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Matters arising as PDP goes for convention

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
29 October 2021   |   4:18 am
Less than twenty-four hours to the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) national convention, the party is back to the precarious position it found itself shortly after losing the 2015 general election.

Less than twenty-four hours to the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) national convention, the party is back to the precarious position it found itself shortly after losing the 2015 general election.

But, unlike the immediate post 2015 dilemma, PDP is bogged by twin challenges of zoning the 2023 Presidential ticket and what to do with the clash of rights of first refusal being advanced by various gladiators.

Supporters of the 2019 Presidential candidate of the party, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, had prior to the controversial removal of Prince Uche Secondus as the national chairman of the party, been pushing for the adoption of Atiku as the standard-bearer for the 2023 poll.

They argued that since PDP may not find it easy funding another presidential primary, it would be in the interest of the party to grant the fourth republic Vice President the right of first refusal.

However, matters took a different turn after the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party met to ratify the zoning of the chairmanship position by the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi Committee.

The Guardian learnt that a lot of PDP stalwarts lined up with varying claims of IOUs as well as pleas to be granted right of first refusal, both for the chairmanship and presidential slot.

Those that haggled for the right of first refusal for the post of national chairman immediately it became obvious that the position was no longer going to Southwest, included, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Dr. Ibrahim Shehu Shema and Senator Nazif Suleiman.

Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees (BOT), Senator Walid Jibrin, told The Guardian that different considerations were responsible for the selection of the national chairmanship candidate, even as it became obvious that incumbent state governors did not want any of their senior colleagues to mount the saddle.

The adoption of former President of Senate, Prof. Iyorcha Ayu, as the consensus choice for the position of national chairman was seen as strategic move by the governors to reposition for a fresh start. Although Adamawa State Governor, Ahmadu Fintri, who broke the news of Ayu’s adoption after the Northern Governors’ meeting at the Bauchi State Lodge in Abuja, did not give details of the various concessions made, sources said the Northern governors made provisions for a possible free for all contest for the ticket of the party.

It was gathered that some presidential aspirants from the north, including Makarfi, Shema, Alhaji Sule Lamido and Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo are also waiting in the wings to throw their hats in the ring for the 2023 Presidential ticket if zoning fails.

Similarly, while PDP chieftains from Southeast signaled their opposition to Atiku’s fresh aspiration for the ticket, some in the North were said to have pointed out that their decision to accede to the former Vice President in 2019 was in keeping with the exigencies of the time.

They stressed that it was no longer possible to grant members of the defunct nPDP special concessions for prominent roles in the party, recalling how they assisted the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) to defeat the party in 2015. It was at that juncture that the claims of right of first refusal began to attend to the various positions held by the various interest groups in the party, even as other stakeholders called for balance between zoning to win the election and fairness/equity.

Ayu, who explained that his selection as national chairman should not be seen as the making of the northern governors alone, said it would be seen as the choice of all Nigerians. “It is my singular honour to accept the responsibilities, which have been put on my shoulders from the north. I believe at the end of the day, it will not only be the north, but all Nigerians, so that PDP will be back to its winning ways. We will work tirelessly after the convention to rebuild the party to take over power to rebuild the country,” he stated shortly after he was announced by Governor Fintri.

Prof. Ayu’s trump card seems to be his declaration of preparedness to relinquish his post at the emergence of a northern Presidential aspirant. But that same understanding was also claimed by Southern stakeholders, who believe that the emergence of a Christian as chairman does not vitiate their chances at the Presidential contest.

As other northern Presidential aspirants like Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Senator Bala Mohammed and Senator Bukola Saraki seem pleased with the outcome of the deliberations, it was obvious that the real battle for the soul of PDP will revolve around the Presidential ticket.

A former governor of one of the northern states, who did not want to be identified, told The Guardian that in all the scheming for the Presidential ticket, aspirants from Northeast and Southeast appear to be rearing for battle. He pointed out that support for Vice President Atiku Abubakar on the basis of right of first refusal has lost appeal, adding that apart from Saraki, Lamido, Dankwambo and Bala, the Southeast bloc that were firmly behind the former Vice President are now charting new paths.

The former governor disclosed that the issue of right of first refusal was responsible for the ouster of Secondus, remarking that, “somehow the former chairman placed his desire for a second term side by side with Atiku’s ambition to contest again.”

Wike, Secondus’ spat
SOURCES within PDP disclosed that the furore, which trailed the abridgment of tenure of the Prince Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee (NWC) and early national convention, was caused by the plot by PDP governors to stymie Atiku’s Presidential aspiration so as to ventilate their own ambition.

A former governor confided in The Guardian that Secondus and the entire NWC made a strategic error of political judgment by trying to tie their re-election to Atiku’s ambition without knowing that the second term governors would also want to progress politically.

Blaming Governor Nyesom Wike’s spat with Secondus for the heat in the party, the source declared: “Secondus would not have emerged chairman of the party, based on his own strength, reputation, accomplishment and antecedents, emerged chairman of PDP if not that Wike made him.

“These are characteristics of a puppet. Every single way in which the party was run was the responsibility of Wike and Wike alone.  That we lost governors was Wike’s responsibility alone.

“As the puppet master, I think Wike shouldn’t have allowed what happened to happen. He will take all the blame as the puppet master. The name I heard thrown around at one point was that of Liyel Imoke and I felt that was going to be a grave error.

“The truth is anything PDP does now without considering the Southwest means we are preparing to lose again like we lost in 2019. There is no question about that. You cannot exclude such a significant and important part of your family and think your family will be successful.”

Some party stakeholders believe that the real battle for the soul of the party will begin after the convention.

While some believe that Wike’s seeming strength has become a massive weakness, others say the governors are playing as a team to map the direction they want for the party, especially going by what transpired before the adoption of Ayu as consensus national chairman.

Convention possibilities
MIND games by presidential aspirants would tend to underscore the emergence of the new PDP NWC. Apart from subdued complaints, it is apparent that various geopolitical zones tried to emulate the North Central by adopting consensus candidates.

The fact that the outgoing NWC members were debarred from re-contesting their position was the first sign that the right of first refusal had crashed. Next to that some of the governors were said to have mooted the idea of bringing back former President Goodluck Jonathan, ostensibly to underscore the proposition that the ticket should go south.

But, now that aspirants for the position of national chairman, like Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, are out of contention based on the zoning of the office to North Central and adoption of Prof. Ayu, it is left to be seen what would be the source of friction tomorrow.

Oyinlola was touted as a strong chairman to play as a balancer, and the kind of national chairman that “would not sell the Presidential ticket.

By tomorrow, all intrigues will gain expression or fall flat for the real game to begin. Being the second national convention after the PDP fell from the zenith of political power, a lot depends on how the process runs its course.