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Convention: PDP’s essence, survival on trial


Alex Ekwueme

COME December 9 and 10, 2017, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), will stand face-to-face with history. On that day, the party would, baring any unforeseen chance occurrence, elect its substantive national chairman, along other members of the National Working Committee (NWC). It would be 19 years after the pioneer national chairman, the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, handed over to the late Solomon Lar. That December 10 would also be exactly 39 years after the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) nominated its Presidential candidate, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who ended up being the first-ever President of the country under the presidential system of government.
The allusion to the Second Republic politics is intended to show the political trajectory of PDP, which to an extent, shares some similarities with the defunct NPN.

During the Second Republic, while other political parties, including the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP), presented more or less like regional platforms, NPN was pan-Nigerian in structure.

Moreover, the pioneer leader of G-34, which metamorphosed into what became the PDP, was actually Dr. Ekwueme, the Second Republic Vice President. As such PDP’s life story could be traced to the steering meeting held at the Western House office of Ekwueme’s long-term ally, Onyeabor Obi in August 1998, where the memorandum for the formation of the party was signed.
There were eminent personalities, big names and wonderful personalities that played one role or the other on the way to the founding of PDP. From the All Nigeria Politicians Summit, to the launch of the Institute of Civil Societies (ICS), chaired by esteemed jurist, the late Justice Kayode Eso, to Ekwueme’s meeting with northern politicians, otherwise known as G-18, the making of PDP was predicated on democracy.
Such politicians like Alhaji Lawal Kaita, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Lar, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Prof. Jerry Gana, and others who formed part of the nucleus of G-34 that transmuted to PDP strove for democracy and dared the murderous machinations of the Abacha junta.
Saturday’s convention therefore is to realign the history of PDP and interrogate its essence, which is moving the country far away from military mentality to democratic norms and niceties.
Although only three out of the members of the committee of four that articulated the memorandum of the G-34, namely Ekwueme, Senator Onyeabor Obi, Prof. Jerry Gana and Prof. Uzodimma Nwala, are still alive, the question is how involved are they, or are the original ideals still driving the PDP?

While PDP could be said to have emerged from a very ugly experience on August 21, 1998, what the party went through in the past two and a half years are more of self-inflicted afflictions. Therefore, the forthcoming convention would serve as a second opportunity for self-examination and interrogation of such excesses that necessitated the party’s slip from a national ruling party to a struggling opposition platform. 


The Zoning Conundrum
THE unfortunate negative turn that befell PDP did not start from the death of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The relapse was gradual. It began at the Jos Convention of the party, where the military ambushed the electoral process, by imposing one of theirs on the system.
Although the military was apparently atoning for the mistake of annulling a free and fair election that would ordinarily have terminated military rule in 1993, it was by its insistence on having its way that injured the spirit of democracy, letters of the constitution and the electoral laws.
Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who became President in 1999, may have hailed from the same Ogun State as Chief M. K. O Abiola, whose election was aborted, but in terms of democratic governance, he was not a fitting substitute.
Not only was he an alien to the ideals of democracy, which Ekwueme and the PDP founding fathers espoused in their article of faith, but the transactions at the eve of the party’s convention that cold night in December 1998, in Jos, sowed the evil seeds that undermined PDP, and stopped it from taking its position among its peers on the continent.
But for that adulteration, PDP was programmed to stand out in similar fashion as the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, or even the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
Money politics, rigging and negation of the underlying principles of zoning came into PDP hand-in-hand with Obasanjo’s leadership. With time, the lack of fair competition on the basis of ideas became the undoing of the party.
If the 1998 convention was characterised by heavy inducement, the presidential primary of 2003 took the malady to another height, through arm-twisting, the garrison style. Even when 16 governors of the party wanted the South West and the South East geopolitical zones to have four years apiece, Obasanjo insisted on, not only bulldozing his way, but also seeking an additional limitless term like lawmakers.
It was the garrison style politics that he introduced to PDP that made the chairmanship to simulate a musical chair. In a bullish attempt to become both leader of government, and leader of party, party chairmen were changed at whim, making nonsense of the dictates of party supremacy.
The governors took a cue from Obasanjo and what was the original PDP began to slide, giving way to men, money and muscle to call the shots in the party. Emboldened by the dictates of money politics, even state governors started wielding powers over national chairmen of the party.
While the election of Chief Awoniyi, which would help to restore the party to its original ideals, was aborted by the Presidency, Chief Audu Ogbeh, was forced at gunpoint literally, to quit before serving out his term in office. National chairmen that were not humiliated out of office were blackmailed through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
However, although Prince Vincent Eze Ogbulafor was prevailed upon to resign from office of the national chairman, ostensibly to face a fraud allegation in court, it was obvious that the Abia State-born politician was being shoved aside due to his pronouncements on the zoning arrangement of the party.

Image: Wikipedia

But till this day, the resignation of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, from office, midway into a well-planned and transparent presidential primary, remains a mystery. He was asked to step aside on the basis a perceived court order that no party stalwart has ever sighted.
Political jobbers had gone to town with the wild allegation that Nwodo had skewed the primary to favour President Goodluck Jonathans’ main challenger, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Some Presidency insiders and influencers, working in cahoots with National Assembly members that lost their return tickets, ensured that the removal of Nwodo went through.
Nwodo’s offence was later discovered to be his attempt to return PDP to the people and remove the hegemonic control of state governors. And the governors, as well as, godfathers, succeeded in defeating the planned renewal and healing of the party from Obasanjo’s bad precepts against internal democracy.
The idea of internal checks and balances, or even peer review mechanism to ensure optimum delivery on mandate, were clearly rubbished within the eight years of Obasanjo Presidency. Lawmakers were not spared as even Senate presidents were changed according to the whims and caprices of the former military Head of State. 
As PDP goes for another convention, it stands the risk of past history. Like in 2011 when the national chairman, Nwodo, was pilloried for granting a waiver to Atiku Abubakar, chances are that the Atiku might be coming back to the party seeking another waiver to contest the 2019 presidential election.
Similarly, the issue of zoning has become a bone of contention. The leadership of the party, through the Port Harcourt Convention, decided to zone the national chairmanship to the South and the Presidency to the North.
The question left hanging for intrigues is, even if during the pre-colonial era, the protectorates were not as simplistic as north and south. But, as espoused during the Second Republic, politics is not a precision subject like mathematics. Yet the war of zoning is raging, threatening the very revival of the party.
How did Ekwueme and his pathfinders succeed in handling zoning that the party was able to carry every geopolitical zone along? What could be approximated, as answer, is the recommendation of an aspirant for the position of Woman Leader, Baraka Umar. Umar told reporters that took her on the issue of zoning that electoral interest of the party should inform zoning, stressing, “Equity is not the same thing as fairness.”
How PDP scales the hurdle of micro-zoning and the aftermath of that decision through voting by members would determine how far its healing will go. It is evident that lack of committed membership and underhand dealings have continued to hamper trust and inclusion in the party.

For instance, with the eagerness of some prominent stakeholders of the party to hobnob with the ruling party, it is not easy to isolate those who want to trade with the party from those with genuine intention to nurture and lead the party aright. That concern is at the root of the challenge of throwing up the position of national chairman for all comers.

The challenge, which the South West faces with endorsing a consensus candidate, is the acceptability of the method, as well as, the influence of outside interests.

Atiku Abubakar

The Sheriff Challenge
THE leadership squabble between Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led Caretaker Committee did much to compound the woes of PDP after its loss at the 2015 general election. Yet it does not seem as if the party leadership interrogated the circumstances that led to that embarrassing quagmire.
Although some constitutional amendments have been contemplated, the level of enlightenment among members about the driving principles of the party is very poor, or even near absent. Next to the contentious issue of zoning, PDP needs to tidy up its leadership selection and succession processes.
Just as happened during the Obasanjo era, the resignation of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, and Adamu Mu’azu, provided the leeway for the attempt to smuggle their replacement. It was mindboggling that none of the caucuses of the party could interpret the PDP’s constitution to situate the term limit of Tukur, which Mu’azu and Sheriff came to substitute.
The cycle of conflicting judicial pronouncements on the leadership crisis should convince PDP stalwarts on the wisdom of the constitutional restraint that courts should not meddle into the affairs of a political party. But as was aptly demonstrated by the Sheriff-Makarfi showdown, the lack of faithful adherence to the party’s laid down rules opens it up for judicial scrutiny. The possibility of rival political interests using that crevice to debase, or diffuse the party could therefore not be ruled out.

Excesses Of State Governors
WHERE does the final authority of the party lie? Right from the Obasanjo’s days, state governors assumed absolute power of control of PDP, contrary to the designs of the founding fathers. Perhaps, on account of their funding of the party, governors stealthily took over the party, ousting the powers of various structures of the party. This lack of institutional checks to protect internal democracy contributes to the glaring leadership dysfunction in the party.

Investigations show that state government usually fall back on the state and local government joint accounts to fund state chapters of the party, and through that aperture, take over every lever of control of the party machinery. Consequently because the state governors’ control the state chapters, they become demi-gods, because they alone determine, who goes not only to the national and state assemblies, but also local government council executive and legislative arms, as well as, appointment of ministers, members of boards and nominations for ambassadorial appointments.
The operation of the Obasanjo model of command control twisted PDP and robbed it of the sterling vision of its founding fathers. It was this incipient alienation of the people that contributed to the massive rejection of the party at the 2015 general election. When a political party disdains the input of its members and the leaders carry on as fiefs, rejection sets in.
Although PDP established some institutions for deepening the democratic culture, the closed nature of the party administration robs it of its leadership position as a national platform for all Nigerians. In advanced democracies, the chairman of the party is seldom seen and heard, because he does not operate as a sole administrator. As it goes for a remake national convention, the party should explore the possibility and steps to unlearn some of its curious innovations, particularly the idea of shrinking the operating organs.

Rule Of Law, Membership Recruitment/Education
UNLIKE the processes that led to its formation, either on account of its electoral successes and control of federal power, PDP abandoned membership drive. Organising secretaries of the party are only visible at the approach of elections. Ordinarily, organisations ought to be driven by communication of party ideology and manifesto.
By resorting to money politics and competition based on physical strength via thuggery and violence, the party failed to create a department for research and documentation, through which it could gauge public opinion and test the acceptability of its policies. Having lost democratic principles, the party lost the people thereby struggling to regain its original flavour.
The party’s delegate system of electing flag bearers for major elections and functionaries should be reviewed to give the ultimate power to members, who must be up to the minute in the payment of annual dues. When the processes of inclusion are streamlined with a see-through application of rule of law, the party grows in strength and stature. That should be the way to go to revitalise the PDP.

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