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Saving PDP from managerial, zoning imperfections

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor and Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Deputy Bureau Chief, (Abuja)
15 August 2021   |   3:08 am
Nigeria's grand old party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has continued to hemorrhage over its poor leadership succession plan. The recent hullabaloo over the tenure

PDP Members; Atiku (Middle), Wike (Right)

In Fresh Clash Over Convention Structures
• Party In Frantic Quest To Present Common-front Ahead 2023

Nigeria’s grand old party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has continued to hemorrhage over its poor leadership succession plan. The recent hullabaloo over the tenure of its current National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, brought back memories of the party’s use and discard idiosyncrasy.

Right from its founding, the musical chair status of PDP’s leadership could be blamed for the lack of discipline and recourse to intimidation and impunity that have become the hallmark of its imperfection.
Apart from the transition from late Dr. Alex Ekwueme – who was the leader of the Group of 34 patriots that steered the movement into a political platform- to late Solomon Lar, the pioneer national chairman, other change of guards in the organisation had been characterised by rancour and bile.
To those who know the history of PDP and its treatment of its national chairmen, Secondus’ baptism of fire was nothing new. Even the longest-serving national chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh, in a party that none of its chairmen ever served a full term of four years, did not leave on a sweet note.
Ogbeh’s manner of entry and exit from office, just like that of Chief Baranabas Gemade, who he succeeded, relieved the imperial manner, the party’s first President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, was used to supplant Ekwueme in the party’s first national convention in Jos in 1998.  The military junta, which, in a fit of a moral hangover, wanted to appease the Southwest for the callous annulment of the June 1993 Presidential election that late Chief Moshood Abiola won, wanted Obasanjo. And, they imposed him on a party he (Obasanjo) was a stranger to its norms and ideals.
Shortly after his election as President, Obasanjo imposed Chief Barnabas Gemade on the party instead of Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi, who was the people’s favourite for the position. Although President Obasanjo stood against Awoniyi on the basis that as a Yoruba, it would not be proper to have a Yoruba as national chairman of the party, PDP stakeholders said the former military head of state had a distaste for refined and independent-minded leaders.
Barely two years (1999- 2010 in office, Gemade fell out of favour with the President. And his kinsman, Ogbeh, was brought in to complete the remainder of Gemade’s tenure. Ogbeh managed the party and Obasanjo through the 2003 general election, in which the party and Obasanjo won re-election amid complaints of the electoral heist.
Two years into his second term, Obasanjo found fault with Ogbeh after the national chairman reminded him (Obasanjo) that the country was sliding in socio-economic standards under the party’s watch. As a military officer that brooks no opposition, Obasanjo considered Ogbeh’s letter as an affront and forced him out of office as the fourth national chairman of PDP.
Col. Ahmadu Ali, who served as Minister of Education during Obasanjo’s stint as military head of state, was brought in. By then the Garrison political style, which replaced the party’s centre to the right leaning, was being accentuated.
Under the acquiescent Ali, Obasanjo propelled the party towards a planned review of the constitution to insert limitless tenures to put the President and state Governors on equal footing with lawmakers. That infamous attempt, which was described as the third term, mobilised the electorate against PDP and Obasanjo.
Awoniyi, whom President Obasanjo prevented from serving as PDP national chairman, joined forces to oppose the third term. He wrote an open letter in which challenged Obasanjo in the following words: “” I beg of you, for your own good and for our country’s good, make a simple announcement to say that you are not interested in a Third Term and that you plan to go back to Otta in 2007.”
Piqued by the national stonewall against a limitless presidential tenure, Obasanjo bypassed then outgoing Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi, and imposed his Katsina State counterpart, Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua, as PDP’s standard-bearer for the 2007 presidential contest despite his rumoured health challenges.
Describing the election as a do-or-die, the President deployed all fair and foul means to return the PDP candidate as the winner of the flawed poll. Obasanjo was in the same breath fighting off his estranged deputy, then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, from the attempt to succeed him. Atiku had crossed over to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) after Obasanjo blocked him from participating in the PDP presidential primary.   
In the 2008 national convention of the party, Obasanjo, who had succeeded in revising the PDP constitution to stipulate that only a former President could occupy the post of Board of Trustees’ chairman, used his new office to ensure that Prince Vincent Ogbulafor was returned as national chairman.
Based on Yar’Adua’s intervention, Ogbulafor was selected as compromise candidate instead of the two prominent contenders for the post-former Governor Sam Egwu and former President of Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim. While Obasanjo preferred Egwu, the National Assembly caucus and state governors opposed to Obasanjo wanted Anyim.
Two years into his tenure as chairman, Ogbulafor started making utterances about the need to retain the Presidency in the north, based on the sudden demise of President Yar’Adua. A charge of financial recklessness was orchaestrated against him and Ogbulafor was asked to excuse himself to face the case in court.
In Ogbulafor’s place, Dr. Okwy Nwodo, who had previously served the party as National Secretary, was brought in from the same Southeast geopolitical zone. Nwodo did not last one year in office. In the cusp of the 2010 Presidential primary, the national chairman was accused of plotting to return Atiku, who was the consensus choice of the north as the winner.
Through a phantom court order, Nwodo was removed from office and the venue of the Presidential primary. Former Minister of Communications under Obasanjo, Dr. Haliru Mohammed was empowered to replace Nwodo in an acting capacity.
In the 2011 national convention, Alhaji Kawu Baraje from North Central state of Kwara was elected national chairman. Baraje was in office from 2011 through 2012. He was later to join the 2013 rebellion against President Goodluck Jonathan’s plan to seek a second term in office.
Chairman of African Business Roundtable, Dr. Bamanga Tukur, became chairman in 2012 despite his rejection by the Northeast zonal chapter of the party. But, being the choice of President Jonathan, Tukur was elected in the 2012 convention of the party. His tenure was short-lived, even as it was characterised by the mutiny of 10 members of the National Working Committee (NWC) spear-headed by the then National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh. The former governor of Gongola State was accused of running the party as his personal business and failure to carry other members of NWC along.
Tukur informed Jonathan that the 10 ‘rebels’ were working clandestinely against his re-election. What looked like a reprieve came for Tukur, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) faulted the election of some of the NWC members.
During the remedial national convention, some of the officials could not make it back to their former positions. It was not known whether INEC was prompted to write the letter in which the commission complained of the irregular election of the NWC members through consensus without affirmation.
Upon the return of some of the NWC members, the heat was turned on anew against the national chairman. And barely two years in office, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur was disgraced out of office. As fate would have it, the former Bauchi State governor, Dr. Adamu Mu’azu, who came in as Tukur’s replacement, led PDP to its first and shameful defeat at the hands of freshly minted All Progressives Congress (APC).
Despite his famous adulation as Game Changer, Mu’azu could not change anything as he was forced to resign after being accused of colluding with the APC to sack PDP and Jonathan from the position of the governing party and President, respectively.  
Prince Uche Secondus, who stepped in as acting national chairman could not fare better as the Northeast zonal chapter kicked against his stay in office. The late Ahmed Gulak, who had earlier wanted Senator Bala Mohammed to succeed Mu’azu, dragged the party to court, arguing that the PDP constitution had no place for acting national chairman.
In response to the unfavourable court ruling against the party, Governors Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and his then Ekiti counterpart, Ayo Fayose, were said to have drafted Senator Ali Modu Sheriff into the party’s top post. Amid suspicion and speculations that Sheriff was plotting to hijack the PDP structure for a possible Presidential run or underhand deal with APC in 2019, those who brought him began the process of sacking him.
The leadership crisis that engulfed PDP lingered with contradictory court judgments, which imperilled the party’s planned national convention in Port Harcourt. At the 2016 botched convention, however, a caretaker committee was put together with Senator Ahmed Makarfi as chairman.
Makarfi’s tenure saw the gradual stabilisation and return of normalcy to the party. In recognition of his sterling and pacifist leadership style, many stakeholders promised Makarfi of the party’s presidential ticket for the 2019 election.
Before Senator Makarfi handed over to Secondus at the 2017 national convention of the party, former President Jonathan had hinted that if the fourth republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, returned to PDP, he could make a successful run for the Presidency.
Whether on account of PDP’s failure to zone to the office of national chairman to the Southwest or nemesis for the failed promise to Makarfi, the party was beaten at the 2019 general election by the same APC and President Muhammadu Buhari.
After the repeated defeat, murmurs began making the rounds that Secondus should toe the path of Mu’azu by quitting. However, given the divided opinions that trailed Atiku’s victory at the Port Harcourt presidential primary, the wind of opposition to Secondus’ continued stay in office was strong enough to sweep him out.
Last month, that sentiment against the national chairman, including the allegation of misappropriation by Kassim Afegbua, formed the fulcrum of the mutiny by seven members of the NWC. But, although Secondus survived, his tenure was abridged for a return of uneasy calm in the party.  

Back To The Trenches
HOWEVER, less than 70 days to another national convention, where new national officers would be elected, the party has returned to another phase of intrigues, political horse-trading, and wit games. The recent unease seems to be predicated by schemes by entrenched interests to appropriate about 4000 delegates expected at the convention. In the process, most party leaders, including the 13 PDP state governors, as well as other organs like the National Executive Committee (NEC) and NWC have been put to immense task.
It would be recalled that during the 2017 elective convention, which produced Prince Uche Secondus as national chairman, only 2800 delegates participated, as only statutory delegates voted.

A member of the PDP NWC disclosed that delegates at the forthcoming convention will be more in number than what was obtained in 2017. He stated, “With the successful congresses in many states, ad-delegates will participate, we won’t depend on just statutory delegates. That is why we need to quickly conclude the congresses in other zones, like the Northwest.” 
That postulation was confirmed last Friday when the party’s NEC meets later in the week to decide on such crucial issues as venue and persons to serve on the convention planning committee. 
Sokoto State governor and chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, had announced last Tuesday that following the resolution of the party’s crisis, Secondus was asked to convene an emergency meeting of NEC to constitute Convention Planning Committee, as well as zoning committee. 
It was also discovered that one of the PDP governors would be appointed to serve as chairman of the Convention Planning Committee (CPC). It is the CPC that would take most crucial decisions on the fate of the party, particularly on the 2023 general elections. 

Also, the PDP Governors Forum, which is the party’s most influential body, is already at work. The Guardian learned that consultations had reached an advanced stage among the state chief executives regarding who to pick for the job.
But, interested aspirants for the positions of the national chairman and members of the NWC have equally begun to scheme for their preferred foot soldiers to serve on the CPC. Members of the current Secondus-led NWC, who managed to escape being prevented from seeking re-election last week, were said to have initiated moves to checkmate attempts by their rivals to influence the appointment of persons to coordinate the planning committee. 

A former minister and member of PDP NEC disclosed that NEC would not allow anybody to inject selfish interest that could jeopardise the smooth election of the party’s next leaders into the planning committee.  “That is why we resolved that a meeting be convened without delay to sort out all the details of the Convention Planning Committee,” he said.

Although contenders for PDP’s number one office are yet to openly declare their ambitions, it is gradually emerging that the embattled incumbent, Secondus, is set to stage a comeback. 

Rift, Resolution
A MAJOR cause of Secondus’ rift with his erstwhile godfather and Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, who plotted his immediate sack was the fear that Secondus might leverage on his current position to influence the structure of the convention to his advantage. 

But, stakeholders at the fence-mending meeting last week prevailed on Wike to soft-pedal. It was resolved that Secondus and his NWC members should continue to the end of their tenure.  Instead of December 6, 2021,which is the completion date of his four-year term, Seoondus and his men are to stay till October October, when the national elective convention holds to elect another set of officers. This was seen as a win-win resolution; which observers believe had staved off the fresh crisis for PDP. 

. A member of the party’s NEC, while reviewing the situation, told The Guardian: “Politics is a game of sympathy seeking. Wike wanted Secondus and his NWC members sacked, but party leaders did not toe that line. They supported Secondus to continue, even though they shortened his tenure. That way, Secondus got the upper hand. But, the question is, will the same party leaders support Secondus if he wants re-election?”
He disclosed that Secondus’ transducers failed to convince stakeholders to remove him against some notable achievements recorded by his leadership. 

“Having instituted the acknowledged culture of fairness as witnessed in the 2018 National Convention, such ambitious individuals fear that they cannot realize their aspirations, if Secondus remains as Chairman.

“They want him to reserve the 2023 Presidential ticket to a particular bloc. That was also why the allegations of financial impropriety against the Secondus-led NWC did not feature in the discussions during the reconciliation processes,” he added. 

Zoning, Salient Factors
ONE major factor that could decide the emergence of the next national officers of the PDP is the zoning formula. As announced on Tuesday, the NEC would meet to appoint another committee to decide on the zoning formula.

Again, stakeholders are already consulting on how the zoning should be. Many support the existing zoning formula, which reserved the Presidential ticket for the North and the National Chairman for the South. Others prefer a no zoning position as canvassed by the Bala Mohammed committee. 
The matter of micro zoning within the South is attracting serious attention of contenders, especially those who believe that whoever gets the upper hand in controlling the zoning committee could easily outsmart others.
Then, there is the politics of 2023, which has been at the heart of serious games of wit and horse-trading in the main opposition party. Many believe that 2023 calculation is responsible for the tension and bad blood against the current PDP leadership.
Success, Burden Checks at the PDP National Secretariat revealed that the fight against Secondus was principally sponsored by forces desperate for the Presidential ticket, particularly those who see Secondus as obstructing their ambition.
Some party supporters argue that the achievements of the current leadership have attracted hostilities to Secondus, because of the possible political credits those achievements could earn him.
In a recent encounter with journalists, Secondus took time to review how his leadership met the party and what has been done so far. He said: “We took over the party when it was still trying to come out of the trauma of losing election.
“And, being in opposition for two years under an intolerant ruling party, the APC, we met a psychologically traumatized party struggling to adjust to opposition life after 16 years in power. We inherited a party that had issues with internal democracy.
“Delegates were not having the final say on who flies the party’s flag in an election. Names of winners were randomly and blatantly changed in Abuja, with utter disregard to the people and the requirements of our constitution.”
Further, he explained, “by the time our reform programme came on stream, the party had become an attractive brand to accommodate the influx of new members that included the entire leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly then, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, other members of the parliament at federal and state levels, as well as three incumbent state governors of Benue, Kwara and Sokoto, who joined us” 
On internal democracy, Secondus said the decentralisation of power to flow from the people made it possible for candidates to get party tickets at the congress venue and not at party headquarters at state and national levels, a development he said, allowed popular and more acceptable candidates to emerge at state congresses and national convention.
“Our national convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State in October 2018, became the first of its kind in Nigeria. It was so transparent that there was no complaint from anybody. Instead, all the contestants resolved to support the winner. All these helped to engender confidence and trust in our leadership,” he noted.