23 December 2012

Nigeria: The Race for the PDP's Board of Intrigues

The Secretary of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BOT) Senator Walid Jibrin does not seem to be in a hurry to provide details about the contest for the board's chair. But he did confirm that at least 20 persons have indicated interest to run for it.

The party had in November, after failing to hold a meeting to decide on who becomes the chairman of the board, thrown open the contest, slating 8 January 2013 for the election.

Contests for BOT chairmanship had not been thrown open in the past as the position was often reserved for an elder of the party who was usually handpicked based on certain considerations.

Former vice president Alex Ekwueme served as the pioneer chairman of the BOT before handing over to Chief Tony Anenih who in turn handed over to Obasanjo who had once reserved it exclusively for himself before relinquishing it.

The voluntary resignation of Obasanjo in April this year created a sudden opportunity for many of the party elders who feel they need to belong somewhere to make significant impact in the calculations for 2015 general elections.

Though the role of the BOT is mainly advisory, the board and its chairman can make impact on who gets what in the party.

Both Obasanjo and Anenih did make use of their chairmanship of the board to influence decisions in the party.

The high number and calibre of persons in the race is an indication that the party members have realised how strategic the position could be in determining the shape of the next political dispensation.

While there are agitations across states and regions, there are those who believe that merit should be the only guiding principle. There are, however, certain factors outside these that will determine who becomes the next chairman of the BOT.

The secretary of the board, who is an advocate of zoning, strongly believes that the principle of zoning should be adopted to ensure balance on the BOT.

He told Sunday Trust recently that it would not be fair for the party to produce a board chairman who is from the North Central zone of the country, when he, the secretary, hails from the zone.

At the initial stages, former national chairmen of the PDP, Ahmadu Ali, Chief Solomon Lar and Chief Barnabas Gemade, were said to have indicated interests in vying for the position. The three are from the North Central geopolitical zone which, in Jibrin's estimation, should not be allowed to occupy the position for now.

It is not clear if Gemade (who is now a senator) and Lar are among the 20 said to have signified interest, but sources say Ahmadu Ali is definitely in the race.

Ali's ambition is fired, according to sources, by the need for the Obasanjo camp to have a strong representation in the decision-making organs of the party.

Insiders say as things are, the Obasanjo camp does not want to leave anything to chance and wants a position that will complement whatever the national secretary of the party could influence for the group.

While it is not clear if President Jonathan had taken a final stand on the matter, it was obvious that he at a time toyed with the idea of returning Anenih to the seat.

The choice of Anenih, it is believed, would serve the Jonathan group well as the former BOT chairman is not only from the South-South geopolitical zone which may want to retain the presidential seat in 2015, but he is also known to be a staunch supporter of Jonathan.

Though Anenih belongs to the People's Democratic Movement (PDM), which is said to be working for the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the PDP presidential flag bearer, Anenih has denied being the chairman of the movement's elders' committee in a manner initiated to send the signal that he may not be with the former vice president for now.

Sunday Trust also learnt that former Vice President Alex Ekwueme is also in the race. Ekwueme had twice contested for the presidential ticket of the PDP with Obasanjo. While many believe he has the integrity to lead, certain forces have always moved against him.

Though many defer to him on account of that, coupled with his age and experience, the support he will get from either the president or the other forces in the party will depend on how they feel having him would serve their interests.

While there are those who believe allowing Ekwueme would serve to compensate the Igbos who have complained of not having any powerful position within the party, there are those who believe that even if that is the overriding sentiment Ekwueme's sense of self dependence will not make him the best for the position at the moment.

Some who reason along this line are believed to be in support of people like Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu and former national chairman of the party, Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo. Iwuanyanwu who is the first to formally confirm his interest canvassed the position of compensating the South East, saying the South East needs a more strategic position within the structure of the party.

He said based on the principle of zoning, South East should have the seat as it has no critical position at the party level.

"Frankly speaking, I believe whoever wants to lead the PDP BOT, which is the conscience of the party, needs to be someone whose record can be shown," he stated.

However, there are those who believe it is the South West that should get the position having lost the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. They also argue that since the last occupant of the seat hails from the zone, it is only reasonable that somebody from the zone should continue where he stopped.

It is this argument that supporters of former deputy national chairman of the party (South West) Shuiabu Oyedokun are hanging on.

Walid Jibrin has confirmed that there are non-members of the BOT among the 20 that signified interests in the BOT chairmanship. Such persons, going by Jibrin's analysis, have been technically knocked out of the race already as the constitution of the party says only BOT members can run.

This has narrowed down the choices to only very few. But it appears that the BOT members may not go into voting to decide but may allow for a decision to be made on who becomes the next chairman of the BOT through a consensus.

The BOT scribe confirmed this when he said the next chairman is likely to emerge through a consensus to avoid the bitterness and rancour that spring from elections.

If the consensus option should hold sway, then it is likely that the choices would even be narrower as only very few among the contestants would be considered.

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