Tension as PDP holds ‘consensus national convention’




…3, 600 to decide aspirants, party’s fates

…Consensus candidates were imposed on us’

…We’re not forcing anybody to step down – Fintiri

…Aftermath always not palatable – Analyst

…We’ll come out united – Tambuwal

As members and other critical stakeholders in the leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), converge on the Eagle Square Abuja to elect a new set of 18-member National Working Committee (NWC) into different positions, ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU writes on the tension and sharp divisions on who gets what and what may come after the ‘consensus national convention.’

The recall

While the PDP held sway as the ruling party for 16 years, it produced the likes of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Umaru Musa Yar’Ádua, and Goodluck Jonathan in straight feats.

Not only that, in 1999, with the return to democratic rule, the party was controlling not less than 28 states with the majority members in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Sadly, events of the past few years have depicted the party as one without respect for its Constitution, while almost all of its NWC never served its four-year term, most of the party’s national officers were disgraced out of office. The party is one that has seen all but one of its eight chairmen forced out of office in controversial circumstances.

From its pioneer chairman, the late Chief Solomon Lar, to Barnabas Gemade, Audu Ogbeh, Ahmadu Ali, Vincent Ogubulafor, and Okwesilieze Nwodo to Bamanga Tukur, and then Prince Uche Secondus, only one, Amadu Ali, served out his tenure and bowed out without rancour.

The late Lar was booted out of office by former President Olusegun Obasanjo a few months after he assumed office as president in 1999. His successor, Barnabas Gemade who played an influential role during Obasanjo’s administration, was later shown the door in 2001 after his relationship with Obasanjo got sour.

The exit of Gemade paved the way for the Audu Ogbeh-led NWC. Ogbeh’s tenure is perhaps the most dramatic of all as he was forced to resign in December 2004, allegedly at gunpoint, after its much-talked about letter to the president advising Obasanjo to act on the anarchy that had taken over Anambra state, where the then godfather, Chris Uba, a known supporter of the president, had allegedly overrun the state and taken its governor, Chris Ngige, captive.

Like Ogbeh, another Obasanjo’s friend, Ahmadu Ali, was made the party’s national chairman. Though he served his term, he left without a second term. Consequently, Vincent Ogbulafor was elected the new chairman at the party’s national convention of 2008. However, as a result of a bitter feud with his state governor, Theodore Orji, over the party’s structure in the South-east, Ogbulafor was charged with corruption and forced to resign in May 2010.

Okwesilieze Nwodo who succeeded Ogbulafor also left sometime around 2012 under controversial circumstances after a dispute with his governor, Sullivan Chime. Similarly, Bamanga Tukur who took over ran into troubles also at home where his control of the party structure in Adamawa state was challenged by Governor Murtala Nyako. He was booted out in 2014.

The present

Like many others, the Prince Uche Secondus-led NWC problems started when he failed to support Governor Nyesom Wike’s plot to install the Sokoto state governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, as the party’s presidential candidate in 2018. However, the fear of him hijacking the party’s structure for the 2023 presidential aspirants, Wike and others succeeded in getting Secondus sacked by a competent court.

Cumulatively, the PDP governors have continued to install their choices of NWC and sacking them at will. This has led to mass defections of party members from state to national levels, and this has affected their performances in many elections. While this remains a great concern to the party’s supporters, analysts believe that the act will continue to affect the party’s internal democracy.

The convention

Of all the positions, only those of the national auditor, national youth leader and deputy national chairman (South) would be contested out at the convention ground as the others have already been concluded on a consensus arrangement.

Meanwhile, the chairman, conventional planning committee, the governor of Adamawa state, Ahmadu Fintiri, has disclosed that 3,600 delegates were expected to participate at this year’s national elective convention of the party.

He said, “We are expecting 3, 600 delegates tomorrow. This is the exact reason I told you that I’ll be updating you because we’re still packaging the list of delegates. You know PDP has produced a lot of officials for this country and our Constitution has also allowed for some former this and former that. We have people that have crossed over to the other side, so have to be careful so that we don’t include them. But at the moment I think we’re satisfied.”

Consensus convention, issues

Keen followers of political events in the country are of the view that the main opposition party seems not to have learnt any lessons from the imposition of candidates and leaders which largely led to its downfall after reigning supreme as a ruling party for sixteen years.

As the party prepares to elect its national officials across the country today and tomorrow, tension is high as a result of what perhaps can be described as a “failed consensus.”

Though zoning, micro-zoning and consensus remain alien to the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria and that of the PDP, they have now become a norm. Like in the past, the party zoned and micro-zoned the positions available in the NWC; this development has increased tension among party members. Consequently, many aspirants are not comfortable going for the election; one of such aspirants is Okey Muo-Aroh, who wanted to run for national secretary before he was disqualified for allegedly taking the party to court.

He said, “Some people are bragging that there was a consensus candidate; this is the bane of the party in the South-east. We have a situation where the party in its wisdom zones offices to the South-east, and nobody was privy to any arrangement. We only heard that the office of the national secretary has been zoned to Anambra auditor to Imo state.

“That was why Hon. CID Maduabum, Osita Chidoka and I started having consultations and moving around, only for us to come to Enugu on Thursday and the zonal chairman said the governors would brief us. The Enugu state governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, introduced the Abia state governor, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu. And Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu read from a script and said they had changed their mind, and that they have put the secretary to Imo state and their candidate is Senator Sam Daddy Anyanwu. And they pronounced somebody from Anambra as the auditor. So, on that basis, the people of Anambra rejected that so-called arrangement.”

Also, in the same South-east, a former national publicity secretary of the party, Chief Olisa Metuh, had a misunderstanding with the former Anambra state governor, Peter Obi, on the choice of candidate for the national auditor.

Metuh, in a statement signed by his special assistant, Ebiloma Abdullahi, recently said, “While we concede to the former governor and acknowledge his stories on moral values to the general public, we are totally against his lack of consultation, dialogue and inclusion on matters affecting party administration; an area where he knows little or nothing about.

“The fact is that in the South-east caucus meeting of the PDP, Peter Obi himself led the rejection of a name put forward by Senator Ekwunife as a candidate for the position of the national auditor, wherein he openly stated that the person is not known to him and the PDP.

“It is instructive to state that this position was re-echoed by the entire Anambra stakeholders present at the meeting except for Senator Ekwunife. However, 24 hours later, the same Peter Obi, a man said to be of very high moral standard, somersaulted to claim the adoption of the same name without any form of dialogue or consultation.”

Grudges

In the South-west too, many are aggrieved over the zoning and micro-zoning arrangement. A former secretary of the party, Professor Wale Ladipo, and former national vice-chairman (South), Dr. Eddy Olafeso, both alluded to the fact that they were disqualified to force a consensus candidate on the zone and the party at large.

Reacting to his disqualification, Prof. Ladipo said, “Yes, I saw it coming. I have been joking with some members of our party in Osun state over the last one week that it has been in the public domain that certain people were not comfortable with my candidature. They said clearly that I would be screened out. I thought it was impossible, but then it became a reality. I spoke to people who are close to me and I said I was not going to the screening because I hate ‘arrangee things.’ I like people to be straightforward. We spoke to senior members of the party and they said I should go for the screening and see how it goes. And lo and behold, about 10 minutes before my appearance before the screening committee, somebody brought a petition and hurriedly gave it to them. Up till now, I have not been privileged to read the petition.”

On his part, Dr. Olafeso said: “This is pure politics to scheme me and others out of the race.”

Political pundits believe that this type of consensus has increased the level of tension in the party, which if not properly managed may make some people leave the party.

An aspirant who does not want his name mentioned in print told Blueprint Weekend that many people never consented to the consensus arrangement, adding that “consensus candidates were forced on us.”

He told this reporter that, “I was told to step down; in fact they stopped me from purchasing forms. Some of us felt that the issue of consensus should be discussed, but in this case, we were more or less forced.

“They invited me and others for a series of meetings, and said you step down, this is the person that we want, I felt so bad. To me, all positions should be open for all and the delegates should decide the fate of every aspirant. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as consensus candidates were forced on us.”

Gov. Fintiri’s reaction

Reacting to allegations that some aspirants were forced to step down, the chairman of the convention planning committee, Governor Fintiri said aspirants were not forced to step down.

He said: “At the moment, we’re making efforts to reconcile most of our contestants so that we can streamline them to have a better Convention which will be hitch-free and will deepen our chances for 2021. Most of the positions as of today, except for three, will not be contested for.

“The problems have reduced significantly and we will keep posting as the events unfold. At the moment we are talking to those that are contesting for the office of the deputy national chairman (South) and those that are contesting for the office of the auditor, and those that are now contested for the office of youth leader. I think at the moment it is just the offices that still have many people contesting for. The rest have been streamlined and the consensus looks okay.

“Like I told you, there are positions and there are people that we’re still talking to. We’re not forcing anybody to step down and the candidates are talking amongst themselves.”

An analyst’s take

A political analyst, Jide Ojo, said the aftermath of an improper consensus arrangement is not always palatable. Ojo, in a telephone chat with this reporter, said: “I am not a fan of consensus arrangements, but the political leaders who initiated that did it because they thought it is a better arrangement to how people negotiate for political offices than to fight for the political offices at a ballot.

“But we know that it has also backfired to an extent. The way it has been playing out in Nigeria is synonymous with imposition. And when you impose candidates, the aftermath of that is always not palatable. This is because what then happens is that people who felt bad may end up defecting from the party to another. But if they have agreed through horse-trading and it works out well, then it may go well. For those who are opposed to a consensus I think it is always good to allow people to vote for the candidate of their choice.

“The way the consensus arrangements have been done is another way for imposition of candidates.”

Tambuwal’s hope

In his reaction, the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, the Sokoto state governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, said the party “will come out of the national convention united.”

Tambuwal, who stated this recently, said: “We have just finished our meeting where we received briefings from the chairman of the convention planning/organising committee, the governor of Adamawa state, Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, that we are on course and by the grace of God, they have almost concluded every arrangement and plan for a very successful, free and fair convention.

“We are very grateful to the convention planning committee and other sub-committees for the work they are doing. We are optimistic that PDP is going to come out more united from this convention and much more ready to provide the desired platform upon which many Nigerians can realise their aspirations. And we shall continue to deepen our democracy and work together as democrats for a greater Nigeria.”

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