2 December 2012

Nigeria: How Power Struggle Is Tearing PDP Apart

A fierce struggle for the control of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) is creating a deep division into the party.

The presidency, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and state governors are all battling for the soul of the party.

The People's Democratic Party (PDP) faces possible implosion. The party is currently beset by fresh internal wrangling that is tearing it apart.

Unlike the previous crises that were characterised by open disputes or one strong leader fighting another (as in the case of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy Atiku Abubakar),

Sunday Trust gathered that the current war for control is being waged mainly behind the scene and is multifaceted. The Presidency, the state governors, former President Obasanjo and many influential figures are all jostling for the control of the party in different ways ahead of 2015 elections.

Sunday Trust investigation reveals that personal ambitions of the party's leading figures, group rivalries, corruption and indiscipline are turning it into an ungovernable behemoth.

The party's directives are being flouted at will and organising election to fill its Board of Trustees' (BOT) chairmanship post is becoming a herculean task, sources say. These two cases were visible last Friday. The national secretariat had summoned Adamawa State Governor Murtala Nyako over the way he allegedly defied its order and conducted a local government election in his state. But when he appeared before the national leaders on Friday he made it clear to them that "the election stands".

On the same Friday the leaders also held a meeting at the Presidential Villa (ostensibly to elect a new BOT chairman, at least as earlier news report said) but it ended up discussing about the procedure for the election which is now scheduled to hold in January next year.

The growing confusion in the party is also visible in the reconciliation agenda of its national leadership. The national chairman of the party Alhaji Bamanga Tukur launched the reconciliation programme to bring back influential party members who were frustrated out of it in previous conflicts, but the state governors and other figures made it clear to him that it could only be done on their own terms -- in some instances they brazenly blocked it, investigation reveals.

In Ogun State where Bamanga was trying to bring back former Governor Gbenga Daniel, the state chapter of the party told him that they would not accept the former governor.

In Abia State where another former governor, Orji Kalu, got an initial approval of the national secretariat to return to the party, the current state governor Theodore Orji (ironically Kalu's benefactor) blocked it; and the national secretariat is now making a dramatic U-turn.

The chaotic state into which the party is fast drifting is even more clearly illustrated by the current dispute between the national headquarters of the party and its Adamawa State branch. Adamawa, the home state of the PDP national chairman, had not had a legally recognised leadership of the party for a long time. The party's executive council that Governor Nyako had kept in place for several years (which was led by a man from his own local government Umaru Kugama) had long been declared illegal by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The national secretariat first left them intact until when they made a fatal mistake of nominating candidates for local government elections in defiance of the national leadership.

Controlling local governments is a huge issue for most politicians because local council funds are often shared among local party loyalists and council chairmen often control local thugs who can prevent "Abuja politicians" from even visiting their homes. So when Kugama executive committee submitted a list of only Nyako loyalists for the local government elections, all the powerful Adamawa politicians including the national chairman, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Professor Jibril Aminu, Senator Jonathan Zwingina and many others, who had long parted ways with Nyako, showed their disapproval. And since it was done in defiance of the national leadership, the PDP national secretariat acted swiftly.

The Kugama-led executive committee was dissolved and an interim committee was appointed from Abuja and sent to take over the party in Adamawa. The interim committee declared the list submitted by Kugama to the Adamawa State Independent Electoral Commission (ADSIEC) illegal and made attempt to halt the conduct of the election, pending the time when new candidates are nominated.

But while they were busy doing this, Governor Nyako, who is close to former President Obasanjo, launched his counter attack. He reportedly reached out to the National Secretary of the party, former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who is also believed to be Obasanjo's man. No one knows what really transpired between them, but the next thing people heard in the state media was that the national secretary had endorsed the same list Kugama had submitted to Adamawa SIEC for local government elections. The commission promptly conducted the elections and returned all Nyako's candidates as duly elected chairmen and councillors in the state. The governor too, quickly inaugurated them. And it was their elections that he told the national secretariat on Friday that he would not be reversing.

"Of course the election stands," Nyako told journalists at the national secretariat of the party immediately after his meeting with the party leaders. "The result of the election is not determined by the party. It is determined by the State Independent Electoral Commission".

Yet when the national publicity secretary of the party Oliseh Metuh was contacted by Sunday Trust for comment over this, he said the national secretariat of the PDP had no problem with the governor. According to him, the national secretariat only had problem with the dissolved executive committee of the party for flouting its directives.

"People should stop insulting Bamanga about being 'teleguided'. The decision he took in dissolving the Adamawa exco (executive committee) is in the best interest of the party. If he had come from Kano or Sokoto State, he would have done the same thing."

On the alleged approval of Kugama list by the national secretary, Metuh said the national secretary is administrative head of the party and whatever official communication that comes from him has backing of the National Working Committee (NWC). "We work together as one big family; so whatever communication from the national secretary has the full backing of the NWC," he said.

The confusion between what the spokesman said and what transpired between the national secretariat on one hand and the Kugama-led exco and Governor Nyako on the other was glaring.

Nyako's success in getting his people take control of the local governments showed that what the PDP national secretariat had wanted to prevent by dissolving the Adamawa executive committee and setting up an interim committee happened regardless. And with his people in control of all the local governments in the state, observers said, Governor Nyako would also retake the party structure in the state when party leadership elections are eventually held.

Some party stalwarts in the state, such as former governorship aspirant Dr Umar Ardo who had welcomed the dissolution of the state executive committee were disillusioned with the turn of events. He said he would be heading to court to seek redress. His earlier court actions against the firm grip of the party by Nyako in the state had not yielded positive results, though.

It was not only Governor Nyako that is defying Bamanga to fight for the control of the party in their states, many others, as noted earlier, are doing so in different ways.

The hitches in Bamanga's reconciliation project in Abia and Ogun States cited ealier were caused by the desire of the incumbent local party leaders and their godfathers to maintain their control, say observers.

The case of Ogun is one of the most dramatic. Some even claim that it might have been a factor in Obasanjo's resignation from the BOT chairmanship post of the party. The former president had had a bitter dispute with former Governor Daniel which even forced Daniel to leave the party ahead of the 2011 elections, much against the wish of President Goodluck Jonathan.

When Bamanga became the national chairman of the party earlier this year -- much against the wish of Obasanjo -- he made reconciliation with departed party members his priority. Both Daniel and former Oyo State governor Rashid Ladoja, another Obasanjo's adversary, were among the people Bamanga tried to woo from the onset. They all showed interest in returning but sources say Obasanjo's supporters both within the current national executive committee of the party and at state level are blocking the move.

Several attempts to clear the way for them have so far failed. Daniel's case became even clearer last week. First a meeting between him and some of the state party leaders held in Lagos ended without agreement. Last Friday the state chairman of the party Engineer Adebayo Dayo told Bamanga to forget about the former governor.

In a statement he issued to journalists, the chairman urged the national chairman not to be swayed by what he called Daniel's "antics". He accused Daniel of "insincerity and a grand plot to weaken the PDP while using its resources and goodwill to float and fund other platforms".

There has been no response from the national secretariat on this yet.

The move to allow former Abia governor Orji Kalu to return to the party is being blocked both by the current Abia State Governor and the state leadership of the party, which is controlled by the governor, investigation shows.

Last week deputy chairman of the party in the state Allen Nwachukwu insisted that "the entry of Orji Kalu into PDP in Abia will throw the party into disarray as well as trigger conflict that may wreck havoc in future elections".

Earlier, Governor Orji had led a delegation of PDP stakeholders from the state to the national secretariat where they expressed their total "rejection" of Kalu's return to the party, claiming that it would precipitate fresh crisis in the state.

In a letter presented to Bamanga, they said there was unanimity within the party in the state that readmission of any former member whose presence would cause disaffection would be resisted.

In a dramatic U-turn from its earlier position on the matter, Bamanga told the Abia delegation that the national leadership would reconsider its earlier decision to readmit the former governor. He said since democracy is about the wishes of the people, the national leadership of the party would act according to the will of Abia people.

Ironically, the party had earlier, through its deputy national secretary Onwe Solomon Onwe, said that it would not tolerate any attempt by the Abia chapter to frustrate the return of the former governor. But it has now seemed to have buckled under Governor Orji's pressure.

Some of the national leaders have expressed frustration on how the governors have been subverting the reconciliation agenda of the national leadership for their own local agenda.

"Our governors are not helping us in this reconciliation," one member of the National Working Committee who prefers anonymity told our reporter. "These governors don't want the party to open the political space in their states; they block every move to bring back members that have left the party using the influence of their number to intimidate the NWC".

However, the national publicity secretary of the party tried to downplay the enormity of the contradiction. Mr Metuh said: "Reconciliation is not invitation to problems; it is not invitation to conflict." The party while pursuing the reconciliation agenda will only act according to the wishes of the people, he told Sunday Trust.

The power of the state governors to retain the control of the party in their states has not waned, despite several efforts by President Jonathan, who equally wants to control the party, to curtail it.

But, observers say, unlike former President Obasanjo who used coercion and open intimidation to seize the party from his deputy and then controlled it like his estate, President Jonathan prefers a different approach.

He does not want antagonise the governors, say sources, but at the same time he does not want any of them to be too powerful to challenge his re-election plans. This, some observers say, is one of the factors responsible for the multifaceted wrangling within the party.

Most of the governors are said to be content in maintaining the control of the party in their states only, just to ensure they can anoint their successors (for those whose terms end in 2015) or secure a second term (for those qualified for it).

However, for the governors who are linked with the 2015 presidential race, such as Sule Lamido of Jigawa, Babangida Aliyu of Niger, Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, Ibrahim Shema of Katsina and even Nyako, their ambitions may be beyond controlling the state branches of the party. Some of them are alleged to be involved in the intrigues at the national secretariat of the party with alleged backing of Obasanjo.

Behind-the-scene intrigues at the national level are allegedly being pursued by those who want stop President Jonathan's re-election bid. The former president who has reportedly parted ways with Jonathan is alleged to have been shopping for alternative candidate for the 2015 presidential election; and securing a grip of the party is said to be part of the plan.

Although his spokesman Garbadeen Mohammed had told a weekend paper that Obasanjo has no problem with Jonathan and that his current activities within the country have nothing to do with electoral politics, many observers believe that the former president is shopping for Jonathan's replacement.

This has apparently created panic in the Presidency and the president's supporters are keen in ensuring that Bamanga has retained control of the party.

The party's publicity machine too is working hard to present a picture of unity and tranquillity in the party.

The national publicity secretary told Sunday Trust that there are no competing forces within the PDP as the national chairman is in firm control of its affairs. He said having governed Adamawa for eight years, headed the Nigerian Ports Authority as well as served as chair of the African Business Roundtable, Bamanga has garnered a lot of experience in both public and private life that has enhanced his firm control of the party. "There are no contending forces in the PDP, nobody is competing with anybody. Therefore anybody who thinks otherwise is either suffering from delusion of grandeur or deceiving himself," Metuh said.

He also denied that the national secretary is Obasanjo's proxy at the national secretariat, insisting that Bamanga's vision and mission is the driving force behind his control and effective stewardship of the party's affair.

But the disputes emerging from various angles present a different story. Even the Adamawa case has taken so many twists that the allegations being thrown against contending forces were enough to create worries for the party.

There were allegations that Nyako was mobilising state governors to rise against Bamanga. But the allegations were denied by Bamanga's aides.

In Adamawa itself supporters of Nyako alleged that the dissolution of Nyako-controlled executive committee of the party was a grand plan to give Bamanga's first son, Awwal Tukur, a chance to get the party's ticket for the next governorship election in the state.

But Bamanga's spokesman Ujudud Sheriff dismissed the allegation as baseless, speculative and diversionary. According to him, Bamanga had already made it clear that 2015 is not on his agenda until 2014. Ujudud also denied claims of existence of a cold war between Bamanga (a Jonathan's man) and Oyinlola (Obasanjo's man). He said: "The PDP is one family and both Bamanga and Oyinlola are working for the collective interest of the party, irrespective of personal differences".

The admission of the existence of personal differences between the national chairman and the national secretary is at least a departure from the picture of absolute cohesion that the national publicity Secretary of the party is so keen to portray.

Obasanjo's open criticism of the party is mainly on the issue of indiscipline. The former president maintains that the party lacks discipline. And the defiance of its directives by many of its key figures appears to support his claims, though in his own time criticising the party itself was considered a big crime.

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