After a 14-month legal battle, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will today hold its first convention. CHIBUZO UKAIBE, captures the suspense and subtle crisis of confidence trailing the gathering.
Today’s national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its first mega post-leadership crisis gathering, is meant to be symbolic.
Although it is a non elective convention, the gathering of the highest organ of the party is expected to extend the tenure of the present national leadership under Sen Ahmed Makarfi by some months to enable them conduct an elective convention. Their tenure expires on August 16.
Also, today’s convention is scheduled to ratify some amendments to the party’s constitutional, bothering on less cumbersome waiver, stripping the national chairman of powers to summon convention, inclusions of some regional offices into the National Working Committee (NWC), membership expansion of caucuses and National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting.
Essentially however, the convention is somewhat designed to show that the party is united and strong to take on the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2019.
For analysts, its a show-off that hopes to signal to potential defectors and returnees that the party is now stable and ready to offer viable platform for contesting elections.
The charge of the Sen Makarfi, during the inauguration of the party committees last Wednesday, to woo back all former high ranking political officer holders who served in the party attests to this much.
Corroborating however, the chairman of the convention and Delta State governor, Sen Ifeanyi Okowa, said “Our party is back alive and with the National Convention, PDP will send a very strong message that will make Nigerians to realise that we are very much ready to take over power come 2019,” he said.
On his part, the spokesman of the party who also heads the sub-media committee of the convention, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, boasted, “we are sure of successful convention. The reports we are getting are very good. We will have a carnival like convention.
“PDP members are coming to Abuja to celebrate. Poised to challenge for power but give good governance. Over 3000 delegates are expected to be there.”
He added that international organisations were invited to cover the convention, adding “Our members from diaspora are arriving. They signified they are coming. And we are delighted to have them.”
Previous attempts at relaunch gone wrong after 2015 and Leadership crisis.
The party never really had time to repackage itself after the 2015 general election. Dazed by its new found status as an opposition party, blocs within the party traded blames for why they lost the election, giving little thought to the expediency of readjusting to the realities of the time.
However as the blame game festered, many thought that the post 2015 national confab of the party which held in Abuja, would calm frayed nerves.
Not even the Sen Ike Ekweremadu-led post-2015 election committee which zoned the presidency to the North and invariably, the national chairmanship to the South.
However those measures didn’t yield much as unbridled overriding interests by the party governors cause a crisis which snowballed into the emergence of Sen Ali Modu Sheriff, a controversial national convention and bitter legal tussle that erupted afterwards. The party however lost two governorship elections in Ondo and Edo States which had further heightened tensions within.
An attempt at conducting a fresh convention failed.
But it is not all uhuru as some thorny issues might just stifle the new found euphoria in the party.
In a climate of rife suspicion, power play and realigned interests, there are already mounting concerns that there are schemes to elongate the tenure of Makarfi leadership longer than necessary. Recall that the committee was originally setup as a transition team, after Sheriff’s rejection, to conduct a fresh convention and install a new leadership.
Related to this concern is the apprehension that governors are set to hijack the Sen Makarfi leadership to cause for impositions.
On these fronts, however, former ministers forum of the party, had with the end of the legal tussle, called for a quick convening of an elective convention to move the party forward. Perhaps sensing a fresh threat to collective interest, they also said they were ready to financially support the party’s leadership in handling the affairs of the party leading up to the convention.
More intriguing, however was the warning issued by elder statesman and former federal commissioner for information, Chief Edwin Clarke, that the Sen Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee (NCC) should not be allowed to exceed three months in office.
Clarke, who recalled that he warned that party in 2014 not to impose candidates, noted that the party to jettison a practice where governors, government functionaries and candidates provide Logistics and convey delegates to Abuja and other voting locations.
The former federal commissioner also advocated the adoption of direct primaries ahead of the elective convention, just as he declared his support for zoning of party’s 2019 presidential ticket to the North and the national chairmanship seat to the South.
He however insisted that all party members from those regions are free to contest those positions.
A former PDP chieftain, Clarke, who declared his resignation from partisan politics after the 2015 general election, however justified his warning to the party on grounds that he remains a statesman and stakeholder in the Nigeria project who has been contributing to the peace and development the country.
He said “I have observed the Constitution of PDP and the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and wish to state as follows:
“Senator Ahmed Markarfi’s Caretaker Committee should be given at most another three months to allow new executives and other organs of the Party to be elected it enable the Party move on. Any time longer than three months will not be in the best interest of the Party and its members.
“If Presidential election is to take place in February 2019, the minimum time required by an elected executive will not be more than 12 months to settle down. If there are interested members of the Caretaker Committee for elective positions, such as President, Senator or Governor, such persons should not remain in office as members of the Caretaker Committee for more than three months.”
On the zoning of Presidency and Chairmanship of the Party, Clarke, who endorsed the post-election and reconciliation committee led by deputy senate president, Sen Ike
Ekweremadu Committee Report which zoned the Presidency to the North, and the National Chairmanship to the South.
He added “Let all Presidential aspirants from the 19 states of the North be subjected to one Primary, whereas, all National Chairmanship candidates from the 17 States of the South be subjected also to one Primary to contest together, so as to produce the best candidate, to practicalize democracy.
“Nigeria’s Democracy, as a State Policy in Nigeria is expressed in Chapter 2, section 14 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and shall be stated based on the principles of Democracy and Social Justice.
“It is hereby accordingly declared that: (a). Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom Government, through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority.
“(b). The participation by the people in their government shall be in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Governors and other functionaries of government should not impose Candidates or delegates from their States.
“This was my warning in 2014, when I issued a Press statement that PDP will destroy itself through the imposition of candidates, and that was what happened, when the then National Chairman of the party, Alhaji Adamu Muazu and then incumbent Governors imposed unpopular candidates on the electorate.
“(4). A situation where governors, government functionaries and candidates provide Logistics and convey delegates to Abuja and other voting locations should be jettisoned.
“I strongly recommend that direct Primary election should be adopted where delegates would be made to vote at their localities, where no one will take advantage of and manipulate them.
“In order words, the recommendations of Professor Jerry Gana led Committee should be implemented.”
Reconciliation, Sheriff and South-west crisis
As it stands, it remains hazy how the party will handle Sen Ali Modu Sheriff and his core loyalists, especially, Cairo Ojougboh, Bernard Mikko, Prof Wale Oladipo.
Other party members who fought on the side of Sheriff include A former political adviser to immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, former deputy senate president, Sen Ibrahim Mantu, Senators Buruji Kashamu, Hope Uzodinma and Chris Uba.
It remains to be seen whether these Sheriff loyalists will be allowed free space at this national convention, in the spirit of the no victor no vanquished declaration by the party’s national leadership.
However so far, the Sheriff camp appears still set for war if a statement from Hon Bernard Mikko, who served as former national publicity secretary, is anything to go by.
He said “If you study carefully the list of members of the recently released PDP convention planning committee and it’s sub-committee’s, you will discover that over 70% of those on the list have cases of dishonesty, looting and corruption against them. The implication is that our country may be ruled by gangsters where even the honest ones will be struggling to join gangs to survive.
“The problem then is not the politicians or politics but the society that accepts and encourages dishonesty and malfeasance. My understanding is that most Nigerians like corruption as a way of life, but only detests it when they are not the beneficiaries. Politics is the mirror of the society and not otherwise. If politicians are more interested in government, the electorate and society should more interested and insist on governance.
“Otherwise, laws, rules and policy agendas of government will be crafted to protect gang members and cabal while targeting the opposition and non gang members. What I see in the near future is a gang up of corrupt people using public institutions against honest and ordinary Nigerians.”
So far, the moves to emasculate their structures in the states are on going despite the call for inclusiveness after the bitter legal war. This situation, particularly in the South-west, is creating so much tension over which leadership should be recognized.
The bitter tussle between, the Ekiti State governor, who doubles as the chairman of the party’s governors forum, Ayo Fayose and Sen Kashamu, has thrown the party at the national level into immense quandary.
However, the crisis came to a head as fresh attempt at stalling today’s convention manifested. It was alleged to have emerged from the leadership crisis in the South-west, a zone which has been the bane of the party.
Corroborating this scenario, Adeyeye, who described the South-west as the hot bed of crisis in the party, concurred that there was an attempt to scuttle the convention via a court order.
Although he declined to reveal the instigators of the move he said, he said all of Sheriff’s men were included the convention committee, as a means of ensuring that they truly have a unity convention.
“This convention has all members from included. virtual all members from the other side have been included to serve. And they are serving with delight. We have integrated them. The no victor no vanquished declaration is in effect. They are all serving in the various committees”, he stressed.
In all, the outcome of today’s convention would signify whether the party is truly ready for the need rebranding it so craves.