Ahead of the December 9 election of national officers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), interested members of the leading opposition party have hit the ground running in their quests to clinch coveted positions. TOPE SUNDAY in this report, examines how the South West geo-political zone may be scheming itself out of the office of chairmanship of the party.
As the countdown to the December 9 national elective convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) begins, interested members of the party have been scheming, horse-trading and engaging in political alignments and re-alignments in their bid to secure the mandates of delegates to occupy the party’s sensitive national positions ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
The elective congress is crucial to the PDP because the former ruling party has been working assiduously to correct observed inadequacies which may had contributed to its loss of power in the 2015 general elections and seems determined to reposition itself to wrestle power from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
2015 general elections hiccups
Shortly after the 2015 general elections which swept the PDP out of office after 16 years on the saddle, the party has been embroiled in one crisis after another. At the moment, many of its states chapters are factionalised. And at the national level, the leadership tussle between Senator Ali Modu Sherif and Senator Ahmed Makarfi factions, recently laid to rest by the apex court, did no little harm to the integrity and unity of the party.
However, the party secured the much needed respite following the Supreme Court judgement which was in favour of the Makarfi-led faction. Despite the ruling, some members still appear to be angry with the leadership of the party reportedly over the way and manner it handed its 2015 primaries and the alleged imposition of some candidates in some states during the said elections.
It is in this light of correcting some of the wrongs and re-strategizing ahead of the next general elections that the party is reportedly working round the clock to reduce incidences of impunity and imposition of candidates as well as ensuring that its zonal arrangements are respected. Interestingly, it zoned the position of its national chairman to the South, a development some members are now claiming and arguing was further micro-zoned to the South West.
PDP and its zoning game
Zoning has therefore become of the issues threatening the PDP’s possible return to power in 2019. In fact, the controversy surrounding the zoning of the chairmanship seat of the party is the main issue. It would be recalled that before the botched May 21 Port Harcourt national convention in 2016, the party had zoned the position of its national chairman to the South and the presidential ticket to the North.
Whereas the party has stood its grounds on the North producing its presidential candidate come 2019, it seems there are divided tongues over the original arrangement ceding the chairmanship slot to the South. The zoning in that regard seems hazy because many have defined the zoning of the position to the South in broader perspective. This understanding seems to undermine a further arrangement where some stakeholders within the party reportedly met and endorsed an agreement to further micro-zoned the chairmanship seat to the South-west. The argument adduced in that regard was that the zone deserves to produce the next chairman of the party since it had never done so before.
But the arrangement seems not cast in stones following the clarification by the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, last month that the micro-zoning of national executive offices was not binding on members. This clearly opened the door for interested persons from the other regions to vie for whatever positions they are interested in regardless of the zoning arrangement, especially the position of national chairman.
Little wonder that less than one month to the party’s convention, some members of the party interested in its elective offices are already spurring for showdown over who occupies the Wadata Plaza office of the party in Abuja.
To this end, no fewer than eight aspirants have indicated their intentions to vie for the number one position of the leading opposition party in the country. The breakdown of this figure reveals that six aspirants for the position of the national chairmanship of the PDP are from the South West, while the remaining two are from the South/South.
The chairmanship contenders
As at the last count, Chief Olabode George, a former National Deputy Chairman of the party from Lagos State (South West), has indicated his interest to succeed Senator Ahmed Makarfi as the National Chairman of the party. Also, the former Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel (also from South West), has also hit the ground running in his quest to sell his candidacy to the delegates to the December 9 National Convention of the party stated for Abuja. A former Minister of Education, Professor Taoheed Adedoja from Oyo State (South West), the former Governor of Oyo State, Chief Rasidi Adewolu Ladoja (South West), Professor Tunde Adeniran, a former Minister of Education from Ekiti State (South West) and a former governorship candidate of the PDP in Lagos State (South West) in the 2015 general elections, Jimi Agbaje, are all aspirants to the office of the national chairman of the PDP.
From the South/South region is Prince Uche Secondus, who was the deputy national chairman during the tenure of Alhaji Ahmed Adamu Mu’azu, and later took over in acting capacity when his then embattled principal threw in the towel in 2015. Also contesting from the region is the media mogul and owner of the Africa Independent Television (AIT), High Chief Raymond Alegho Dokpesi.
Why South West is hell bent on zoning
Since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 and throughout the PDP’s reign of 16 years, the Southwest and South/south zones have yet to occupy the national chairmanship seat of the party. While, South/South zone through Prince Uche Secondus from Rivers State has had a stint in acting capacity, the Southwest geo-political zone has never smelt the position.
The national leadership of the party in its bid to save its sinking ship decided to zone the position to a divided south, without being explicit on which part of the South should field in the candidate for the position. This in some way is understandable: it did the same to North definitely hoping that individuals from the three regions that constitute the north would come to a consensus and produce candidates to contest the party’s presidential primaries. In the same vein, the party seems less bothered by the emergence of eight aspirants that have thus far indicated their interests to run for the national chairmanship seat in the December 9 elective national convention stated for Abuja. .
The former national chairman of the party, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, according to reports, has questioned the general zoning of the position to the entire south, and argued that for fairness, it should have been zoned directly to the South West. Ali was emphatic that unless the PDP sources its substantive national chairman from Southwest, it would be digging its political grave. While pointing out that Southwest was yet to occupy the post of national chairman since the inception of the party in 1998, Ali declared: “We must be ready to ensure that at the convention, the main issue, which is the national chairmanship of the party, is well handled. If we don’t vote the Southwest, we can as well forget the PDP.”
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Discordant tunes in the party
The party seems polarized internally though not pronounced. Some governors on the platform of the party are reportedly rooting for the candidacy of Secondus, while the party’s elders are said to be backing the aspiration of Chief Olabode George. A media report recently alleged that some PDP governors have commenced moves to ‘impose’ Prince Uche Secondus as the party’s next national chairman.
Further, the report alleged that some members of the PDP National Caretaker Committee and other key players were divided over the choice of Secondus’ as championed by some governors. The elders have been somewhat tactful in the way and manner the issue is being handled to avoid crisis.
Also, Professor Tunde Adeniran was alleged to be enjoying the backing of the former Vice President, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, who according to feelers, is warming up for the 2019 presidential election, but on what platform has remained hazy.
States like Lagos and Oyo currently have two contestants each in the persons of George, Agbaje, Ladoja and Adedoja, respectively. This development, however, confirms the speculations that all is not well with the party structure in the South West.
The purported streamlining of the chairmanship aspirants to three from the zone is another attestation to the perceived sharp division within the party from the zone. Some members of the BoT in the region had last week said the board had shutout a former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel; a former governorship candidate in Lagos State, Jimi Agbaje and a former governor of Oyo State, Rashidi Ladoja, from the chairmanship race.
The South West PDP, however, said the region would reach a consensus on one of the remaining three aspirants: a former minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, a former Minister of Sports and Special Duties, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja and a former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Bode George.
This assertion has, however, been discarded by the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin, who disowned the meeting of the South West BoT that screened out some chairmanship contestants of the party. He insisted that the party would provide a level playing field for all aspirants seeking elections into national leadership positions of the party in the forthcoming convention.
That, according to political watchers, is confirmation that the party does not support any sort of micro-zoning and is therefore sticking to its gun that the South in general and not a narrowed down south west should produce its next national chairman. Viewed from the perspective of avoiding impunity and imposition, the party may be keeping faith in its new posture aimed at purging itself of old tendencies.
Calls for consensus among South West contestants
Less than a month to the D-day, none of the contenders from the South West has backed down his ambition in the interest of the zone. Rather, they have been growing in heaps and bonds. Aside Chief Dokpesi, who is taking the advantage of his media entity-the AIT and Ray Power, to market himself to the delegates, Chief George, Professor Adeniran and Otunba Daniel can be said to be building bridges across the country in the build up to the convention. While stakeholders from the zone are busy taking side and aligning themselves with one aspirant or other, a former Police Affairs Minister, Adamu Maina Waziri, declared his support for the South West to produce the party’s chairman.
Waziri, who spoke recently at the official declaration of Otunba Gbenga Daniel’s intent to vie for national chairmanship of the party, warned, however, that the zone would be the loser in the event of the inability of any of the contesters from the zone to emerge victorious at the December convention.
“If, for any reason, Gbenga Daniel fails in his bid to become the national chairman, it is Daniel that would lose. But if none of the about six aspirants from the South-West fails to win, the South-West will be the loser,” Waziri said and cautioned on the zone against presenting a divided front.
He called on the aspirants to close ranks and present a common front at the convention in the interest of the party, adding, “The South-West should do well to reduce the number of aspirants to one. For the PDP to reclaim power in 2019, the national chairman of the party” should come from the zone’’.
Though the party met in Enugu over the weekend to streamline ahead of the convention, the issue of zoning the post to a particular geo-political region was raised. One of the contestants, Chief Dokpesi was emphatic when he reiterated the position of the party on the zoning structure: “The position of the national chairman was zoned to the 17 states of the South. Anyone from any of the 17 states can vie for and be elected by the delegates to the convention as the party’s national chairman”, Dokpesi said to reaffirm his intention to stand election for the position on December 9.
The NBA’s experience
As discordant tunes are well pronounced among the political gladiators in the PDP South West and with no end in sight as to whether they will sheathe their swords or not, the zone may lose out in the scheme of things at the national level of the party. The zone as it were has a golden opportunity to produce the national chairman of the party if it fields a consensus but it failure, may subject it to play a second fiddle in the next general elections.
According to political pundits, interested aspirants from the zone should look inward, swallow their pride, bury the ego and work for the political future of the zone.
They cautioned the zone against sliding into the replica of the 2014 national election of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) where three Senior Advocates of Nigeria from the region contested for the presidency of the union.
At the NBA, the zoning arrangement is ‘a gentleman agreement’ in which the NBA presidency is rotated between the Northern, Western and Southern parts of the country, hence at any particular general election, only one of these zones can field candidates for the office of the NBA president.
As a tradition, the NBA in 2014 zoned its presidency to the West, which covers the South West and South/South and failure of the stakeholders from the two regions, saw five senior lawyers contesting the said election.
From the Egbe Amofin, which is a block for lawyers from the South West, a total of three candidates, namely; Mrs. Funke Adekoya, (SAN), Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN) and Mr. Dele Adesina, (SAN) contested for the presidency of NBA. While Mr. Austin Alegeh, (SAN) and Mr. Osas Justy Erhabor (SAN) also vied for the seat on the platform of Midwest Bar Forum.
The failure of the South West contestants to align and produce a consensus candidate gave victory to Austin Alegeh as the 27thPresident of the association.
A postmortem analysis of the election revealed that a total of 1728 lawyers registered for the association’s election, while 1482 were subsequently accredited as voters. The winner of the election polled a total of 671 votes, Oladele Adeshina (370), Niyi Akintola (126), Funke Adekoya (225) and Osas Justy Erhabor (17).
In all, contestants from the South West polled a total of 751 votes all together and if they had aligned and fielded a consensus candidate, they would have defeated Alegeh, who courted 671 votes to clinch the association’s presidency.
In view of the NBA’s scenario, political observers are now calling on the party and l opinion leaders from the South West to wade in and counsel the aspirants to work as a team in the interest of the zone.
Failure of the zone to field a consensus candidate in the election may spell doom for the South West as a geo-political zone and may also amount to a plot to lose the coveted position to the South/South zone, which is producing only two candidates.