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PDP’s Week Of Anxiety
« on: December 05, 2017, 06:29:10 AM »
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) risks an explosion as gladiators prepare for the national convention in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), on Saturday. The position of national chairman has been zoned to the South. There is no aspirant from the Southeast. While Southwest aspirants are agitating for micro-zoning, contenders from the Southsouth are kicking against it. Will the PDP remain the same after the convention?  Asks Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU.

There is confusion in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). For the opposition platform, this is a week of anxiety. The struggle for ‘party power’ is tearing the party apart. Predictably, there is no consensus on the national chairmanship.  Ahead of Saturday’s convention in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the party is polarised by the ambition of key gladiators. Who becomes the next national chairman? The bone of contention is: which zone should produce the helmsman?

The aspirants are from the South. Two are from the Southsouth-former Acting National Chairman Chief Uche Secondus and Chief Raymond Dokpesi. Six are from the Southwest. They are former Deputy National Chairman Chief Olabode George, former Education Minister Prof. Tunde Adeniran, former Ogun State Governor Gbenga Daniel, his Oyo State counterpart, Senator Rasheed Ladoja, former Lagos State PDP governorship candidate Jimi Agbaje, and former Sports and Special Duties Minister Prof. Taoheed Adedoja.

Attention seems to be exclusively focused on the battle for the topmost position. Although other party offices are being competed for, the contest is not fierce. Only the chairmanship election has generated media war.

During the party’s botched convention in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State capital, last year, the party agreed to zone the chairmanship to the Southwest. But, within one year, the National Caretaker Committee (NCC), led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State, threw the contest open to chieftains from the three zones in the South.

As the aspirants mobilise delegates for the national congress, the party is heading to Abuja as a divided house. The crisis reverberates across the six geo-political zones.

There is consensus in the Southwest that the slot should be zoned to the region. But, there is no agreement on a consensus candidate. The endorsement of some aspirants by some Board of Trustees (BoT) members from the zone, led by Chief Shuaib Oyedokun, was resisted by other chieftains. The PDP National Vice Chairman (Southwest), Dr. Eddy Olafeso, dissociated his zonal leadership from the endorsement. He said the endorsement, which shut out other contenders, was personal, stressing that it lacked collective blessing.

The lone PDP governor in the Southwest, Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, has reiterated his opposition to the duo of George and Adeniran. He has advised the octogenarian politicians to quit the race, saying that that the mood in the party favoured generational shift. George, a retired Commodore, was military governor of old Ondo State when some of the PDP governors were just starters in the world of employment. He worked at the party’s national secretariat for 10 years as national vice chairman (Southwest) and deputy national chairman. George is a man of means. He is bold, brave, fearless, hardworking and focussed. He cannot be tossed around by any governor. Also, Adeniran, a former university don, has a mind of his own. He is generally acknowledged as a man of honour and integrity. Many party elders have said that the two contestants may not do the governors’ bidding.

Secondus appears to be on the same page with the governors who have their 2019 permutations. He has mounted an aggressive campaign underground, holding consultations with leaders and selling his agenda to the six regions. Explaining while he jettisoned his deputy national chairmanship bid for the national chairman, the Rivers State-born politician said his decision was a reflection of political dynamism. He said the hues and cries about his entry into the race showed that he is the candidate to be at the convention. Interest, he also pointed out, is cardinal in politics, adding that he has the constitutional liberty to pursue his aspiration as guaranteed by the PDP constitution.

Indeed, interest is also the motivating factor in Fayose’s struggles. The Ekiti governor is peeping into the future, hoping to play a relevant role when his term of office expires next year. Two months ago, he declared for the Presidency, although the slot has been zoned to the North. A source said: “Fayose is actually bidding for the vice presidency and if the chairman is comes from the Southwest, it will become an obstacle to his aspiration.”

Reflecting on the lack of a consensus candidate from the Southwest, a chieftain from Osun State, Chief Tunde Odanye, lamented that the zone has failed to put its house in order. “Personal ambition has displaced the collective interest of the zone,” he added.

But, Lagos PDP Chairman Hon. Goke Salvador, said Southwest PDP may begin to develop a sense of alienation, if the position eludes the region. He said the decision to reject micro-zoning has unsettled the party. Salvador, a former House of Representatives member, said the “zoning to the South,” instead of “micro-zoning to the Southwest,” was in bad faith, adding that the only justification for agitation for the micro-zoning was that, since 1999, no chieftain from Southwest has served as the national chairman. “It is injustice and it may breed disunity as the zone may now feel excluded,” he stressed.

In the Southeast, there is disquiet. The lack of micro-zoning, according to chieftains from the zone, may jeopardise its chance of clinching the vice presidency in 2019. The Southeast is torn between supporting an aspirant from the Southwest and an aspirant from the Southsouth. The feeling is that, if the Southwest fails to get the chairmanship, the zone will bid for the vice presidency. But, there appears to be a ray of hope in the region now. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s defection to the PDP may change the calculation. Party sources said Atiku, who will declare his presidential ambition soon, may be disposed to picking his running mate from the Southeast. “That is why he is supporting a Southwest chieftain, Adeniran, as chairman,” said a source.

The majority of Southwest stakeholders have insisted that the zone should be the major beneficiary of zoning to the South. But, the BoT chairman, Senator Walid Jibril, clarified that the slot was not zoned to the Southwest, but to the entire South. Therefore, he objected to the selective endorsement championed by Oyedokun and urged other BoT members to exercise restraint. Instructively, PDP governors have strategically objected to the idea of micro-zoning. This is underscored by Makarfi’s clarification that the national leadership only recognised the South as a zone, thereby rejecting zoning to the Southwest.

However, Jibril’s argument was punctured at the weekend by other prominent PDP leaders from the North, including former National Chairman Col. Ahmadu Ali (retd), former Information Minister Senator Jerry Gana,  Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Senator Jonah Jang, Mallam Adamu Maina Waziri, Senator Nenadi Usman, Brig-Gen. David Mark (retd), Ahmadu Fintiri, Abba Moro, and former Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau. Last month, Ali warned about the dire consequence of not picking the next chairman from the Southwest, saying that it would amount to marginalisation.

Shekarau, who spoke on their behalf, said: “In the spirit of fairness, equity, carrying every part of the country around, giving every geo-political zone a sense of participation and inclusion in the affairs of the PDP, we strongly support the quest of the Southwest geo-political zone to produce the next national chairman of the party. In line with our resolve to rebuild and reposition the PDP, we urge delegates from all the Northern states to abide by this decision and vote for only aspirants from the Southwest in the best interest of the party.”

The PDP leaders from the North, however failed to adopt a consensus candidate from the Southwest. A source close to them said while some are rooting for George, others are supporting Adeniran. “The founding fathers who have been sidelined in the past know their limitations. Many of them are too old and have lost their mobilisation prowess. Besides, they lack the financial muscle. It is not certain what influence these old leaders will exert on the delegates at the convention,” added the source.

As the northern PDP leaders were articulating their position, youths from the region raised an objection. They rejected the push for zoning to the Southwest, adding that they were trying to create confusion in the fold. To them, the elders’ advice smacked of injustice and conflicted with the principles of democracy. A source close to the “concerned youths” said they were in alliance with the PDP governors in their bid to install Secondus at the convention.

Today, the most dominant and potent force in the PDP is the PDP Governors’ Forum. It is the most influential bloc wielding enormous financial powers. Some of the governors have influence over states that do not have PDP governors and their tacit endorsement of Secondus is the main bone of contention between the bloc and a section northern stakeholders.

Yesterday, a group, ‘PDP Professionals for the Defense of Integrity and Equity,’ alleged that the NCC was working in concert with the Governors’ Forum to tilt the pendulum of victory towards the direction of Secondus.  It picked hole in the selection of former Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam as the Chairman of the Convention Electoral Panel Committee. Its chairman, Tichus Zungeru, a lawyer, said, being an ally of Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, who is a staunch supporter of Secondus, the former Benue governor may be partial. “It is very flawed, erroneous, deliberately designed to arrive at a predetermined solution,” he added.

In the Southsouth, there are few skirmishes. While the zone is solidly behind Secondus, the lone exception is former President Goodluck Jonathan, an Ijaw like the former acting chairman. Dr. Jonathan is allegedly working against Secondus’ candidature in considerations for future local politics from the prism of personal interest.

In pursuit of their collective agenda, PDP governors are resolute. They have returned to the drawing board. There is no crack for now. But, in utter sensitivity to pressures from other blocs, they have a ‘Plan B.’ The governors have mounted pressures on Agbaje to jettison his chairmanship ambition and contest for national deputy chairman. They personally reached out to the pharmacist-turned politician about what they described as the “new deal.” In particular, the Southsouth governors ensured that no chieftain from the Southsouth obtained the deputy national chairmanship form.

A Lagos PDP chieftain, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Having settled for Secondus as the national chairman, those backing Secondus, who were initially backing Agbaje during the cancelled convention in Port-Harcourt, have reasoned that the deputy chairman should come from the Southwest, to limit their grievances over zoning.

“The governors may have preferred Agbaje to other contestants because they have insisted that old men who are above 70 should not be party officers, but advisers to the party. Despite ditching Agbaje, there is cordiality between the Afenifere chieftain and his previous backers as the party warms up for the convention. Although Agbaje is considered as a new member, especially by Southwest, Southeast and Southsouth party leaders, the thinking is that he can be a sellable candidate for the position of the Deputy National Chairman (South). The campaign message is that he is a man of integrity without a baggage and many people like that.”

Agbaje may have spurned the deal when he decided to obtain the chairmanship form. Thus, one of the governors persuaded a chieftain from Ogun State to obtain the obtain form for the deputy national chairman, to the consternation of the majority of Southwest stakeholders.

The chairmanship aspirants, who have traversed the six zones to drum support for their aspirations, are rounding up this week. In this season of intra-party politics, the manifestos of the contenders are secondary. Personalities have been elevated over and above issues. What the aspirants promised the party are identical-restoration of internal democracy, elimination of impunity and personalisation of the party by privileged members, membership drive anchored on the return of defectors, unity and justice.

Anxiety is brewing, ahead of the national congress. There is crack on the wall. The battle is not ideological. It is only a clash of personal interests. It appears the governors hold the ace. They call the shots. But, the PDP Governors’ Forum as a tree cannot make a forest. The governors will not be indifferent to the character, tendency and sentiment of the next chairman. But, a member of the forum, Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson, warned last week that gladiators should not ruin the platform on the altar of convention. He said the struggle for party offices should be conducted in utter sensitivity to the imperative of the greater battle for federal power in 2019. Dickson said if the PDP is weakened by intra-party squabbles, it may not be able to wrest power from the ruling Al Progressives Congress (APC).

To observers, the Abuja convention is critical to the future of the PDP. It may be a make or mar congress. The party has not recovered from the Port-Harcourt experience when a carnival-like convention became a disaster. For one year, party leaders battled to recover the platform from the grip of its former chairman, Senator Modu Sheriff. The victory was won in the court, but the judgment has not fully restored harmony.  Many believe that the PDP may not quickly recover from another post-convention crisis, if it is rancorous.

In 2007, during its national chairmanship election, the ambition of former Senate Pius Ayim and former Ebonyi State Governor Sam Egwu polarised the party. Up came former Internal Affairs Minister Prince Vincent Ogbulafor as the dark horse. He went away with the crown without a struggle.

At Port-Harcourt, there was commotion. Instead of electing a chairman, the party managed to set up a caretaker committee. The interim management was in and out of court fighting for the soul of the party.

What lessons have the gladiators learnt from past intrigues and crises? Will the PDP avert a likely disaster? Will the combatants learn from past mistakes? Will the Abuja convention be different?


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PDP’s Week Of Anxiety
« on: December 05, 2017, 06:29:10 AM »

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