By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
From Dr. Alex Ekwueme to Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has in fifteen years had ten chairmen in substantive or acting capacity. They came and operated under very interesting political hues.
With nine national chairmen in its fifteen year history, with a staying average of one and a half years, it is no surprise that Nigeria’s ruling party has not been able to provide coherence to guide policies and actions of its different governments.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was founded on August 31, 1998 following progressives efforts by some of the country’s prominent political figures to cast out the ominous spectre of the Gen. Sani Abacha regime. The formation of the party was championed by nine principal men drawn from opposite divides in the previous second and ill fated third republic politics. The nine were Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief Solomon Lar, Senator Francis Ellah, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Chief Bola Ige, Dr. Iyorcha Ayu, Prof. Jerry Gana, Alhaji Sule Lamido and Mallam Adamu Ciroma. The group which subsequently was referred to as G9 gave birth to the G18 which gave birth to G34, the group that finally transformed into the PDP.
As the group widened, some of the pioneers shivered at the thought of associating with some of the characters who were seen to have historic links against participatory democracy. Chief Ige who is widely claimed to have authored the constitution of the three parties that kick started the Fourth Republic walked out of the party at that stage of seeking registration.
Dr. Ekwueme was the first protem national chairman of the party and held that position for about three months following which he stepped down in consideration of his presidential aspiration on the platform of the party.
Following him was Chief Lar, the Second Republic governor of the old Plateau State. Lar held the office of national chairman and conducted the first national convention of the party in Jos where Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo defeated Ekwueme to fly the party’s presidential ticket in the 1999 election.
Lar held the office of national chairman until November 1999 when Chief Barnabas Gemade defeated Chief Sunday Awoniyi to emerge the first elected national chairman of the party. That national convention during which the agents of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration were alleged to have actively campaigned against Awoniyi turned out to be the first and last time a competitive vote was made for a national chairman.
Gemade, a former minister served out his two year term and his attempt to seek re-election in 2011 was stiffly resisted by the Obasanjo administration which propped up Chief Audu Ogbeh.
Gemade who had defied pressures from Obasanjo to resign and not to go for a second term finally threw in the towel at the convention ground allowing Ogbeh to emerge as the consensus candidate.
Ogbeh was elected to serve for four years following the adoption of amendments to the party constitution allowing party officials to serve for four years.
Ogbeh’s tenure was largely calm but towards the end of his tenure and with his increasingly vocal denunciations against the excesses of the Obasanjo administration, he came into conflict with the president.
Vexed with developments in Anambra State such as the kidnap of the governor in July 2003 and following that, the arson attack on the Government House which were blamed on a group of persons associated with the PDP and known to be connected to the president, Chief Ogbeh said he had had enough.
In a letter dated December 6, 2004 he told President Obasanjo to do something about it.
“On behalf of the peoples Democratic Party, I call on you to act now and bring any, and all criminal, even treasonable, activity to a halt. You and you alone, have the means. Do not hesitate. We do not have too much time to waste.”
Obasanjo’s response on December 12, 2004 was laced with bile even from the first paragraph where he wrote:
“I am amused and not surprised by your letter of December 6, 2004 because after playing hide and seek games over a period of time, you have finally, at least in writing, decided to unmask and show your true colour.”
Ogbeh refused pressures to resign from office and throughout the yelutide holidays of 2004 the nation was kept agape by the standoff between the party chairman and the president.
In early January, not even a reconciliatory lunch of pounded yam was enough to reconcile the two men and Ogbeh finally resigned following apprehensions about his life.
He was replaced by Col. Ahmadu Ali first in acting capacity. Ali subsequently was elected at the national convention in 2005 in his own right. Ali, a former army officer who worked under Obasanjo as military head of state, fully understood the mentality of the president and worked fully almost without problem with President Obasanjo.
During his time, the term garrison politics, was introduced as the language of PDP politics. Opponents of the president were not given a breathing space and in his term, the party commenced a re-registration exercise during which enemies of the president and his associates were denied registration opportunities.
In states where governors such as Adamawa State where political opponents of the president were in control, the national leadership moved outside the official party structure to appoint linkmen to handle the registration exercise. In Adamawa State for example, Senator Jibril Aminu was appointed and it was not surprising that Vice-President Atiku Abubakar was denied registration and was only registered in Abuja.
At the end of his tenure in 2008 and following the zoning of the office of national chairman to the Southeast, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, who originally was a member of the opposition All Peoples Party, APP emerged as a consensus candidate in the war of attrition between the two leading candidates, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and former Governor Sam Egwu.
Ogbulafor’s ascension as national chairman was largely uneventful largely on account of the illness of President Umaru Yar‘Adua.
Ogbulafor gravitated towards the cabal that dictated affairs in the absence of the president and with the death of the president in May, 2010, the political environment became inhospitable.
A criminal case involving Ogbulafor allegedly committed which had been abandoned years ago was revived and with it calls came for the national chairman to step down.
Ogbulafor eventually stepped down in May, 2010 and a replacement was found for him in the person of the pioneer National Secretary of the party, Dr. Okwesileze Nwodo.
The transition to Nwodo was in the national secretariat of the party, seen as a comeuppance given the historic relationship between both men. Ogbulafor had 2001 replaced Nwodo as National Secretary of the party when President Obasanjo was said to have kicked against Nwodo as national secretary. It was even more remarkable that Nwodo was Ogbulafor’s wedding best man.
Nwodo came to the leadership of the party with a commitment to reinvent the wheels of the party. Central to his reinvention scheme was the e-registration project under which membership would be open to all fee paying members at the grassroots.
Nwodo who accompanied the president during his first visit to the United States in 2010 had sold the idea of taking full control of the party through the e-registration project which it was claimed would remove the party from the grip of the governors who till now have liked to fund the party and dictate the tune.
Nwodo’s efforts were viciously tackled by the PDP governors led by the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, Governor Bukola Saraki. Chairman Nwodo also had problems at home with his governor over the control of the local party structure. The failure of the governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime and Nwodo to come to an agreement on the sharing of positions led to court cases including one injunction obtained from an Enugu High Court which stopped Nwodo from parading as national chairman.
Though he had promised to honour the injunction, but he, however, surfaced at the national convention where President Goodluck Jonathan was set to pick the presidential ticket. His presence caused some stir and some procedural steps had to be retaken to avoid legal traps that could harm the nomination of Dr. Jonathan as presidential candidate.
Amidst the intrigues and with the governors vowing to get full pound of flesh on the national chairman and associates of Jonathan fearful of the leaning of Nwodo, he was eased out for Dr. Haliru Mohammed his deputy to act in his stead.
Mohammed acted as the national chairman of the party until he was appointed a Minister and was replaced still in acting capacity by Alhaji Kawu Baraje who served as national chairman until the election of Dr. Bamanga Tukur in March 2012.
Tukur continued from where Nwodo stopped in his reengineering efforts. He pledged to sustain the e-registration project as part of his efforts to remove the party from the grips of the governors. Tukur quite unlike his predecessors also had the infamous reputation of severally quarrelling with his National Working Committee, NWC members.
His legacy included the division of the party, the exit of five governors and even more remarkably, the historic loss of the control of the House of Representatives.