2023: Intrigues, emerging issues within Rivers PDP
The political disposition within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Rivers State, towards 2023 indicates a paradigm shift from the party’s old tradition whereby the party leaders and few chieftains anoint their preferred candidates for various positions, leaving other aspirants to their fate.
The practice, which was adjured to internal democracy, has led to party hopefuls going ahead to obtain expression of interest and nomination forms without waiting to be anointed by the godfathers. This was why the April 13 protest took place, when aggrieved aspirants for the Rivers State House of Assembly and Federal House of Representatives stormed the state secretariat in Port Harcourt with bank tellers, accusing PDP leadership of refusing to issue them nomination forms after payment.
They protesters believed there was a plot to exclude, impose candidates on them and shut them out from participating in the 2023 elections.
Such dictatorial tendencies, lack of internal democracy and forced consensus arrangement was what prevented the All Progressive Congress (APC) from fielding candidates for elective positions in the state during the 2019 general elections; that appears to be the game plan playing up in PDP.
The determination by aspirants to pick expression forms stems the fact that Governor Wike, unlike in 2019,when he was given the right of first refusal, no longer enjoys that liberty, as his tenure will lapse on May 29 2023 and so, may not be able to effectively choral party members as before.
A member representing Bonny-Degema Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Farah Dagogo, who has pitched tent with the former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and presidential aspirant of the PDP is believed to be working to encourage those desirous to play in any capacity to move on with courage and not to wait for the nod of the any godfathers.
Dagogo was the first PDP governorship aspirant that showed boldness and obtained his expression of interest form and during a recent courtesy call at his residence in Port Harcourt by a socio-political group, known as One-On-One-Network, he said, “Rivers State is too big for any individual attempting to micro-manage its affairs and fortunes.”
According to Dagogo, it was necessary to address the “fundamental and disturbing occurrences” where the voices and desires of the majority to make a choice was being mortgaged by a few.
The lawmaker at the meeting urged stakeholders to be determined in recreating history by returning power to the people and not to succumb to the whims of the minority few.
Dagogo said, “Rivers State belongs to us all. We cannot continue to pander to the wishes of a few who have turned themselves into dictators with the desire to continue mortgaging our rights to choose and decide who will govern us.”
During the protest, one of the aspirants, Kinikanwo Ogbu, from Emohua council, said: “We are all law-abiding members of the Peoples Democratic Party of Rivers State. What we are holding is our bank drafts, which we have paid into the party coffers to obtain our Expression of Interest and Nomination forms but on getting here this morning we could not find any party official to do the needful for us to get our forms.”
Also, Soprala Batubo, another aspirant, said they had tried to get the forms in Abuja the previous day but were advised by the National Financial Secretary of the PDP to go to their state to get the forms.
In a swift response however, PDP denied the allegations of withholding the expression of interest and nomination forms from members who had made payment.
State Publicity Secretary of PDP, Tambari Gbara, explained that the State Secretariat does not sell forms and has no business with the sale of forms, maintaining that only the national secretariat is saddled with the responsibility of doing so.
Remarkably, after the dramatic display, it was later gathered that the aspirants, numbering about 32 have been issued forms in Abuja.
One of the protesters who is eyeing the State Assembly seat for Emohua State constituency, Unity Hekerem, confirmed this to The Guardian.
He said the national executive felt embarrassed and frowned on the consensus arrangement being stage-managed by state executive, wondering why the state will in the name of consensus, exclude aspirants who have genuinely bought forms. He said, “If we are talking about consensus, it should be a general agreement and not one man’s decision which is not binding on all of us.”
“As the state party alleged we were not party members, we had to inform the national executive and they requested for us to come to Abuja to get the forms; that they are not aware that the state chapter was adopting consensus, which negates the national body’s subsisting open contest arrangement.
Hekerem disclosed that they are expecting delegates from Abuja on April 26 to arrive the state for screening before the primary. He denied being sponsored by a notable party chieftain who is not within the governor’s grip, adding that there is nothing wrong with a candidate being sponsored.
At the governorship level, the scenario playing at the state Assembly level is also showing up. Analysts are pointing at a noticeable crack in the State PDP family. Earlier in April, it was speculated that a consensus governorship candidate could emerge.
However, the leader of the party, Wike, toed a different line, when he hosted a stakeholders meeting in Government House, Port Harcourt. Political watchers had expected him to open up on his preferred candidate but he was mute on the matter.
There is no doubt that Wike has firm grips on the party at all levels in the state and controls PDP structures with capacity to reach a common ground with stakeholders regarding his successor.
It was speculated he had settled for former PDP state chairman and sole administrator of the State Refuse Management Agency, Felix Obuah, while some believe he will play the zoning card by allowing power to go to the Riverine. In that case, he was said to be looking in the direction of his Special Adviser on Special Project, Dakorinama George-Kelly.
At the second stakeholders meeting, it was expected the governor would announce his close allay, Senator George Sekibo, or Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Tammy Danagogo, but he did not.
An insider, however, disclosed that the governor was downplaying the seriousness of the matter to reduce anxiety, while focusing attention on other elective positions such as the House of Assembly and National Assembly elections.
It was gathered that stakeholders at the meeting resolved that lawmakers who had served more than three terms, would not be allowed to vie for another term. And to promote gender equality, the governor was said to have asked stakeholders to concede one constituency to female contestants in areas where there are two or more constituencies.
Consequently, the meeting ended without a consensus guber candidate. The Governor and the party leaders were said to have directed party members interested in the legislative positions to proceed and procure their expression of interest and nomination forms.
Interestingly, the April 13 protest heralded a change in style as it compelled the leadership to sell nomination and expression of interest forms to governorship aspirants, and in the line-up are immediate past Deputy Governor of the state, Tele Ikuru; Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Tammy Danagogo; Senator representing Rivers East Senatorial district, George Sekibo; Special Adviser to the governor on Special Project, Dr. Dakorinama George-Kelly, all from the riverine extraction.
Governorship aspirants from the upland include former chairman of PDP in the state, Felix Obuah; former Senator who represented Rivers South-East, Lee Maeba; former Deputy Speaker House of Representatives, Dr. Austin Opara; Sen Olaka Nwogu. It is confirmed they have bought forms.
Analysts say the move by Dagogo and the protest by the 32 aspirants would go a long way to address issues of ‘lack of internal democracy in the party’.
Speaking after he obtained his form, Dagogo said: “We have to recreate history, we have to liberate ourselves from this shackle by ensuring that people who have the good interest of the state and its people at heart are supported to govern.
“Let us end dictatorship, let us end it now. Democracy is competitive. I want a situation where we have contestants in the governorship, Senate, House of Representatives, House of Assembly primary and general elections. Let us go and try our franchise so that the people will elect their choices.
“This is 21st Century. I remembered that in 1885, officially slavery ended in the world. Regrettably, at this point, I still see some people chaining themselves to somebody, a slave master, to drag them along.”
Another issue rocking the Rivers PDP is the argument for zoning, which is being strongly advanced by the Ogoni ethnic nationality and the Riverine communities in the state.
The Ogonis have lamented political marginalization, urging the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress, APC, to give a chance to qualified Ogoni sons and daughters to contest for the governorship position in their parties.
They have argued that the issue of upland and riverine dichotomy should be ignored because it has never been adhered to, but rather political parties should consider political justice, equity and fairness in selecting candidates in the upcoming polls.
They stressed the need for parties to address political injustice that had been done to the Ogonis for over 55 years by successive governments.
PDP governorship aspirants from Ogoni include; Lee Maeba; Sen Olaka Nwogu, Iseac Kamalu, Gabriel Pidomson and Magnus Abe, who declared interest under APC.
MEANWHILE, the apex socio-cultural organization in Ogoni, KAGOTE, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), the Ogoni Democracy and Development Forum (ODDF) among others have said for the sake of political equity, the Ogoni people should be given a chance this time, lamenting that no person from Ogoni has governed since inception of the state.
President of Kagote, Emmanuel Deeya, said, since the creation of the state, Ogoni has not produced a governor despite its huge contribution to the economic and political development of the country.
While former President of MOSOP, Legborsi Pygbara, pointed out that since 1967 when Rivers State was created and Chief Diete Spiff served as the first governor till the current administration of Nyesom Wike, no Ogoni man has been elected to serve as governor, deputy governor, speaker or chief judge of the state despite its huge population and highly educated people.
The MOSOP former President described the neglect in Ogoni is a very strong case that should touch the heart of party leaders to demonstrate statesmanship, equity, fair play and sense of justice by ensuring that a Rivers governor of Ogoni extraction emerges, either from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or All Progressives Congress (APC).
Pygbara said, “ the issue of political marginalisation of the Ogoni people has been one of the triplets of core issues in the ongoing Ogoni struggle for justice. The Ogoni Bill of Rights (OBR) submitted to the government and people of Nigeria in October 1990 had amongst others called on the government of Nigeria to guarantee the Ogoni adequate and direct representation as of right in all Nigeria national institutions.”
“ It is saddening to note that 55 years after the creation of Rivers State and 28 years after the launch of Ogoni Bill of Rights, the Ogonis have continued to be systemically marginalized in the political affairs of Rivers State and indeed, Nigeria.”
Pygbara said, the continual denial of the People’s representation at the above levels smacks of discrimination, injustice, political impunity and is antithetical to the practice of genuine and inclusive democracy. He called on the leadership of political parties at all levels as well to make case for Ogoni people and address the anomaly ahead of 2023 elections.
Similarly, the riverine zone, which is dominated by the Ijaw ethnic nationality feels deprived, arguing that power should rotate to them, stressing that from the inception of democracy in 1999 till date, power has not shifted to the riverine.
The argument was heightened by an apolitical coalition, comprising 40 community-based organisations, which vowed to invoke and sustain the age-long upland/riverine power-sharing formula across political parties.
The group, Rivers Unity Alliance (RUA), following its inauguration in Port Harcourt on March 23 said they were optimistic that the Rivers people would adhere to the already existing gentleman’s agreement for power rotation.
Speaking through its Convener, Charles Inko-Tariah, the group said, in sticking to their avowed non-violent stance, they would not coarse anyone to adhere to the agreement, rather, they would not stop appealing to the consciences of party leaders.
He said: “Upland/riverine dichotomy is an age-long practice, it predates almost all the political actors that are presently on now, so we are saying that the riverine should be allowed to rule Rivers State come 2023.”
Analysts believe that the zoning card being pushed by some quarters and aspirants may deepen internal crisis in PDP as some party faithful have argued that the PDP, having held sway since 1999, is disregarding the primordial ‘gentleman’s agreement’ of power rotation between the riverine and upland but those from Ogoni ethnic nationality, maintain that, the issue of upland and riverine rotation should not be invoked in the 2023 fixtures because it has not been honoured, but submitted that political party leaders should demonstrate statesmanship, equity, fair play and sense of justice in the upcoming polls.