The election of Uche Secondus as the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party brings with it new opportunities and challenges. His ability to meander through the political landmines ahead will determine how the party fares in the 2019 general election.
Right from the beginning, the Peoples Democratic Party's National Elective Convention in Abuja promised to be interesting.
Twenty four hours to the election, it had become clearer which side the pendulum would swing. But the events leading to the decision to vote Uche Secondus, a former Acting Chairman of the party from the South-south, were such that threatened the fragile unity in the party even though the leaders tried as much as possible to make it look like all was well.
Except for Chief Olabode George who was bold enough to expose the machinations that left the south-west to be left in the cold, everyone tried to create the impression that the party was truly united.
In refusing to support the south-west, other zones and power blocks had argued that the inability of the zone to agree on a consensus was the driving factor. With about seven contestants from the zone, this explanation appeared legitimate. But insider pointed to the existent of a grand plan which had nothing to do with the number of the contestants from the south-west. If those calling the shots behind the scene had wanted someone from the southwest to be the chairman they would have included his name in the so-called unity list.
The Legal Argument
As rightly pointed out by the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, the office of the national chairman of the party was zoned to the entire south while the presidency was zoned to the north. You need not be a lawyer to understand that all the 17 states in the south were eligible to vie for the office of the national chairman. The fact that the south-east chose not to present any candidate did not mean that it could not, if it had wanted to. In this wise, the south-south which fielded Secondus and media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, was also on a strong legal wicket to feature the candidates. Unlike the botched Port-Harcourt convention where the chairmanship was micro-zoned to the south-west, a zone that had not produced the party national chairman, no such micro-zoning was in place during last Saturday's election. Therefore, the argument that the south-west is the only zone that had yet to produce the chairman and should have been given the opportunity amounted to raising a sentimental issue which is not supported by the legal arrangement put in place by the PDP. In this regard, Chief Olabode George was wrong to have relied on a micro-zoning that simply did not exit.
Legal arguments aside, those who supported the decision to elect a south-south person as the chairman also raised a moral argument. In the south-south, all the states were won by the party unlike in the south-west where only Ekiti state is under the PDP. Why should the party's highest office be ceded to a zone that largely did not vote for the party? In the last presidential election, the ruling All Progressives Congress got more votes in the zone than the PDP. So, the argument went, morally speaking, the south-west was undeserving of the chairmanship office.
In Politics, Legal Arguments Don't Win Votes
While those who relied on the above legal arguments have had their way, as they realised their intention and motive perfectly, they must however await the consequence of their choice. This is because their decision appeared to have resulted in a situation where the south-west was left in the cold. To put it more clearly, the PDP seemed to have made up its mind to punish the south-west for voting APC and in so doing had made it clear to the people of the zone they were free to continue to vote APC. The problem with that decision is that, it will be tough for the PDP to win the presidency. The reason is not far-fetched.
Whichever Party Wins the South-west Wins the Presidency
Since both PDP and APC are preparing to field candidates from the north for the presidency, couple with the fact that both the south-south and the south-east are unapologetic PDP, the south-west has automatically become the battle ground. Whichever party wins the south-western states will undoubtedly produce the next president in 2019.
Now that the chairmanship of the party has gone to the south-south, the PDP has clearly ceded the south-west to the APC. The party may also have shot itself in the foot. The south-west obviously has no incentive to vote PDP, at least for now.
An Alternative Argument
There appeared to be an understanding that the south-east would take the vice presidential ticket. This, perhaps explained why the zone chose not to contest for the office of the national chairmanship position.
But there is also another argument. While Nnamdi Kanu was on rampage with his Indigenous People of Biafra, leading members of the PDP in the north took the view that running with a vice presidential candidate from the south-east would affect the chance of the of the PDP in the north. Therefore, potential presidential aspirants from the north were said to have shown preference for a vice-presidential candidate from the south-west. If executed, that decision in itself has implication for the party. In support of this theory, Ekiti State Governor. Ayo Fayose, who reportedly nurses a vice presidential ambition was said to have supported Wike to ensure that the south-west lose the chairmanship seat. With the loss, Fayose is one step closer to getting his ambition of running as a vice presidential candidate realized.
If the vice presidential ticket is given to the south west that will spark a revolution against the party in the south-east because it would amount to short changing a zone that has kept the faith and remained steadfast in its support for the PDP. While such a move may pacify the south-west, it will unsettle the party's loyalists in the south-east.
The Flawed Argument of Lack of Consensus Candidate from the South-west
The argument that the south-west should have presented a consensus candidate does not also hold water once the party financiers had made up their minds. Attempt by the PDP's governorship candidate in Lagos and a former aspirant for the office of the party's national chairman, Chief Jimi Agbade to lend credence to this argument appeared self-serving, otherwise, why did it take him few hours to the election before he came to the realisation that the number of candidates from the south-west was an impediment to the ambition of the zone to produce the chairman? Suffices to reproduce the statement he issued while announcing the decision to step down.
He said: "Our great party, the PDP, has, from inception, adopted certain principles, which have evenly balanced offices amongst the country's geo-political zones. In line with such and other parameters, I have, at different fora, expressed my strong belief that the next National Chairman should come from the South-West.
"I am however convinced that with 7 out of all 9 aspirants coming from the South-west, this multiplicity of contenders will work to the detriment of our zone when it comes to voting. Delegates' votes split 7 ways will not produce a chairman from the South-west. It therefore becomes necessary to prune our number down to no more than two.
"With less than 24 hours to the convention, I have painfully decided to withdraw from the race hoping that others will join me in bringing down the number such that the South-west can have a fighting chance of clinching the National Chairmanship of the PDP.
"The support from serving and past governors, senators, members of the House of Representatives, women, youth and opinion leaders has been tremendous. While sincerely thanking them for their unflinching loyalty, I empathize with the great disappointment they must feel at this decision. I plead that we all put the overall interest of PDP first.
"I pledge my support to whoever emerges as the National Chairman as determined at the National Convention.
"Kindly take this letter as my formal notice of withdrawal from the race for National Chairman of the PDP."
The question, for emphasis is that if Agbaje cared this much about the south-west, he should not have waited till the dying minutes to announce his withdrawal. Those who raised this argument cited his lackadaisical attitude to the campaign. While he remained in the race, he showed no determination to push his decision to be the party's chairman through.
Before he announced his withdrawal, many knew long time ago that Agbaje was not in the race.
Another contestant from the south-west and a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel who committed a lot of resources and travelled across the country to further his ambition to be the chairman was a bit more diplomatic than Agbaje in his withdrawal message.
He said: "As you are aware, in the last three months when I took the decision to contest for the post of the National Chairman of our great party, I have done what has been described in many quarters as most unprecedented. I traversed the length and breadth of our great country, in all the 36 states and the FCT, meeting with various stakeholders, leadership and party members, and setting up structures not just for my personal aspiration, but also to feel the pulse of Nigerians and test the strength and popularity of our party among the citizens.
"It was another learning curve for me because I discovered that in spite of our widely publicized pockets of internal challenges, many Nigerians are sincerely and justifiably looking for a credible alternative to the ruling party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), and most happily, the Peoples Democratic Party is still being looked upon as that credible and acceptable alternative.
"It was a great opportunity for me to spread the message of hope, renewing the confidence of not only our party members but also Nigerian citizens about our great party. I believe that I did what is expected of a loyal and committed party member to inject a new life into the party, refresh and reenergise it for optimum acceptance by the electorate.
"We are a political party, and a democratic one at that. Contest for offices are expected to be competitive and this is what we have demonstrated sufficiently with the good number of very credible aspirants who have shown interests in all the various offices of our National Executive Committee to steer the ship of our party to victory in 2019. No doubt, we have suffered huge losses, from the control of some 25 States into only 11 states, capped with the loss of the Presidency in 2015. This, to me is the greatest challenge before our party, and regaining this lost glory is more important to me than any aspiration for offices.
"In order to sustain the new found peace and renewed confidence of Nigerians in our party and reduce the veiled but potential line of frictions, I consider it in the best interest the party to voluntarily withdraw from the Chairmanship race so that we can collectively look for and elect good leaders for the purpose of winning elections in 2019."
George's Provocative Statement May Come Back to Haunt PDP
Among the contestants who withdrew from the election, non sounded as convincing as George. Party leaders will be well advised to read and digest the innuendo contained in his statement. He appeared to have captured the general mood of the party's followers in the south-west. Besides, George spoke for the south-west and nor just for members of the party in the zone. If the PDP genuinely wants to know how the people of the south-west feel about the decision to elect a south-south person as the chairman of the party, the speech to read is that of George. He said he withdrew from PDP chairmanship race because it had been sold to the highest bidder even as he described Wike's unguarded utterances against Yoruba, as a show of shame.
Many thought that PDP at this time needed a leader who is discipline, firm and bold at this time and that George would have provided such leadership if given the opportunity.
For emphasis and clarity, the statement is substantially reproduced here.
He said: "Since the ancient days when the Yoruba people began their historical challenges on the plains and the hills of Ile-Ife, we have always been defined by our instinctive integrity, our methodical industry, our consistent loyalty and our steadfastness in protecting and defending the truth.
"It is in all these characterization that I have personally lived my life. It is in all these summative portraits that I have pursued my personal and political engagements, strengthened in the resolve that truth, sincerity of purpose, fearlessness, equity, ethical balance are the basic ingredients of a purposeful life.
"I have gone through many travails in my life. I have climbed the highest hills. and I have been through the lowest valleys. But in all, I have been guided by the holiest of heart's affection, the genuine and the utmost surrender to the will of the Lord.
"But I have never been afraid of a good fight. I have never disengaged from a meaningful challenge. I have always committed myself to any struggle with absolute dedication and unflinching, resolute vision.
"It is in this spirit and clarity of selfless engagement that I decided to run for the National Chairmanship position of our great party. I did not enter the contest for any personal benefits. I did not throw myself into the fray because of some pecuniary benefits.
"I have come to serve. I have come to offer myself because I believe in the greater glory of our party and in the growth and development of our nation. I have served continuously for 10 years in various high level positions in our party administration, including the second highest echelon of Deputy National Chairman.
"With all sense of humility, I can say that I know the workings and all the administrative processes and the tools of making our party work.
"That shattering and very divisive crises of the last two years have made our party very vulnerable, weak and basically tottering on the edges of the cliff.
"Less than one year before the next general election, our party must now elect new managers to direct our affairs. The foremost of these new managers is the position of the National Chairman.
"In this highly challenging scenario, the party naturally needs an experienced, trusted, proven, reliable and astute administrator who can guide our party to the land of redemption and the land of triumphant rebound.
"It is in this vein that I have offered my humble service to lead our party.
But more importantly, I have entered the contest on the fundamental predication of the micro zoning principle as laid down by our founding fathers.
"The zoning principle, which was publicly reinforced last year in Port Harcourt, had specifically and rightly affirmed the South-West as the zone to produce the National Chairman. This binding proclamation was based on equity, fairness and natural balance that hold any organisation together.
"But this old, legitimate and morally sound micro zoning principle has now been trashed, dumped in the waste bin, flung into the gutter by very little men who have compromised the pivotal moral anchor of civilised engagement for temporary selfish gains.
"Everywhere you look, the Yoruba people are now being brazenly insulted. The very traditional fiber of our founding fathers are now being trampled upon, debased and soiled by external forces and mercenary traitors within.
"It appears the PDP is now bent on self destruction. It has obviously allowed money moguls to dictate its thematic largeness. The party has lost its soul. It has lost its principled beginning and the predications of righteousness. It has traded the finer principles of democratic guidance and equity for the squalid, dirty and shameful resort to mercenary agenda where nothing matters save the putrid, oafish gains of the moment.
"I cannot be part of this screaming aberration. And as the Atona of Yoruba land, I do not expect any well meaning, well disciplined, forthright, sincere Omoluabi of Yoruba land to continue with this deceit and shameful theater.
"The Peoples Democratic Party has now mangled and distorted its soul and spirit. There is no morality here anymore. There is no sanity or any sense of enlightened civility.
"As a result of these observed aberrations wherein the position of the National Chairman has been apparently sold and auctioned to the highest bidder, I, as an Omoluabi and as an authentic Atona of Yorubaland, will not partake in this charade.
"I, hereby, withdraw from this brazen fraud and absolutely preconceived, monetized, mercantilist convention.
"The Yoruba people have been openly maligned. The Yoruba have been savaged, tormented, treated with contempt, scurried, scoffed at, humiliated and denigrated by little men whose sun will soon set.
"As a Yoruba patriot and the pathfinder of Yoruba land, I will stand by our people, I will stay with them thick or thin, I will fight for their good cause without compromising any ethics.
"The Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike must as a matter of priority and ethical importance tender unreserved apology to the people of Yoruba land for his unguarded utterances on national television this morning. It was a show of shame."
Convention Aside, Issues Remain
The PDP should be under no illusion that it has done anything to win back the people's trust. Or to warrant the electorate voting for it. On the contrary, the party has not done anything to convince Nigerians on why they should vote for it.
The only thing that has happened in the party's favour is that the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC has taken some steps that alienated it from the people. This has made the PDP to think that it has become the favourite of the electorate. PDP also argued that Nigerians have married two husbands and now know which one is better. But that position is fallacious. PDP ruled for 16 years. APC has barely done three years. There is no basis for comparison. Far from it. The PDP has failed to redeem its battered image as a party of crooks. The party has never denied the fact that its members looted the treasury. Its argument is that the fight against corruption is one sided. That is the more reason the PDP must win so that it can come and prosecute APC members who have stolen.
But before other contestants from the south-west withdrew from the chairmanship race, one contestant, Chief Akintayo Akin-deko had drawn the attention of the public to the scheme going on under ground.
He said: "With his stepping down Chief Bode George becomes the latest "casualty" in an election that has degenerated into an overly heated battle between interest groups that have huge war chests but don't have the national network to win public elections.
"Chief Uche Secondus is currently the biggest benefactor of these powerful groups, followed closely by Prof Tunde Adeniran and then Ex-Gov Gbenga Daniel. Chief Dokpesi seems to be a distant fourth
"It is the reality of modern day Nigerian political culture, which has come to stay. Loot your way to power or stand aside. I came to terms with this several weeks ago and quietly stepped aside to re-strategise.
"We can only pray that the ongoing horse trading behind the scenes will come up with a workable solution before the Convention holds on Saturday. But this has become less likely given the reticence and the advanced age of our trusted traditional leaders who usually anchor such meetings."
The Signs have always been there
For those who could read in between the lines, the direction in which the party would go had been quiet clear all along. The north which initially was rooting for the southwest changed gear. Then came the south-east caucus.
In an advertorial the PDPSouth-East caucus said it had endorsed Secondus as its preferred national chairmanship candidate for the national elective convention.
The National Vice-Chairman (South-East) of the party, Austine Umahi first announced this at a meeting after the caucus meeting on Friday in Abuja.
Umahi said the caucus took the decision after a careful consideration of Mr. Secondus' "content and character."
"We, the stakeholders of PDP South-East geo-political zone, have examined all the people vying for the national chairmanship position of our party, PDP.
"We wish to commend, highly, all the aspirants especially on how they have conducted themselves during their campaigns fully aware that this is an internal party affair.
"We are very conscious of the personality of who becomes the national chairman of our great party for the next four years.
"Based on the fore going, we have unanimously in our today's stakeholders' meeting, decided that we will back an aspirant that has character and content.
"In this circumstance, and without prejudice to the right of other aspirants to this national chairmanship position, credible and transparent election, we have decided to back and vote for Prince Uche Secondus," he said.
The meeting was attended by South-East PDP leaders, including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Ebonyi Governor, Dave Umahi and former Ebonyi governor, Sam Egwu.
Former Senate President Adolphus Wabara and ex-Abia governor, Theodore Orji, former PDP national chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor, a one-time Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, were also in attendance.
The PDP governorship candidate in the Nov. 18 Anambra governorship election, Oseloka Obaze, among others also attended the meeting.
What Next for the PDP
If it was the plan of the party to ditch the south-west, then it had a very successful convention. However, if the party wanted the south-west to be part of it, then it has a challenge on its hands.
With two of the chaiirmanship candidates accusing the officials in charge of the convention of allowing systematic rigging of the election, the first task ahead for the new exco will be reconciliation.
Both Raymond Dokpesi and Tunde Adeniran said the processes were skewed against them, but in favour of Mr. Secondus.
Dokpesi said he drew the attention of the organisers of the convention to the circulation of a document referred to as the "unity list" which he alleged was distributed to delegates asking them to vote for the people on the list.
He said the chairman of the electoral sub-committee of the convention, former a governor of Benus State, Gabriel Suswam, told him that there was nothing he could do about his complaint. However, the convention planning committee denied the existence of such a list.
In his reaction, Adeniran called for the cancellation of the entire exercise because it was compromised.
Reconciling with aggrieved members of the party will prove a challenge. But, if the party must make an impact in the next general elections, it has no choice but to bring the aggrieved back to its folds. There may be no better place to start than the south-west.
The decision to edge out the south-west from the chairmanship race will certainly have a fall out. As rightly asked by George, when he said: "My concern is that how do you manage the fall out. This is the first time in the history of the party that a zone is being used against another. There will be consequences."
For now, the convention has successfully postponed the evil days. The evil days can be contained.
The reconciliatory efforts should not be restricted to those aggrieved by the outcome of the convention, rather it should be extended to those who became political enemies during the Makarfi-Sheriff's leadership tussle. It should also be extended to those who left even before the 2015 general election.
Even, if the new leadership fails elsewhere but succeeds in bringing all these people back into the PDP, it would have succeeded in putting in place a party that will be ready to take power back. But no one should be under an illusion that this will be easy.
Apart from the urgent need to embark on reconciliatory moves, the PDP also has work to do to rebuild its damaged image and credibility. Unfortunately however, the way the new chairman emerged shows that the party is still the party of imposition and the usual impunity which the party is known for, may still be there. Old habit dies hard. Convincing Nigerians that this is a new PDP is therefore the second urgent task ahead of the new exco.
All political parties have challenges managing the conflicting interests of its members. In Nigeria, where politicians see their political ambition as a matter of life and death, managing these conflicting interests has always proved to be a daunting challenge. This is why politicians often embark on endless litigation. As at press time, many cases are pending against the party. Micro managing these interests will also be difficult. A chairman whose election was pushed by a vested interest will have difficulty running the party when this vested interest inevitably clash with the interests of other members of the party. How Secondus manages such conflicting interests will determine how long he will last as chairman.