Indicators from staggered PDP zonal congresses
•To requite Umahi, Southeast retains Odefa as NVC
Amid apprehension, the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) zonal congresses held in Southeast, Northeast, aborted in Southwest and North Central, while the exercise was postponed in South/South.
Gauging from what transpired in the Southeast, it is very probable that the party’s zoning arrangement in 2017 would be retained with slight variations.
It would be evident, however, after the national convention later in the year, where the zoning of the presidential ticket would reside and how to manage the fallouts would include how to broaden the National Working Committee (NWC) in such a way as to accommodate the Southwest geopolitical zone in the influential tripod of the party’s national leadership.
Sources allege that the wrangling within the Southwest zonal chapter of the party could be traced to plans to cede the office of national chairman to the zone, as well as the supremacy muscle-flexing between Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and his former counterpart from Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, over who reserves the final say in the region.
Although Fayose was accused of conniving with some of his colleagues to deny Southwest the coveted PDP leadership slot in 2017, Makinde continues to point at the party’s constitution as the fulcrum of his claim to leadership in the zone.
The PDP NWC was said to have authorised the postponement of the zonal congress due to the Makinde versus Fayose skirmish, ostensibly to make way for the Saraki-led Reconciliation Committee to visit and perform its conciliatory obligation.
Southeast: Umahi hangover
IN a bold bid to sell the zone as PDP’s bastion despite the tremor caused by Governor Dave Umahi’s sudden crossover to the rival All Progressives Congress (APC), the Southeast congress was without incidents, unlike previous exercises.
What was however in the bold display when Enugu State governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi led other stalwarts from the zone to affirm the selection of Ali Odefa as the National Vice Chairman (Southeast), was the haste by the zone to requite Umahi for taking his political fate in his hands.
Attendance of the zonal congress showed the preparedness of the leaders to unite the party and chart a smooth path to the future. In addition to Ugwuanyi and Peter Obi, other PDP stalwarts at the event included, Hon. Ude Oko Chukwu, (Deputy Governor, Abia State); Col. Austin Akobundu, (National Organising Secretary); Hon. Sunday Udeh-Okoye, (National Youth Leader); Hon. Edward Ubosi, (Speaker, Enugu Assembly); Senator Sam Egwu and Hon. Emeka Ihedioha former governors of Ebonyi and Imo states.
Immediate past National Publicity Secretary of the party, Chief Olisah Metuh, and former Women Leader, Mrs. Josephine Anenih and Board of Trustees’ member, Chief Chris Ubah, were also present at the occasion, which highlight was the return of APC governorship candidate in the 2017 poll, Hon. Tony Okechukwu Nwoye.
Although the PDP National Electoral Committee led by Dr. Ibrahim Umar, described the exercise as peaceful, credible, and orderly, the members of the new Zonal Executive Committee retained the subsisting zoning format.
They include Odefa (NVC, Ebonyi); Chief James Ugwu (Zonal Secretary, Enugu); Hon Emeka Okeke (Zonal Treasurer, Anambra); Hon. Casmir Ugwu (Zonal Financial Secretary, Enugu); Hon. Mike Ahumibe (Zonal Organizing Secretary, Imo); Mr. Ukpai Ukairo (Zonal Legal Adviser, Abia); Engr. Augustine Okeke; (Zonal Publicity Secretary, Anambra); Hon. Lazarus Ogbe (Zonal Auditor, Ebonyi); Mrs. Mary Omile (Zonal Woman Leader, Anambra) and Comrade Chidiebere Egwu (Zonal Youth Leader, Ebonyi).
Chief Damian Ozurumba (Abia); Mrs. Anthonia Nwankwu (Anambra); Engr. Francis Kalu (Ebonyi); Hon. Chief Romanus Edeh (Enugu) and Sir Stanley Ekezie (Imo), were elected as Zonal Ex-officio members.
Conversely, Chief Ibe Nwadioha (Abia); Chief Barr. Okey Muo-Aroh (Anambra); Lady Barr. Nonye Nwangwu (Anambra); Hon. Harrison Onwe (Ebonyi); Princess Edith Okoro N. (Enugu) and Hon. Chinemerem Madu (Imo) was also inaugurated as National Ex-officio members.
After Umar announced the results and declared Odefa winner, the Enugu State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr. Emeka Ononamadu, remarked that the process was orderly, noting that voting went successfully and the outcome satisfactory.
In his remarks, Odefa commended Governor Ugwuanyi for his exemplary leadership and thanked the stakeholders for electing him and his colleagues to serve the party. Odefa promised party faithful that “starting from Anambra State,” every state that was taken from PDP in the zone would be reclaimed by the party.
It would be recalled that four years ago, Odefa, who once occupied the office of zonal publicity secretary during Metuh’s administration, could not be supported by Governor Umahi based on reservations over his capacity to handle the demands of the office of NVC. In his place, Ebonyi delegates supported Deacon Austin Umahi, who is the governor’s brother.
Although Southeast leaders were said to have accepted complaints against Odefa, no sooner had Umahi defected to APC than the same zonal leaders tagged him (Odefa) to replace the governor’s brother after the Zonal Executive was sacked.
Southeast PDP has been silent on the issue of zoning, especially as it affects the 2023 presidential poll.
For a show of solidarity for the Southeast zonal leaders’ wisdom in having a peaceful zonal congress, the Waziri Adamawa, felicitated with the new ZEC led by Odefa.
In a statement by his media office, Atiku congratulated the newly elected officials on their successful election, even as he expressed gratitude to governors, party stakeholders, and members in the zone for the orderly conduct of credible zonal congress.
While stressing that only unity, party supremacy, and respect for internal democracy can guarantee a successful future for PDP, the former Vice President stated: “I urge other zones of our party to be united and emulate what the South East has done.
“Ali Odefa, while steering the affairs of the PDP in the South-East zone as caretaker Chairman, demonstrated candour, courage, and capacity to lead our party to a total takeover of the zone.”
Atiku reminded PDP faithful that Nigerians are eagerly waiting for the PDP to rescue the country and bring succour to the people, vowing that the party “cannot afford to disappoint Nigerians ahead of the 2023 polls.”
Gaining back ‘west, saving North central
THE no-show in Southwest was not surprising. Indications emerged early that the exercise would not progress seamlessly when Governor Makinde cried out against what he decried as plots to postpone the long-awaited congress.
Similar scenario played out in North Central following observations by party elders, including Lt. Gen (retd) Jeremiah Useni and Ibrahim Mantu that the national leadership allowed the problems in Plateau State to linger.
Useni, who was the PDP governorship candidate in the 2019 poll, joined with the former Deputy President of Senate, Mantu, to agonise over plots to retain Hon. Theophilus Shan was DVC for North Central after he failed to resolve the Plateau PDP crisis.
While the air of suspense pervaded both zones-Southwest and North Central-the NWC held an emergency meeting penultimate Thursday and resolved to push forward the congresses earlier scheduled for March 6, 2021, to a yet to be determined date.
Sources within the NWC explained that within the interlude the Saraki committee would tackle the underlying issues in contention and unite the warring parties.
Signs that the Saraki committee was being awaited by the parties emerged when the former Ekiti State governor, Fayose, excused himself from a planned Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola shuttle diplomacy aimed at bringing him and Makinde to a conference table for mediation.
The Guardian gathered that a troubling aspect of the Southwest PDP crisis is the influence of the Makinde versus Fayose feud on the Lagos State chapter.
It is believed that members of a vocal majority in the Lagos State chapter are opposed to Fayose based on the speculations that he was working for the electoral interest of a prominent opposition politician from the state, an allegation he has denied.
Fayose has consistently claimed that in the ranking, Governor Makinde should not exercise authority over him, especially having served Ekiti State as governor for two terms.
At the height of the postponement speculations, a political action group, known as the “PDP Collectives” tried to ward off the NWC from acceding to moves by some interest groups to postpone the Southwest Zonal Congress.
Chairman of the PDP Collectives, Prof. Tejumade Akitoye-Rhodes, had in a statement condemned the roles of the party’s national legal adviser, saying he was supportive of the plot to shift the zonal congress.
Questioning the rationale for singling out Southwest from the zonal congresses, the Collectives rejected the postponement, saying it amounts to “an insult to the Yoruba people. It is an insult to Governor Makinde, who is the leader of the party in the Southwest.”
The group expressed the fear that the confusion might be “another way of telling the Yoruba people that they are not wanted in PDP,” stressing that no party can win the presidential election without the significant electoral input from the zone.”
Alluding to the pre-2017 national convention confusion that ended up denying the Southwest the national chairmanship, the Collectives regretted that factions are being sponsored in all zones.
“The party platform appears wobbly, stripped of a firm, steadfast rudder. If the present managers feel overwhelmed and incapable of equitable leadership, it is our strong belief that they should step aside graciously for a National Caretaker Committee, whose vision and commitment will be predicated on instilling discipline, justice, fairness, and sincere leadership to the party,” the group declared.
As evidence that the Collectives and Makinde could be on the same page on the matter, not long after the group released its statement, the Oyo State governor also addressed journalists at the Government House, Ibadan, where he picked on the national legal adviser.
Makinde had stated: “We held the Southwest caucus meeting in Ibadan on Tuesday and we reaffirmed the zoning arrangement for the positions of the zonal executive.
“Also each state has been able to put together a unity list, which we intend to take to the congress proper. But, on Thursday, I heard disturbing news that our National Working Committee is planning to postpone the Southwest zonal congress because some people went to court to complain about the location for the conduct of the congress.
“Well, there are three things coming out of the court move. One, PDP has moved from allowing within its fold reactionary elements to hold the sway. Yes. Maybe it was possible in the past for the elements within the PDP to collude with NWC to file cases where they are, the plaintiffs and the defendants, and they also tried to corrupt the judicial system in Nigeria.
“That will never be allowed again because this is a PDP that is getting ready to take the mantle of leadership in this country, and we are ready to provide the leadership that is above board for the country. And we cannot be seen within PDP to do something that will compromise any aspect of governance in Nigeria.”
The governor remarked that the implication of postponing the Southwest zonal congress based on some preconceived agenda would be that PDP was “returning to the forgotten era.”
The governor disclosed that he personally confronted the national legal adviser and urged him to explore alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, pointing out that the legal adviser told him, “we are going to defeat them in court.”
“So, if you defeat them in court, what exactly are you going to get out of it? Now, they have started the same antics with the Southwest zonal congress… I don’t think that is acceptable. We expect the National Working Committee of the party to deal with that decisively.
“We are ready in the South West PDP to have a congress that will produce the zonal executives that is acceptable to the majority of the people of Southwest Nigeria,” the governor explained.
Adopting an apparent pacifist tone, Governor Makinde, however, assured that “if the NWC decided to postpone the zonal congress for a reason that is acceptable to everybody, then, we will work with them.”
The Southwest zonal congress was postponed. Therefore, it is expected that all hands would be on the deck to steer the party to safety and unity. That could be where the real test for the Saraki committee lies.
Moreover, having rebuffed attempts by Oyinlola and Senator Rashidi Ladoja to midwife reconciliation between him and Fayose, it would be seen whether Makinde would work with the Saraki committee to wrestle the so-called reactionaries in Southwest PDP.
Could it be there is an attempt to save Prince Uche Secondus and retain the zoning arrangement in PDP across board? Or, in the absence of such a plan, would the plot to concede the office of national chairman to unite Southwest or further divide the zone along the lines of primordial interests?
It is obvious that the greatest challenge to PDP’s march to the future is gaining the Southwest. Resolving the conflict and organizing a credible and transparent congress would be the first sign of success.
As Makinde observed, “politics is about conflict and conflict resolution; even, in a particular family, everyone may not sleep and put their heads in the same direction. But, within those diversities of ideas and opinions, you should seek alignment, and then push in the positive direction.”
Would the progressives and reactionaries find common space on the same bed in Southwest PDP? Saraki committee, the expected zonal congress would provide the answer as the party’s national convention inches closer.
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