By Paul Agbo
The successes of the recently-concluded Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, congresses across the country has proved that the leadership of the party is in charge of the affairs of the party. This is in spite of the fears in some quarters of a showdown among gladiators that might lead to the main opposition party further sinking under.
After the approval by the National Executive Committee, NEC, of PDP at its 88th meeting to start the schedule of activities of the party for the year 2020, there was a cloud of doubt that hovered over the ability of PDP coming out of the planned congresses in one piece.
The fears, expectedly, stemmed from the internal issues plaguing some states chapters of the party and affecting some of the grassroots structures of the chapters from the perennial political power struggles among gladiators.
As the dust from the 2019 general elections settled down, clearing way for new strategies ahead of the next general elections in 2023, gladiators of the party started putting in motion mobilisation of their followers towards achieving power control at all levels of the party hierarchy of governance.
With the whistle blown by NEC commencing the year’s party activities, the sales of forms for the congresses started on February 5, at the national secretariat of the party in Abuja without any further delay.
ALSO READ: Crisis looms in PDP over ward congresses
Sensing the importance of the congresses to the survival of the party, its national umpire, the national organising secretary, NOS, of PDP, Col. Austin Akobundu (retd) on behalf of National Working Committee, NWC, in a press release sent a cautionary note to millions of teaming supporters, party members and stakeholders across the nation to eschew bitterness and work towards the success of the congresses at all governance levels of the party.
Akobundu said: “Since millions of our teaming supporters, party members and stakeholders across the nation will be involved, it has, therefore, become necessary for me, as the officer constitutionally mandated to oversee all field activities of the party, on behalf of National Working Committee, NWC, to encourage all our members to see the year 2020 congresses as yet another opportunity to show the world that PDP is not only the largest party in Africa, but a party of rules and due process.
“The leadership of the party enjoins us all to be orderly, peaceful and law abiding.
“Let all aspirants campaign freely, ensure compliance with all constitutional provisions, maintain absolute decorum and avoid unwholesome behaviours that are capable of impugning on the integrity of the processes. Remember the exercise is a family affair,” the National Organising Secretary of the party said.
The conundrum associated with political party congresses, especially in Nigeria’s political party operations, were never far away even for an experienced party as the PDP.
The party began its ward congresses on March 7, and as usual the gladiators and their supporters in their usual characteristics had their show before, during and after the congresses.
The congresses started with 26 states: Abia, FCT, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Nasarawa, Niger, Ondo, Ogun, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, and Yobe.
By March 21, the party had conducted ward congresses in 23 out of the 26 states, with Jigawa, Ogun, Yobe states outstanding.
It also conducted local government congresses in 16 of the states, including Abia, FCT, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Katsina, Nasarawa, Plateau and Rivers.
It was understood that state congresses were only conducted successfully in three states (Rivers, Gombe, Bayelsa); although, Ebonyi conducted its congress, sources say the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, headquarters did not monitor it.
It was further gathered that due to COVID-19 pandemic and the stay-at-home directives by the federal and state governments and INEC’s press releases suspending political activities, the party had to suspend all its activities and shut Wadata Plaza, its national headquarters in Abuja.
The COVID-19 pandemic ravaging nations all over the world had an impact on the operations of PDP, forcing the party managers to evolve its party administration strategy to meet the challenges created by the global phenomenon.
The problem was that the tenures of the current party excos were to expire by April 30 for the ward, May 5 for local governments and May 10 for the state executives.
Sources within the party informed that Akobundu made tireless efforts reading each electoral committee’s reports and appeal panel reports for each state and prepared the executive summary for NWC members, who by law must read and approve all congresses.
To achieve this, the NOS had to deploy the electronic means of reaching out to all members of the NWC with an Electronic memo on all the states (26) for approval.
Every NWC member was said to have spent enormous time reading each of the memo carefully and pass each accordingly. Observations/objections were raised as some prayers in the memos were amended and approved accordingly, the party source said.
More so, after the NWC approvals, the Directorate of Mobilisation and Organisation of the party under the directives of the NOS began compiling names of elected officers from the submitted result sheets in preparation for the change of baton from the outgoing excos to the incoming ones in order to avoid leaving a vacuum and creating a constitutional crisis.
The authentic lists of approved names of excos were released to each state chapter.
In the political climate of Nigeria, after every party congress, either to elect party officials or elect public office holders, there are always complaints, acrimony and more as losers bicker while winners want to take all.
The leadership of PDP knew that from past experiences and more so that PDP recently amended its Constitution and giving power back to the people by making five ward excos super delegates— Ward Chairman, Ward Deputy Chairman, Ward Secretary, Ward Womens’ Leader and Ward Youth Leader. This now makes the ward congress a keenly-contested exercise at the grassroots level. This is also owing to the fact that the bulk of delegates in a state primary elections ostensibly come from the wards.
As a political party of interests, the intrigues of power-grabbing reared its ugly heads, as some state chapters were plunged into crisis. The pockets of crisis were recorded in Ekiti, Ogun, Adamawa, Jigawa and Cross River states owing to disagreements among party leaders and their followers over the conduct of the congresses.
But party officials are very confident that the admonitions by the party on the need for proper conduct of members appeared to have been heeded to going by the number of states that came out of the congress crisis-free. On a general scale, PDP is said to be confident that it remained very stable as it changes its expiring executives.
The party have successfully changed its excos and new ones are now in charge of the affairs of the party in each state chapter.
Reports from the party indicate that in states where state chapter could not be conducted due to the COVID-19 crisis, the NOS caused NWC to exercise its powers under Section 29(2)(b) and invoked that of the National Executive Committee, NEC, under Section 31(2)(e) and reconstitute the current State Executive Committee members into State Caretaker Committee via a letter to the affected states.
The affected states are: Abia, FCT, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Enugu, Ebonyi, Katsina, Nasarawa, and Plateau. What this means is that these states now have a State Caretaker Committee that runs the affairs of the party till a new state executive is elected; provided they shall not serve in such capacities for more than 90 days.
In the case of Jigawa and Ogun, where INEC confirmed that no congresses were conducted, it was learned that the NWC is said to be discussing the next step to take as the tenures of the excos at all levels in the states have expired.
To avoid leaving a vacuum, thereby creating a much bigger problem, the leadership has been able to stabilise the party after very thorough and competitive congresses and caused the NWC to exercise its powers and approved the newly-elected excos.
The next major task before the party leadership, after coming out of the state congresses as a united party, is the various National Assembly by-elections and the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states to be held later in the year.
Paul Agbo, Public Affairs Analyst based in Abuja.