CHIBUZO UKAIBE, captures the return of the senate president and some governors to the PDP and the intrigues therein.
The 81st National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which held last Thursday was always going to be unusual. While it was homecoming for returnees, it was time for party chieftains to show where their loyalties lie, in a political season spiced with lots of schemings, manoeuvrings and horse-trading. There were also some surprise attendance at the NEC meeting which underscored how crucial it was.
The meeting was called on account of the shift in the political space, where the spate of defections smacked of a deja vu of sorts, or as some analysts would aver, a new tradition.
The defection script, much like in the build up to 2015 general elections, is being acted by the same political cast (albeit in reverse roles) deploying same technique, only at a different era.
However, the defections culminated in the attendance of former All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains led by Senate President, Sen Bukola Saraki; Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal; Benue Governor, Samuel Ortom; and former Kano Governor, Musa Kwankwaso, attending the PDP NEC the second highest body in the party.
Among other prominent lawmakers who were at the meeting are former national chairman of the PDP, Sen Barnabas Gemade and Sen Dino Melaye.
Clearly, the admittance of Saraki, governors and other influential lawmakers into the exclusive party gathering reflected how much of a value they placed on the returnees even though by virtue of their status, majority of them were eligbible to be NEC members.
The senate president and other returnees were given a heroes’ welcome at the national secretariat of PDP. NEC members in the hall jubilated at the sight of Tambuwal and Ortom who arrived separately to the meeting.
Tambuwal, accompanied by aides and supporters, walked into the hall at 1:35pm. Decked in a blue traditional attire popularly called caftan, the Sokoto State governor was swarmed by party cheiftains who took turns to shake hands with him and take pictures. Tambuwal started working the party members into a frenzy as he strode across the hall.
Ortom, a former national auditor of the party, arrived 20mins later wearing a long sleeve shirt and his trademark baseball cap. In like manner, he embraced old friends and tried to catch up on old times. The senate president arrived the premises at 2:50pm, clad also in a light blue caftan.
He was ushered into the NEC hall by the national chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, in the manner his predecessors did to the highest elected member of their party, who were either Presidents or vice Presidents.
There were also some intriguing occurances at the tense gathering. Party members were fascinated to see Kwankwaso and his immediate predecessor and long time opponent, Ibrahim Shekarau, seated beside each other for most part of the meeting, exchanged pleasantries and even took pictures with the national chairman.
The Cross Rivers State Governor, Ben Ayade, was present at the meeting. He had sparingly attended party gatherings such that he was rumoured, even within the PDP, as being on his way to the APC. What’s more, his embrace with his predecessor, Sen Liyel Imoke, whom he is said to be have fallen out with caused some raised eyebrows.
The Benue State governor also exchanged pleasantries with his hitherto estranged predecessor, Gabriel Suswam and former Senate President, Sen David Mark, both of whom were said to have been appeased before he could return to the party. Some notable absentees at the meeting however included, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar as well as Senate minority leader, Sen Godswill Akpabio, and Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, Abia Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, Delta Governor, Sen Ifeanyi Okowa. Akpabio and Umahi have been accused of having links to the APC, a claim which they have denied.
With the pleasantries over, the party swung into the serious issues of harmonising the reunion. Amid loads of criticisms and tough reprimands against the APC-led goverment, the returnees took turn to pledge loyalty to PDP and underscored the import of their reunion.
Although Secondus, elated by the return of their former members, assured them of equal privileges within the party, a sober Saraki, clearly understood what was at stake.
He said “I want to appeal to all of us, all of you who are here, to please receive us from the bottom of your hearts not only here but down to our local government and wards, many people who will join. Because what we are learning in the history of politics is that everybody is important, everybody is important in this journey we are embarking on and no sacrifice is too much for us to make to reach that promised land.
“It is only when we reach that promised land that this sacrifice we are making comes good, when we see a better tomorrow for our people. Because it is easier here in Abuja. But when we get back to out constituencies, please, let us continue to open our arms and receive the numbers that will give us victory come February 2019 because it is for a better tomorrow for the lot of Nigerian people.”
On his part, the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, lamented that all he lost all he went into the APC with, stressing that he has become poorer for it.
The governor stated that he was happy to be home, adding “in my journey, I had too many travails and pains. All that I had when going to the APC was taken away from me, in fact I became more poor.”
Ortom however added “I am happy I came to meet the party intact. I am happy that our leaders Sen Iyiorcha Ayu, Sent David Mark, Gabriel Suswam are with me. We can go to sleep as we go to 2019 with almost these leaders with me.”
Tambuwal seemed more surefooted as he warned that Nigeria is not a Banana Republic, stressing that they are ready to march out the forces to match any act that wants to make the country drift any further.
The Sokoto State governor who cautioned against moves to illegally remove the leadership of the National Assembly declared “We cannot afford to allow anybody, no matter how highly placed to toy with the fate of more than 200 million Nigerians.”
However, observers of PDP believe that as far as 2019 is concerned, it is far from uhuru for a party that is desirous of returning to the centre. Evidently, the influx of these influential members is expected to cause some upsets within the party as the scramble for it’s tickets both at the state and national elections heats up.
To this end the PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, had explained that a template for harmonisation of interests between those returning and those who were in the party has been designed.
He explained that template which will be handled by the state leaderships, would see to the sharing of positions or structures based on certain percentages.
While, Kano and Benue States seem to have managed the return of Ortom and Sen Gemade so far, it is yet to be seen whether the agreements will be kept to the letter. But, same cautious stability was not possible in the home state of Saraki, Kwara State, where some PDP cheiftains defected to the APC barely hours after he moved to the PDP.
Members of the party led by the state Chairman, Mr Iyiola Oyedepo, on Wednesday announced their defection to the APC. Chief Rex Olawoye, the erstwhile Publicity Secretary of the party, in Ilorin the state capital, was quoted to have said “I hereby officially announce the exit of our members from PDP to APC.” Olawoye, said PDP members in the state could not work with Saraki.
Although analysts expect such scenarios to erupt in some states as the politicking hits advanced stages, the return of Tambuwal and Saraki at the national level is already causing some measure of unease within the camps of Presidential aspirants within the party.
While Atiku, former Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido, and former minister, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, have been touring the country and meeting stakeholders ahead of the PDP primaries, Tambuwal is said to also be interested in the presidency.
What’s more it is rumoured that the Sokoto governor enjoys the backing of very influential stakeholders both within and outside the party.
Already feelers from the party indicate that party members who stayed with the party through its month of turbulent leadership crisis, have been issuing subtle warnings about being relegated to the background and displaced by those who are just returning.
Sen Akpabio who hinted at this situation while giving a speech at last Wednesday’s dinner for the returnees, stressed that same reception ought to be made for members of the party who endured shame of defeat and stayed behind through the crisis period.
A party chieftain, who pleaded anonymity said “we are watching to see how the party leadership manages the situation. At this stage it cannot afford to manipulate process on how candidates will emerge on the one hand and commit to abiding by agreements entered with all members.”
The national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, has consistently assured that the PDP is re-branded and that the era of impunity and imposition of candidates are over. Just how well this plays out in the coming weeks will be instructive to the success or otherwise of the party’s stride to regain power at the centre in 2019.
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