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PDP post defeat convention: To be or not

By Leo Sobechi
15 May 2016   |   3:23 am
But however the parties to the ongoing new frictions in PDP wish to justify their stands, the reality on the ground is that, the march to May 21 is numbered in six uneasy days.
Ali Modu Sheriff

Ali Modu Sheriff

For Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a lot depends on the next six days. Going by the party’s revised timetable for its first post-electoral defeat national convention, Saturday May 21, 2016; is D-day. Given the recriminations and peregrinations that trailed the kick-off of the congresses, the bold question starring the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led National Working Committee in the face is, will the convention hold?

Beneath that big question mark are other part questions, including how it ends up and what becomes of the party after the first grand meeting of PDP faithful from across the 36 states and Abuja; after its loss of federal power. Those may also be but surface tensions.

But the real high tension wires rest on the delayed ambitions of some chieftains of the beleaguered party to contest the 2019 presidency as well as the subtle designs of its estranged faithful to return to the party. In between those cross designs are the machinations of some old brigades targeting a potential presidential candidate, to serve as the final clearing house, for who gets what in the new look party.

Intriguingly, these old masters of the game, who have nothing again to lose, are said to harbour a fallback position by making themselves available for the ruling party. A source within the party disclosed that remnants of the original defectors to the All Progressives Congress (APC), are part of those raising roadblocks against the renewal of PDP. “These are people who remained behind out of the wrong calculation that former President Goodluck Jonathan would win the 2015. Now, not knowing how to jump into a moving train, they want to create new divisions according to their old antics,” he stated.

The source claimed that by crying more than the bereaved, those canvassing against the zoning arrangement want to give the ruling party the opportunity to do what the former president failed to do, to ensure that a strong opposition does not stand.

But however the parties to the ongoing new frictions in PDP wish to justify their stands, the reality on the ground is that, the march to May 21 is numbered in six uneasy days. And the red flag against the convention was recently waved by a group that styles itself as Northern Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Elders or Concerned Stakeholders.

Led by former Information minister and presidential aspirant, Professor Jerry Gana, the elders, told journalists after their meeting in Abuja that they resolved that instead of conducting the national convention, the national chairman of the party, Senator Sheriff; should handover the running of the party to the Board of Trustees on May 21.

Though the Gana-group seems to be the umbrella of dissidents against Sheriff, their claim that Sheriff assured them that he would not exceed three months in office does not sound explicit enough. For instance, does not exceeding May 21 mean relinquishing the borrowed mandate or declaration of non-participation in the contest for a fresh office of national chairman?

Furthermore, by not pinpointing any provision in the PDP constitution that empowers them, it becomes plausible that the group is acting out of fear. In February this year, one of the prominent figures in the Elders, former Deputy President Ibrahim Mantu, told The Guardian in an interview that “the problem which most people fear is that the impunity, which we are known for will continue unabated. Many of us think that some people will use the power of incumbency to manipulate the electoral process.”

Prof. Gana, who was flanked by Mantu during the session with journalists, declared that Sheriff and his team must vacate their positions so as to let the Board of Trustees run the party beginning on May 21. Again the question: has there been a precedent? But instead of providing answers, the former Information minister argued that the emergency measure was to avoid a vacuum, particularly when the tenure of the present NWC elapses by May 21.

The postponement, Gana, further contended was to enable the BoT organise a proper transition and for reconciliation of an “army of aggrieved members.” It would be recalled that a splinter group led by former governor of Niger State, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, had also picked holes in the conduct of the congresses. They said the imperfections were enough reason to warrant a shift of the convention date, even as they repudiated the plan to amend the party’s constitution.

Though it is on record that Babangida Aliu blew the whistle that former President Jonathan committed himself to just one term in office, it is intriguing that the new conglomeration of elders or concerned stakeholders found their voice now to contest the zoning of offices, more so when the North is being compensated and pampered to indemnify their loss of full two-term presidency.

Sheriff’s Obdurate Reforms

A perceived irritating feature of the new groundswell of opposition to Sheriff’s continued tenancy of the office of the national chairman is the chairman’s decision to force change down the throat of PDP.

Perhaps, armed with a notebook of myriads of mistakes of the past, Sheriff wanted to introduce party discipline by maintaining a common organizational front that places the party leadership squarely on the national chairman. He may have noticed from the experiences of virtually all the party’s former national chairmen that a complacent and conniving BoT makes the office a pedestal of the lame.

Audu Ogbe, Eze Ogbulafor, Okwesilieze Nwodo, Bamanga Tukur and Adamu Mu’azu all kissed the office goodbye in very demeaning circumstances. Sheriff’s blue print to alter the constitution in line with new thinking and realities appears to question the place of the BoT, while those eminent party leaders were disgraced out of office. It becomes imperative therefore for a strong power player to change the power dynamics of the party so that, at least, the chairman could stand, even if with a clay feet, on a solid ground to instill discipline.

The experience of the Congress Committee to Sokoto State, which gradually circulated around the party, was too blunt to be contemplated from a filler national chairman. According to a source within Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa’s household, when the committee members arrived Sokoto, in the absence of a PDP governor, they decided to pay courtesy call on the former.

“But after shuffling their feet and expressing their preparedness to work to enthrone His Excellency’s structure, they asked for Kola. I don’t know what happened, but immediately they left His Excellency called SAS and asked if the same thing still exists in PDP?” he disclosed.

Shocked by such unbridled display of political merchandising, Sheriff was said to have recalled the committee and disbanded it. But it left a sour taste in the mouths of the former members. Moreover, it gives the impression that the battle for the soul of PDP is between the proponents of the old ways of impunity and those moving for a change in style of party management.

In the past, cases of NWC members sending phony committees to evaluate the performance of even legislators, ostensibly to obtain some handout from the lawmakers were rampant, even as they made it a practice that the party’s tickets go for the highest bidders.

In the belief that the old methods that failed the party, were fighting his effort to reposition the party, Sheriff unexpectedly opened fire on the leader of the Concerned Stakeholders. He warned through his media aide, Inuwa Bwala, that should Gana continue to distract the rebuilding process, he would make a candidate for inquisition by the Economic and financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Sheriff accused Gana of withdrawing N500m from the party illegally, adding that the former Information minister also tried to seek for some unmerited favours from the national chairman, which rejection must have provoked his grandstanding to achieve relevance.

The national chairman, alluding to records available to him, alleged that most of those seeking his exit, “played one role or the order to squander the fortune of the party”, adding that it would be imprudent to rely on the same people in repositioning PDP.

But the backgrounds of most of those involved in the Sheriff Must Go and convention postponement campaigns defy explanations as to their real motivations. Could it be the fear that a prolonged Sheriff leadership would deny the North the presidency already zoned to it or to retain the platform for the usual easy income it was programmed to be?

The roll at the meeting included; former Minister of Special Duties to Jonathan, Alhaji Kabiru Tanimu (SAN); Bala Mohammed, (FCT); Alhaji Shetima Mustapha, (Agriculture); Alhaji Maina Waziri, (Police Affairs); Hajia Ina Ciroma and Zaina Maina (Women Affairs).

Mantu had while expressing optimism that “very soon politicians would be divided by their ideological orientations” noted that there were many benefits of having two strong political parties. It is therefore left to be seen, whether the present squabbles would help to strengthen, weaken or even annihilate PDP.

One of the young Turks propelling the change of style and tactics in the running of PDP, Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose insists that May 21 is sacrosanct. Dismissing the challenges posed by the Gana group to the survival of the party, Fayose said: “Have you seen a party that is not in crisis when it comes to interests and leveraging of interests? Politics is about interests. Are you saying that you will call somebody in the village to come and take a position? That era is gone.”

And stressing that the struggle is between the old and new, the Ekiti governor noted that prior to Sheriff’s arrival “a lot of people that were in party positions were unwilling characters.” “Now willing characters are coming that is why the struggle… Elders are wonderful people but they should take the back seat. We won’t say they should go. They should take a back seat,” he added.

He said that instead of coming out to wash dirty laundry in the public, those who led the party to its first electoral defeat should have resigned honourably as obtains in advanced democracies.

2019 Presidency, Outside Influence

WHILE the fight for the control of the jaded Umbrella seems to be among the PDP faithful, there are indications that some former members of the party, who defected in protest against the insistence of the former president to seek a second term, are also stoking the fire to have it nice and easy in the party.

In that group are said to be former Obasanjo’s loyalists who feel very uncomfortable with the way things are turning out in the ruling party. Discreet inquiries reveal that though some show genuine interest to rejoin the party, they habour another motive, which includes to ensure that Baba Iyabo’s arch political rivals do not find PDP a ready platform to contest strategic political positions in 2019.

Then there is the potent fear that Sheriff has the war chest to prosecute a presidential campaign, which those who oppose him detest saying that with such a scenario PDP would stand the risk of having APC running against itself in 2019. “So, while the APC has shown practical revulsion against a member of newPDP taking up prominent positions on their platform, should we not be seen to be foolish to allow an original APC chieftain to become our presidential flag bearer?” a source from Kano asked rhetorically.

Yet, while some of the political darts are trained against Sheriff, others claim that his continued stay in office of chairman would automatically provide the party’s ticket for Sule Lamido, therefore precluding any other strong contender, particularly from the Northeast from contesting the presidency.

But placed against the balance of facts on the grounds, if PDP allows the Northeast to retain the chairmanship as a measure of appeasement, it would be premature to raise that against the zone in respect of the presidency. The reasons are legion: after the late Abubakar Tafawa Belewa and General Yakubu Gowon, no person from the northeast has ever presided over the affairs of the country.

Though the late Sani Abacha is Kanuri by tribe, he is seen as Dan Kano. As such, it would still be open for contest the suggestions that Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, Lamido or any other aspirant would have an easy sail to the presidential ticket of PDP if Sheriff remains national chairman till the midterm convention.

Against the backdrop of the troubleshooting began by Lamido against the move to abridge Sheriff’s mandate, his recent declaration of interest in the 2019 presidency does not seem to cut any ice. But Lamido has seen the need for the North to play as one for once instead opening its political flanks for outsiders.

Those may be the undercurrents, but the planned NEC meeting of the party rescheduled for Tuesday would also help to determine whether May 21 remains D. Day. It is however instructive that the governors, who are the foot soldiers of the party, are not among the naysayers to the convention.

If the governors continue in solidarity with Sheriff, the old flames will flutter. Money has always played a central role in the philosophy of function of PDP. As such, if none of the present agitators could maintain a functional state secretariat of PDP, they might as well perish the thought of hijacking that structure from a man who has a point to prove to APC that he is not finished politically by reviving PDP.

Within the next six days Nigerians will learn whether yesterday is gone for PDP or still troubling it.

Purports Of The Convention

SHOULD May 21 stand, the convention would have succeeded in cementing the dicey situations in some state chapters where parallel congresses were held. Ogun and Anambra would be the focal points. Apart from showing the dexterity and conflict management acumen of the Reconciliation Committee, factions whose delegates make it into the convention would be seen as the authentic flagpoles of PDP in their states.

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