Expectations that a new Board of Trustees chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party would emerge last Tuesday were shattered as the race, mired in intrigues, once against failed to produce a winner. Ayodele Opiah takes a look at some of the undercurrents that stalled the party's BoT election
All the bigwigs of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were present at the banquet hall of the Presidential Villa Abuja, venue of the emergency meeting called by the party to elect a Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman. The election had become imperative following the resignation of former President Olusegun Obasanjo last April.
But the undercurrents that preceded the exercise were such that at the end of the day, the party could neither reach a consensus nor agree to go to the poll; no thanks to the irreconcilable differences among the aspirants as well as the party's power brokers.
Obasanjo's sudden resignation of his position a few days after the party's national convention had created a huge vacuum. Besides, the office of the BoT chairman is sensitive and critical and the party has to be careful in its choice of replacement. The jockeying for the 2015 presidential election among the contending interests in the party also played a key role in causing the stalemate as whoever emerges the BoT chairman is of importance to President Goodluck Jonathan, suspected to be interested in running and others with presidential ambition.
Although, the party had since set up a committee to reconstitute the membership of the pending election of Obasanjo's successor, the race for the position has been made more manageable with the reduction in the number of aspirants from 20 to 12.
With the reduction, the leading aspirants include Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Dr. Ken Nnamani, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, Chief Tony Anenih, Chief Emmanuel Iwuayanwu, Chief Don Etiebet, Senator Bode Olayinka, Chief Yekeen Adeojo, Senator Onyeabor Obi, Chief Harry Akande and Chief Shuaibu Oyedokun.
But so many names are being bandied about as the anointed candidates. The names include former National Chairman of the party, Ali, Iwuanyanwu, Anenih and Nnamani.
However, with last Tuesday's ratification of the election of Senator Walid Jibrin from Nasarawa State as the secretary of the board for a five-year term, Ali, who is from Kogi State in North-central zone where Jibrin also comes from, has been tactically edged out of the race.
Going by the party's zoning system and the principle of federal character, a geopolitical zone cannot produce occupants of the two most important positions in the BoT, just like in other organs of the part.
Thus, whilst the various interests were engaged in serious politicking prior to the Tuesday election, the meeting did not even come close to either discussing the aspirants or endorsing anyone of them, hence a deadlock.
But before the date, there had been speculations that the recurring cold war between the president and Obasanjo might affect the decision on who emerges the BoT chairman since both of them are said to be supporting different aspirants. Jonathan, albeit unconfirmed, was believed to prefer Anenih, a former BoT chairman, while Obasanjo who had lately advocated that the office be zoned to South-west for power balancing was said to prefer Ali.
With the out-maneuvering of Ali last Tuesday, Obasanjo may have to reappraise his decision to back him. Some members of the party, therefore, think that since the former president is no longer best of friends with Jonathan, it might be difficult to see the two camps agree on who becomes the BoT chairman, more so that Obasanjo has not hidden his opposition to Jonathan's second term ambition.
"President Jonathan knows that if the former president is given a free hand to install the BoT chairman, it is as good as handing the party structure over to him ahead of the 2015 election," a member of the party told THISDAY anonymously.
Though the Jonathan group has not publicly acknowledged his intention in 2015, his Special Adviser on Media, Dr. Rueben Abati, recently said he (Jonathan) would only comment on the development next year when it is deemed appropriate.
But there is a general belief that Jonathan would run in 2015. An Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, may have lent credence to this belief when said recently that "the president has the constitutional right to vie for second term in 2015."
Yet, Obasanjo, on the other hand, had suggested a Sule Lamido and Rotimi Amaechi ticket for 2015. But in order to checkmate Obasanjo's growing threat to Jonathan's yet-to-be declared intention, some of the president's foot-soldiers are said to be working conscientiously to clearing the way for Jonathan, should he decide to run, starting with the BoT election.
As such, they were said to have finalised plans to ensure Anenih's election as BoT chairman.
Interestingly, Anenih is considered a political counterforce to Obasanjo, having fell out with him over the years. Anenih is believed to be harbouring some grudges against Obasanjo on account of the way he (Anenih) was removed as BoT chairman by Obasanjo. Therefore, the gang up against Ali and by extension, Obasanjo, was considered the cheapest way to stop the Obasanjo movement.
Besides, it was seen as an avenue to get back at the former president and demystify his perceived larger-than-life posturing.
By the calculation of Jonathan's men, Anenih's coming back as BoT chairman is politically imperative, given his antecedents as 'Mr. Fix It', who ensures everything falls in place. He is also believed to have the capacity to leverage on his old political connections to pave the way for Jonathan, in case he eventually decides to run in 2015.
A contrary twist to the Anenih agenda is that some leaders and board members, especially those from the North, are not comfortable with his candidature. Their position is premised on the apprehension that the former Minister of Works is from the South-south geopolitical zone where Jonathan also comes from. They are apprehensive that his emergence may preclude the much talk about Northern president in 2015 and give the South-south an undue edge.
This assumption by the Northern PDP members is further hinged on the fact that since the president is from the South-south zone, the vice-president from the North-west, PDP national chairman from the North-east and the national secretary from the South-west, the South-east zone, which had been technically knocked out of the power balancing, should have the BoT chairmanship.
Further findings also revealed that aside employing Anenih to checkmate Obasanjo, those rooting for him are confident that he is capable of stopping all anti-Jonathan forces within the party. Whereas others who do not want him still refer to his tenure as BoT Chairman- an era considered chaotic and fraught with controversial decisions that did not go down well with majority of members.
Above all, he is said to lack the requisite credibility to lead the party at this time and age. This clash of interests, perhaps, explains why the emergency meeting did not reach a consensus on the BoT chairmanship.
The last, obviously, has not been heard of the division among PDP top members as far as the issue is concerned. The illusion that the matter is about to abate remains what it is- illusion- because the counter forces are not appeased yet and until that is sorted out, the BoT chairmanship will remain a knotty issue for the party to resolve.