By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
Would Prince Uche Secondus break the jinx of the second term ceiling or suffer a similar fate as his predecessors? That is one crucial question that stakeholders would confront during the 2021 Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) National Convention. That is if he does not fall before then in the orchestrated high wire politics characterizing the build-up to the 2023 general elections.
Apart from what becomes of the national chair, there are other considerations being weighed by PDP stakeholders in the aftermath of the recent off-season gubernatorial polls in Bayelsa and Kogi States. Right from its inception, no PDP national chairman has enjoyed more than one term in office, especially after the garrison political era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, when the office turned into a musical chair of sorts.
Chief Audu Ogbeh, Engineer Barnabas Gemade, Dr. Okwy Nwodo, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and the Walin Bauchi, Adamu Mu’azu, belong to the club of former PDP national chairmen that were forced out of office in dramatic fashion before the fullness of their mandates.
The magnitude and direction, particularly the nationalistic stature attained by PDP was made possible by the sterling leadership styles of late Dr. Alex Ekwueme and former governor of old Plateau State, Dr. Solomon Lar. In the immediate aftermath of the party’s fall from the pinnacle of grace and political glory in 2015, former Kaduna State governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, tried his best to return PDP to the path of stability, strength and national acclaim after its traumatic and prolonged leadership crisis.
It was perhaps against the backdrop of the yeoman’s job of the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee and the caliber of those jostling to take over at the 2017 National Convention of the party that most PDP stakeholders demanded rather that the committee handed over to its board of trustees.
However, followers of PDP politics believe that the oldest party’s downward slide in party management and regress from principled and democratic ideals actually started when the late Sunday Awoniyi was stopped from mounting the saddle as national chairman due to a strange interpretation of the party’s zoning principle.
Although Awoniyi hailed from the Yoruba-speaking area of Kogi State, most PDP faithful then were agreed that the argument that he should not be national chairman given that Obasanjo is Yoruba was merely to cover the fact that then-President Obasanjo did not want a strong character as chairman of the party. Intriguingly, Awoniyi was also one of those who stoutly opposed the tenure elongation plot that would have facilitated the former president’s possible election into the office for a third term.
Defeat and revival
As a political party, PDP has gone through thick and thin in its more than 20 years of existence, 16 of which were spent at the commanding heights of national politics and democratic governance of the country.
On the immediate aftermath of the 2015 electoral defeat of the party, the clash between Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and the mainstream stakeholders of the party, represented by Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee, revealed some symptoms of morbidity. Some of the state governors elected on the PDP platform started manifesting signs of divided loyalty to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). While Senator Sheriff and some of his supporters left for APC, some governors sympathetic to their cause remained. As such, after the prolonged litigation by the factions, the Makarfi NCC began the process of weaning the party back to cohesion, such that the platform was made feasible for the 2019 general elections.
But, with the recovery came fresh challenges. By the time PDP announced dates and programmes for its national convention, it was obvious that everything was being done to set the stage for the 2019 election. This occasioned some unexpected challenges, especially the contentious issue of zoning cum micro zoning. Although the protest by some national chairmanship aspirants from the Southwest caucus of the party was subdued, the spasms of discontent remained. Profs. Tunde Adeniran, Jerry Gana and others decided to defect to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) after agonizing over the conduct of the convention and PDP’s decisions on zoning.
The emergence of Secondus as national chairman from the December 2017 convention was later to throw up fresh zoning concerns at the build-up to the party’s presidential primary in Port Harcourt. At the end of the day, those against micro zoning had their way as presidential aspirants from the three geopolitical zones in the north contested for the party’s ticket. Even Sokoto State governor, Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who was earlier primed for the ticket to divide Northwest votes with President Muhammadu Buhari of APC, ended up as the first runner-up.
For the Fourth Republic Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who clinched the party’s presidential ticket, the rigours of pacifying special interests and reconciling aggrieved PDP faithful left him deflated. Fresh challenges emerged shortly after the presidential running mate was chosen, in the former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi. While some PDP stakeholders from the Southeast geopolitical zone, especially the state governors, kicked that they were not consulted prior to Obi’s selection, some second term governors gradually recoiled from an active interest in the party.
To cap the grim outlook of the party, not long after the issue of selection of vice presidential candidate was papered over, the Southeast began moves to commit the presidential standard-bearer, Atiku, to one term in office if PDP won the election. But Atiku was said to have expressed the belief that his choice of Mr. Peter Obi was enough expression of his respect for the people, arguing that talking about commitment to a single term amounts to putting the cart before the horse.
Those who threw up the idea explained that it was meant to pave the way for a Southeasterner to succeed him (Atiku) in 2023 and to douse their fears that the zone might have to wait till 2027 to have a shot at the presidency should Atiku wins the 2019 election.
It would be recalled that prior to his emergence as PDP presidential candidate, Atiku had hinted at the possibility of doing a single term in office if he were to win the election. But sources within the PDP presidential campaign organization confided in The Guardian that Atiku declined from further talks on the promise of one term in office when it became obvious that some Southeast governors were working at cross purposes with the party to strike a deal with APC.
Now, barely 10 months after the 2019 presidential election, PDP is said to be grappling with the carryover of former unfinished schemes, especially the issue of zoning, not only the presidential ticket but also the office of the national chairman.
Schemes of the three Waziris
MULTIPLE sources recently confirmed to The Guardian that of all the major issues quietly roiling the main opposition party, rebuilding the party’s structure in the north remains key. A member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT), who asked not to be identified, disclosed that an unfinished task for the party in the north is how to pacify critical stakeholders that stood with PDP though thick and thin during its travails.
He stated that even though Atiku embarked on shuttle diplomacy to build confidence among the stakeholders, particularly those that aspired for the presidential ticket, most of them are not happy with the way he treated the party on various issues in the past.
He said: “Some of us believe that the cold treatment his candidacy received from stakeholders followed his attitude towards consensus building. In 2007, he hurried out of the party to contest the presidential election. In 2010 after he rejoined the party, he became the consensus candidate of the north but lost the ticket to former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“So, we did not understand why he had to leave that party again four years after to support a man that does not value democracy. I will not tell you that we were all happy with the way the Jonathan people started muzzling the party structures for his second term, but it would have been better to remain and fight from within.”
While recalling how 16 governors, led by former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori, concluded plans to support a joint Ekwueme and Atiku presidential ticket in 2003, the PDP chieftain stated that had Atiku agreed to the plan nothing would have stopped him from being president in 2007. He stressed that for a start, five former northern governors, including Attahiru Bafarawa (Sokoto), Senator Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna), Sule Lamido (Jigawa), Mu’azu Babangida Aliu (Niger) and immediate past Governor of Gombe State, Dr. Ibrahim Dankwambo should form the nucleus of the search for unity in the north.
At the peak of insinuations that PDP has resolved to maintain the 2019 zoning arrangement that paired Atiku and Obi, the party’s national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, denied the suggestion. Describing those behind the conjectures as political terrorists, Ologbondiyan said it was part of a grand design to use such fabrications to cause disaffection and “further their selfish political ambitions.”
The PDP public secretary also pointed accusing fingers in the direction of the ruling party, adding: “We will not be distracted by individuals who found themselves operating in the highest offices of the land but failing in governance. For the avoidance of doubt, our party is yet to discuss the 2023 presidential election, overtly or covertly, at any time whatsoever.
“As a party, we are working with our respective state governors and legislators across the country, in line with PDP’s manifesto, to improve on the welfare and development of Nigerians.”
But despite Ologbondiyan’s refutation, sources disclosed that some state governors, who are on their second and final terms in office, have started mooting the idea of rejigging the structure of the PDP National Working Committee.
“What is afoot is a plan to see how the Southwest is brought into the epicentre of the party’s leadership. The governors are thinking of fielding one of their own as national chairman and to give the zone a sense of belonging,” he stated.
But while the governors are believed to be working towards the possibility of throwing up a joint Tambuwal/Wike presidential ticket, some stakeholders insist that since APC plans to have a northern presidential candidate, it would not be strategically feasible to alter the Atiku/Obi ticket if the Southeast quest does not fly. Yet members of the National Assembly caucus are said to be inclined towards a Bukola Saraki setting to “reorganize the party and give it a winning aura.”
“Let me tell you that for now the only sign of activity within PDP revolves around the Wazirin Adamawa, Tambuwal and Saraki (Wazirin Ilorin). The entire scheme would play out during the next convention,” the source stated.
The source disclosed that the Atiku camp feels that Governor Nyesom Wike might not support Secondus for another term as national chairman, explaining that the attempt to factor in the Southwest could be a turning point in the entire plots for 2023. While remarking that PDP’s presidential candidate would emerge after APC had chosen its standard-bearer, a former member of the NWC said the party is not losing sight of the fact that the Atiku camp currently controls the PDP structure.
Former Governor Bafarwa had announced his decision not to seek elective office anymore, saying that he would devote the rest of his political life to grooming new leaders. It could not be ascertained how the former Sokoto State chief executive would react to a Tambuwal for the presidency in 2023, especially against the background of the ongoing supremacy battle with his estranged political godson, Senator Magatakarda Wamakko over control of Sokoto.
The same thing could be said of the immediate past Jigawa State governor, but sources in the party disclosed that the former caretaker chairman, Makarfi, still retains the support of party stakeholders that wanted him as the PDP standard bearer before the return of members of the nPDP.
After losing the Kano State governorship election to his former protégé, there has been no clear indication where Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso’s political train is headed, despite the fact that his former ally, Prof. Hafiz Ringim, ended up in the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) that is fast turning to the future party to beat in Kano State.
Whatever happens in the quiet political realignments within the PDP, a lot depends on how the three Waziris resolve their ambitions. Would there be another mass movement away from PDP or would there be a change of name as espoused by the chairman of rAPC, Mr Buba Galadima?
Whether the right of first refusal would determine the 2023 presidential flag bearer or there would be a movement to SDP as initiated by Prof. Adeniran will not fail to unfold in the coming year.