December 6, 2017

PDP Chairmanship Race: The strategies and permutations

From top left: Olabode George, Rashidi Ladoja, . Jimi Agbaje, Gbenga Daniel, Uche Secondus,Tunde Adeniran, Raymond Dokpesi and Toaheed Adedoja

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

In an apparent reflection of the high stakes involved, the leading candidate for the position of national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus was yesterday in Jalingo where he met with stakeholders of the party in his drive to sustain the momentum that he acquired through the overt support of the majority of the PDP governors. A day or so before, he was in rural Jigawa where he met with former Governor Sule Lamido and just before then, he was in Port-Harcourt for a meeting with South-South governors.


However, with the number of PDP governors reduced to 11, Secondus is apparently not relying on their support alone given the competitive drive by some of his rivals, notably, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Chief Bode George among others to pluck delegates from states not controlled by PDP governors or states.

The hot campaign for the chairmanship of the PDP is something that Wadata Plaza has not witnessed in more than 15 years.

Gemade who was the first chairman to emerge after the party came to power in May, 1999 won the position after he allegedly received the backing of President Olusegun Obasanjo to defeat the highly principled and popular choice of the party mainstream, Chief Sunday Awoniyi at the 1999 convention.

Obasanjo it was alleged, claimed that he could not allow a fellow Yoruba man to be party chairman in a government headed by himself, a Yoruba man.

However, when Gemade apparently decided to trudge an independent path and even contemplated suspending Chief Tony Anenih, the leader as he was called in 2001, he was shown the way out.

Gemade tried to resist but with the power of the state behind him, Obasanjo and Anenih, had their way and Ogbeh who had long been forgotten was fetched to become the national chairman of the party.

Ogbeh held on until January 2005 following which he was forced to resign after eating pounded yam and egusi soup with President Obasanjo whose government’s actions in Anambra State he had the effrontery of criticising in a letter that eventually found its way to the media.

Following Ogbeh, the culture of foisting a national chairman on the party became a tradition.

Indeed, the 2001 national convention apparently was the last time that the choice of a national chairman was taken to the convention floor. All subsequent chairmen who emerged came by way of consensus.

Ogbeh’s replacement, Col. Ahmadu Ali, (rtd.) the former soldier who served as Obasanjo’s Federal Commissioner for Education in his first outing as a military head of state, as party chairman was reputed to have introduced the culture of command and control to the extent that he was dubbed by PDP correspondents as the garrison commander.

All subsequent chairmen who emerged either came by way of the National Executive Committee, NEC and then ratified at the convention floor or came by way of consensus.

The last open campaign for the national chairmanship was in 2012 during the time of President Goodluck Jonathan. President Jonathan for whatever reason decided on Dr. Bamanga Tukur whose independence streak and determination to call the bluff of the party’s governors eventually led to the division of the party and the crisis that catalysed into the party’s loss of the presidential elections for the first time since the advent of the Fourth Republic.

Following that bitter lesson and what party activists consider as the poisonous period of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff between February 2016 and July 2017, party members and chieftains have been evoking the spirit of the founding fathers to root out the impunity that they all agree is the reason the party lost the 2015 presidential elections.

But how far the party members are willing to go in truly giving expression to internal democracy is an issue.

The emergence of Prince Secondus as the leading candidate for the position of national chairman is in the opinion of some, a contradiction to the quest for an end to the reign of impunity. Those with this view allege that he is being foisted on the party.

“It is a done deal,” one senior party official told Vanguard yesterday as he progressed on a journey for a religious retreat out of Abuja on the claim that Secondus had already emerged.

Besides the majority of governors, a sizeable proportion of the former governors and presidential aspirants are also backing Secondus.

The momentum for Secondus has annoyed some, especially the Southwest caucus of the party who believe that it is the turn of the zone to produce the national chairman.

Indeed, the party’s national caucus was inclined towards the Southwest and had given an indication towards that at the aborted May 2016 Port-Harcourt national convention.

However, following the resolution of the internal crisis by the Supreme Court in July 2017, the choice of the Southwest to produce the national chairman became an issue.

The most potent disadvantage was the claim that the party in the zone has been in perpetual crisis. The claim is that the unending spate of crises could open up the party into an unneeded distraction going into the crucial 2019 general elections that the party is determined to win.

It was only on Tuesday that the issue of the correct zonal executive was determined by the Court of Appeal in Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State.

Even more, virtually all the leading candidates from the region appeared to be dogged by one controversy or the other. Chief Bode George, a former deputy national chairman of the party who many acclaim to have unrivalled institutional memory of the party became a soft target by contenders within and outside the zone who questioned his leadership of the Lagos State chapter of the party.

“If Bode George were such a good leader, why is it that the Lagos State chapter of the party has been in perpetual conflict,” one party activist questioned.

Prof. Adeniran who ordinarily should have been an alternative does not have the support of his home governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose. An aide of the governor told Vanguard that the state chapter of the PDP was very ignorant of Adeniran’s candidature saying “we are hearing it in the media the way you are hearing it.”

The internal crises in the Southwest have inevitably helped to push the momentum outside the zone where Secondus is forging ahead with the support of the PDP governors. However, as the convention approached, the Secondus camp seems to have been rattled by the campaign of the only major candidate from outside the Southwest, billionaire media mogul, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi.

Dr. Dokpesi is trying to woo members to the fact that he represents the best option for the party laying emphasis on his struggles against the ruling government. Dokpesi has gone to virtually all the state chapters to woo delegates not committed to the governors that he represents the best option for the party back to Aso Rock. In order not to come second in the contest that is his to lose, Seocndus was yesterday navigating the difficult terrains of Taraba State to make his own pitch for votes.