By Ochereome NNANNA
On Wednesday September 15, 2010, a large crowd turned out at the Eagle Square, Abuja, to honour former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida’s much awaited flag-off rally.
All the available seats and the grounds of the nation’s foremost political arena were filled to capacity. It was probably the largest rally the Square has ever hosted. Unlike the many People’s Democratic Party (PDP) conventions in the past 11 years during which the gates were barricaded against uninvited non-delegates, the Arena was thrown open to all.
There had been fears that the national secretariat of the PDP led by Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, had deliberately fixed an emergency meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC), the highest decision-making body of the Party, for 12 noon last Wednesday, at the same time that Babangida’s flag-off rally, which was billed to kick of at 11 am, would just be picking up pace.
Officials of the IBB Campaign Organisation appeared embattled the night before the rally. When the Director of Research of the Organisation, Professor ABC Nwosu, was contacted on phone shortly before 12 midnight on Tuesday on the issue, he said the campaign officials were still going round, “collecting documents”, which he promised to show the media.
After the event, however, all efforts to get Nwosu to release the documents proved abortive, as he reported sick after many unsuccessful phone calls. The IBB campaign team has not been the most easily approachable ever seen, in the mould of Malam Garba Shehu’s Atiku campaign group in 2007.
However, the following day, information came that the Nwodo-led Secretariat of Party had listened favourably to the pleas of Babangida’s officials and decided to shift the emergency meeting of the NEC to 2.00pm to enable members of the NEC in IBB’s camp to attend after the rally.
By all accounts, the rally was generally adjudged a success. Babangida made a good showing, exhibiting much of the old charm and charisma for which he has long been famous.
However, sources at the PDP Secretariat debunked the notion that deliberate efforts had been made to sabotage Babangida, who is, perhaps, the foremost opponent of President Jonathan for the PDP ticket. According the source: “the INEC guidelines announced by Professor Attahiru Jega boxed us into a corner.
No sooner was the guideline announced than the nation embarked on a long, four-day Sallah holiday and weekend. The emergency meetings had to start compulsorily as soon as the holiday was over on Monday, October 13th 2010 because the Chairman of the Party had a duty to inform the leaders that because of the holidays the secretariat had to take the liberty to submit the draft guidelines and notification for the primaries to the INEC to meet the 21-day requirement in the amended Electoral Act.
The meeting that ended on Wednesday was the completion of the series of meetings during which the draft guidelines were fine-tuned and approved for issuance.”
Nwodo, others PDP officials won’t be at declarations
The Chief Press Secretary to the National Chairman of the PDP, Mr Ike Abonyi, clarified why the officers of the Party were absent at the IBB flag-off. He said the flag-off and rallies of aspirants are their personal affairs, saying that when Jonathan flags off today at the Eagle Square, no official of the party will be there.
“The governors and other elected officials are free to go but the officials of the party will only become duty-bound to participate when a candidate has emerged. Then the candidate becomes the burden of the Party.”
On why Nwodo sang the praises of Jonathan at the Umuahia reception of Governor Theodore Orji back to the PDP, Abonyi said the National Chairman acted that way because the president is the leader of the party. “He had not declared his candidacy”, Abonyi went on. “As soon as he declares on Saturday (today), we will hands-off him and the others until after the national primaries and a candidate emerges”.
Why Jonathan let gubernatorial elections come first
We also reliably learnt that during the meetings that lasted three days during the week, the proposal by the national officials of the Party reversing the old order of primaries, which had put the presidential primaries ahead of the gubernatorial generated great agitation among the PDP governors, especially those seeking second terms in office. Observers had seen it as a means of forcing the governors to support President Jonathan before their own primaries.
We gathered from impeccable sources that while the governors wanted the old order of primaries to remain, the National Working Committee wanted it changed to allow the president an easy passage to the ticket.
“Most of those contesting for offices in the Party are used to riding on the sponsorship of the president, governors and godfathers and adoptions to make their ambitions plain sailing”, the source pointed out.
“They are not used to contesting elections on a level ground. They wanted to do the president this favour and in turn get the president to endorse their candidacy. But when the governors resisted the proposed change of order of primaries and a stalemate started developing into a standoff, President Jonathan intervened, ruled that the governors should be allowed to have their way.
“Perhaps, the president wanted to concede something to the governors in order not to make them feel like losers, since he had supported the new rule that insists that political appointees, such as ministers, special advisers, commissioners and others would no longer be automatic delegates.
Rather, any one of them that is interested in being a delegate must resign his or her position to contest election as delegates. The governors did not like it because it had whittled down their clout. Perhaps, he decided to allow them to have their way this time in the hope they will reciprocate of their free will when the time comes.”
Apart from sudden activities of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in states seen to be cold towards the Jonathan presidential aspiration, the president appears keen not to go to the extreme like former President Obasanjo did in getting his political needs met.
He and the National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, appear to be firm in their resolve to subject all aspirants on the Party’s platform (including the president) through the due process of electoral primaries and accept whatever the outcome is.