The national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) scheduled to hold on Saturday December 9 will largely task the party’s internal mechanism of electing key officials that will position PDP solidly for the general elections in 2019. However, the ‘success or failure’ of the exercise will certainly rub off on democratic governance in the country.
And this is the reason the convention has become a national project attracting the attention of power brokers in the country. The reason for this is not far-fetched. PDP is the only major and the only functional opposition party with the capacity to withstand the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in any election, particularly as many political observers are beginning to doubt President Muhammadu Buhari’s policy approach to move the country out of its economic challenges since 2015 when it took over government.
In the absence of the well-organised and coordinated PDP, there are fears Nigeria may be tailored towards a one party state, a development that was halted by the Supreme Court verdict of July 12, which eventually resolved the protracted leadership crises in the erstwhile ruling party.
Initially, there were fears that the convention might be a one way traffic likely to be determined by Governors Nyesom Wike and Ayodele Fayose of Rivers and Ekiti states respectively, but the declaration of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who joined the PDP last weekend after leaving the ruling APC one week earlier, seems to have changed the calculation and created a kind of balance of power as the national convention moves closer.
The eight aspirants jostling for the position of the national chairman are former Acting National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus (Rivers State); Chairman, Daar Communications, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi (Edo State); former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran (Ekiti State); former Minister of Special Duties, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja (Oyo State); former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel (Ogun State); former governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Rasheed Ladoja; former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George (Lagos) and governorship candidate of the PDP in the 2015 election, Mr. Jimi Agbaje.
Six among the aspirants are from the Southwest extraction while two are from the South South geopolitical zones; the Southeast zone did not indicate interest in the position while the party zoned the presidency to the north.
Secondus and Dokpesi were the two contestants from the South South while the remaining six aspirants were from the Southwest region.
However, information available to The Guardian as at yesterday was that some of the aspirants are likely to announce their withdrawal from the race today tomorrow while others may wait till Saturday before throwing in the towel.
But looking at the strength and chances of each of the aspirants ahead of the convention, it might be tempting to narrow the contest down to three major contestants, which are probably Adeniran, Secondus and George.
In the present calculations, Ladoja and Agbaje appear not to be visible, since the race was thrown open. The two contestants have neither been visible in campaign, visitation or discuss their agenda for the party like their counterparts, who have traversed the whole six geo-political zones and also have several interactions with the party members and even the media.
It is also gathered that one of the two major underdogs in the race is already negotiating his withdrawal in exchange for plump appointment, if Atiku, per adventure became the presidential candidate of the party.
A source from the party said the aspirant might announce his withdrawal from the race tomorrow
Among the aspirants, the Rivers State-born former acting national chairman of the PDP stands a better chance of winning the race going by the fact he comes from a region (South South) that is rancorous free and under the full control of the party.
He is likely to get block votes from the South South delegates. He is also the only aspirant who has the full backing of his home governor, Wike.
Unlike other aspirants, who come from states where the ruling APC is in control, even Adeniran of Ekiti, whose governor, Fayose has already declared interest to run for the presidency against the party’s zoning formula does not enjoy what Secondus has in term of support by his governor.
In term of experience, Secondus is second to none among the aspirants, having served in the capacity of acting national chairman, who will neither need to be tutored on what to do or how to hit the ground running, if elected.
Having served as acting national chairman with bulk of experience, Secondus may also get a substantial support from the Southeast region and a considerable vote from the north and the Southwest, particularly in situation where Fayose is allegedly nursing vice presidential ambition under the pretence of his recent declaration to run for the 2019 presidency.
On how he plans to reform the party and prepare it for the 2019 elections, Secondus told the media in Lagos on Sunday that the first and most important thing is to return the PDP to the people, who actually have the sovereign power. “The electorate must be allowed to make their choice of representatives in election instead of the imposition method, which was one of the factors that affected us in the last general elections,” he said.
When also asked why the South South reneged on the Port Harcourt gentleman agreement to micro zoned the national chairman to the Southwest, Secondus explained: “when the agreement was made, there was enough time ahead of the 2019 election, but now there is no luxury of time, there can be no experimentation, what the PDP needs is experience, which I possess as a one-time acting national chairman. It is all about the party and Nigeria and not sentiment. If a particular region does not get this position, there are other important positions like vice president, President of the Senate and Speaker. I appeal to the region to let us put the country and the chances of the party first. We cannot fold our hands and allow the ruling party to continue running the country this way.”
Going by his three R’s agenda, which are rebuild, reposition and regain, Secondus said his first task is to bring all party members together, close ranks, accommodate all interests, identify and leverage on the PDP strengths.
He hopes to reposition the party by appealing to interests, and start telling the new PDP story and lastly to make the party a formidable force to beat at any elective office nationwide.
He may however have challenges over the outcry of the Southwest that it is its (Southwest) legitimate turn to produce the national chairman and following the declaration of the North to support the Southwest.
The return Atiku may also not work in his favour going by the rumour that the former vice president is interested in the candidature of a particular aspirant from the Southwest and also the fact that the region is one to be wooed in term of votes and support. The sentiment also raised in some quarters that Wike is trying to use him (Secondus) to hijack the leadership and machinery of the party may work against him at the convention.
But whatever the case is, Secondus remains one of the three formidable aspirants likely to win the race come Saturday despite the underground pressure being mounted on Wike to withdraw his support for him.
The former Minister of Education is riding on the crest wave of integrity to the convention, which may lead him to the Wadata House on Saturday. Although, he came from a troubled zone where two factional executives are currently struggling on which will lead the delegates to the convention, he is also disadvantaged by his home state governor’s (Fayose) presidential ambition.
Being that as it may, Adeniran’s general acceptance particularly in the north, which according to information may give him a block vote is a plus that no other aspirant currently enjoys.
Aside the fact he has gone round the length and breath of the country and gracefully accepted by the governors and members of the party, the formidable northern structure, lead by former Minister of Information, Prof. Jerry Gana and one-time Deputy President of the Senate, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu among others that were solidly behind him suggest he may likely get full support from the zone with whatever he is able to garner from other regions.
Even the recent position by the north to support the Southwest in producing the national chairman may not be unconnected with the zone’s sympathy for him.
His amiable personality also endeared him to both sides of the executive factions in the Southwest.
It was disclosed that the two executive-led factions of Makanjuola-Ogundipe and Eddy Olafeso have soft spot for him and whichever that has its way at the convention will not pose any threat to Adeniran’s chance of winning.
For instance, when asked recently how the issue may affect his chances, the former Minister said it is no longer a matter of who is wrong and who is right but a matter of what is fair and just in the larger interest of the PDP and democratic consolidation in Nigeria. Makanjuola Ogundipe and Eddy Olafeso are not only brothers and compatriots interested in a more united PDP; they are also leaders with laudable records of contributions to the growth of the party.
Unlike some aspirants from the region, who rushed into pitch tent with the factions, Adeniran has been very tactically in interacting with both sides not just for personal interest but in the larger interest of the party and the zone.
On how he plans to run the PDP if elected, he said, “From my findings from deep interactions with a vast majority of members across board, I found out that all the challenges of the party boils down to the need to figure out how to administer the party with a high sense of moral rectitude to correct the mistakes of the past and not return to our past mistakes and learn to conduct our affairs more transparently, ethically, intelligently and in a smarter and more result-oriented manner. Conscious of the forgoing, therefore, and considering the privilege of my training, wealth of experience, exposure, deep knowledge and understanding of the workings of the party, I consider myself sufficiently equipped with the requisite capacity to put the party on a strong footing again by fixing the problems, extricate it from the suffocating grips of self-destruct and move it forward in the right direction for true greatness.”
Meanwhile, the rumour that Atiku is behind his aspiration may infuriate other stakeholders that are nursing presidential ambition.
Next to Secondus among the aspirants, George is the only one that has also occupied high party position as deputy national chairman. He is also one of the most consistent party officers, who never left the party since the PDP was established in 1998.
He has also demonstrated strong commitment in terms of financing the party, particularly the Lagos chapter with personal proceeds since PDP lost the 2015 elections. There is the guarantee he gets the block votes from delegates from Lagos and his recent reconciliation with the Ogundipe-led executive is placing his ambition at crossroads.
If the Ogundipe-led executive delegates are cleared for the convention, George may get considerable votes from the region but it is not certain if the South South, Southeast and the north will support him.
If elected, George has the capacity of being a rallying point that will be father to all.
One of the sentiments against his aspiration is age factor and he is also being accused of being rigid whose pattern has consistently failed the party in Lagos State since 1999.
He is also not tactical enough to interact with the two executive factions in Lagos unlike Prof. Adeniran. During the PDP leadership tussles, he was constantly with the Sen. Ahmed Makarfi’s-led Caretaker Committee group and the Eddy Olafeso faction but recent development indicated he has aligned forces with the Ogundipe-led faction.
At a point, the former governor of Ogun State was visible and active campaigning and crisscrossing the zones to get support but he allegedly relaxed midway.
While it is possible PDP governors may have sympathy for him being a former governor himself, his challenge is practically from his Ogun home base where the structure is held by one of his arch political enemies, Senate Buruji Kashamu.
It is not even known, which of the factions in the Southwest he belongs or that will support him. There are strong indications he may withdraw from the race on or before the convention.
In term of experience, he may not be totally dismissed as a novice party man, being a former governor but the PDP lost to APC in 2011 under his watch. This is a big minus for him.
Apart from the 15-point agenda, which he promised to implement to reposition the party, if elected, he appears to be among the strong contenders for the position. Although, he has a strong relationship with the north and have also served in the South South and Southeast, the odds do not favour him to emerge as the party’s national chairman at the convention.
Like other aspirants apart from Secondus, the Chairman, Daar Communications is also from a disadvantage state, Edo where PDP is in the opposition but fortunate to be in the South South. He is also rooted in the north like Adedoja and Adeniran, his chance of winning is however slim compared with that of the former acting national chairman and former Minister of Education.
As it stands, the Saturday election may likely be a run between Secondus and Adeniran.