21 March 2008

Nigeria: Zamfara PDP As a Clay-Footed Giant


Lagos — Despite boasting the membership of some of the most respected figures in the country, the Zamfara State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be faltering at every turn. The recent state congresses of the party may prove to be the last straw that will break the camel's back, writes Imam Imam

Either by design or sheer coincidence, those that make up the backbone of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Zamfara State are people who, ordinarily, would not share the same political platform. From the ultra-conservatives, to military apologists and self-acclaimed progressives, the party, from all indication, is proving to be the loser in the effort to accommodate all the diverse interests within its fold.

The list of who is who in the party include former National Security Adviser (NSA), Lt. General Aliyu Gusau, former governor of old Sokoto state, Malam Yahaya Abdulkarim, former ambassadors Mohammed Z. Anka and Jabbi Maradun, former Military administrator of Nasarawa State, Col. Bala Mande (rtd) and rising Young Turks like present Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Tijjani Yahaya Kaura and Engineer Kabiru Marafa, among others.

However, if the major aim of any political party is to win election, the PDP in Zamfara has failed in that regard. Of much concern to the party's top hierarchy at the national level is the inability of the Zamfara chapter to maintain cohesion and struggle for power with a united front. Apart from the 1999 elections in which it was able to capture some local governments at the state level and win few national offices, the party has gone into oblivion since then, leaving the ruling ANPP to consolidate its hold on power and play out every trick in the game to ensure the PDP remains disunited.

Many felt the problems of the party date back to its primaries for the 1999 gubernatorial elections when Malam Yahaya Abdulkarim lost his bid to get the party's ticket to Ambassador M.Z. Anka. Rather than stay back to help the cause of the party at the polls, Abdulkarim bitterly left the country, and unconfirmed reports claimed he directed his supporters to vote for the ANPP. In the ensuing misunderstanding, Ahmed Sani Yarima emerged the first executive governor of the state. Since then, the ANPP has not looked back on its grip on the affairs of the state, and despite three attempts to wrestle power from it both Yarima and his lieutenants have provided answers to every riddle the PDP had come up with.

In 2003, Abdulkarim again lost the party's ticket, this time around, to Bala Mande and just like it happened in 1999, a similar scenario played out in 2003. Abdulkarim was accused of abandoning the ship mid-way. More drama played out during the last primaries held to nominate the party's gubernatorial candidate in the 2007 gubernatorial polls. Then, efforts by the PDP's presidential aspirant from the state, Lt. Gen Aliyu Gusau (rtd) to broker a peace and have a consensus candidate ahead of the primaries proved abortive with one of the aspirants, Col. Bala Mande insisting that primaries hold. Gusau held a meeting with Mande and his representatives to persuade the former Minister of Environment to step down for Abdulkarim and in return he (Mande) gets the party's senatorial ticket for Zamfara North. Mande, sources indicate, "out of respect for Gusau", accepted the proposal but surprisingly, turned back to reject it immediately he returned to his house in Gusau. Party leaders, who were earlier told that a consensus had been reached, were stunned to hear the turn of fortunes on the issue and they immediately summoned Mande to hear him out. The aspirant then told them that he had not stepped down for any candidate "because that is what my supporters want and that is what I will do." At that point, Gusau was informed of the development and he told the party leaders to make arrangement and head to the polls. However, Mande, who was expecting a free and fair contest, was shocked when he, along with journalists and many delegates, were denied entry into the venue of the screening on the orders "from above."

As it turned out, Abdulkarim got his way and was awarded the party's ticket. This time though, both M.Z. Anka and Mande did little or nothing to help Abdulkarim's efforts. In the end, he too lost out to incumbent governor Mahmud Aliyu Shinkafi. While Mande got rewarded at the national level by being appointed one of the campaign coordinators for Yar'Adua/Jonathan ticket, at home, he was suspended from the party for anti-party activities, creating a further division that would prove costly for the party during the gubernatorial polls.

Other reasons have played a significant role in the continued failure of the PDP in Zamfara. One is the issue of religion. It will be recalled that the ANPP government of Ahmed Sani yarima introduced the Sharia legal system in Zamfara State in the year 2000, and since then, lots of ignorant voters have been made to believe that a vote for PDP will be akin to rejecting Sharia. For anyone to be adjudged, it will almost certainly be the end of his political career as far as issue of religion is concerned in this part of the country. All those problems however, pale into insignificance when compared to the ongoing war of attrition between the leaders and their followers. As things stand right now, two factions are claiming control of the party, while in Gusau, the Zamfara State capital, two offices serve as state secretariat of the party, with each faction claiming genuine mandate of the followers.

Things got to a head during last PDP state congresses. Before the voting day, two leading contenders were vying for the position of chairmanship of the party. They were Barrister Adamu Umar whose bid was supported and championed by Malam Yahaya Abdulkarim, and Alhaji Namadi Ango who enjoys the backing of the former NSA as well as the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Unconfirmed reports indicate that he also enjoys the backing of the outgoing state executive committee led by Alhaji Samaila Garkuwa.

The electioneering process was fierce and without decency, as both candidates attacked each other without let or hindrance. Fears were also raised in some quarters that the exercise may degenerate into chaos and violent confrontation. A day to the election, party chieftains reassured the populace that all will go well. Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Tijjani Yahaya Kaura, while fielding questions from journalists on the eve of the election, assured that all would go well. According to him; "Let me first of all clear the air on allegations that PDP in Zamfara State is factionalised. That is not true. I want you to get this straight. We have only one united party in Zamfara today. PDP is rather getting stronger day by day. As a matter of fact, we get members from other parties day in day out. Lots of people look at the PDP as the melting ground in the North West zone, and that is why lots of people are struggling to get control of the party and its leadership, that is why you view that healthy competition as faction. We have no factions. It is only natural within a party that different forces struggle to control that party. Why don't you say the national party is factionalised when at a time we had about 27 candidates vying for the position of chairman? This goes to show that the PDP is getting stronger both nationally and in Zamfara. As you may be aware, at a time, we had many people aspiring to head the party, but today we have only two. Those two candidates are the best of friends and I doubt if they will do anything that will spoil the relationship they have built among themselves for many years. So at the end of the day, what we are doing is in-house democracy and when all things are concluded, the party will be better for it."

In the end though, Namadi Ango emerged victorious according to the electoral panel sent from Abuja headed by Chief Emmanuel Hope. Against all known democratic ethos, journalists were barred from covering the congress, and when results trickled in around 10.00pm that fateful day, both candidates claimed victory. Both camps also sponsored series of congratulatory messages on radio to thank their supporters for voting them into power. With that confusion on ground, the party went into the national convention as a divided entity. What came out of it was more worrisome for many, than even what transpired in Gusau. Abdulkarim was said to have used his influence with a serving minister from Sokoto who was his (Abdulkarim's) deputy when he was Governor of old Sokoto State in the early 90s to take hold of accreditation cards meant for Zamfara delegates. On realizing what happened, the Namadi faction lodged a complaint with the Police that their voting materials had been hijacked and in the process of retrieving the items, Abdulkarim was detained and subsequently released after the convention without any charge.

The detention angered his supporters, who sponsored articles and wrote open letters to President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua urging him to call Kaura to order for allegedly causing the detention of an "old man who tirelessly worked for Yar'Adua's success during the 2007 presidential elections." Kaura's supporters denied the claim. In an interview with THISDAY, former Senatorial candidate for the party, Engineer Kabiru Marafa absolved the junior Minister of any blame in the arrest and subsequent detention of Abdulkarim by the Police during the party's national convention in Abuja. He said it was wrong to blame the Minister since Police acted on the petition written to them by the Zamfara PDP executive led by Namadi Ango. According to him, the Minister of State, as the leader of Zamfara delegation to the convention, had no hand in the detention of the former governor, and it will be wrong to accuse somebody who knows nothing about the incident. He said Abdulkarim, who is also a former Minister of Works, was detained after he used his connections within the accreditation committee to secure tags meant for the whole state delegates. "That was not just the issue, when the police asked him to produce the tags and other items given to him, he denied knowledge of the items. The Police had no alternative than to detain him for questioning. In addition, the accreditation committee confirmed to the Police that he presented himself as the PDP chairman in Zamfara, which was why the items were released to him. As far as we are concerned, the former governor was detained for impersonating the chairman, as well as his refusal to handover the materials to the police. It is therefore unfair to blame the Minister (Tijjani Yahaya Kaura), for what happened during the convention. He is our leader in this state and as far as we are concerned, he will not fall so low as to call for the detention of a colleague and a brother. The entire incidence would not have occurred if the former governor had conducted himself with decorum expected of an elder statesman," Marafa added.

What came out of the party's national convention, as far as activities in the Zamfara chapter is concerned, is that Namadi Ango and his backers are having their day. But in the midst of the entire storm, one voice that has called for caution and restraint is that of former Minister of State for Environment, Ikra Aliyu Bilbis. He told THISDAY in an interview that the two camps must close ranks and work for the success of the party in the state. According to him, if there is one state controlled by the ANPP, and which the PDP has potential of taking over, that state is Zamfara. He said he did not rule out the possibility of external influence, especially of the state government, in destabilizing the PDP in Zamfara.

"Our great party has much potential in this state, but the ANPP will not allow us to function as a united entity. I am not interested in who is to blame for our problems, what I do know is that we all share the same zeal, and commitment, to see to the end of ANPP in this state. If that is the case, then I don't see why we should not be united. We are mature enough to know what is good for us, and I know very soon, everything will be okay with us," Bilbis added.

However, such optimism may be hard to sink into some people. Should the imbroglio continue, their dream of ever getting power in the Sharia enclave may not become a reality in the foreseeable future. The state PDP chapter will therefore remain a clay-footed giant unless its numerous stalwarts devise ways of closing ranks in the overall interest of the party.

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