POLITICS | PDP Set For 'Unusual Battle' Over Chairmanship

As the race for the chairmanship position of Peoples Democratic Party gathers momentum, Assistant Editor of The Nation, Dare Odufowokan, takes a look at the frontline aspirants and the issues that will play up in the December National Convention:

OluFamous.Com observed that picking a chairman for PDP used to be easy. The president will pick a man and others will support him. But now that they are in opposition, it's a different battle.

After years of legal tussles and internal wrangling over its leadership at the national level, the PDP is said to be ready for an elective convention that will culminate in the emergence of a new leadership for the troubled party. To show its determination to end the lingering crises within the party, the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee announced that it will hold the convention in December 2017.

And as the country’s leading opposition party appears set to pick a new chairman, chieftains and groups within the party have renewed the battle for the soul of the PDP ahead of the planned convention. Currently, not less than eight are gunning for the chairmanship position.

The current situation, according to insiders, is such that the leaders and members are sharply divided into camps, depending on who they are supporting for the national chairmanship position. 

“Even the caretaker committee is divided by their individual support for one candidate or the other. The governors are not united in the choice of who should lead the party, not to talk of the chieftains. It is a very rowdy scenario,” a source said.

“Our party is walking a tight rope. The ongoing contest for chairmanship is fierce; too fierce for a party that is just coming out of a leadership crisis that lingered for so long. Perhaps the shortness of time and obvious unpreparedness of the party for a convention so soon after what we went through is responsible for this. It is clear that there is no consensus in the way we are going about this whole contest.

“No organ of the party is united over the choice of who should lead us. While it is good to go for elections, it is important to have checks and balancing arrangement to curtail the fallout of the election. That is what is missing now. I am afraid that unless we find a way of managing the current situation better, the PDP may return to its old situation of crisis and troubles after the convention,” the source added.

In spite of concern being expressed by stakeholders within and outside the party, The Nation gathered that many aspirants are currently determined to contest for the chairmanship at the convention and ultimately emerge as the new helmsman of the PDP. So fierce is the contest for the chairmanship of the party that several meetings and parleys, called by concerned stakeholders, to streamline the race and make it less confrontational, failed to yield results.

“It is not true that nothing is being done to reduce the current tension generated by the contest for the national chairmanship position of our party. The truth is that much has been done, especially in the South-West, but little has been achieved. More than ever in the history of our party, our people are extremely divided into camps over who should lead the party. Many meetings have been held, but the desperation of, not just the aspirants, but their supporters, has made things difficult,” a Senator from the South-West said.

The aspirants and their support bases 
Among those warming up to slug it out for the top position are ex-PDP Deputy National Chairman in the South-West, Chief Bode George; a media professional and a frontline chieftain of the party in Edo State, Chief Raymond Dokpesi; and a former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel.

Others are ex-governor of Oyo State, who recently returned to PDP, Rasheed Ladoja, former National Vice Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, a former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran and a former Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Professor Taoheed Adedoja.

But observers have narrowed the race down to a three horse race among Daniel, Dokpesi and George, barring any last minute surprise move by any of the other aspirants and or their support bases. 

The three aspirants mentioned above have been more vociferous in their campaigns for the position and they are daily winning support and endorsements of important stakeholders within the party.

But a new school of thought recently emerged following the reported entrance of ex-Governor Ladoja into the race. A party source claimed that the Accord Party returnee is being dragged into the race by a very powerful clique within the party as a consensus candidate, especially from the South-West as a way of preventing what appears like a looming post-convention crisis in the zone.

“Nobody should write Ladoja off. His coming into the race is not by his personal desire. He is the magic wand being introduced into the contest in the South-West. Following the refusal of those in the race to dialogue and come forward with one of them as the candidate of the zone, a powerful clique within the party decided to bring Ladoja into the race as the consensus candidate of the zone. You will understand more when events start unfolding in that direction,” a prominent female party chieftain from Ogun State said.

Speaking with newsmen in Lagos during the week, Ladoja, who formally announced his return to the PDP from Accord Party, said it is true that he is considering contesting for the top job of his new party. He said being a founding member of the party and a former governor elected on the platform of the party; he is eminently qualified to lead the PDP especially at a time like this.

“Before the end of the month, I will declare my ambition. At this moment, I am still consulting. I have left Accord Party and I am now a full member of PDP. I have obtained my membership card. Once upon a time, this great party reigned in five states of the South-West but because of our mistakes, we lost four, remaining only Ekiti. We have decided to come together now and regain all those lost states, starting with Osun in 2018 up to the general election in 2019”, Ladoja said.

For Dokpesi and his campaign team, now is the time to intensify the drive towards the chairmanship. They lobby towards winning the support of key PDP stakeholders across the country. Penultimate Friday, the team visited Chief Edwin Clark, the Ijaw leader, former Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu, and former FCT Minister, Ibrahim Bunu, at their residences in Abuja.

Dokpesi said his desire to become PDP National Chairman remained strong and unshaken. He added that he had what it took to transform PDP if he eventually became its National Chairman, saying unity and sanity must return to PDP immediately if the party is serious about winning the next general election. He said that PDP was in need of a visionary leader, committed to its values.

The Nation learnt that Dokpesi’s ambition is largely being supported by the political camp of former President Goodluck Jonathan. According to reliable sources, most of the ministers and other appointees who served under the former President are supporting Dokpesi. 

“They see him as one of them. They are hoping that with his candidacy, they have a chance of returning to reckoning within the party soon,” a source said.

This is just as Gbenga Daniel said his ultimate goal for seeking the chairmanship of the PDP is to work towards its victory in 2019 General Election, saying one of his focus if voted as National Chairman of the party will be to bring back into the fold many party men and women who have left for one reason or the other. The former governor assured that under his chairmanship, PDP would not only find a new identity, “but would reclaim its lost glory and salvage the ship of the Nigerian state.”

Bode George, on his part, said he remained the best candidate to be the next chairman of the party. He made the statement in Lagos while formally declaring his intention to contest the chairmanship seat of the party. According to him, what the PDP needed at this critical moment was a committed, energetic, experienced party man as chairman, to redeem and reposition it.

Other aspirants too are not without support bases. Secondus is believed to be enjoying the tacit support of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. He is also seen as the candidate of many chieftains of the PDP from the South-South, hoping that the zone will benefit from the inability of the South-West to present a consensus candidate for the convention.

Thorny issue of zoning 
As the countdown to the December elective convention of the PDP begins, many chieftains of the party in the South-West geopolitical zone are still displeased with the decision of aspirants from other zones to contest the chairmanship of the party contrary to an alleged zoning arrangement that ceded the position to the southwest geo political zone.

While the PDP says the position is open to aspirants from the entire south, party chieftains insist it is against an earlier agreement that gave the position exclusively to the South-West. They strongly warn that failure of the South-West to produce the next National Chairman of the PDP will adversely affect the fortune of the party at the 2019 General Election.

“We are still agitating that the South-West alone should be allowed to field candidates at the convention for the position of National Chairman. The party must understand the need to balance all equations as we aspire to forge a united front ahead of the 2019 General Election. We must not allow the personal ambition of a few people to create fresh problems for us. The South-West must be allowed to produce the next National Chairman of the PDP,’ a party leader said.

However, Dokpesi, who said his ambition does not negate any zoning arrangement, argued that “the national caretaker committee zoned the position of the National Chairman to the South and zoned the presidency to the North. And there is no micro zoning; the convention would have said it is zoning to the South-West, but the convention in its wisdom did not do so.”
But former Police Affairs Minister, Adamu Maina Waziri, warned that the South-West should be supported to produce the party’s chairman. According to him, “for the PDP to reclaim power in 2019, the National Chairman of the party should come from the zone.”

He called on the aspirants from the zone to close ranks and present a common front at the convention in the interest of the party. “The South-West should do well to reduce the number of aspirants to one.”