The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) holds its national convention to elect national officers, but old rifts seem set to make today’s gathering the most controversial ever for the party that prides itself on being Africa’s biggest.
The convention was initially scheduled for December 8, 2007, but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) threw spanners in the works when it declared that it was not duly informed on the move as stipulated by the Electoral Act 2006. INEC Chairman, Maurice Iwu, ordered officials of the party to discontinue preparation for its convention. He said under the 2006 Electoral Act, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ought to have notified the electoral body before commencing any process that would lead to the election of party officials at all levels. He, therefore, declared the planned convention as “illegal, null and void.”
According to Iwu, “there is no need to waste their funds or time. It came to our notice that PDP is holding something that looks like ward congress. The New Electoral Act mandates us to nurture democracy. We don’t want to join issues with anybody; we just want to follow due process. Nobody is allowed to conduct primaries without consulting INEC or notifying us. Any such exercise should be cancelled. The rule of law must be followed.”
Sounding puritanical, the INEC boss had cited Part V (Political parties) Section 85 (1) of the Electoral Act to back his decision. The Act states: “Every registered political party shall give the Commission at least 21 days notice of any convention, congress, conferences or meeting convened for the purpose of electing members of its executive committee, other governing bodies or nominating candidates for any of the elective offices specified under this act.”
It states further that “the commission may with or without prior notice to the political party monitor and attend any convention, congress, confidence or meeting which is convened by a political party for the purpose of: Electing members of its executive committees or other governing bodies; nominating candidates for an election at any level; approving a merger with any other registered political party.”
But not many agreed with the altruistic stance of Iwu. Many smelt a rat alleging that the convention was stopped to allow former President Olusegun Obasanjo reorganise his strategies to be able to face threats facing his BOT chairmanship.
The last five weeks had brought life back to PDP since the end of last year’s double decker polls. Besides many nocturnal consultations by party bigwigs, most of the aspirants are busy traversing the country. But the real politicking will be in Abuja, The capital of power and horse-trading.
A lot of factors make the 2008 convention unique for PDP members to put all they have at stake. Since the formation of PDP on July 28, 1998, this is the first time that the party will both alter its zoning formula and put its workability in practice. At inception, the party had zoned its key offices as follows: National chairman(North-Central); National Secretary(South-East);Deputy National Chairmen(North-West and South-West); National Publicity Secretary(South-South);† and National Financial Secretary(South-West) among others.
Based on the stated formula, the party had at various times elected its National chairmen from the North-Central. Those that had occupied the seat include former governor of Plateau State, Solomon Lar, former Works Minister, Barnabas Gemade, Chief Audu Ogbeh and Dr. Ahmadu Ali. Its successive national secretaries from the South East are Okwesilieze Nwodo, Vincent Ogbulafor, former transport minister, Ojo Maduekwe, and the incumbent, Bernard Ezeh.
With, the emergence of Umaru Yar’Adua as President, the chance suddenly presents itself for the party to test its zoning policy as the nation’s six geopolitical zones have to swap offices. This alteration of the zoning formula may look harmless but it is a major challenge to the party.
Recently, a nascent caucus of party members operating under the name of G-21 was thrown up. It was led by ex-Senate President Kenechukwu Nnamani, and they are agitating for a return to the power sharing structure of 1998. Although the constitution amendment notice of the caucus was rejected by the National Executive Committee, the last seems not heard about the matter. They are bent on pushing their idea at the convention.
With Yar’Adua’s commitment to electoral reforms and the sanctity of the ballot, the convention will also be an acid test for the ruling party to allow its members choose officers without any encumbrance. All the conventions of the PDP had been dogged with imposition of candidates. As the leader of the party, the President has a duty to convince his fellow members of his commitment to the establishment of a party where every voice or vote will count. Interestingly, the 2006 amendment of the PDP constitution fitted perfectly into Yar’Adua’s agenda.
Two major issues would underpin today’s convention too. These are the battle for the control of the party and the scheming ahead of the 2011 poll. Article 14(1) of the PDP constitution stipulates a term of four years for all officers of the party. By implication, the new officers to be elected at the convention would be saddled with the responsibility of conducting the primaries in the party for its candidates for the 2011 poll. Conversely, those craving for second term in the party, the president, governors and lawmakers will be interested in voting for those who can protect their electoral interest. For President Yar’Adua, the convention offers him a lifetime opportunity to have a big say in the party.
The President’s desire to have a formidable bloc in the party was buoyed by the recent humiliation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, and the Secretary to the Federal Government of the Federation, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe, at the National Caucus meeting of the party. The two officers were told by Ahmadu Ali to leave as the meeting was about to commence.
Battle of the power blocs
Five identified power blocs may shape the outcome of the convention. These are Obasanjo and his loyalists; Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, bloc represented by Yar’Adua, Kingibe, and Anenih; ex-President Ibrahim Babangida/G21 factor; state governors and National Assembly members.
For Obasanjo and his loyalists, their future in PDP is inextricably tied to the convention. The reason is simple; when he was in power, he called the shot in the party such that national officers pandered to him and virtually became his puppets. Nomination of candidates for election was always dictated from the Villa. His influence was so overbearing that any dissenting opinion was viciously sanctioned for anti-party activities.
But shortly after his exit, all the hitherto suppressed leaders of the party regrouped with a resolve to curtail the influence of Obasanjo and his boys.
The circumstances under which Obasanjo became the chairman of the BOT further increased the tension in the party. He emerged through an election that can best be described as an electoral ambush. Anenih, the choice candidate, is still bitter and is determined to prove a point that he is still relevant. Interestingly, the former President is yet to call a meeting of the BOT chiefly because of the fear of possible revolt.
Undoubtedly, the Obasanjo caucus is disturbed by the whittling of its influence in the party, reversal of some policies of the Obasanjo administration and the imminent probe of the former president to account for some of his action while in office. The camp therefore has a challenge to make or mar the convention; hence, the ex-President and his think tank are taking every step to retain control of the party. Already, Bode George, a die-hard apologist of the Ota-farmer, is the chairman of the Convention Planning Committee. Although, George may not be able to interfere with the electoral process but the logistics of the convention could be skewed in favour of some candidates.
The strength of the Obasanjo clique lies in the obeisance of Yar’Adua to the ex-President and a near hundred percent bloc vote that might come from delegates from the South-West, where no governor or notable party chieftain is likely to rock the boat.
Babangida/ G21 factors
Although Babangida, was tactically schemed out of last year’s presidential race, he is one of the elders of the party trying to checkmate the overbearing influence of Obasanjo to prove a point. The retired General is said to be backing Anyim Pius Anyim, a former President of the Senate, for the chairmanship of the party. Going by the manner in which the Babangida caucus frustrated the third term agenda, in collaboration with the National Assembly, it cannot be underrated.
The G-21 is an offshoot of anti-third term group in the Fourth National Assembly and it is unsurprising that the arrowheads of the body are ex-Senate President Nnamani and ex-Speaker Aminu Masari. This group can only wield enormous influence within the National Assembly caucus.
Governors and National Assembly members
These two groups hold the aces as far as delegates to the convention are concerned. The interplay of forces between these groups and other power blocs will determine who may take over the party. Apart from the numerical strength of the National Assembly, state governors also control a sizeable number of the delegates to the convention.
Article 12.84 of the party Constitution contains a list of those entitled to vote at the convention. They include all the Federal Ministers, the Special Advisers and Special Assistants to the President and Vice-President; all members of the National Assembly who are members of PDP; all gubernatorial candidates of the party, 10 state commissioners and 10 Special Advisers to a state governor who are members of PDP; all the members of the State House of Assembly controlled by PDP; all party chairmen at the local government level; all elected PDP LG chairmen among other.
Emerging danger signals are however emanating from the camp of the PDP with several of the gladiators voicing their discontent with the way the convention is been organised. Interestingly, tents are being pitched by several influential politicians with the gladiators in the contest for key positions. This development, observers say, might ultimately weaken party cohesion after the convention.
Though the field is littered with as many as a dozen aspirants who wish to take over from Ali, the truth is the race has been effectively narrowed to a straight fight between two contenders from Ebonyi State—Sam Egwu and Anyim Pius Anyim. The convention would pitch Egwu, immediate past governor of Ebonyi State against former Senate President, Anyim in the battle to replace Ali.
Obasanjo, who was in the saddle for the eight years when Egwu held the forte in Ebonyi, has thrown his weight behind the former governor. But then Anyim also parades a lot of heavyweight supporters. For instance, members of the G-21 as well as a large swart of members of the National assembly are believed to be lining up behind the former senate President.
The immediate past Senate President, Nnamani, is said to be in league with the likes of former PDP Board of Trustees Chairman, Tony Anenih, to support Anyim. Nnamani is also said to be partly responsible for the overwhelming support Anyim enjoyed in the National Assembly, especially in the House of Representatives. Anyim, given his antecedent at the helms of the Senate, is believed to be the man that can restore the democratic credibility of the party as well as installing stability and discipline back to the party after the ruinous years of Ahmadu Ali
However, patriotic PDP leaders are becoming increasingly worried not only about Obasanjo’s resolve to ensure that Egwu emerges as National Chairman, but by the backing of federal legislators and party big wigs for Anyim. They fear that the overwhelming support enjoyed by the two men could ultimately factionalize the party should one of them fail to get the job.
The development is already creating apprehension in the minds of concerned PDP members. Second Republic Senate Leader, Dr. Olusola Saraki, warned that the PDP risks an implosion if honest and unbiased process is not enthroned to throw up credible leaders during the convention.
Saraki, while receiving one of the National chairmanship aspirants at his Ilorin home, noted that the PDP needed surgical operation to rid it of divisive forces. Saraki, who is also the leader of the Northern Union, noted, “The PDP has lost its supremacy. In the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) days, former President Shehu Shagari depended on the party for direction, so the party was supreme,” he said.
According to him, “Whatever affects the PDP affects the direction of the Federal Government; and whatever affects the direction of the Federal Government affects the entire people of this country. The stakeholders in the PDP must always bear this in mind,’’ he added.
Former Transport Minister, Ebenezer Babatope, is equally of the same view. He is of the opinion that the convention holds a lot of importance to the Nigerian nation. It is his opinion that the PDP being the largest political party in Nigeria should be able to get it right or the effect on the national polity would be immense. As far he is concerned, though there is nothing amiss with people lining up behind politicians they prefer, the action could affect party loyalty eventually. Babatope, is also of the opinion that the convention must be seen to be to be transparent and free of manipulation.
But controversial Ibadan politician, Lamidi Adedibu, however saw it differently. He said the leadership of the party should be picked through consensus adding that this would strengthen the party. He expressed confidence in the ability of the convention committee to conduct peaceful, free and fair convention.
He said, “The national chairman of PDP will emerge by consensus at the scheduled national convention. That is what we are planning for because it will be done by negotiation. Where a candidate is returned unopposed, that is the consent of the people and with the people’s consent, what else do we need?”
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ghali Umar Na’Abba also expressed fears that the party might emerge out of the convention a fragmented party. He said although the PDP has already split into two, the looming gloom in form of disintegration could be averted if the party leaders allow decency to rule.
Na’Abba, who said he could not rule out the possibility of a total collapse of the PDP, with another party springing up from its rubble, said there was no hope that anything new would emerge from the party’s national convention scheduled to hold in March.
He described the appointment of a national convention committee as a smoke screen, pointing out that the committee, headed by Mallam Adamu Ciroma, is under the convention planning committee headed by Chief Bode George. “How can anybody explain or justify an arrangement whereby Adamu Ciroma will work under and report to Bode George who is one of those who came to snatch the party and will do everything to perpetuate their hold on the party,” he said.
The crisis that might eventfully hit the party may have however been flagged off following reports that the Ali and the chairman of the Electoral Panel of the Convention, Adamu Ciroma clashed over the control of screening of aspirants for national offices of the party.
Ciroma had written to Ali to inform him that his committee had raised an eight-man committee to handle the screening of aspirants after consultation among members. He further said that the essence of the exercise was to add value and to restore confidence of party faithful in the process.
Ali however charged back insisting that Ciroma’s committee is just a mere observer. In his reply dated February 29, 2008, Ali said that at the said meeting, “the understanding reached was that your committee, at best, will be observers. On the basis of this understanding, we went ahead and constituted a screening committee. We will, however, be approaching you to nominate on two members to serve as observers at the screening”.
He further advised: “Please, as the electoral panel that is mandated to supervise and announce the results of the elections, our advice is that you should not take active part in the screening”. Perceptive observers interpret the interplay of schemes as indicative of the power game that may work against a credible convention.