CONVENTION: PDP CHIEFTAINS WANT END TO GOVS’ IMPOSITION OF LEADERS

3 weeks ago 24

Published 13 November 2021

In this report, LEKE BAIYEWU highlights the power play that characterised the elective national convention held by the Peoples Democratic Party

After crossing the first legal hurdle set by its embattled National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, the Peoples Democratic Party held its elective national convention on October  30  and  31, and a new National Working Committee emerged.

But for the ruling of the Court of Appeal that went in favour of the party, the appeal filed by Secondus, seeking the suspension of the convention could have stopped the exercise because the court ruled just a few hours to the commencement of the convention.

The crisis began from Secondus’ home state, Rivers, when Governor Nyesom Wike, who was at the forefront of those who supported his emergence as the chairman, turned against him. The conflict of interest had spread to the NWC. It eventually became a collective move by the PDP Governors’ Forum. Close watchers of the developments in the party said the governors had succeeded in easing out Secondus and also selected the next leadership of the party.

The incoming NWC will be led by a former President of the Senate and ex-Minister, Iyorchia Ayu, who was the consensus candidate of the party’s northern bloc as National Chairman. The new NWC is to be inaugurated on December 9, 2021, when the tenure of the incumbent NWC will end.

The convention is widely believed to be largely successful but not without criticisms, especially with the role played by the PDP Governors’ Forum and how most of the new NWC membership emerged unopposed.

On the eve of the convention, a stakeholders’ meeting was held at the Akwa Ibom Governor’s Lodge in the Asokoro area of Abuja. The meeting had most of the influential party members in attendance. A consensus list was said to have been compiled at the meeting. All the selected aspirants eventually made it to the NWC.

For instance, out of the 21 positions in the NWC, 18 members contested unopposed at Eagle Square, Abuja venue of the convention.

The elected NWC is made up of the National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu (unopposed); Deputy National Chairman (North), Umar Damagum (contested); Deputy National Chairman (South), Taofeek Arapaja (contested); National Secretary, Samuel Anyanwu (unopposed); National Treasurer, Ahmed Mohammed (unopposed) and the National Organising Secretary, Umar Bature (unopposed).

Others are the National Financial Secretary, Daniel Woyegikuro (unopposed); National Women’s Leader, Prof. Stella Effah-Attoe (unopposed); National Youth Leader, Muhammed Suleiman (contested); National Legal Adviser, Kamaldeen Ajibade (unopposed); National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba (unopposed); and the National Auditor, Okechuckwu Daniel (unopposed).

The list also includes the Deputy National Secretary, Setoji Kosheodo (unopposed); Deputy National Treasurer, Ndubisi David (unopposed); Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Ibrahim Abdullahi (unopposed) and the Deputy National Organising Secretary, Ighoyota Amori (unopposed).

Of the three contested positions, the office of the Deputy National Chairman (South) was arguably the most controversial. It was contested by a former Deputy Governor of Oyo State and current National Vice-Chairman (South-West), Taofeek Arapaja, and a former Governor of Osun State, Olagunsoye Oyinlola.

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State was said to have sponsored Ayu, an indigene of the state, while Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, who was the Secretary of the Convention Organising Committee, backed Arapaja. Several other governors and allies were said to have also nominated candidates for the various NWC positions.

Drama however played out at the venue when delegates from Oyo and Osun States, who sat next to each other began trading jabs. Loyalists of Oyinlola and Arapaja sang solidarity and abusive songs that reflected the tension in the South-West caucus of the PDP.

Watching the unfolding drama were Oyinlola, who sat in company with a governorship aspirant in Osun, Senator Nurudeen Adeleke, and a former Deputy Governor and ex-Minister of Defence, Erelu Olusola Obada. Also watching was a former presidential aide, Dr Doyin Okupe, among other party leaders.

The songs were dictated by talking drummers, while the loyalists sang and danced along. At some point, the party faithful rose to point at each other, which was a way of directing the message at their opponents.

Arapaja, who was the candidate of the governors, defeated Oyinlola. He scored 2,004 while Oyinlola scored 705 votes.

The founders and former national leaders of the PDP were allegedly sidelined in the scheme of things, with the governors and their allies calling the shots.

Conversely, the Governor of Adamawa State and Chairman of the Convention Committee, Umaru Fintiri, in his welcome speech urged founding leaders and members of the party to return, while recognising the “stabilising” role played by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Fintiri recalled that in the effort to save Nigeria from the quagmire caused by successive military regimes, a group of political leaders, who were 18 and later increased to 34 took the courage to challenge the junta so that the country could be freed and restored onto the path of democracy. He recalled that the group, known as the G-34, later formed the nucleus and rallying point of the associations that formed the PDP.

The governor said, “I must today acknowledge the role of these founding fathers, especially the original members of the G-34 – some dead and others still alive – and all other party men and women who contributed in building the party that had given Nigeria and Nigerians freedom and a hope for survival.

“More profound for acknowledgement was the stabilising role played by our post-military victory under the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo which was further consolidated under President Umaru Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan.

“The political mutation of the party over the years has seen a few of these foundational members veering off at times. The confessions of most of those who sojourned to any other party in the country are loaded with regrets.

“Most of them are lucky to stage a comeback and as a magnanimous family, we are always glad to receive them with all privileges, back into our fold. For those, who are still contemplating a return but are held back by any other force less than Nigeria, I call on you to break the force and return to where you rightly belong. It is time to rescue Nigeria.”

However, former President Goodluck Jonathan and Vice-President Namadi Sambo, as well as several founding fathers of the PDP were conspicuously absent from the convention.

Obasanjo, who had earlier torn his membership card in 2019, was also not at the venue.

Analysing the issues around the convention, a member of PDP’s Board of Trustees, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, while condemning the governors for allegedly imposing a “unity list” on the party at the convention, however said they should be supported to make the party return to power in the next general elections.

Babatope said, “I don’t blame the governors for going ahead to re-plan the party in view of the misrule of the All Progressives Congress. The APC has ruled this country very badly. But it has been a situation which I have criticised myself, because I was once a victim of it; of the governors saying they have what is called a unity list.

“When we have our conventions, the governors come up with a unity list and it is those whose names appear on the list that get the favour of the delegates sponsored by them from their states. I have not liked that, but in view of the poor governance by the APC and the fact that the PDP is seeking to ensure that we have a good convention and leadership, you can excuse them. But honestly, I think the governors must have to redefine what they mean by unity list.”

Babatope added, “I was to contest for the National Secretary of the PDP some years ago and they came out with their unity list and went to (the then President Goodluck) Jonathan who said he would support their candidates. So, they had their candidates and they pushed me aside.

“But honestly, I won’t criticise the governors because they have the interest of the party at heart and they did what they did. But I think we need to redefine this so that the PDP convention won’t be about contesting elections at the venue with a unity list. If you have a unity list, it bars people from voting according to their conscience. It simply means that the governors would have to depend on the delegates they have sponsored to vote for the candidates of their choice and that is too bad.”

The PDP chieftain, however, hailed the choice of Ayu as National Chairman, describing him as “a very good material; very experienced and a tested hand who can do well.”

He, however, noted that the governors could also use another unity list to ease Ayu out of office, stressing that the incoming National Chairman does not have the financial muscle to tackle the governors.

“Again, we have to call on the governors to kindly not do what they are doing anymore in terms of this so-called unity list. It is very annoying,” he added.

When asked to speak on the next move by Oyinlola who is a victim of the governors’ unity list, Babatope alleged that the ex-governor had been used by the PDP governors against him (Babatope) while in office.

“Olagunsoye Oyinlola is quite qualified to contest for any post. Apart from that, he is a good hand; he is also experienced. But then, it was Olgunsoye Oyinlola who was (allegedly) used when I was contesting the Secretary position of the PDP to push me out. But that was a long time ago.”

Also, the lawmaker representing Degema/Bonny Federal Constituency in Rivers State in the House of Representatives, Farah Dagogo, accused the governors of dictatorship, alleging that the NWC candidates were forced on the delegates and the party at large. “The so-called consensus has the imprimatur of the governors, their determination to bulldoze their agenda and force it down the throat of others and it was glaring for all to see,” he added.

Dagogo also alleged that Secondus was unfairly treated by the PDP, saying the suspended National Chairman was “sacrificed” by the governors over the zoning arrangement for the 2023 presidential election. “This is all about 2023 and the southern PDP governors, in unison, decided to sacrifice Secondus to position themselves for vice-presidential position,” he alleged.

Another member of the House of Representatives from Rivers State, who described Secondus as “our boss,” condemned how the outgoing chairman was treated by the power brokers. He, however, said the PDP was out to displace the APC in 2023.

A top member of the camp led by a former Governor of Kwara State and ex-President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, said the governors actually moved against those he described as old guards and former military officers. According to him, the old guards include a former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar; former military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.); former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general; Lieutenant General Aliyu Gusau (retd.), among others.

The official, who declined to be named, however said Saraki was able to influence the emergence of Kamaldeen Ajibade, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, as the National Legal Adviser of the party.

“Saraki is not part of the old guards. He was able to break into the ranks of the governors because they can still be called peers. He was a governor and lawmaker and he has links with the PDP Governors’ Forum and the National Assembly caucus which determined how the convention went,” the source said.

Pundits have called for another round of reconciliations and negotiations in the PDP as the convention left some members disgruntled.

Meanwhile, Ayu has issued a “quit notice” to the APC, saying the ruling party can never hold a national convention successfully like the opposition party has done.

While speaking after members of the new NWC were elected in the early hours of Sunday, he stated that the PDP was back to take power from the APC government led by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and reunite Nigerians.

Ayu said, “I want to sincerely appreciate the PDP family. Today is simply a ‘thank you’ address. When we started this party 23 to 24 years ago, we never in any way imagined that our journey would get us to this stage; a stage where we ruled for 16 years, we went into rough times but for anybody who would bother to see, PDP is back.

“The PDP is back and it is back to rescue Nigeria from the terrible mess we have been in for the last six years. Many people imagined that this convention would lead to the break-up of the PDP. Those people who were dreaming like that were in wonderland; their dreams were misplaced. We have come out stronger. We are united. We are determined to come back to where PDP belonged.

“This is the real party in Nigeria, the other one (a veiled reference to the APC) is a contraption; it doesn’t exist. I want to assure you that in a few days or few weeks’, you would see the mammoth crowd that would come back to the PDP in every state. Those Nigerians who have lost hope should today know that Nigeria is not a divided country. A small group of people decided to divide Nigeria. PDP will come back to unite our people, put them together – North and South, East and West. We will move ahead to develop this country. We did it before; we will do it again.

“I want to thank the governors, the delegates, our supporters and every person who has made this event such a huge success. I believe the other party can never hold a convention because even state congresses, they couldn’t hold; they have produced 92 chairmen for 36 states. How can they hold a convention? We are waiting. Let them come and hold such a successful convention which the PDP has done. This is a quit notice: PDP is back and it is taking back the country. We will develop it.”

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