The way and manner today’s convention is held, including who emerges as National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and how the party will manage the aftermath of the election, will be a litmus test for PDP’s desire to reclaim the presidency in 2019. In addition, it will provide a window as to who may emerge the party’s presidential flag bearer as, IBRAHEEM MUSA and EMEKA NZE indicate in this report.
As the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) holds its National Convention today, the event will be more significant than just choosing its party officials. First, it will be an acid test for the party’s new found unity, after a protracted leadership crisis.
Second, the outcome of today’s election, for better or for worse, will make or mar the strongest opposition party in Nigeria. In addition, the election will determine whether or not PDP will reclaim the presidency in 2019, as it has severally boasted. Similarly, today’s election will be a window as to who may emerge as PDP’s presidential candidate.
Third, a free and fair election at today’s convention, will benefit all and sundry. A strong, united and virile opposition will put the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) on its toes, thereby deepening democracy.
In a way, the contest will be a straight fight between the governors and founding fathers of PDP who dominate the Board of Trustees(BoT). Similarly, it will also be a battle for supremacy between the south south and south west geo-political zones. In summary, today’s convention will settle or shatter some assumptions and reinforce others, as new alliances will be forged. In the end, these alliances will either reposition or cripple the party as the journey to the 2019 elections comes closer.
Significantly, the national chairmanship has been zoned to the south but the geopolitical bloc was still squabbling, as at a few days back, over which of the two zones should produce the party’s helmsman. In particular, the southwest wanted the position zoned to it because that will strengthen PDP in the geopolitical zone.
However, the south south argues that it is the home of PDP and it held the party when it was almost down and out. As at last week, both zones have been lobbying both the National Caretaker Committee(NCC), BoT members and other geopolitical zones for support. Significantly, Senator Walid Jibrin, Chairman BoT, echoed the party NCC chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi on the matter. According to him, “it is too late to micro-zone the position of National Chairman considering that after more than eight aspirants have purchased the forms and are right now about to be Screened by the Special Screening Committee. They should be allowed to test their fame through the primaries that is about to start on the 9th-10th December 2017.’’ Although the matter seem technically closed, the aspirants have been using it to lobby state and zonal delegates, according our correspondent’s findings.
The front runners, others
As at the close of nominations, eight candidates have indicated interest in becoming the National Chairman of the party. However, today’s contest will be a three-way fight between Prince Uche Secondus, former acting National Chairman, who is from Rivers state and ex Education Minister, Professor Tunde Adeniran, who hails from Ekiti state and Chief Bode George, former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA) and a candidate from Lagos state.
The rest candidates are former Ogun state Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, Professor Taoheed Adedoja, ex Minister of Sports and Special Duties as well as former governor of Oyo state, Alhaji Rasheed Ladoja, including Mr Jimi Agbaje, a former gubernatorial aspirant of Lagos state and High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, a media mogul from Edo state.
Significantly, the candidates have criss crossed the country, in the last two months, selling themselves to the delegates and party elders.
In particular, Prince Secondus has said that he is the most qualified, having been Deputy National Chairman, National Organising Secretary and an acting Chairman of the party in recent time. In an interaction with newsmen, he said that PDP needs someone like him as Chairman because in less than two years, the party will contest a general election and for this reason, PDP needs a man who will hit the ground running. Similarly, he argued PDP is peaceful in both his River state chapter and the south south geo-political zone and he promised to deliver his area to the party in any any election.
In addition, he argued that the zone ought to be rewarded for keep faith with the party, by electing him as the next Chairman.
However, opponents having been sniping at his record, especially when he held sway at Wadata Plaza as acting National Chairman. According to reports, Secondus couldn’t account for the N11 billion that was realized from sale of nomination forms in 2014. Severally, he explained that 30% of the money was shared to the states, local governments as well as the six geopolitical zones across the country for election purposes. Afterwards, about N5 billion was kept aside for the completion of the party secretariat. However, after President Goodluck Jonathan’s defeat, ‘’the presidential campaign organization could not raise money for other elections and the leaders said the money reserved should be used,’’ he had explained. Expectedly, the governors of south south are solidly behind Secondus.
Similarly, Professor Adeniran is another frontline candidate for the chairmanship position. The former Education Minister of Education, said he is a gentleman with ideas and that is what PDP needs at this stage. According to him, ‘’the belief in some quarters that the party does not need a gentleman as leader is an insult not only to the party, but every member.’’ He pointed out that leadership is not about thuggery or violence, but ideas, passion, vision and commitment. “PDP needs a leader with the right vision, passion for good leadership qualities and a leader with right experience,’’ the former minister said.
According to Adeniran, his academic and political background as a political science professor and former minister, make him suitable for the seat. “I am passionate about repositioning the party and I am brimming with ideas and vision to return the party to winning ways,’’ he further said. Separately, the North west and North east geopolitical zones have endorsed him. However, Adeniran is like the proverbial prophet as his Ekiti state governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose, said that he is not even aware that the professor is running for the National Chairmanship of the PDP.
Similarly, Chief George will also contest in today’s election and he has been bandying his rich experience as former military governor, ex deputy National Chairman and NPA Chairman to sway delegates. George, an apostle of micro zoning, has been endorsed by his Lagos state as the best man for the job. In the same vein, he had promised that if given the opportunity, ‘’I will not be new to the management of this party because the party’s constitution is not going to be new to me; I know its provisions as I know the back of my hand.’’ According to him, ‘ the founding fathers handed o ver the culture of the party to us and that is what we would re-establish.’’ Like Secondus, George said that this is not the time when PDP will experiment with a political neophyte. “Just check out, from the end of our convention to the national election is a very short time, it is not a time where you can do experimentation, it is not a time you can bring a greenhorn to be the chairman of the party,’’ he had argued.
However, in spite of his experience, opponents say that his alleged corruption cases will hamper George as party chairman. According to them, the ruling APC can easily unleash the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) on him when George emerges as PDP’s helmsman. At a point, he challenged other candidates to a debate on how to reposition the party to seize power at the centre.
Adeniran, George accuse Makarfi of bias
Significantly, in the run up to the convention, allegations of bias were hurled at Alhaji Ahmed Makarfi, the Caretaker Committee Chairman, by the two leading south west candidates. Separately, Adeniran and Chief George had expressed lack of confidence in him.
Pointedly, they accused him of favouring Secondus and George was the most vocal. George, speaking through Alhaji Ibrahim Aliu, the Director-General of the Bode George Campaign Organization (BGCO) had called on Makarfi to resign because “he is already tarred and soiled in the muddy waters of partisan prejudice.”
The BGCO Director-General, who accused the PDP chairman of nursing a personal ambition of contesting for the Presidential office in 2019, said Makarfi could no longer play the role of a neutral arbiter. “ Makarfi’s action, to put it mildly, is sickening, untoward, blatantly tendentious , totally stripped of the typical moral high ground that often defines a well meaning, God- fearing arbitrating leadership,’’ Alhaji Ibrahim said. According to him, Makarfi wants to repeat the mistake of the Port Harcourt which ended in a fiasco . On his part, Senator Makarfi had dismissed the allegations and up till yesterday, nothing concrete has been found against him.
Okowa committee promises hitch-free convention
Last Monday, Senator Makarfi inaugurated the National Planning Committee, headed by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta state, to ensure a free, fair and credible convention which will not be hijacked by anyone or groups.
Specifically, the Caretaker Committee Chairman asked party members to cooperate with the Okowa committee. Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Governor Dairus Ishaku of Taraba state, said that the party had done a lot for the country and that it is time to work hard and return it to power for further development. He advised the winners of today’s convention to work with other contestants to keep the party united. Senator Jibril said that the BoT does not have any favourites in today’s elections. In addition, he promised that they will work with all relevant stakeholders to ensure a hitch-free convention.
Last Thursday, Governor Okowa said that the convention’s sub committees have submitted their reports, assuring that all is set for today’s event.
However, the way and manner today’s convention is held, will not just be a litmus test for PDP’s open ambition to reclaim the presidency in 2019, but will also be a mirror of what to expect at the presidential primaries.
Similarly, managing the outcome of today’s election will prove a harder nut to crack than what Senator Markafi and his Caretaker Committee did throughout the interregnum and what Governor Okowa’s Convention Planning Committee achieved in the last five days.