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What PDP’s contentious convention has unveiled

By Leo Sobechi
17 December 2017   |   4:27 am
What went wrong, what happened? The recent national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), raised a lot more questions than answers in its bold effort to put its troubled past behind and move on.

Southwest Labouring Under Obj’s Curse
What went wrong, what happened? The recent national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), raised a lot more questions than answers in its bold effort to put its troubled past behind and move on. The positive side is that Nigerians are elated that there is the possibility of a credible alternative platform in country.

The Eagle Square Abuja, came alive with the sparkling primary colours of the leading political party in Nigeria’s fourth republic. In a rich contrast to its August 31 2013 mini convention, PDP expressed its happiness at regaining the Umbrella with a national convention.

But amid the gaiety, as various state chapters of the party thronged the venue, the spectre of the regretful corrective convention of four years ago, when a sizeable number of its chieftains trooped out of same Eagle Square. In contrast, while the 2013 edition had a PDP President in attendance the 2017 revival convention had same man as former President. Again it was an elective convention.

Consequently, as the election got under way, the amity and expected unity went awry as a unity list of aspirants made the rounds at the convention venue. If unpredictability of outcome is the hallmark of a democratic election, the PDP elective convention came short, and as a result, the issue of internal democracy or lack of it left the blotch of contention on the otherwise peaceful and well organised rally.

Against the background of its recent troubled history and ambition to regain its foremost status as the truly national and dominant political platform, the recent PDP national convention has thrown up a variety of issues that could help Nigerians understand how it could fare preparatory to the next general election in 2019.

However, before looking into what lies ahead for the party, including prospects and challenges, it would be proper to look into the recent convention as see whether the party put into practice, some useful lesson its defeat and displacement as the ruling party in 2015 handed out to it.

The key to understanding what played out is to examine why the Southwest, after much political motions without movement failed to clinch the coveted seat. Some commentators insist that the display of good political intentions by some of the many aspirants at the Eagle square had little strategic impact than if they had demonstrated that gesture back home at their zonal caucuses.

Others insist that most of the aspirants were propelled by outside forces, and as such could not voluntarily withdraw without the say so of their backers. Whatever might be their strategic considerations, Southwest aspirants for the post of national chairman proved their detractors right.

Damaged by division, schism
One of the main reasons opponents of micro zoning advanced against handing the leadership of PDP to the Southwest was the preponderance of squabbles in the various state chapters. The divisive nature of Southwest reared its head during the Ondo State governorship election last year.

The zeal with which one of its choleric members, Alhaji Jimoh Ibrahim, prosecuted his spoiler’s initiatives showed how hard it is to placate political foes in the zone. Although Jimoh’s antics could be excused by the fact of prevailing power tussle between then Senator Ali Modu Sheriff faction and the Senator Ahmed Makarfi’s national caretaker committee, the lack of cohesion in Southwest, after Sheriff had been shown the door, exposed the absence of a central playmaker in the zone.

Chief Bode George, who ordinarily should have taken it upon himself to rally round other members, especially uniting state chapters, worsened the entire setup by his ambition to advance from the post of Deputy National Chairman (South) to National Chairman.

Even at the build up to the botched May 22, Port Harcourt convention, Chief George deployed his wide network of contacts in the party to damage the near consensus being built around Chief Jimi Agbaje. If the Southwest failed to streamline their position when it was obvious that the contest was between George and Agbaje, that disappointment provided the impetus for more aspirants to crowd the field and ultimately negate the zone’s chances of reaping from its moral argument for the position of national chairman.

However, it should be noted that seasoned politicians in the party from the Southwest like Ebenezer Babatope, who ordinarily could have advised George on the long term political implications of his ambition, demurred either out of obeisance or on the African traditional precept that adults are not to be advised to leave the sun.

So instead of mediating between George and his boy, Agbaje, Babatope began a comparative analysis upholding the former naval officer’s superior credentials to lead PDP than focusing on the side of national acceptability. Losing sight of the new realities and failing to take into consideration the prevailing political circumstances around PDP, Chief Bode George did much to remind party faithful of the former years of Dr. Ahmadu Ali and President Olusegun Obasanjo, the days they were in a hurry to put behind them.

Then there is the side of the lone Governor from the zone. Governor Ayo Fayose laboured as the biblical prophet that was not honoured at home. His attempt to midwife a consensus approach met with suspicion and contempt, as some party chieftains saw his efforts as an attempt to appropriate Southwest leadership or feather his political nest.

Worse still, in his native Ekiti, the lone governor had internal dissensions which no doubt had zonal alliances, perhaps oiled by opposition figures interested in dethroning PDP in Ekiti. That domestic trouble in Ekiti PDP provided the crevice through which those pained by the perceived arrogance and loud proclamation about 16-0 Fayose and PDP delivered in the 2014 governorship, found space to distract and disorganise the party.

In Ogun State, the entry of the former governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, did much to exhume dead men’s bones, as his ambition renewed the old animosities with the Senator representing Ogun East and former Obasanjo’s ally, Buruji Kashamu.

When both men started the exchange of accusation and counter accusations, it dawned on a lot of observers that the political battles in Southwest PDP, which were underscored by serial defections to rival political platforms at approach of elections, were deeper than could be assuaged by patronage.

Perhaps, what appeared to presage the poor outing of Southwest PDP was the defection of former Minister of Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro to the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is on record that since 1999 Lagos State has always posted a negative electoral balance at the end of each general election for the PDP. It was this poor record that was flaunted against Agbaje and George.

Prior to Obanikoro’s turncoat, the political unrest in Lagos PDP used to be between him and George. Even when a lot of people believed that Koro’s support for JK’s governorship ambition would yield the first political fruit for the party in 2015, PDP’s loss of Presidential power vitiated that partnership.

Next to serial failures in Lagos, Southwest PDP suffered from the absence of a central influencer like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Obasanjo, who was the party’s leader and President for eight years, was so self-serving in his political calculations that he failed to groom a frontier leader in the zone.

Over and above that, it appears that by ordering that his membership card be torn to shreds in public, the former President went beyond the physical to do long term damage to the very platform that gifted him with the golden opportunity for a second opportunity to lead Nigeria. That curse must have taken its toll on Prof. Adeniran’s belated selection as consensus candidate after fighting against the Southwest collective interest to the finish line.

As such, in its latest failed ambition to lead their party, Southwest PDP chieftain have advertised the failure of conservative politics in the zone. The tendency towards selfishness and elitism, have remained the zone’s undoing, And while they repudiate Fayose’s stamp of politics, they have failed to espouse a better alternative to checkmate the dominance of the progressives.

The quantum of financial support to PDP also played prominent role in denying Southwest the party’s top slot. Olusegun Mimiko and Gbenga Daniel, who would have become the Tinubu equivalent in Southwest failed to rise beyond their immediate circumference. Everything may not revolve around money, but large heartedness is central to political leadership. The unbending politics displayed by Southwest candidates for PDP national chairmanship contributed to their undoing.

Not being the product of their strategic consideration, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, for whom some of the aspirants stepped down, ended up being sacrificed on the altar of national disdain for southwest political infighting. And having failed to micro-zone through their behaviour, the zone’s desire to man the PDP’s topmost office ended up as a tall dream, an empty ambition devoid of commensurate and well thought out groundwork or plan.

It would do the Southwest a world of political good if it goes back to do a post mortem on their outing in the last convention. Should such a meeting be called, the leaders should forget about the tantrums of Governor Nyesom Wike and investigate why out of the entire Southwest delegates, only few voted for Adeniran, even after other aspirants had stepped down.

The rise of political godsons
One inescapable takeaway from last the convention of the PDP is the rise of political godsons. It seems PDP, in transiting to its new testament have replicated the scriptural provision that the hearts of the fathers would be turned to the hearts of the children.  Although details of behind the scene works that produced the contentious Unity List that ended up as the ultimate expo of the convention are yet to be made public, the fact that Rivers State Governor maintained his vociferous support for Prince Uche Secondus, who emerged the new national chairman, shows that some new Sheriffs are up in PDP.

In the ill-fated attempt to foist Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as puppet chairman of the party, Wike and his Ekiti State counterpart, Fayose, were fingered as the two musketeers that enthroned the former acting national chairman.

Regardless of whatever negative procedural connotations the development may elicit, it is obvious that the Unity List helped to moderate the conduct of delegates and candidates in the convention. For without any evidence of coercion, whatever made delegates to vote faithfully according to the expo, must have a streak of political genius in it.

However, on the flipside, the triumph of the Unity List and association of Wike with it, leaves the hint that money politics remains the modus operandi of PDP. And in what seems a fitting metaphor, the name of the national chairman of the party is Secondus. Does it mean therefore that what it requires is for an aspirant to have the backing of a rich moneybag and the delegates will second the motion without reservations?

Does it mean that big names that were being consulted prior to the convention, especially former Presidents Ibrahim Babangida and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, were privy to the almighty Unity List all along, but feigned ignorance? That being the case, does it not follow therefore, that there was a national consensus to deny Southwest of the chairmanship? If that be the case, what would be the likely implication of such conspiracy on the party, particularly in the 2019 Presidential election?

If the younger elements have taken over the control of PDP structure, there is the likelihood that its Presidential flag bearer may not be above sixty years of age. Are we seeing a silent demographic revolution in the party? The import of PDP’s national convention, especially the victory of Unity List could be that a new political thinking and leadership is at work in the party. It would be interesting to know how far these political godsons can go.

Southeast Second Fiddle and Shifty Politics
Sorry, is what has become of Southeast politics. Much like the Southwest, the Southeast lacks a strong leader in the party. Even among the state governors, there is no common meeting point in terms of political engagements. Days to the convention, the National Vice Chairman, Austin Umahi, told The Guardian that the Southeast will align with fairness and equity in the search for the national chairman.

While northern elders and leaders of PDP came out to identify with the morality of micro-zoning the chairmanship to Southwest, Southeast leaders were playing aloof and non-committal. There is the possibility that the culture of voodoo politics and deal making would continue to define Southeast politics in the PDP.

Although most commentators on the likely implication of South-south occupation of the chairman on Southeast say that the pronouncement on zoning the Vice Presidency to the area remains inviolable, being a national convention position, it does not seem to be cast in stone. What is the guarantee that Secondus would agree to vacate the chairmanship in the event that the Southwest does not get the Vice Presidential slot?

What carrot would PDP dangle before the Southwest to win back its confidence in the party? Could it be that the Southeast has unwittingly traded away the VP slot by playing second fiddle politics to the South-south? What if state governors from the zone sacrificed possible PDP VP position to be able to work for President Buhari’s second term as their predecessors did for Jonathan?

PDP may have crossed the first huddle to its final revival, yet many challenges still lie ahead. For now answers to the many questions thrown up by PDP’s recent convention would come as 2019 election politics unfold.