By Dirisu Yakubu
For the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, a party that prides itself as the biggest political platform in Africa, last week provided some sort of relief after weeks of bitter acrimony amongst its biggest stalwarts.
As two sides squared up against each other, with neither side ready to be the first to blink; a quick solution had to be found and it came eventually after days of meetings amongst the various organs of the party.
Leading the charge against the national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus was no other than the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, who after months of bitter acrimony against his once trusted ally, enlisted the buy-in of other party officials to kick Secondus out. But the man fondly called “Total Chair,” was no easy push. Having come a long way, serving the party at various leadership positions, Secondus has mastered how to walk the ropes without slipping off. Thus, he stayed on, ignoring calls for his resignation and daring his foes to do their worst.
In the similitude of a “Doctrine of Necessity,” the variant adopted by the National Assembly to steady the ship of the Nigerian state a few years ago; leaders of the party, including all elected governors, past and present federal lawmakers, ex-governors, erstwhile Ministers among others, resolved to give Secondus time to tidy up his desk, as they brought forward the PDP national elective convention, hitherto slated for December to October 2021. It was a move that pacified the pro and anti-Secondus forces, who in the past few weeks, engaged themselves in a fight of no retreat, no surrender.
The question still on the lips of Nigerians is how two good friends allowed irreconcilable differences to threaten a friendship built and nurtured over the years. This is more so as Secondus’ victory in the 2017 national convention of the party was due largely to Wike’s unflinching support for his aspiration.
All was rosy for the duo from the get-go as Secondus heeded Chinua Achebe’s admonition that those who had their palm kernels cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble. He revered Wike not only for friendship but also for the role he played in paving a seamless route to his chairmanship of the party. A master of the mind games, Wike, a few days to the convention rattled Secondus’ opponents to no end, even questioning the contribution of the South-West geo-political zone to the PDP. A formidable opponent, Bode George, unable to take the attack on the chin, quit the race leaving only Tunde Adeniran to slug it out with his anointed candidate. Though, the zone also had the likes of former Oyo state governor, Rasheed Ladoja, ex-Ogun state governor, Gbenga Daniel and one-time Minister of Sports, Taoheed Adedoja in the race, George and Adeniran were the two with a ghost of chance to hurt Secondus’ chances. Thus, with George out of the way, Wike’s magic had begun and it effectively delivered Secondus with little or no stress.
Cracks soon set in
All was rosy until the convention in Port Harcourt. In the weeks leading to the delegate convention to pick the party’s 2019 Presidential flag bearer, Wike did not hide his preference for his colleague, the Sokoto state governor, Aminu Tambuwal. Such was his fascination with his former Speaker of the House of Representatives that the tough talking Wike threatened to deal with the party should they chose to hold the convention anywhere other than the Garden City.
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, a political master strategist and 11 other aspirants agreed only after they were assured by the Secondus-led National Working Committee that the process of selecting the candidate would be devoid of fraud, shady deals and any form of manipulation. Atiku moved ahead of everyone else, secured choice hotels in the Rivers state capital for the vast majority of the delegates, leaving Tambuwal and others to make do with what could pass for “leftovers.”
At the event which was beamed live to millions of television viewers across the world, Atiku polled a total of 1, 532 votes to pick the sole ticket, leaving Tambuwal and Bukola Saraki in second and third places with 693 and 317 votes respectively. For those rooted in the complex game of politics in the land, trouble had indeed started for Secondus who in a bid to douse tension, visited Wike alongside Atiku to thank him for being a good host. If Wike was angry, he did not show it as he welcomed his guests and pledged to rally behind the party, in a manner common with politicians in this part of the world.
2019 elections: Secondus’ scorecard
Going into the 2019 elections, the PDP was in control of 11 states while the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC ruled the roost in 24, leaving the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, with a solitary one. By the time elections were concluded, PDP won in 14 states while APC secured victories in 15; although elections did not hold in the states of Kogi, Edo, Osun, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Ondo and Anambra. Put together, APC controlled 20 states while PDP had 15 and APGA had one. In terms of statistics, PDP had a net gain while APC suffered losses in states it was hitherto in control of prior to the polls. The appellation “total chair,” got all the more louder until things begun to take new dimensions.
House Minority leadership crisis
The victory of President Muhammadu Buhari at the polls somewhat translated to more successes for the APC in the federal parliament. As a result, the PDP had to settle for the second fiddle in the scheme of things. As the race for the leadership caucus of the party in the House got underway, Wike got the entire NWC to throw its weight behind his political protégé, Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) as minority leader. However, a more calculative Hon. Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta) lobbied his way to the plum position; a development that annoyed Wike to no end.
In what appeared a move to pacify the governor, Elumelu and six others were suspended in July 2019 for what the NWC termed “anti-party activities” having earlier been directed to vote for Chinda as minority leader. Not oblivious of the possibility of moving to another political party, the NWC lifted the suspension, anchoring its decision on the recommendations of the committees set up to look at the crisis. Thereafter, Secondus started addressing Elumelu as Minority House Leader, much to the disappointment of the “The big boss” who was beginning to see a once loyal ally growing wings of his own.
Politics of 2023
On January 28, 2020, the leadership of PDP inaugurated a committee to review the party’s performance in the 2019 general election with specific emphasis on the Presidential poll. Chaired by the Bauchi state governor, Bala Mohammed, the recommendations of the committee when submitted would guide the party in taking a definite position on which of the zonal axis (North or South) should produce the Presidential candidate, Secondus told newsmen at the inauguration ceremony.
In fidelity to the pledge of “non-interferance” he made while taking his oath of office, Secondus did not cause the Bala Mohammed-led committee to settle for a particular zone. Rather, “all Nigerians” regardless of their states of origin were urged to seek the highest office provided they satisfied the requirement of the law as stipulated in the 1999 constitution (as amended) and the electoral act.
A member of the National Executive Committee of the PDP who does not want his name in print told Sunday Vanguard that “as soon as the NWC did not zone the 2023 Presidential ticket to the South, desperate forces started seeking means to get the chairman out.”
He said: “some desperate politicians are not happy with Secondus for insisting on free and fair democratic processes and not allowing the party structure to go to the so-called godfathers of the party. Having instituted the acknowledged culture of fairness as witnessed in the 2018 national convention, such ambitious individuals fear that they cannot realize their aspirations if Secondus is retained as chairman. They want the ticket zoned to a particular bloc.”
According to him, “Secondus is not perfect but I can tell you for free that this man turned down financial inducement from those who wanted him to surrender the party’s leadership to them. They vowed to unleash huge amount of money to get him out but they are not God,” he stressed, adding that “the chairman’s refusal to have these powerful forces take control of the party ahead of 2023 is the sole reason they are fighting him. This is why they sponsored all manner of allegations against him, including of financial recklessness.”
Despite the potent forces against him, Secondus had the backing of many party leaders including Governors Udom Emmanuel, Bala Mohammed, Godwin Obaseki, Duoye Diri, Ishaku Darius, Ifeanyi Okowa and Okezie Ikpeazu of Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Edo, Bayelsa, Taraba, Delta and Abia state respectively. With this solidarity, removing Secondus before the life of the NWC elapse proved pretty difficult.
Various organs of the party after series of meetings featuring Secondus, seven national officers who tendered their resignations as well as Wike, resolved thereafter that the convention should hold in October, two months before the end of the life of the current leadership. With that in the bag, Secondus is safe as the plot to sack him came to an abrupt end. However, the anti-Secondus Must Go forces, succeeded in making a bold statement given the near certainty that the incumbent chairman is unlikely to seek re-election. It’s a deal that suited both parties.
Leave Secondus, NWC alone, PDP stakeholders tackle Bode George
Following recent criticisms of Secondus by a chieftain of the PDP, Chief Bode George, stakeholders of the party have called on the Lagos-based politician to leave the party chairman alone, rather than “resurrecting” rested issues. George had accused the PDP boss of running the party as a private company; a charge, some of the leaders of the party described as unfortunate.
A former Minister and member of PDP NEC who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that “George is still nursing the pain of missing out of a chance to preside over the affairs of the PDP. Having known him for years, I can tell you that George is a great party man but he often see himself as the best thing to have happened to PDP. His criticism of our national chairman is, to put it mildly, unfortunate. It is wrong to blame Secondus for the defection of three governors. We are aware that the powers that be threatened to unleash the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on them and those without the fortitude capitulated,” he said.