With barely 10 months to the 2019 elections, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), the leading opposition party, which lost power at the centre in 2015, seems in disarray as a result of its post national convention crisis. Consequently, some of its leading lights defected to other parties. In this report, TOPE SUNDAY AND KEHINDE OSASONA look at the party’s preparadness or otherwise to wrestle power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Since after the crisis of supremacy between Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi and Senator Ali Modu Sherrif, which culminated in the Supreme Court verdict and the subsequent national convention that held, chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) have been putting the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) on notice. At every opportunity, PDP top hats keep sounding it loud and clear that APC should prepare its hand over notes because PDP will reclaim the Presidency in the 2019 elections. However, in a rare moment of candour, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, a member of PDP’s Board of Trustees(BoT) said that the election will not be a tea party like his party men are thinking.
Last month, in an interview with a Lagos-based newspaper, Babatope more or less said that his party needs to put its house in order, especially after the national convention which divided it more than ever before.
Significantly, five months after the national convention and about 10 months to the general elections, the wounds that were inflicted on the party during the election of the National Working Committee(NWC) has not healed. More so, PDP has since been engulfed in other crises and the party has also suffered from a raft of defections. In addition, PDP seems not to be giving APC a good run for its money as the leading opposition party in the country. For these reasons, most Nigerians take the PDP’s boast of wrestling power from the ruling APC with a pinch of salt.
Perhaps, the party’s problems started sometime in May 2015, when Alhaji Ahmed Adamu Muazu, the then national chairman, resigned and a succession crisis began. At that time, about 20 people signified interest to succeed Mu’azu and they included: former Minister of Transport, Alhaji Abdullahi Idris Umar; former Minister of State for Power, Hon Mohammed Wakili; and ex-Political Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, Prof. Rufai Alkali.
Similarly, the immediate past Minister of the Federal Capital Territory(FCT), Senator Bala Muhammad; former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission(EFCC); Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as well as former Presidential Adviser Ahmed Ali Gulak, including an ex -PDP vice chairman of the North East, Senator Paul Wampana jockeyed for the job of national chairman. However, from nowhere, Governor Nyesom Wike and some PDP chieftains, conscripted Senator Sherrif, an APC member, for the job.
A year later, the party decided to dump Sherrif after he had completed Mu’azu’s term and that was when PDP started a long legal battle. Principally, the court cases were between Sherrif and Makarfi, the Caretaker Committee Chairman and the party on the other hand.
Supreme court gives final judgement
On May 22, 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the election of Makarfi, a former Kaduna state governor, as the authentic chairman of PDP, after a protracted legal battle that ruptured the unity of the party. Significantly, a three-member panel of the court, presided by the Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen, upbraided Sheriff, for demonstrating “infantile desperation to lead the party, by filing almost 10 different applications in various courts.”
The apex court cited relevant sections of the PDP constitution which made it imperative for members of the party to respect the proceedings of the PDP national convention. In particular, the court cited Articles 33; 35 and 47, which stated the supremacy of the national convention. According to the Supreme Court, the PDP constitution allows the deputy national leader of the party to stand in for his principal and that “when Mr Sheriff abandoned the national convention in May 2016, the party asked his deputy to stand in for him, making his attendance noted at the convention.” In summary, the court reinstated Makarfi as the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee but the crisis of the party was far from over. After the court verdict, Makarfi started working towards a national convention, where substantive NWC will emerge. However, the exercise further factionalised the party instead of bringing peace and harmony.
The controversial convention
After the Supreme Court pronouncement, the caretaker committee quickly organised a non – elective convention August 12, 2017 at the famous Eagle Square in Abuja, where Makarfi’s tenure was extended. Thereafter, the NCC started putting structures for the December 9 convention, where Prince Uche Secondus was elected national chairman. However, before votes were cast, the former Deputy National Chairman and a candidate from Lagos State, Chief Olabode George withdrew from the race.
Olabode George withdraws
Few hours to the D Day, BOT member Chief George withdrew from the race as a result of reckless statement diminishing the Yorubas, that was said to have emanated from the River state Governor, Nyesom Wike, while trying to promote Prince Uche Secondus on Channels Television breakfast show Sunrise Daily. Announcing his withdrawal from the PDP Chairmanship race, Chief George said “the chairmanship position has been sold to the highest bidder. I entered the race due to the micro zoning arrangement. This micro zoning has been trashed, dumped on the dust bin for personal reason. It appears that PDP is bent on self destruction. It has lost its soul. I cannot be part of this criminal allegation. The PDP is now mangled. I hereby withdraw from the fraud.
“As a Yoruba patriot, I will stand for our people. Governor Wike must tender an unreserved apology to the Yoruba people for his unguarded utterances against the Yoruba race. I listened to my younger brother and I see it as an insult. I consider it as an insult. I Olabode George did not step down for anybody. My measure of experience is too heavy. What I am stepping down for is the process. The issue of micro zoning has been destroyed. Every position is micro zoned. I am withdrawing purely on principle. You can know the way the party use to bubble and we see it as a brotherly union. From what happened before I thought we could manage it but it is obvious that they system has been bastardised”.
Prof Adeniran protests
However, former Minister of Education and BoT member, Professor Tunde Adeniran who hails from Ekiti state, and contested for the chairmanship of the party scoring a totals 230 votes as against Secondus who polled over 2,000 votes, protested his defeat. Subsequently, before the announcement of the result, the Professor stormed out of the venue of the convention.
Speaking through his Personal Assistant on Publicity, Mr Taiwo Akeju, Adeniran rejected the entire electoral process. According to him, ‘’the election has been grossly compromised to achieve a predetermined end in line with the illegal Unity List prepared by Governor Wike and Ayodele Fayose and foisted on the entire delegates. Consequently, we submit that this election is a sham and the result there from is unacceptable. We reject it in its entirety. We consider this so-called election as a travesty of democracy and due process, which further entrenches the culture of impunity that has done a great damage to the party in the past. Our position is also that this election should be cancelled and the entire leadership of the party should be handed over to the Board of Trustees which we regard as the conscience of the party, to organize a credible election for the party in due course”.
Dokpsi protests Unity List
Like Adeniran, the media mogul, High Chief Rymond Dokpesi was also pained by the outcome of the election. He alleged that the governors had finally hijacked the part. According to Dokpesi, every delegate was given the ‘’Unity List and all the names on the list are number one in all the cubicles for voting and this is supposed to be a list prepared by the governors. I have personally approached Gabriel Suswam, former governor of Benue state, who is involved in the management of the electoral process. He told me that he was taking necessary steps. He even told me that he collected this list from a governor who was distributing it. I also approached Governor Okowa of Delta state who is the chairman of the convention committee. He is also helpless.
The names you find here is not unlikely what would be announced at the end of the day. The chairman of the convention committee said he is aware of the whole thing but there is little he can do. He is overwhelmed… This election has been seriously marred.”
GEJ mends fences
After the convention, PDP set up a reconciliation committee led by Governor Dickson of Bayelsa state. Similarly, former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan undertook a fence-mending effort on his own immediately after the elective convention as he visited the immediate past Minister of National
Bracing for the battle
Planning, Professor Abubakar Olarenwaju Suleiman, who was one of the aggrieved contestants. Suleiman who vied for the position of National Publicity Secretary (NPS), had protested that his surname was deliberately left out of the ballot papers to cause confusion. In addition, he had promised to head to court if his petition was not properly attended to.
However, Jonathan visited his Abuja home, waving an olive branch. The ex president pleaded that “we should give the new executives of PDP some benefit of the doubt and see how things work out. If we fail to support them, we are not helping the party. I thank you for your doggedness and passion for PDP. You did well and members of our party know you are the best among the competitors. Put the events of Saturday night behind you and move on. Accept the outcome of the election as the wish of God. You should not allow yourself to be stampeded into any untoward action. I know better things await you. We cannot afford to lose you”.
Wike, Secondus woo George
Similarly, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, and Prince Uche Secondus, a day after the convention, had met with Chief George to sue for peace.
Confirming their visit, Secondus said “yes, we met. Chief Bode George remains my boss and I will always cherish him. I have tremendous respect for him and I will need him in the task ahead”. However, it was not clear whether Wike apologized to George for disparaging the Yoruba race, as he alleged while withdrawing from the chairmanship race.
Fresh PDP emerges
However, in spite of the peace efforts, a group of aggrieved PDP members opened a secretariat at Maitama district in Abuja and addressed journalists on December 20. At a press briefing, Prince Emmanuel Obi-Nwosu, the Director-General of FPDP, said that the faction has dissociated itself from the last convention. Significantly, the faction had alleged the bastardization of PDP ideas as one of the reasons FPDP was formed. “Over the years, the high ideals of our founding fathers which heralded the formation of PDP have been eroded by new entrants into the party who introduced very corrupt and anti-democratic practices that eventually led to the colossal loss which the party suffered in 2015,’’ FPDP recalled.
In addition, the faction alleged that “the overbearing negative influence of some governors in the party has worsened the future of the PDP since after the 2015 elections.” In this regard, the faction recalled “that we held our National Convention on the 9th and 10th of December, 2017 at Eagle Square here in Abuja. It was supposed to be an elective convention where a new National Working Committee (NWC) of the party will be elected. Most tragically, there was no election on that day, but a selection of pre-determined persons who were eventually announced as the new NWC members”.
According to FPDP, “as concerned candidates and stakeholders of our party, we deem this perfidy that took place at Eagles Square a charade orchestrated by the former National Caretaker Committee, led by the former governor of Kaduna state, Senator Ahmed Makarfi and perfected by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa-led National Convention Planning Committee.’’ The group accused the NCC of “deliberately refusing to release the delegates list as was agreed upon by all aspirants barely 24 hours to the convention, which is contrary to our party’s constitution. This was a complete aberration as it made it impossible for aspirants to crosscheck the authenticity of the list.”
In addition, they accused the Makarfi-led caretaker committee of disregarding the petition against chairman and secretary of the electoral committee, former governor of Benue state, Chief Gabriel Suswam and Dr Sunday Onor, respectively. “The entire process of selecting the purported Uche Secondus NWC was concluded days before the convention, and a list of those selected was published which eventually was circulated at the Eagles Square long before voting commenced. Evidence is available to show that some names in the fraudulent unity list collected nomination forms after the official closing date and some others were not even screened as required by the party’s electoral guidelines,” they further alleged.
Continuing, the faction said, “The most despicable part of the entire moonlight play was that the so-called unity list was printed on the letterhead paper of our great party, suggesting that it was authorized by the leadership of the party and the national executive committee. The fraudulent unity list was openly circulated to the delegates without restraint and the Electoral Committee Chairman, Chief Gabriel Suswam, who supervised the entire charade. He even confiscated the telephone handset of an agent to a candidate who dared to challenge the fraud and captured the event with his camera phone. “
Gana, Adeniran, others’ defect to SDP
Despite the peace move made by the National Reconciliation Committee of the PDP led by Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa state to pacify some aggrieved members of the party, the former Information Minister, Professor Jerry Gana, ex-Education Minister, Professor Tunde Adeniran and ex-Niger Delta Minister Godsday Orubebe, have pitched their tenets with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which is reportedly merging with the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Peoples Salvation Party (PSP) to form a formidable party ahead of next year’s elections.
Significantly, the decision of the PDP top hats to leave the party, according to a source, followed the failure of the Seraike Dickson reconciliation committee to assuage them. He said that the ex PDP stalwarts voted with their feet after a marathon meeting at Ladi Kwali Hall in Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, where Professor Gana, Elder Orubebe and Sen. Joseph Akaagerger, a former Military Administrator of Katsina state where in attendance. Also, Chief Mike Oghiadhome, Chief of Staff to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, ex-Governor Saminu Turaki of Jigawa State and former Minister of Defence, Dr. Olu Agunloye were also at the meeting. On the SDP side were Dr Junaid Mohammed, a former member of the House of Representatives, Sen. Bassey Ewa Hensaw and a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Olamide Oni, as well as former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae. Thereafter, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) after the meeting.
Apart from crises and defections, utterances of some PDP leaders have helped in de-marketing the opposition party. Late last month, Secondus apologised to Nigerians for the mistakes he said the party made under its 16 year governance of Nigeria, stating that the party had learnt its lessons. But, the ruling party seized upon the apology and further cast PDP in bad light. Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, asked PDP to return all the funds that it looted from the public treasury under its watch during its 16 years in power. In a statement signed by his Special Assistant, the minister also challenged the party to show the genuineness of its apology through a discernible change of attitude. According to him, ‘’the PDP presided over an unprecedented looting of the public treasury, perhaps the worst of its kind in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world. Therefore, the best evidence of penitence for such a party is not just to own up and apologize, but to also return the looted funds. Anything short of that is mere deceit. ”Even with the paucity of funds, this Administration has spent an unprecedented amount of money on infrastructural development and Social Investment Programme, among others. Returning looted funds will provide more money for these programmes and make life more meaningful for Nigerians. There is no better apology than that.’’
Similarly, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu advised Nigerians to be cautious of what it described as the “less-than-honest apology” offered by Secondus. He warned that “the PDP is desperate to recapture power because it no longer has unhindered access to national resources for private uses and its apology should be seen in this context.’’ According to Shehu,’’ the PDP has not even acknowledged the fact that it plundered the national economy, and for a party that dismissed the anti-corruption war as a political witch hunt, it is impossible to believe that its public apology comes from the bottom of the heart.’’ The spokesman pointed out that ‘’even desperate thieves apologize because they are caught and not because they are incapable of repeating the crime if they had another opportunity.’’
According to him, apology borne by desperation to recapture power without a desire to admit how much they stole and the reluctance to return the loot is morally hollow. ‘’
The looters list
Added to its crises, defections and faux pas, the federal government also opened new vista to PDP’s perception crisis, when it released the names of some of those who allegedly looted the country’s treasury. Although the list was criticised as highly partisan and lop-sided, it portrayed PDP as party of looters because top on the list were the party’s leading members. Specifically, Alhaji Lai alleged that Secondus, PDP’s national chairman, received N200 million only from the office of the then National Security Adviser (NSA) on February 19, 2015. In addition, the then PDP Financial Secretary also received N600 million on the 24th of Oct 2014, from the same office. The minister reminded that PDP’s former National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisah Metuh, is on trial for collecting N1.4b from the office of then NSA. Likewise, Dokpesi is on trial for taking N2.1 billion from the office of then NSA, and the former SSA to President Jonathan, Dudafa Waripamo-Owei, on trial over N830 million kept in accounts of four different companies. According to the minister, “the former President Jonathan’s cousin, Robert Azibaola, also on Thursday, a Federal High Court ruled that he has a case to answer for collecting $40 million from the office of then NSA.’’ Lai threatened that ‘’this list is just a tip of the iceberg, and the PDP is aware of this. We did not make these cases up. Many of these cases are in court and the records are available.’’
As earlier said, PDP and many analysts have condemned the list as not just being selective and indeed, Secondus has even sued the federal government for defamation. However, the damage has been done to the party’s reputation. Significantly, the unresolved crises in the party and the defections of its bigwigs to SDP, as well as the battle to redeem its image question has put PDP in a precarious position. Consequently, it may be difficult for the party to reclaim the presidency which it lost in 2015.