By Dirisu Yakubu
ABUJA – As the Peoples Democratic Party prepares for its elective national convention to elect new officers before the end of the year to pilot its affairs preparatory for the 2019 general elections, investigations have shown that former Board chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority, Chief Olabode George may emerge the new national chairman of the party.
Although George appears to be the frontrunner, a chieftain of the party who spoke with Vanguard in confidence said the PDP would guide against repeat of past mistakes, adding that whoever will emerge must come through the electoral process at an elective convention as against “imposition or selection.”
While maintaining that the South-West has a strong case in pushing for the party chairmanship, the source said the ‘clear cheating’ of the South West from producing the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2011 should not be allowed to play out this time around.
“It won’t be a nice thing to deny the South West people of the national chairmanship position not only because it is the zone yet to produce the chairman but because the party will have the opportunity to correct a misdeed of the past. The zone was denied the House Speakership in 2011 and for the whole of four years, it was not compensated,” he said.
On the chances of those reportedly gunning for the seat, the source warned against jumping the gun but noted that George’s consultation across board “may swing the pendulum in his favour.”
“It is too early to mention names because the three sub-zones in the South bloc are yet to agree on a common ground. But we cannot deny the fact that activities have been going on in the camp of the South-West. You can see George’s posters as well as those of Adeniran everywhere and George’s wide range of contacts may just swing the pendulum in his favour,” he added.
Speaking recently with newsmen on the issue, a former Minister of Transport and chieftain of the PDP, Chief Ebenezer Babatope said in the spirit of fairness, no other zone should stand in the way of the South-West.
“It is only right and fair that the South-West should produce the chairman since it has not produced any since 1999. Our party, the PDP was in power for 16 years of unbroken democratic governance. In this particularization, every zone had enjoyed the helmsmanship (sic) of our party leadership except the South-West. This is troubling, this is not fair, this is unacceptable,” Babatope had said while justifying his support for George on his believe that the former Board Chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) remains the “best man to pilot the affairs of the party to a new and glorious beginning”.
However, the former NPA boss is facing stiff competition from former Education Minister, Professor Tunde Adeniran, ex-Aviation Minister, Femi Fani- Kayode and immediate past Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko. Barely a week after the expanded caucus meeting of the party, insinuations were rife that the Forum of former PDP Ministers had thrown their weight behind Mimiko; a claim stoutly denied by Kabiru Turaki, erstwhile Minister for Special Duties who insisted that the forum never discussed such an issue in the course of its deliberations. It was a sublime position to take as both Mimiko and Fani-Kayode are members of the former Ministers’ Forum.
Although, there are questions on the long term loyalty of Mimiko having earlier dumped the PDP for Labour Party, those rooting for his candidature argue that there were genuine reasons for his defection in the past. There are also unverified media reports suggesting that some present and past governors have thrown their weight behind him.
As for Adeniran, this is not the first time he has indicated interest in the job, having earlier campaigned vigorously for same the Port Harcourt Convention. Armed with unblemished record of public service, his participation in the series of meetings culminating in last Saturday non-elective convention was both an opportunity to serve the party, and a vehicle to network his way to the hearts of party stakeholders across the country.
There have not been much to the aspiration of Fani-Kayode, yet, rumours of his interest in the party chairmanship won’t just go away. A very active commentator on the social media platform; the former Minister is yet to let the public in the know of the direction of his political future.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has not hidden its ambition of reclaiming power from the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2019. Still basking in the twin victory occasioned by the Supreme Court verdict and the successful conduct of its Special Non-Elective National Convention; the party is leaving nothing to chance in its quest to bounce back to reckoning.
Various arguments have been advanced to explain why a party that once boasted of providing leadership at the federal level for at least 60 years, suddenly got beaten and shoved aside by a party hurriedly put together about two years to the 2015 polls. The reasons are many and varied but not a few agree that the a combination of factors ranging from lack of internal democracy, imposition of candidates and the lack of respect for the zoning formula as enshrined in the party’s constitution, conspired to give the APC the edge in 2015. Thus, following the recent landmark judgment by the Supreme Court affirming the National Caretaker Committee (NCC) of the PDP as the authentic leader of the party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi reiterated the need to do things right, going forward, noting that the PDP under his watch would champion the cause of the collective in the spirit of fairness and equity.
It is in pursuance of these principles that the South-West has risen up to indicate interest in producing the PDP national chairman at the elective convention expected to hold before the end of the year. Although the NCC-led leadership of the party simply zoned the coveted seat to the entire South, the South-West is believed by many as having the most potent argument to go all hog for the position.
Since its formation in 1998, the South-West is the only geo-political zone yet to man the office of the national chairman either in acting or substantive capacity. From 1998 till 1999 when the military voluntarily handed over power to the democratic civilian administration, the late Chief Solomon Lar held sway as the pioneer national chairman of the party. Lar who hailed from Plateau State (North Central) passed the baton to Engineer Barnabas Gemade (Benue-North Central) whose reign came to an end in 2001.
As if the office was the exclusive preserve for the North Central zone, the duo of Audu Ogbeh (Benue) and Senator Ahmadu Ali (Kogi) were to take their turns in the running of the party until 2008 when Prince Vincent Ogbulafor (Abia) emerged national chairman of the party. Two years later, the South-East vacated the seat for Dr. Haliru Bello (Kebbi) of the North-West zone, who in turn was succeeded by Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo (Enugu) who would again lost the plum seat in 2011, same year he emerged.
From 2011 to 2012, the North Central staged a comeback with the emergence of Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje (Kwara) who was succeeded by Alhaji Bamanga Tukur (Adamawa-North East), 2012-2014. Less than two years later, internal squabbles made worse by the inability of the former governor of the defunct Gongola State to rally the support of party leaders in the North East, culminated in his replacement by Alhaji Adamu Muazu, a former governor of Bauchi State whose initial strides were enough to earned him the sobriquet, ‘The game changer.’ Following Muazu’s exit, Uche Secondus (Rivers) stepped in only to handover to Senator Ali Modu Sheriff (Borno-North East) whose reign as acting national chairman would be remembered for turbulence and a 13-month litigation which came to a close with the ruling on July 12 by the apex court in favour of Makarfi (Kaduna-North West).