9 March 2008

Nigeria: Neither Anyim Nor Egwu - the Emergence of Ogbulafor


IN the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), the race is not for the swift nor the victory for the strong, neither is it for the early starters and big spenders. It is usually for the unwary dark horses and perceived no-hopers.

The convention that ended yesterday in Abuja closely followed this tradition, as a former National Secretary, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, was chosen by governors of the party to assume the post of its National Chairman.

For over six months now, two prominent politicians of Ebonyi State extraction, former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim and former Governor of the State, Dr. Sam Egwu, had remained front runners with both of them equally matched. But come yesterday, they had no choice but to accept the decision of the governors to side-step them for a candidate who enjoyed little or no mention in the heady days of nationwide campaigns.

Dr. Egwu's campaign resembled the aborted presidential venture of former Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili. He had toured the whole country with a large retinue of supporters and staff, enjoying a lot of endorsement from many of the pro-Olusegun Obasanjo governors, who openly endorsed his candidacy, just as the former President had.

In fact, when his campaign train arrived in Ibadan some weeks ago, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, a strong element of the Obasanjo political camp, not only assured Egwu that the entire votes of delegates from the South West were reserved for him, he predicted that Egwu would end up as a consensus choice of the Party. His candidacy soon started looking like Obasanjo's candidacy, and a couple of days before the convention, he sought to douse some of this perception by declaring that he was not Obasanjo's stooge.

On the other hand, Anyim enjoyed a lot of support from what can be described as the "opposition" elements in the party, the word referring to opposition to the continued dominance of the Party by Obasanjo. Many of the returnees of the Party who had been driven away or silenced by Obasanjo returned after Dr. Ekwueme's reconciliatory efforts initiated by President Yar' Adua, to throw their weights behind Anyim. It was also obvious that former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, and his supporters stood with Anyim, who also seemed to enjoy much more favourable media attention than Egwu.

The two Ebonyi heavyweights and their fiercely opposite camps had drawn a deep battle line inside the party. President Umar Yar' Adua, the Party's Leader, became worried that victory going to either of them could create a permanent division within the party. On Thursday, March 6th 2008, he presided over a meeting of the Party's governors, where for the first time, the option of an alternative and "neutral" candidate was canvassed.

It took three meetings of the president with the Governors before the candidacy of Ogbulafor was finally confirmed in the wee hours of Saturday, March 8th 2008. The convention was thusly effectively concluded. The gathering at the Eagles Square venue of the event became a mere carnival for speech makers, especially those candidates who had the presence of mind to announce their withdrawal to enable the chosen candidates to proceed unopposed.

The Party thus escaped what appeared a hammer dangled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which had, a day earlier on, warned that elected delegates from nine states - Anambra, Oyo, Delta, Yobe, Plateau, Imo, Kogi, Bayelsa and Kano States - would not be allowed to participate in the convention because their congresses were not adjudged to have conformed to democratic principles.

The INEC, through its Commissioner on Public Affairs, Mr. Philip Umeadi Jnr, warned that in the unlikely event that the party flouted its directive, no one elected at the convention would be recognized by the Commission. INEC had cautioned against the undemocratic adoption of consensus candidates, adding, however, that genuine unopposed candidacy was democratic and acceptable to the Commission.

Why Ogbulafor was picked

The new National Chairman of the PDP, Ogbulafor, was chosen for a number of reasons. The first that was touted before he was confirmed was that he has administered the Party as its National Secretary, during which time he had the opportunity to understand its internal dynamics. Ogbulafor was also seen as someone who did not belong to any of the fiercely contending camps to which Anyim and Egwu represented.

Even though he was posted to the party's secretariat from the Presidency then under Obasanjo and had worked with that camp for a long time, he had parted ways with it shortly before he left the post of National Secretary. He had fallen by the wayside after he denied knowledge of the request by the PDP secretariat under Mr. Audu Ogbe to the Senate, then with Anyim as its president, for millions of naira to be made available to the party for its retreat in Calabar. That denial by Ogbulafor marked him, and eventually contributed in no small measure in his being denied the governorship candidacy of the Party in Abia (which went to his rival, Dr. Onyema Ugochukwu).

Party insiders described Ogbulafor as a conformist with a quiet ability to say no when he has to. However, he is seen as a colourless person who is likely to follow the political tracks of President Umar Yar' Adua assiduously, even though the President has made it clear that he would not interfere with the job of the Chairman of his party, just as he would not allow anyone to interfere with his.

Ogbulafor is likely to flow with Yar' Adua policy of due process and rule of law. He may not hijack the party as Anyim was being feared to do if he took control. He will not be likely to see any reason to flow with the camp of Obasanjo either. At least in the immediate future, the PDP will likely enjoy some peace, with the warring camps of Anyim and Egwu having little or no problem in finding their rightful places in the party under Ogbulafor.

One final implication of the jettisoning of both Obasanjo and Babangida's candidates for National Chairman of the Party, is that both men are gradually being eased from the centre-stage of the Party. They are ending up as just another couple of old party members, just like Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Malam Adamu Ciroma, Chief Solomon Lar, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, and others.

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