their willingness to join the party were informed of the constitutional impediments, adding that the governors pleaded for some sort of concession in preparation for the 2019 election. “I would not say whether they are afraid of what could befall them through the election petitions, but I can tell you categorically that quite a number of PDP governors approached us for membership,” the APC chieftain declared.
Some PDP governors perceived to be eyeing the APC, include David Umahi, (Ebonyi); Senator Ben Ayade, (Cross River); Ifeanyi Okowa, (Delta); Emmanuel Udom, (Akwa Ibom) and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State. The implication of this rumoured interest by the governors to join the ruling party is that as PDP prepares for its convention, the old fears of fifth columnists would set in. And given the heat generated by Ahmed Gulak and his co-travelers, it is possible that if APC wants to exert its power of federal might, PDP could suffer fresh collateral damages. The 1999 constitution stipulates that unless by reason of factionalisation or crisis in a political party any governor or legislator that defects from the platform on which s/he was elected, should drop his/her mandate.
So, between the crying need to have fresh hands to pilot the affairs of PDP and the challenge of leaving the party in the hands of buccaneers, fifth columnists that want to create the enabling culture for defection could sustain quarrels that could lead to permanent damage to the big umbrella.
Fillip From Supreme Court’s Commonsense Judgments
FROM Rivers, through Akwa Ibom to Abia States, the PDP had cause to rejoice for Supreme Court judgments that restored the state governors from their shaken mandates. Various commentators have looked at the pronouncements of the apex court on the election disputes regarding the compliance of contested governorship elections and concluded that a cocktail of commonsense judgments were served. But while PDP was exulting in the “triumph of law over arbitrariness”, there were indications that the apex court justices may have been moved by extraordinary circumstances other than the dictates of law.
In a statement, PDP through its acting national chairman, Uche Secondus, said with last Wednesday’s ruling affirming the elections of Governors Udom Emmanuel and Okezie Ikpeazu, the Supreme Court has “further reinvigorated the hope and trust of the citizenry in the judiciary as the bastion of democracy.” The statement added: “Indeed, the PDP and all lovers of democracy in the country commend the maturity and patriotism displayed by the Supreme Court in dispensing justice; a development that has strengthened the confidence of the people in democracy and rule of law.”
But contrary to the effusive expression of gratitude by PDP, some analysts hold the view that the apex court, being mindful of the costs of conducting re-runs in a fragile economy and the political implications of aligning by the trajectory of the Appeal Courts, decided to maintain the status quo. On the other hand, there are tell tale suggestions that the ruling party, knowing how badly it needed to retain Lagos “inspite of all odds”, was said to have decided to allow sleeping dogs lie so as not to set the nation on fire through heedless political expansionism.
Other security sources hinted that the dangerous tendencies experienced in Southern Ijaw raised the frightening possibility that the nation was on the brink of another collapse of democracy. On that score the revelation by former Niger Delta militant leader, Ateke Tom that the Supreme Court averted bloodshed gives credence to that concern.
If PDP is able to cross the next bridge presented in form of its first national convention after the first poll defeat, it would stand as a true national political platform. It could pick the pieces and begin to heal, going forward!