By Dirisu Yakubu
As the gladiators in the race to the national chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) approach the final lap of what promises to be an intense sprint; the eyes of the public are on the man who will be the first to breast the tape.
Following the failure to produce a consensus candidate amongst the legion of aspirants gunning for the plum seat, it was settled that only national delegates drawn from the 36 States of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would be the sole determinants of the next chairman of the party.
In the past few weeks, the aspirants have demonstrated uncommon passion and loyalty to the ideals of the party as they continued their nationwide consultations and interface with delegates and leaders of the party. With pledges anchored on the lofty goal to reposition the party ahead of the 2019 general elections, these aspirants have literally illuminated the political atmosphere, thus leading to scores of pundits labelling the PDP the most organized political party in the land in spite of feuds here and there, in some state chapters.
As these aspirants go to the polls to test their popularity among the delegates, the question many are asking is: Who gets the nod of the almost 3,000 delegates expected at the gathering? What are the factors likely to work for and against them?
The most coveted position of the about 21 positions on offer is the office of the national chairman which is being contested by eight candidates.
The focus on the office of national chairman is mainly on the fact that the person who occupies the office is seen as the face of the party.
Prince Uche Secondus
He was the former Acting National Chairman of the party and a tested political tactician.
He is seen as the anointed heir of the National Caretaker Committee; a claim that has been dismissed by the party leadership.
Only last week, the move to checkmate his growing influence and popularity by the Northern Elders and Leaders Forum was countered when the youth group of northern extraction and PDP Chairmen in the north kicked against the stand of the elders, calling for the race to be thrown open to all aspirants from the South.
While his popularity is not in doubt, Secondus is facing the opposition of a number of party stakeholders from the north, many of whom are likely to influence the voting pattern of their delegates.
Worth mentioning is the increasing influence of Governor Wike, who many fear will literally take over the affairs of the party in the event that Secondus emerges the chairman of the party.
A stakeholder of the party and a northern elder who is one of those clamouring for the South-West to produce the chairman puts it this way: “It is our belief that the party will lose focus and sense of direction if a governor is allowed to dictate what happens in the party. Again, there is the issue of equity. The South-West has never had a chairman, elected or appointed. Please, let us give it to the South-West for the sake of fairness and equity.”
Secondus’ aspiration also appeared to suffer a setback earlier in the week when a founding father of the party and former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB (retd) warned against the sale of the chairmanship position to the highest bidder. Though, he mentioned no names, not a few knew where the shot was directed.
High Chief Raymond Dokpesi
The media-mogul cum politician is running one of the most organized campaign machineries amongst the aspirants. He is taking his gospel of political redemption for the PDP round the country and has succeeded in making the most of it.
He has visited the 36 states of the country in his quest for the party’s number one office at least twice; first in 2016 and then recently.
Going for Dokpesi is the fact that he never held any position in the PDP Federal Government when it held power despite his immense contributions to the party.
Dokpesi is going into the election with the momentum that he has a mind of his own and is unlike Secondus and Adeniran who are close to some party bigwigs, he is seen as a man of his own.
During the Goodluck Jonathan presidency he was in the camp of those who campaigned for the reform of the party and that the party should be taken back to the people.
He has been praised for his consistency as seen in the fact that many of those who campaigned for the reform of the party left the party when it failed to adopt the reforms but he remained. Among those who were in the forefront for the reforms were Senator Ken Nnamani, Alhaji Aminu Masari, Alhaji Bawa Bwari among others who are now holding prime positions in the All Progressives Congress, APC led administration.
Although, he has been consistent in his call for co- aspirants to embrace whoever will emerge at the convention, Dokpesi is not a lightweight politician to be taken lightly.
The Daar Communications founder is of the opinion that only the best is good enough to lead the party and as he takes his message across the land; he spares no effort to remind his hosts the personal contributions he has made over the years in the progress of the party.
Professor Tunde Adeniran
He is one of the most consistent members of the party having stayed within its camp from inception in 1998 till date. A professor of Political Science, Adeniran served as Nigerian Ambassador to the Republic of Germany.
Born in 1945, the author-turned politician boasts of impeccable records in public office and is seen largely as a dependable ally, good to work with and reliable to the end.
Professor Adeniran is enjoying massive support from notable stakeholders from the north who are not shy of making their position known. The likes of Professor Jerry Gana, Senators Ahmadu Ali, Ibrahim Mantu and some ex-governors elected on the platform of the PDP are rooting for the former Ambassador to replace Senator Ahmed Makarfi this Saturday.
Speaking on his chances at the convention, a former member of the party’s National Working Committee who pleaded anonymity said: “This is a two-horse race between Secondus and Adeniran. Their strategies are top-notch and it is difficult to say who will get it. Those underestimating the chances of the Professor are probably not aware of the works we have done so far.”
Adeniran’s biggest threat is Secondus and vice-versa. Apart from the threat posed by the aspiration of “Total,” a school of thought believes his age is likely to count against him, should the delegates root for a younger chairman.
Perhaps, Adeniran’s biggest drawback is the lukewarm disposition of his State governor, Ayodele Fayose to his aspiration to lead the party. Only recently, Fayose who doubles as Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum was quoted as saying that he was unaware of any aspirant from Ekiti, vying for the national chairmanship of the party.
Although, the governor later pledged “To do everything within my power” to work in the interest of the South-West to produce the chairman; scores of analysts regarded the volte-face as an after thought.
Chief Bode George
Navy Commodore Olabode George (retd) is a quintessential grassroots mobilizer and astute politician. A former National Vice Chairman (South) of the party, George says his aspiration is borne out of the peculiar circumstance of the times.
He argues that were the PDP in power today, he probably would have sat comfortably to offer guidance to the party. For the first time in recent years, the PDP is coming into a political contest as an opposition party and as a result; only the best are good enough, he says.
George is a tough guy, whose courage and willingness to take hard decisions stands him apart from the crowd.
His chairmanship, many have argued would steady the party and absolves same from the controlling influence of powerful State governors.
His nationwide tour of the States has been described as a huge success; one capable of drawing him a huge chunk of the delegates.
It is not clear if George has a good relationship with the governors owing principally to the events at the botched 2016 convention in Port- Harcourt.
His recent outburst against the leadership of the party may not endear him to some delegates expected to cast their ballots on Saturday.
Again, George for all his experience and suitability for the job, will have to make do with sharing the South-West votes with Adeniran and others owing to the failure of the geo-political zone to agree on a consensus candidate.
Professor Taoheed Adedoja
A former Minister of Sports and Special Duties, Professor Adedoja is one of the aspirants recently endorsed by the South-West Board of Trustees (BoT) caucus of the PDP to run for the plum seat.
A one-time Provost, Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo, the ex-Minister’s nationwide tour has endeared him to quite a number of party chieftains and stakeholders.
The Professor of Special Education arguably boast of the most robust programmes in the pack. Adedoja’s lofty programmes include insurance policy for members of the National Working Committee as well as staff of the party; establishment of hotels across the six geo-political zones in the country to diversify fund sources for the party as well as institution of annual sports festival.
Otunba Gbenga Daniel
Former Governor Gbenga Daniel has also put in an energetic input in his bid for the chairmanship of the party. He was at one time seen as a candidate of the governors and has been able to through his old network among serving governors campaigned for the position across the country.
He is, however, mainly challenged by the opposition from home especially by Senator Buruji Kashamu who has waged an unending battle to stop his famous constituent from becoming the party’s number one man.
Many of the governors who had also shown some interest towards Daniel were believed to have drawn back not just because of the emergence of Secondus but also because of the behind the scene perception that former President Olusegun Obasanjo may be opposed to Daniel.
Senator Rasheed Ladoja
Senator Ladoja entered into the race quite late and just after his readmission into the opposition party.
Ladoja’s main role has been towards forging a consensus among the Southwest towards ensuring that the position does not escape the Southwest. He has been behind the series of behind the scene meetings held this week to ensure that a consensus candidate emerges from the Southwest.
Mr. Jimi Agbaje
Mr. Agbaje was the original choice of the governors in 2016 and may as well have been the chairman had the Port-Harcourt convention run its full course.
However, following fresh permutations his ascendancy has been taken away and his prospects in today’s convention may not get the required fillip unless the governors come back to reckon with him.
His home state had earlier clearly given the message to him that the state was fully in support of Mr. George who in any case, was the one who brought Agbaje into the party.