Tomorrow, members of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party will elect a new chairman for the board. Ademola Adeyemo, in this report, takes a look at the contenders and their chances
Finally, the long search for who succeeds former President Olusegun Obasanjo as Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be settled tomorrow. For this reason, the PDP leadership has resolved to go to the poll and elect a new chairman for the prestigious board considered the party's conscience.
Before the resort to election on January 8, quite many an observer had thought that the new BoT chairman would emerge by consensus as against an election proper. But threatened by the challenge posed by consensus idea as none of the contenders is prepared to step down for another, the party leadership, therefore, pushed for voting to elect the BoT chairman against the consensus which had remained the party's tradition.
In line with Article 12.77 of the party's constitution, aspirants felt that the election would prove the level of acceptability of the winner to the party leaders as well as strengthen internal democracy which has been the undoing of many of the political parties in their selection processes.
Yet, there are others who believed that the presidency and some party leaders nursed the fear that holding election could create bad blood among board members that could lead to stiffer crisis. But on the contrary, it was believed that the consensus arrangement could strengthen the fragile unity in the party.
Conveying the party's new decision to the public, the board's secretary, Senator Walid Jibrin, said the PDP at its December meeting failed to agree on a consensus candidate and had thus settled for the process of election which had been fixed for Tuesday, January 8. With the qualification set by the board, eligible candidate, he added, must be sound, acceptable and credible with proven integrity and a clear vision for the party's goals.
Jibrin, however, said that whoever emerges BoT chairman tomorrow would serve a single term of five years in accordance with the party's constitution.
The BoT chairmanship became vacant following Obasanjo's resignation some eight months ago, citing the need to get enough time for continental assignments. His resignation came shortly after the party's National Convention in Abuja, a decision many thought must have been informed by Obasanjo's displeasure about some of the happenings in the party and government he had help to put in place.
However, apart from the issue of who succeeds Obasanjo, the issue of zone is also germane such that would not distort the party's political permutation towards the 2015 election.
While the South-east zone is strongly pushing for the job, the North equally wants it in line with the zoning tradition in BoT. However, Jonathan's kitchen cabinet is conscious of the emergence of a chairman that would boost the president's return bid in 2015.
Sources said the presidency would not take chances on the issue of the loyalty of the new BoT chairman.
At first, no less than 20 people had signified their interest in the BoT and ready to slug it out at the election. But sources confirmed that only four are being considered for the prestigious post by the presidency and party leadership. They are former Works minister and ex-Chairman of the BoT, Chief Tony Anenih; former National Chairman of the party, Senator Ahmadu Ali; former Deputy National Chairman, Alhaji Shuaib Oyedokun and former President of the Senate, Chief Ken Nnamani.
Thus, with the supposed short listing of the four, the BoT election promises to be interesting as none of the contenders is a push-over or a political neophyte. Although, there are fears that the election may not be a fair contest as one of the candidates has been anointed for the post, the four candidates all possess as much experience and capability to man the office of the BoT chairman.
One of the strong contenders is Chief Tony Anenih, a former BoT chairman, ex-works minister and presently the chairman of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). Anenih was National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party between 1992 and 1993. He was a member of the PDM and later joined PDP where he masterminded the April 26, 2002 declaration of the candidacy of Obasanjo at the International Conference Centre Abuja for a second term in office. He was made the deputy national coordinator of the Obasanjo campaign Organisation in the 1999 and 2003 elections respectively.
It is believed that the presidency and PDP leaders prefer Anenih as BoT chairman, at least to compensate him for the loss of the same position in 2007. At a meeting held at the residence of the National Chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamangar Tukur, sources said it was suggested that all the other candidates should step down for Anenih with the argument that he enjoys the respect of larger members of the party and would be a great asset in the 2015 election. But they declined.
It is often argued that Anenih's long involvement in politics and government is an indication of his strength as he would be able to reach out to other regions and groups as well as play effective role of a mediator and a bridge builder.
Since 1998 when the nation began the journey to return to democratic path, he had supervised the emergence of three presidents, a situation that earned him the sobriquet: "Mr. Fix it".
An associate of his once said he has the edge in terms of reach, popularity and political sagacity. "He has worked quietly in the kitchen room of three presidents in a row, played the role of both statesman and trouble-shooter in stabilising tense situations in the party and governments."
But his critics have continued to argue that he had outlived his political usefulness following his recent loss at the governorship election in his Edo State where candidate of his party, General Charles Airhiavbere, lost to the incumbent, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in a hotly contested election.
Dr. Ahmadu Ali, a former Minister of Education and ex-national chairman of PDP during the Obasanjo era, enjoys support of the former president in his bid to become the BoT chairman, given also his vast experience in politics. But Ali's ambition may face stiff opposition from Jonathan's camp because of his controversial tenure as national chairman of the party which was characterised by allegations of high handedness.
Allegations of abuse of office and imposition of candidates made his tenure as chairman about the most turbulent in the recent times. It was also said that Ali may not get the nod of the presidency because of his loyalty and may not be keen about Jonathan's return bid.
Another strong contender for the coveted seat is former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani. His love for true democracy and flawless leadership of the fourth Senate has endeared him to his supporters who see him as a good material for the conscience of the party.
But the kingmakers, it was learnt, may not be comfortable with him because of his independent mind.
Obviously a new entrant to the race, Alhaji Shuaibu Oyedokun's last office was National Deputy Chairman of the party some five years ago and had since been in hibernation since then. However, coming from the South-west, Oyedokun is said to also enjoy the support of Obasanjo who has been persuaded by the party leaders in the zone to drop Ali for Oyedokun, being a kinsman.
That he is in the race, Oyedokun might get the bloc votes of the six states in the zone, especially that the South-west has begun to clamour for more high offices to compensate the zone for the loss of the speakership of the House of Representatives to the North.
Again, the presidency is believed not to be comfortable with Oyedokun because of his extreme closeness to Obasanjo and his limited popularity amongst BoT members in the North.
Thus, as the PDP board goes to the poll tomorrow, the likely winner will be determined by such factors as credibility, experience, past achievements and support of the presidency.
Above all, the winner must be able to influence the shape of the PDP presidential primary in the countdown to 2015 election.
For now, the scenario appears fluid. But one thing is certain as far as tomorrow's election is concerned: if the PDP compromises competence, loyalty, experience, credibility and other attributes required of a BoT chairman, it may as well have sown the seed for the shape of 2015.