PDP’s second chance, future still uncertain
For the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s dominant political platform in the Fourth Republic today is the day. The party would witness either a no-show or pull off a great stunt.
Apart from Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff, two other ‘candidates’ that have helped to raise apprehensions about the convention holding in Port Harcourt, Rivers State are Justices Okon Abang and Ibrahim Watila. The Judges descended into the arena of the convention before the set time through their varying judicial pronouncements on the repeat convention.
While Justice Watila of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt division directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP), the Rivers State Police Commissioner and the state Director of the Department of State Security (DSS) to provide security cover for the convention, Justice Abang dropped a judicial bang by empowering the postponement of the exercise, pending the determination of the substantive suit filed by the embattled former national chairman of the party, Senator Sheriff.
Of the two converse rulings, PDP leaders have decided to abide by that of Justice Watila, due to the fact that it not only preceded that of his brother Judge, Abang; but that it was interlocutory and not interim as Abang’s.
The caretaker committee had deployed political foresight and strategic legal thought by approaching the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt for such reliefs as would enable the convention proceed without let or hindrance from the ousted Sheriff and his handful of supporters.
Justice Watila, while ruling on the suit filed by secretary of the caretaker committee, Senator Ben Obi, who sued on behalf of himself and members of the national convention planning committee; also ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to monitor the convention.
But issuing the order for the suspension of the convention, Justice Abang of Federal High Court, Abuja division, reasoned that the order was to ensure the preservation of the interest of justice in the matter before him.
The insistence of the two courts of coordinate jurisdiction to protect their respective positions provided the caretaker committee the much needed leeway to go ahead with the convention, hoping that an appellate court would resolve the disparate postulations.
Justice Watila had observed that since the July 4, 2016 Port Harcourt Federal High Court ruling, which approved of the earlier convention of May 21, 2016, was not appealed against or set aside by a superior court; he had to protect that judgment. The Judge also noted that while Sheriff and his group was served with court processes, they failed to enter appearances, even as it added that there was no injunction against the repeat Port Harcourt convention.
If the convention goes ahead without any hitch, PDP would have crossed a significant huddle to its reorganisation. However, given the clout and pedigree of contestants to the office of national chairman, only a credible, transparent and fair election would douse the embers of disagreements within PDP.
Today’s convention would be a watershed in the life of PDP, because 18 years after the military used the platform to foist one of theirs on Nigerians as democratic president, it offers a fresh opportunity to return to democratic ideals in the party’s leadership selection process.
It is this concern for the return of internal democracy that party faithful worry about the outcome of today’s repeat convention. Bothered by what it alleged as negative body language of some PDP governors towards the conduct of free, fair and credible election, some stakeholders in the South West zone warned against any attempt to rig the election in favour of any candidate.
For instance, the Yoruba Youth Alliance (YYA), which represents the youths of the South West, said it observed with sadness, the desperate attempt by some leaders in the party, particularly the governors, “to thwart the interest of the people of the region and to test the resolve of our elders and leaders towards their personal interest and goal.”
Similarly, the two warring parts in the Lagos PDP were said to have sheathed their swords to take a common stand on the two candidates contesting for the position.
The two factions are the mainstream of the party loyal to the leader in the state and front line contender for the post of national chairman, Chief Bode George and the group led by Chief Kola Balogun, which allegedly broke away in protest against the choice of Mr. Jimi Agbaje as the party’s gubernatorial candidate in the 2015 election.
The disagreement over Agbaje’s gubernatorial nomination had been a sore point in the party since the 2015 election before he (Agbaje) resurfaced as a contender for the post of national chairman. Agbaje’s bid for the highest position in the party was said to have further enraged the Kola Balogun group, which felt that he had again taken the party for granted.
Attempts to reach Agbaje for comments over the developments didn’t yield result, as he could not pick calls to his line since Sunday. However, spokesman for the former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, who picked his nomination form last week, said he was forging ahead with optimism.
Adeniran said his commitment was to reposition the party towards greatness and redirect it in actualising the dreams of the founding fathers.
His words: “I want to assure all our party members and Nigerians at large that my venture into the chairmanship position of our great party has no other motive than to reposition, rebrand and put the party on the path of greatness. As a founding member, who has remained with the party in thick and thin and served in various frontline capacities, I possess the fortitude and experience to help the party achieve its objectives.”
He said what the party needed at this crucial period was someone who has genuine interest for the party and was acceptable across boards, someone that has no integrity issue. “I believe our delegates will appreciate the great need of the party for the personality I represent.”
For Chief Raymond Dokpesi, analysts were of the opinion that his greatest challenge might be his pending case before the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), which he has severally said would not affect his ambition nor his chances of clinching the victory tomorrow.
On his part, Chief George, who appeared to have a bright chance among the South West contenders, told The Guardian yesterday that PDP at this crucial point couldn’t discard experience and exposure.
“I have worked and laboured for this party. I have risen to the positions of the vice National Chairman, South West zone and Deputy National Chairman. I have travelled far and wide to campaign and resolve zonal, national and whatever issues that have affected the party. While I will not refer to myself as one of the founding fathers of the PDP, I was part of the thick and thin that consolidated the party.
On Agbaje’s challenge to his ambition, the former deputy national chairman said: “The party does not need to experiment anything now. What is ahead of the party isn’t a child’s play. We lost power and we are in the opposition. Look at the barrages of challenges and attacks facing our members across the country, we need to reclaim what we lost and how far is 2019 to where we are now? Not too far anyway. I am not opposed to anybody going to the field but my position is PDP needs experience, maturity and boldness. I know what I am saying.”
However, for a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Bernard Mikko, the issue of the quality of the chairman PDP deserved now does not arise because “Sheriff remains the National Chairman.”
“I expect him and those coming after to adhere strictly to the rule of law, maintain the sanctity of our constitution. No sentiments and must treat every party member equally without prejudice or discrimination. I expect him to be transparent and instill internal democracy in the party and be fair to all,” he added.
Similarly, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, deputy national chairman in Sheriff-led faction of the PDP told The Guardian yesterday that “this is a victory for democracy, this is a vindication of what we have consistently said that Senator Sheriff represents the agent of change for the party, and that God brought Sheriff to reposition the PDP.”
According to him, “the party must be returned to its owners, the grassroots … that Gov. Nyesom Wike can not be allowed and will never be allowed to inherit and pocket the PDP.”
He called on the chairman of Board of Trustees (BoT) “to call off the convention as ordered by the court … So that all parties will return to the drawing board and then we will conduct a unity convention where it will be based on one man one vote,” adding that it was the only way to restore peace to the party.
After today, PDP would be able to assess its capacity to serve as the national political movement it was programmed to be.