AS CONSENSUS COMMITTEE ANNOUNCES CANDIDATE
By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor
For the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the expected announcement of the consensus candidate of the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, would no doubt shape the presidential primaries of the party.
This report, therefore, will signposts the expected shift in support and loyalty once the candidate of the NPLF is announced, just as the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, would be confronted with new challenges arising from the mode and nature of the presidential contest in PDP.
It was a rude shock! Wednesday, April 15, 2009, the Convention Planning Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, led by its chairman, the former governor of Kwara State, Alhaji Sha’aba Lafiaji, visited the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, to hold talks with the then INEC chairman.
At that meeting, to the utter shock of the PDP delegation, then INEC chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, in a backhanded remark at the attitude of the ruling party made it clear that certain conditions precedent to a national convention had not been met by the PDP. Sunday Vanguard was told that the INEC chairman told the PDP convention planning team that there ought to have been an advertisement “announcing to all delegates expected at the convention what the convention was all about.
The chairman also told the team that apart from just announcing and making the intentions of the conveners plain and known, they were expected to abide by whatever had been earlier announced,” a source at the meeting informed Sunday Vanguard.
According to the source, the INEC Chairman did not mince words when he declared, for instance, that he had not seen “any instance where the party had announced to the expected delegates, the intentions of that convention.
“One thing is for the party to make public an intention”, the source quoted Iwu as saying, “another thing is for the party to go to the convention ground and do something else”.
“Professor Iwu then told them that since Nigeria was still building the blocks of democracy, it should be seen to be doing that which is thorough and proper in the interest of transparency.”
As at that time, Iwu was specifically referring to Sections 85, 86 and 87 of the Electoral Act, 2006, which clearly spells out what political parties are expected to do and go through in preparation for a convention.
Today, the same scenario may be about to play out.
The prognosis is that incumbent INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega would also be very firm with the political parties. Its first signal was the insistence that PDP state chapters which had had trouble with their congresses be scrapped and proper congresses held.
But if this were going to be the only issue, it would have been a mild one.
To compound PDP’s convention woes would be the thorny issue of a consensus candidate of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum.
The Consensus Committee, chaired by Mallam Adamu Ciroma, is expected to announce its choice among the quartet of former military president Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former National Security Adviser, NSA, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and Kwara State governor, Abubakar Bukola Saraki. The reason why the consensus candidacy would play a role is the alleged support seen to have been made available for President Goodluck Jonathan by the PDP leadership.
The leadership of the party has consistently denied this.
In fact, in an interview with the PDP National Chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, he expressed optimism that there would be a level playing field. He had been asked what modalities there would be for the party’s primaries and he said:
“The party will definitely come out with guidelines. You know we can not even bring out our own guidelines without the amendment to the Electoral Act. So, once the Electoral Act is made ready, our guidelines would be debated in NEC, it would go through the normal procedure.
“The best is to get the guidelines correctly. “Secondly, the implementation of the guidelines is also very important. “The quality of the people we send out to go and conduct the primaries is another very important factor in the process.
“Definitely, you know as well as I do that I will not be able to watch over all the processes leading up to the main convention neither would I be available in all the states when the primaries are going on.
“Once we know who our aspirants are, we’ll give them the code of conduct, manifestoes and constitution and guidelines for their primaries and we’re going to drum this message into their heads so that when they go out to campaign, they know what PDP stands for”.
On the issue of bias, Nwodo said: “I am not in any campaign organization of any of our aspirants. What we have done in the party is to provide a level playing ground. The other time we invited the Directors General of the campaign teams of the presidential aspirants and tried to refocus their attention to the issues affecting Nigerians and we don’t think that it is right to embark on character assassination of one another.
And I also told them that suppose the person whose character is most assassinated becomes the candidate, then we would have given the opposition enough ammunition to deal with our candidate”. (See Sunday Interview for details)
But Sunday Vanguard has learnt that the Ciroma Committee is also exploring the possibility of ensuring that a consensus vice presidential candidate is presented.
That way, Sunday Vanguard was told, a consolidation of delegates would be engendered. For the purpose of the same presidential primaries, the NPLF is also putting finishing touches to the convergence of the campaign structures of the four presidential aspirants on the bill of the NPLF. A source close to the NPLF told Sunday Vanguard that “even the Directors-General of the campaign organizations are also in talks”.
What this is expected to achieve for the NPLF is a complete consolidation of delegates for whoever the consensus candidate is.
On an individual by individual basis, whoever emerges as the consensus candidate would also shape preparations of the NPLF for the PDP presidential primaries. This is being seen in some quarters as a gang up. And whereas leaders of the NPLF insist that it is not a gang up, there are strong indications that the PDP leadership may not frown at such an arrangement.
This indication was provided by Nwodo himself in an interview. Asked thus: Once the Consensus Committee of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum, NPLF, announces its consensus candidate, there is bound to be a change in the complexion of the presidential primaries of the PDP.
As the national chairman, what sense would you make of that?
“Individual candidates, in partnership, are allowed to plot their own strategies in any way they like. You know some 40 political parties have said they are supporting President Goodluck Jonathan. First is that President Jonathan is not a member of their political party. Secondly is that they do not have presidential candidates.
So, if within our own political party some candidates decide to work together, it is their own strategy. “We have nothing against it and there is nothing in our constitution that says they are doing something illegal.
“As we move to the general elections of next year, which would be preceded by internal contest for the party’s presidential ticket the promise I have made in the past and which I stand by is to ensure that there is a level playing field.
The imperative of this is that it would engender a situation whereby our party is able to present its first eleven to the electorate in order to be able to confront the other parties. This is a message that I have been taking round all the corners of this country”.
In the event that Atiku gets the ticket of the PDP, there are suggestions in some quarters that the contest would become very, very fierce as “he would draw on all his supporters and loyalists of over two decades in politics to fight”. This is in addition to whatever number of delegates the three other aspirants would be delivering to him. But some say his exit from the Action Congress, AC, would most likely hurt his chances in some quarters.
In the event that it is Babangida, something similar is expected to happen but in this instance, with the South West delegates heavily skewed against his aspiration on account of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
For Gusau, it would go the same way but being a mystery man, his seeming lack of baggage may be a very big plus for him. However, he would be expected to really benefit from the consolidated delegates’ numbers from the other aspirants.
Saraki of Kwara State may spring some surprises. As the chairman of the governors’ forum, he can count on the support of his colleagues who may see in him a wheeler dealer. But the team of incumbent President Jonathan is not going to sleep. Sunday Vanguard learnt that the President is more confident today than as ever been. The reason for this, it was gathered, is that some of the individuals claiming to be championing the cause of the president have been told to seal their lips and avoid making more caustic statements.
Also, the campaign strategy employed by President Jonathan now is said to be more of consultations. The presidential primaries of the parties would be determined by the amendments to the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act because both would serve as guides for INEC.
PDP’S CONVENTIONS AT A GLANCE
*First meeting of PDP leaders and launching of the party was on August 19, 1998 to launch the party
*Second meeting was the Jos Convention in February 1999 to elect a Presidential candidate
*Third gathering of the PDP faithful was to elect Barnabas Gemade as Chairman
*The Fourth gathering was in 2003 where Obasanjo got the presidential tickect of the party, after a face-off with Atiku
*The fifth meeting was November, 2004 where Audu Ogbeh emerged national chairman
*The sixth gathering was in December 2005 where, through affirmation, Ahmadu Ali emerged Chairman of the party
* The seventh gathering was November 2006 where the amendment to the qualification for chairmanship of the Board of Trustees was carried
*The eight gathering was the election of Umar Musa Yar’;Adua as presidential candidate of the party
*The ninth gathering was the election of Vincent Ogbulafor as national chairman of the party
*April 2009 convention was the tenth gathering of the PDP faithful and it was for an amendment to the party’s constitution