By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Tony Edike & Henry Umoru
LAGOS—GOVERNORS and chairmen of State chapters of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on the receiving end of the proposal to foist members of the National Assembly on the National Executive Committees, NECs, of political parties are gathering in Abuja today to battle the proposal.
Besides Governors, Speakers of State Houses of Assembly representing their members, chairmen, secretaries, youth and women leaders of state chapters of the PDP are also gathering in Abuja to protest the proposal which will deny them delegate status in the forthcoming national convention of the party.
Under the proposals adopted by the House of Representatives, statutory delegates to the national convention of the PDP could be limited to about 500 besides the elected 774 elected delegates from the local governments in the country.
President Jonathan, enjoying the benefit of the alleged pact between him and the National Assembly could well be assured of at least two thirds of the statutory delegates from the National Assembly putting him in good position to easily sink Atiku Abubakar his main rival for the PDP presidential ticket.
The Governors and the Atiku Abubakar Campaign organization working separately towards different political ends were, meanwhile, finding common ground against the proposal which they believe gives President Goodluck Jonathan an advantage in the primary contest.
Vice presidential ticket for Ndigbos
Vanguard learnt, yesterday, that the Atiku Campaign was itself mobilizing interested stakeholders to protest the proposal. The efforts of the Atiku Campaign nonetheless, Igbo leaders including Governors from the five States of the Southeast upheld the endorsement of President Goodluck Jonathan by Ohanaeze Ndigbo for the 2011 presidential elections.
They said that efforts by the Atiku Campaign to woo Ndigbo with a vice_presidential ticket would be in vain.
According to the amendments sought to section 87(4) of the Electoral Act, party delegates would be: The President and former Presidents who are members of the Party.
The Vice President and former Vice Presidents who are members of the Party; Members of the National Assembly who are members of the Party, Governors who are members of the party, Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly of a State who are members of the Party and elected State Chairmen.
Other delegates would be elected National Officers of a Political Party, elected zonal chairmen and zonal secretary of a political party where they exist, former Presiding Officers of the National Assembly, who are members of the party.
Members of Board of Trustees of a political party where applicable but shall not be more than 72. One delegate elected by party members from each of the 774 local Government areas of the Federation.
The proposal in the House of Representatives excludes several others who had in the past been statutory delegates, notably local government chairmen of the parties and elected local government chairmen. Both sets of officials alongside commissioners and other political appointees of Governors had in the past provided the powerful bloc with which Governors sought to throw their influence in the choice of presidential candidates.
The Governors are equally piqued that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill presently before the House of Representatives has reversed the order of the primaries as first proposed by putting the presidential primary ahead of that of governors.
Party officials and members of the Governors Forum are meeting at two different levels today on the issue. Besides the meeting of all 36 Governors, the Northern Governors Forum would also be meeting today to strategise ahead of tomorrow’s NEC meeting of the PDP.
Capacity to influence policy
The Governors are especially miffed that their capacity to influence policy in the party would be largely removed under the proposals which will leave them as minions in the decision making NEC as the legislators would now have the superior say.
There were insinuations in Abuja, yesterday, that the meeting of the Northern Governors which in the past took place in Kaduna was shifted to Abuja following the discomfort of Vice_President Namadi Sambo over the possibility of an untoward political declaration by the northern governors.
The head of the secretariat of the Northern Governors Forum and Secretary to the Niger State Government, Alhaji Muhammad Yahaya, told Vanguard on telephone, that the meeting was shifted to Abuja for logistics purposes.
Vanguard gathered that State chairmen of the PDP who are meeting in Abuja today ahead of the meeting would come up with a resolution on how to respond to the development.
One of the chairmen told Vanguard, minutes after he arrived Abuja, yesterday: “The work of the National Assembly is to legislate that there should be political parties and I feel strongly that they should not dictate how the internal affairs of the parties should be conducted.”
The State chairmen are expected to demand the rational for the changes.
President has the advantage
Vanguard learnt that the Atiku campaign was especially miffed by the changes which they felt had been doctored to benefit the President in the forthcoming PDP primaries. A source said: “There is no need for a contest as the President already has the advantage. He is already in a marriage of convenience with the National Assembly members who will now form the majority at the party convention.”
The Atiku Campaign Organisation Vanguard learnt was openly mobilizing those on the receiving end of the changes. Among those being mobilized, last night, were 43 youth leaders who would be denied participation at the national convention including 37 youth leaders of the 36 State chapters and the FCT and the six zonal leaders from the six geo-political zones.
Meanwhile, the Senate has assured that its version of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill was not the same as that now lying in the House of Representatives. Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze told Vanguard that the Senate was considerate of its obligations even as he assured that what was before the Senate was not the same as in the House of Representatives.
Vanguard gathered that the Senate version of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill would give automatic membership of the NEC to 84 members of the National Assembly with one Senator and one House member per state and all principal officers.
The meeting of the Governors earlier scheduled for last week was put off following the death of Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s wife, Clara. The meeting it was learnt would also discuss the report of the Governor Babatunde Fashola ad_hoc committee set up to formulate operational structures for the forum.
The six_man Committee had the objective of formulating issues concerning succession, tenure of chairman, transition arrangements, among others, with a view to preparing the body for the election of a new leader. Other members of the Fashola’s Committee were the governors of Sokoto, Niger, Delta, Borno and Enugu states.
The Committee was given three weeks within which to submit its report.
South East leaders dismiss VP slot
Atiku’s efforts to mobilize opinion against the Electoral Act Amendment proposals nonetheless, Southeast political leaders, yesterday, dismissed efforts to get him a vice_presidential candidate from the zone as irrelevant.
The leaders including Governors who met under the chairmanship of Governor Elechi Amadi of Ebonyi State reaffirmed their support for President Jonathan as the choice of Ndigbo in 2011.
Their support for Jonathan was, however, with a condition that Jonathan must support the aspiration of Ndigbo to produce a president for the country in 2015 in line with zoning arrangement that recognized the country as a federating entity.
Although the political leaders approved the decision of the South East governors who had earlier endorsed the aspiration of Jonathan, they Igbo said however that they should have consulted Ndigbo before taken the decision to avoid the discordant tones.
At the meeting chaired by Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State were Governors Peter Obi, Anambra; Theodore Orji, Abia. Deputy Governors Sunday Onyebuchi, Enugu; and Ada Okwuonu, Imo; represented their governors.
Also present at the meeting were members of the National Assembly from the zone, chairmen and secretaries of Ohanaeze Ndigbo from the five states, chairmen of traditional ruler’s council in the zone, market association leaders in the zone and youth and women organizations.
Eminent Igbo leaders such as Dr Alex Ekwueme, former Senate president, Ken Nnamani, Ben Obi, Professor ABC Nwosu among others in the campaign train of Atiku Abubakar were, however, absent from the meeting.
Speaking on the absence of these leaders said to be engrossed in the search for running mate for Abubakar, Elechi said: “This is democracy and they have their right to belong to any camp they want to. But let me assure you that they are not a threat and Ndigbo is not interested in producing a vice president this time around.
We don’t want to discuss or stop them because what they are doing is not for the overall interest of Ndigbo and they know it. But we are happy that our people, despite their political and religious leaning are today speaking with one voice for the overall interest of the people of the southeast.”
Presenting a four_point communiqué at the over five hours meeting, Governor Elechi said the decision to endorse Jonathan and work for emergence from the primaries of the PDP till he wins the presidency was borne out of the concern he has exhibited in the affairs concerning the zone.
The communiqué reads: “That President Jonathan has demonstrated sensitivity and commitment to redressing the plight and deprivations of the Southeast zone as evident in the commencement of execution of the second Niger Bridge project, dealing with erosion and other ecological problems in the zone, upgrading of the Akanu Ibiam airport to international status with the runway expansion already completed, amongst others.
“To endorse the presidential bid of Dr Jonathan for the 2011 elections and urge all peoples of the zone to support the Goodluck_Sambo presidential ticket by voting en masse during the forthcoming presidential election.
“Accordingly, to urge all delegates of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from all zone to vote en bloc for President Jonathan_Sambo ticket at the presidential primaries.
“That all Igbo in Nigeria and in Diaspora should take up the Jonathan/Sambo presidential bid as a project deserving of collective support irrespective of political affiliations. The Igbos should be supported to produce the president of the country in 2015.”
Speaking at the town hall meeting, Chief whip of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha said there was no better candidate to fly the flag of the party than Jonathan, stressing that the zone should now go and sleep as they have achieved what other zones could not done.
He said: “We understand need and necessity to pitch our tent in one camp. What is critical is not just to support. What we demand is to be taken seriously. We are not part of government now. There is an effort to get us to play a pivotal role. In 2011, we will not stay behind. How do we realize 2015. We stand from 2011.
We are today the most beautiful bride in Nigerian politics. Yorubas have taken their share. The North has taken and is still taken. The South_south has taken. In 2015 it should be our turn. “If we don’t make our case serious, we will be taken for granted.
It is better at the primaries; we hold them by the balls. Jonathan and Sambo must tell us, this is where we stand in 2015.” Senator Anthony Agbo from Ebonyi state said that the zone would now meet with the president to extract a commitment from him on the 2015 project which would be the turn of Ndigbo.