The race for the position of National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party is tearing the party apart, write Christopher Isiguzo and Segun James
Politics in Nigeria is never simple. It is too diverse, too argumentative, too undemocratic and too complex for any problem created from it to lend itself to easy answers.
This is particularly so in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where what is supposed to be a "simple party leadership election" is now threatening to snowball into another crisis.
Last week, a meeting was called by the leadership of the party in conjunction with the eleven state governors from the party's stable and the Board of Trustees of the party at Enugu, the Enugu State capital.
The idea of the meeting was to determine the possibility of agreeing on a consensus national chairmanship candidate ahead of the party's national convention scheduled for the 9th of December. The underlining reasoning was to avoid another acrimonious convention, a disaster that may lead to the break up of the party. At the end, the meeting failed to come up with a consensus candidate.
Not surprisingly, the failure to arrive at a consensus candidate was occasioned by not only disagreements amongst the aspirants for the most coveted position in the party's hierarchy, but also the inability of the party leadership including the BoT and the governors to agree. Those seeking to secure the party's ticket for the 2019 presidential election would also not allow a candidate to emerge as a consensus. Each of them indeed has interest in one of the eight aspirants, a situation which made the issue of a consensus chairmanship candidate highly volatile.
It is probably too much to hope that there could be a break in the seemingly endless leadership crisis in the party, but some signs pointed in that direction; they did arrive at a consensus on other positions which were immediately zoned.
With the intrigues going on within the party, there are more to the emerging crisis than meet the eyes. However, the good news is; come what may, a new leadership for the party must emerge from the national convention. But how such leadership will be able to shepherd the party to the Promised Land is left for time, which is just but a few weeks away!
The bottom line is that it is the 2019 general election that will make or finally break the PDP. It is already making it difficult for the party to agree on a chairman.
Truth be told, some of its former members who were disgruntled and disenchanted at the happenings within the party at the height of the leadership crisis that rocked the party and had moved on to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may be coming back, but the loss of the 2019 election may become the last straw that will break the party's camel's back.
But then, the possibility of this will obviously be dependent on whoever the party picks as its national chairman; and ultimately, the presidential candidate for the 2019 general election.
Although good news is in short supply in the polity right now, the economic stagnation and the obvious instability in the APC may be good enough catalyst to propel rejuvenation in the PDP.
But who is going to be the next party national chairman or, and more importantly, the presidential candidate of the PDP? This is the most crucial question as race for the party's leadership reaches crescendo.
Barely two weeks to the convention, the situation in the party is very dicey and tension high, as high wired politicking continues round the clock, here is a rundown of the intrigues leading to the convention.
In the last one month, chairmanship aspirants of the party had been traversing the country and meeting with major stakeholders and leaders as well as soliciting support as negotiations continue.
At the last count, a total of nine party chieftains including former Minister of Special Duties, Taoheed Adedoja, former Minister of Education, Tunde Adeniran, former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Bode George, a former acting National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, a former PDP governorship candidate in Lagos State, Jimi Agbaje, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi and Chief Akintayo Akin-Deko are seeking for the chairmanship slot.
The number, in the consideration of party leaders is believed to be on the high side and if all the candidates are allowed to contest it may lead to a division within the party. This explains the sustained efforts to possibly prune it down or better still go for a consensus.
It was in a bid to achieve this objective that the leadership met in Enugu with the contestants, the governors and other critical party leaders. The meeting was attended by the Chairman of the Caretaker Committee, Ahmed Makarfi and the National Secretary, Chief Ben Obi.
Other party leaders present at the meeting were the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekeweremadu, Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio, former Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido, former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, former Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam, Chief Tom Ikimi, Ambassador Kema Chikwe and former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara.
The party which became an opposition party after it lost the 2015 presidential election now controls just eleven states in the country. In the entire 19 Northern states, PDP controls only two, Gombe and Taraba; both in the North East geopolitical zone. It controls only Ekiti state in the South West while out of eleven states in the South East and South-South, PDP controls eight including Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu for south east and Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross-River for South-South zone.
All the governors including Nyesom Wike, (Rivers) Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) Ben Ayade (Cross River) Henry Sariake Dickson (Bayelsa), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo (Gombe), Darius Ishaku, (Taraba), the host, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi were present, except Dave Umahi of Ebonyi who sent his Deputy, Kelechi Igwe.
However, after about seven hours of discussions behind closed door, the meeting failed to arrive at a consensus. The meeting which lasted till midnight had planned to possibly reduce the number of aspirants from nine to possibly two or three however failed to achieve the aim.
In place of a consensus, the meeting presided over by the Chairman of PDP Governors' Forum and Ekiti State Governor; Ayo Fayose extracted a commitment from the aspirants to support whoever finally emerges as the party's chairman at the convention.
Addressing newsmen at the end of the meeting, Fayose said the atmosphere and team spirit that manifested in the meeting demonstrated the party's resolve to take over power by 2019.
"Our aspirants, PDP chairmanship aspirants have agreed to work together, whosoever emerges as the chairman of the party will be supported by all of us.
"We met in Enugu state Government House to deliberate on our national convention and we took time off to meet with the chairmanship aspirants, believing that we want to have a convention that all parties in Nigeria will emulate; convention that will represent the word democracy and serve as template for other parties.
"We have responsible people vying for the office of chairman of the PDP nationally and we are on one page and the page is the PDP first and PDP first. And we are leaving Enugu today believing that the PDP will take over power by 2019," he said.
Though, mixed reactions had continued to trail the outcome of the meeting, most party leaders have expressed satisfaction that the meeting could not throw up a consensus candidate, insisting that such a development would have meant a return to the party's dark past where internal democracy was totally absent.
For instance, a member of the party's Board of Trustees, Chief Chidi Okolo cautioned leaders of the party against any form of imposition in the forthcoming convention.
To Okolo, the only way to avoid crisis in the party would be for delegates to the convention to be given free hands to select the next set of party leaders, while also asking members of the party to learn from the recent crisis in the party by carefully avoiding the imposition under any guise.
Meanwhile, the aspirants have entered into an agreement to observe fair-play rules as rolled out by the party's leadership which provides for the disqualification of any of the aspirants that runs foul of the peace deal.
The accord signed by the aspirants included a commitment to support whoever emerges winner among them, with a proviso that no aspirant shall leave the party or encourage his or her supporters, promoters to do so, as a result of the outcome of the national chairmanship election at the elective national convention.
It further stipulates that: "Any breach of the 2015 zero expenditure policy of the party, which prohibits the use of monetary inducement including lodging of delegates and providing money for votes, shall not be tolerated in the 2017 National Elective Convention and shall be a ground for disqualification on or before the 9th December, 2017.
"Any aspirant/sponsor/supporter/financier, proven to have done anything contrary to the agreements reached herein and in circumstances that suggest the knowledge of the undersigned persons shall be disqualified from contesting the national chairmanship election."
Six of the nine aspirants were present at the accord signing ceremony, which was presided over by the Chairman of the PDP National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
Before the signing ceremony, Makarfi said that the presence of the aspirants was an indication that they were working together.
"You have resolved that whoever that is crowned by God and elected by the delegates will be accepted by you. PDP has not done this before. No matter the divergent interests, the overall interest of the party prevails. That is a sign of greatness and a vindication of good things to come," Makarfi stated.
He disclosed that the accord and code of conduct were drawn up by the aspirants themselves but only presented to the party leadership.
Makarfi, however, advised that in order to save time and for early conclusion of the convention, some less competitive positions could be resolved within the zone "so that positions that are competitive can be conducted."
He assured the party that nobody would be excluded from contesting at the convention while pledging a transparent, free and fair election.
Chief Rasheed Ladoja who spoke on behalf of the aspirants promised that the December convention would be a carnival, assuring them that none of the aspirants will leave the party because of the convention so far it is transparent.
"It is usual in politics that people should fight for positions and it is an aberration that when you lose, you leave. When you join the party, you did not join to become the chairman or secretary but to be a member.
"We shall try to control our supporters so that they do not cause injury to themselves and to other supporters. All of us are serious at making our party great because of the yearning of Nigerian to find a credible alternative."
PDP in Southwest
If there is one zone where there is tension over the chairmanship of the PDP, it is the southwest. The region remains the only one out of the six geo-political zones in the country that has not produced the leadership of the party.
To them, the quest for the chairmanship should have been left exclusive for the zone instead of the southern part of the country. Luckily, the southeast zone opted out of the race leaving the battle for just the southwest and the south-south zones.
The fact that many of the aspirants are from the zone is an indication that many in the party agree that the zone should produce the next chairman.
No wonder that Buruji Kashamu a leader of the party and the senator representing Ogun East Senatorial District at the National Assembly accused the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi of destabilisng the PDP in the south-west zone because of his 2019 presidential ambition.
Kashamu alleged that Makarfi had been illegally tinkering with duly elected state executive committee of the party with the intention of substituting them with allies sympathetic to his ambition.
Although, Kashamu has yet to substantiate the allegation against Makarfi, the insinuation contained therein is an indication that the 9th December convention goes beyond who becomes the chairman of the party.
He said that Makarfi had created room for Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State to impose someone loyal to him from the south-south as national chairman of the party at the convention, warning that the activities of the caretaker committee chairman would lead to another crisis in the party.
He said: "The activities of Makarfi have been everything to the contrary. He had been going about not even as an elected national chairman with full tenure but much more ridiculously, but like a sole administrator with timeless tenure under the disguise of solving one problem or the other.
"Makarfi has allowed his egocentric presidential ambition to blindfold him. He has disorganised the south-west PDP for selfish manipulations with his cohorts, chief amongst whom is the uncultured and erratic Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose.
"As if the disorganisation of the south-west structures is not enough; Makarfi has clandestinely abdicated the leadership role of ensuring an acceptable micro-zoning, he left the national chairmanship hitherto conceded to the south-west for a free-for-all among the three southern zones.
"This is to complicate issues among the south and make Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike unfairly positioned to impose a National Chairman of his choice. The major South-South contestants, Prince Uche Secondus and High Chief Raymond Dokpesi are eminently qualified for the National Chairmanship of our party, except for the process and implications of a unilateral imposition.
"It is indeed, funny that Makarfi that has evidently shown lack of requisite capacity to be the National Chairman is dreaming of becoming the President of Nigeria. He is a bundle of betrayal even worse than Senator Ali Modu Sheriff."
But Secondus had rejected claim that he was being sponsored by anyone. He said that it was his decision to be chairman of the party and had been reaching out to delegates across the country to help him achieve his objective.
A chieftain of the party, Mr. Gbenga Ayodele has rightly observed that the race for the position of National Chairman of the PDP is fast deteriorating into a free-for-all fight between some of Nigeria's top political titans both within and outside the party, whose aim is to put their nominee in charge of the PDP as a first step to clinching the party's 2019 presidential ticket for themselves or for their candidate.
He referred to a publication a group - the PDP Redemption Group - alleging that the opposing APC was funding some of the PDP aspirants.
According to him, that statement alone although unconfirmed, has heighten tension in the PDP.
Ayodele alleged that the race was therefore set to tear the party apart as some of these titans were believed to be ready to work to destroy the PDP if their nominee fails to win the national chairmanship post.
He also stated that both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were believed to be closely watching the race, especially in view of on-going investigations into some of the aspirants, and also because of the amount of funds being spent traversing the country to canvass for the support of PDP chieftains, especially governors.
The Stakes Remain Very High
The APC obviously wants to retain power. It will be hoping that the PDP will bungle the leadership choice by appointing someone that will lack the capacity and the credibility to lead the PDP to victory. The leadership of the PDP should not allow this to happen.
Democracy thrives where there is a strong opposition. The leadership crisis that threatened to tear the PDP apart forced it to the abdicate that role . Nigerians expect the PDP to put its house in order and resume its role as an opposition. The first step to doing this is to appoint a credible person as its chairman. This idea that anyone can be chairman, on the long run, is not going to help the party.
The race for the PDP national chairmanship can therefore only get hotter as unfolding events in the nation shows that the party is still a formidable force that to be reckoned with. If properly handled, the contest could produce a chairman for the party that; come 2019, the party will give the APC a stiff competition to produce the next president. Leaving the choice to chance may prove too costly for the party.
The bottom line is that it is the 2019 general election that will make or finally break the PDP. It is already making it difficult for the party to agree on a chairman.
Nigerians expect the PDP to put its house in order and resume its role as an opposition.