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Hit me I hit you: PDP’s war of attrition

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor & Henry Umoru

This is the story of a party perpetually steeped in crises and how the presidential aspiration of not a few is fuelling the present shambolism in the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Sometime in 2001, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which is going  through another bout of crisis, was left for dead.  This was after the  then President Olusegun Obasanjo had imposed Barnabas Gemade on the party as chairman in late 1999.  But the crux of the matter at that National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting of the party was whether the proposed amendment to the party’s constitution which would add another year to the tenure of the party’s national chairman, even before the convention that would ratify it, be made retroactive.

There were those who wanted Gemade to continue in office as national chairman. For a man whose tenure was about to end, that would have been impossible for Gemade.  Enter Emmanuel Ibeshi and Gbenga Olawepo, publicity secretary and deputy publicity secretary respectively at the time and members of NEC and its National Working Committee, NWC.

Although Olawepo played the role of Stephanopoulos for Gemade during the campaign for the latter’s chairmanship (his image maker), he spearheaded the opposition against Gemade.

The crisis generated by the events of that era made some to hastily conclude that the PDP would die.  The party survived.  Instead, it was the duo of Ibeshi and Olawepo who kissed the dust in a glorious manner.  Their insistence that Gemade’s suggestion of retroactivity was illegal sailed through but the same party reduced them to mere floor members afterwards.  That was in 2001.

Fast forward to September, 2006!  Right inside the seat of power, Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, something very strange happened.

It was in the office of the Vice President.  Atiku Abubakar was the Vice President.  Ahmadu Ali, then national chairman of the PDP was ushered into Atiku’s office.  After taking his seat, what happened next confounded even Atiku himself.  Ali had broken all the rules of registration by bringing  to Atiku his membership card of PDP.

And whereas members were expected to register in their wards, the outcry over the treatment being meted to Atiku and his associates when PDP introduced its re-registration drive, forced the hands of Ali and Obasanjo to make an out-station card delivery to Atiku in Abuja. It was the same PDP who wrought that magic.  That was not all about the absurdities that PDP has come to be associated with.

After forcing some leaders and founders out of PDP, those forced out simply took their umbrage to another level.  They formed a splinter group, secured office accommodation in another part of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, and created what they termed a new PDP – founding chairman of the party, Solomon Lar, was a member of this splinter group.

The list is endless.
Now, ahead of the 2011 general elections, the unfolding scenario in the polity especially in the family of this self acclaimed largest party in Africa is turning out to be a case of dog eat dog. The PDP Umbrella is once again threatened by the possibility of being shredded.

It is no longer the opposition parties like the Action Congress, AC, Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, All Nigerian Peoples Party, ANPP, among others giving the PDP sleepless nights, it is now PDP versus PDP.

But the undertone to this crisis is the 2011 presidential elections.
On every eve of congresses or primaries, the PDP leaders have a way of contriving crisis for the party and the larger polity so much so that every other issue of national importance takes the backstage.
The reason is simply because the pursuit of power is at the root of the present crisis.

Sunday Vanguard learnt that there is no love lost between Jonathan and Vincent Ogbulafor, national chairman of PDP.  This started when Ogbulafor declared, without consultation but relying on the unwritten zoning policy of  PDP that the North will produce the president in 2011.

Also, former President Obasanjo has his unseen hand in the present crisis rocking the PDP.  Poised to repeat his 2007 imposition of Yar’Adua on the  party as presidential candidate, Obasanjo, Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed,  has been involved is wide consultations on  the possibility of a Jonathan contesting next year’s presidential elections.

Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that the present circumstance of Ogbulafor, is the same as that of Maurice Iwu, the professor of Pharmacology who serves as national chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.

Just immediately after Iwu’s INEC made a public presentation of a time-table for next year’s elections, Sunday Vanguard learnt that Aso Rock did not take it lightly.

A PDP leader told Sunday Vanguard that the way INEC structured its two time-tables for next year’s elections meant Acting President Jonathan may not have enough time to impress Nigerians and to seek the presidency based on performance.

Although Sunday Vanguard could not confirm whether Jonathan spoke directly with Iwu regarding the former’s feelings about the time-table, what could be confirmed, however, is that those piling pressure on Jonathan to contest let it be known that INEC’s time-table was an “aspiration killer”.

Even at that, PDP is known to have been fully inoculated against peaceful conduct, due-process and matters commonsensical.

Therefore, in the last few weeks, crisis in the party deepens everyday especially with the birth of a splinter group, the Peoples Democratic Party Reform Forum, spearheaded by former Senate Presidents, Ken Nnamani, Adolphus Wabara, ex-Speaker Aminu Bello Masari, former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, past National Secretary of the party, Bernard Eze former Presidential aspirant, Rochas Okorocha, immediate past Minister of Commerce and Industry, Achike Udenwa, the PDP Abia governorship candidate in the 2007 governorship election, Onyema Ugochukwu, former transport Minister, Abiye Sekibo, one time Health Minister, Professor ABC Nwosu and Senator Ifeanyi Ararume.

Others are Chief Tony Ukasanya, Chief Sunny Iroche; Senator Emmanuel Agboti; Senator Sylvanus Ngele; Chief Chris Ekpeyong, former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State; Hon. Auwal Tukur, former Chief Whip, Bawa Bwari, Kelechi Igwe, Mercy Almona-Isei, former Deputy Speaker, Austin Okpara, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Hon. Clement Andie, Iro Dan Musa, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, Nenadi Usman, Lawal Tukur, Jolly Nyame, Doyin Okupe; Musa Elayo, Prince Benjamin Apugo, Josephine Anenih, Umaru Dahiru, Senator Matthew Mbu, Celestine Omehi, Isa Musa Matori; Sadiq Yar’adua, Professor Chinwe Obaji, Senator Umaru Tsawi, Henry Tenebe, Uyi Ogbemudia, among others.

The PDP Reform Forum lists its mission as returning  to the founding ideals of the PDP; re-engineer  the party to make it more people-oriented (Peoples Democracy); be more creative in the generation of party funds; streamlining extant paralled structures in PDP states.

Alhaji  Aminu Bello Masari, speaking for the group described many as  “bonafide, authentic members of PDP who are genuinely and sincerely concerned that the “party has progressively and incrementally drifted away from its founding ideals and has completely lost focus under the watch of the current NWC.

“The PDP Reform Forum among others, demands that persons of proven capability and high integrity shall be elected always to run its affairs, especially as members of NWC, that key national officers of the PDP must be thinking men, people of integrity and people with proven track records of performance.

“The PDP reform has traced our Party Leadership from Dr. Alex Ekwueme as the Founding National Chairman in August 1998, through Chief Solomon Lar, Engr. Barnabas Gemade, the very cerebrate Chief Audu Ogbeh, and Dr. Ahmadu Ali, to the current Chairman, and we are concerned.

“We are concerned because we believe that the “spirit” is always more important than the “letter” and consequently, personalities are critical in ensuring the entrenchment of democratic values and ideals and in promoting electoral reforms. The PDP Reform Forum is of the view that impunity and absence of “internal democracy” in political parties in our country, whereby the names of the flag bearers of the various political parties are compiled in “air-conditioned” rooms rather than transparently and in the open before the people, will destroy Nigeria’s democracy. We believe that since our party, the PDP prides itself as being the No.1 party, its leadership should be No.1 promoting “reform” ideas that will enhance party democracy in Nigeria”.

For Senator Ken Nnamani, the body is not about attacking a personality; it is not about removing Ogbulafor, but about getting it right in PDP as the largest party in Africa.

The battle line was then drawn on Thursday; it became PDP versus the PDP; the locale was the Conference Hall of the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja, and the dramatis personae became members of the PDP reform Forum, the Prince Vincent Ogbulafor led National Working Committee, NWC while the umpire may be well described as invisible hand watching how events unfold.

Prelude to the anticlimax of the War, the Masari group sent out invitation letters inviting members to the Stakeholders’ meeting of the Forum on Thursday, 22, April 2010 and it was powerfully signed by the Proprietor of AIT/Raypower and the Ezomo of Weppa Wanno, Etsako East, High Chief Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi, it was fixed for 11am.

The National Chairman of the PDP also through the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali on Tuesday, 20 April summoned the brains behind the Reform Forum to face the NWC of the party; the venue was Wadata Plaza, national secretariat of the party.

The invitation letter read in part, “the National Working Committee is in possession of facts linking some respectable members of our party with a scheme to subject our great party to disrepute, contempt and hatred.

“The said members and others, meeting under the umbrella of PDP REFORM GROUP are reported to be engaging or to have engaged in conduct likely to cause disaffection among members of the party or likely to disrupt the peaceful, lawful and efficient conduct of the business of the party or otherwise engage in anti-party activities or precipitate faction and belong to a group under the guise of the party by whatever name called, not being one provided for in the constitution of the party.

“In consonance with our commitment to the principles of justice and fair hearing, the National Working Committee of the PDP at its’ emergency meeting of 20th April, 2010 acting under and by virtue of powers conferred on it in Article 21.4 of our party constitution resolved to invite the following PDP members to appear before it on Thursday 22nd  April, 2010 at  12 noon to clear themselves of allegations linking them to these plots”.

Prepared for the battle of the titans, while the leadership of the party was waiting for its August visitors in April, the invited guests were at the Nicon Luxury Hotel lampooning the headsmen of the party – speaker after speaker reechoed the other, the theme of the message was the same, the pivotal issues raised were that the party is sick, it lacks focus, it is not imaginative, it is not creative, the leadership is misleading the members, it has become a liability, it was no longer working in conformity with the ideals of the founding fathers, but presented differently.

The Reform group at the end of the day shunned Ogbulafor’s invitation, saying that they were not invited properly, that the party has their addresses and instead of inviting them on the pages of newspapers and Television, the leadership of the party ought to have addressed letters to them and send same to their various homes or offices.

According to them, as members of the party, they also have the right to express themselves through a body like the PDP governors who operate through the PDP Governors’ Forum.

That became the climax of the cold war between these stakeholders of the party and members of the NWC.
Moved by what the Ogbulafor-led NWC saw as an embarrassment for a body saddled with the responsibility of administering the party, there was a dramatic twist in the entire PDP’s circle on Thursday when the NWC invoked Article 21 of the Party’s constitution by suspending the arrow-heads of the PDP Reform Forum. The party justified its action by stressing that it was surprised at the actions of its members to appear before it despite extensive invitations extended to them.

Part of the statement by the PDP National Secretary, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje read, “the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at its meeting held on the 22nd of April, 2010 considered current political events in Nigeria and came up with the following resolutions:-
“The NWC is of the view that the concerned members had adequate notice but declined to utilize the opportunity granted them by the invitation to explain their roles.

“The NWC held that the decision to dishonour the invitation to appear before it is a calculated attempt to disregard lawful directives of the party in order for them to continue to ridicule the party contrary to Article 12.1 of the PDP Constitution.

“Consequently, the following members of the so called PDP Reform Forum are suspended from the party forthwith in accordance with Article 21.4 of the party Constitution”.

With this action of the National Working Committee, it is clear that the leadership of the party is set for war with its aggrieved members and members of the Reform group are poised for war with the party’s NWC. The party acted in line with Article 21 especially subsections, (f,h,j) of the constitution, but with the 2011 elections ahead of the party, the leadership may have over reacted, it ought to have at least made them face the Disciplinary Committee of the party where there could be preliminary hearings.

According to Article 21.4 of the PDP’s constitution, “the Working Committee at any level of the party may after preliminary hearings, suspend a member from the party for a period not exceeding one month during which period the member so suspended shall not lose his her right to contest any election but shall be referred to the appropriate Disciplinary Committee.

Though, the suspended members have been referred to the Disciplinary Committee, but Article 21. 6 of the same constitution stipulates that “A member who appears before a Disciplinary Committee shall be given opportunity to present his or her case orally or in writing either in person or through a counsel of his or her choice and shall be allowed to call witnesses.

A decision taken against a member who has not been informed of the charges against him or her or has not been given opportunity of defending himself or herself shall be null and void.

Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives and prominent member of the party, Prince Chibudom Nwuche, the party’s leadership to exhibit maturity and understanding in resolving the issues raised by the PDP Reform Group, noting that members of the group are influential party faithful with genuine concern for the welfare and continued relevance of the party in the Nigerian polity.

Nwuche, who was responding to questions from newsmen in Abuja, advised that rather than castigate or sanction members of the Reform Group, the PDP leadership should look carefully into the issues raised by them in order to deepen internal party democracy and ensure cohesion and continued electoral success. The former lawmaker said this approach is especially necessary in view of the up-coming elections where the party is expected to do well and offer a platform for progressive and reform minded Nigerians to foster National political growth as well economic and social emancipation.

“The party must exhibit tolerance for diverse views and also live up to its name – the Peoples Democratic Party which is an embodiment of internal party democracy and respect for freedom of expression”, he declared.

The war has been heightened by the decision of the PDP leadership, but how it will be managed before the Party’s primaries becomes the central issue, if not checked, it will make or mar the party against the backdrop that the war is not only between the Reform group versus the NWC members, it is also a case of the PDP twenty-eight governors and the group as well as the perceived remote of the presidency against the present leadership of the party. In this category listed above, only the Governors are on the side Ogbulafor.

Another issue is after the suspension, what next, will the Reform group soft-pedal or will Ogbulafor’s group reverse the suspension sledge hammer and call them separately for meetings or will the Board of Trustees of the party rescue the situation and will the decision be ratified at Tuesday’s meeting of the party’s NEC?

PDP’s History of Crises

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor

This is a catalogue of the serial crises that has rocked the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, since its formation in late 1998.  It is a catalogue that is at once embarrassing and disgraceful but nonetheless instructive.
* February1999:  Presidential primaries in Jos, Plateau State:  Olusegun Obasanjo’s victory as the presidential candidate shakes the party.
* Between May and June 1999:  Obasanjo rejects the choice of Chuba Okadigbo as senate president and instead forces Evan(s) Enwerem on the senate – this creates ripples in the party
* Mild crisis in the PDP over the forced resignation of Salisu Buhari, as Speaker
* Another confrontation on the installation of Okadigbo as Enwerem’s successor in a palace coup on the floor of the senate.
* Late 1999: Badblood over choice of Bernabas Gemade over Chief Sunday Awoniyi as PDP chairman – Gemade wins at national convention but the process is considered undue
*2001: Crisis over amendment of party constitution to extend tenure of national chairman by one year.  Gemade makes a push to make the law retroactive so he can benefit from the tenure elongation and this leads to crisis
* Emmanuel Ibeshi and Gbenga Olawepo (publicity secretaries of the party) insist that Gemade should not benefit just as they push for reforms in the party.  This leads to serious crisis in PDP.
* 2001: Gemade announces the suspension of Chief Anthony Anenih but this immediately backfires as the former recants the following day.  He is shoved aside but makes a prophesy that the fate that would befall his successor would be worse than his own.  Gemade, reluctantly bows out
* Audu Ogbeh, long-forgotten Second Republic minister of Communications is exhumed and made PDP chairman but this also creates its own ripples
* April 2002: Brouhaha over presidential ambition of Obasanjo for second term.  Crisis erupts in PDP as associates of Vice President Atiku Abubakar talk of a MANDELA OPTION which Obasanjo is expected to adopt.  This creates bad blood between Obasanjo and Atiku but they both tried to manage the crisis and keep it under the table.  Obasanjo declared  for second term at the International Conference Centre, ICC, with no mention of  his running mate at all as he assesses his administration. Atiku, too, had plays footsy by not making himself available for the public declaration but compelled to attend to allow peace reign.
* Mid 2002: Attempt to impeach Obasanjo as president by the national assembly polarizes the party.  While the senate sheaths  its sword, the Ghali Umar Na’Abba led House of representatives goes ahead, prompting many influential personalities to wade into the crisis. The attempt is dropped.
* Battle of wits between Obasanjo and Na’Abba divides the party.
* January 2003: Atiku eyeballs Obasanjo over presidential primaries
January 2003: State governors insist that Obasanjo would not be marketable for the 2003 elections; urges Atiku on
* 2004: Signs of a divided PDP National Eexecutive Committee, NEC – Obasanjo forces pitched against Atiku’s associates
* Late 2004: Audu Ogbeh hits Obasanjo in an open letter, complaining about Obasanjo’s seeming overbearing attitude and the shambles that the President’s action is turning PDP into.  Obasanjo responds and goes vulgar against his party chairman, insinuating that Ogbeh may have made so much money after being made chairman of PDP.
* Early 2005: Peace brokered between Obasanjo and Ogbeh forces at the PDP NEC meeting. The temperature in the polity reaching boiling point.  Obasanjo plans  to publicly disgrace his party chairman but forces loyal to the party chairman, too, have their own response agenda, the consequences of which nobody could predict.
* Shortly after, Obasanjo forces Ogbeh to resign ahead of the end of his tenure after he was cajoled to visit Aso Rock Presidential and a resignation extracted from him, personally by Obasanjo
* Ahmadu Ali of the ALI MUST GO is exhumed from private life and imposed as national chairman of PDP without an election in 2005
* PDP shocks the nation and the political world when it announces that members of the party would be re-registered as members – something akin to sacking all your workers and telling them to re-apply.
* PDP introduces what it calls linkmen to determine  those to be re-registered as members of the party.  This creates bad blood not just in PDP but heightens tension in the polity.  The linkmen systematically refuse to register Atiku and his associates.
* Obasanjo introduces a new phenomenon of tenure elongation dubbed Third Term.  This creates a new crisis in PDP and forces take sides.
* Third Term fails by April 2006
* Atiku and his associates are then forced out of PDP even while a case was in court on the matter
* Another group of PDP leaders take office residence in another part of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, creating  what they term a new PDP – founding chairman of the party, Solomon Lar, is a member of  the splinter group
* 2007: Party congresses and primaries in shambles – PDP selects its candidates
* Presidential primaries and Obasanbjo’s insistence on Umar Musa Yar’Adua creates fresh crisis in the party.
* Yar’Adua emerges as PDP presidential candidate but many limbs are broken and faces bruised by Obasanjo in the process.
* Yar’Adua takes over and sets up the Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme Reconciliation Committee with a view to bringing back members who were forced out. Committee work sabotaged by people who see themselves as new kings.
* 2008: Pre-national convention tussle between former Governor Sam Egwu and former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim tears the party apart – matter resolved and all aspirants for the post of national chairman file behind Vincent Ogbulafor.
* Ogbulafor in one of his first public statements says PDP will rule for another 60 years – Nigerians tear him apart.
* Yar’Adua’s refusal to sign handover letter to his deputy creates fresh crisis in the polity and even between and among PDP members and leaders.
* Ogbulafor’s statement about presidency and zoning sparks latest crisis.
* A new group emerges tagging itself PDP Reform Forum, insists that NEC and National Working Committee, NWC, of the PDP should be dissolved.
*PDP NWC suspends leaders of the Reform Forum, among whom are former Senate President Ken Nnamani; Aminu Bello-Masari, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, convener; former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili.


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