CHUWANG DUNGS in this report writes on the intrigues that underpinned last week’s PDP governors’ meeting in Gombe State
The absence of the National Chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, and the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, at the PDP Governors meeting with members of the National Working Committee (NWC) in Gombe State last week Sunday gave credence to the insinuation that the party might be divided against itself.
Though details of their absence at the meeting were not officially addressed, it is believed that it may not be unconnected with simmering political scheming and power tussle over who controls the soul of the party, and by extension, who emerges as its presidential candidate in 2019.
These are certainly not the best of times for the opposition party, rocked by unending crises as some of its founding leaders and elders recently dumped it for the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Former ministers and former PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) members, Professors Jerry Gana and Tunde Adeniran, left the party, citing among other claims that the party had become the preserve of one or a few individuals.
To this end, it is being projected that some serving governors, former governors, serving senators, former senators and other key elected leaders are also planning to leave the former ruling party.
The main actors in the subtle tussle are Wike’s camp against some key stakeholders championing the presidential ambition of Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo of Gombe State.
This group of stakeholders are unhappy that despite their contributions to the formation and development of the party, Wike seems to have hijacked it, and is perceived to be dictating affairs within.
The Rivers State governor on the other hand believes that he is currently the biggest investor in the party and as such should have a major say in who becomes what, including the party’s presidential candidate. It is alleged that he has settled for a former governor of Jigawa state, Alhaji Sule Lamido, as the party’s presidential candidate. It was also alleged that he is considering the immediate past chairman of the national caretaker committee of the party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
Besides Lamido and Makarfi, other PDP presidential aspirants include former governor of Kano State, Ibrahim Shekarau; former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa; and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar. Despite the party’s zoning of its presidential ticket to the North, the Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, (from the South-West) who is also the chairman of party’s governors forum, is in the race.
However, Wike’s perceived hesitancy not to align with a fellow governor is said to have sparked a dissension within the rank and file of the party, especially among some of the serving governors who feel that one of them should be given the full backing to contest for the nation’s most exalted political office.
Their argument is that since the presidential slot has been zoned to the North, Dankwambo, who is serving his last term should be entitled to the privilege of becoming the party’s flag bearer at the expiration of his tenure, considering his sacrifices and contributions in ensuring the survival of the party in the North against all odds.
But Wike’s huge influence in the party preceded the emergence of Secondus as national chairman. Wike had rallied his colleagues to back the Secondus’ victory during the convention much to the chagrin of aspirants from the South-West and its leaders who felt they deserved to produce the national chairman of the party.
But his influence in the party became noticeable shortly after he emerged governor of Rivers State. With a robust political background having served as local government chairman (in one of the most politically charged councils in Nigeria during the 1999 to 2007 era) and later minister of state for education, Wike teamed up with Fayose (another domineering influence in the party) to impose Senator Ali Modu Sheriff on the party, despite the agitations that trailed their action. When their short-lived political romance fell apart, Wike, at a convention he hosted in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, was also instrumental to setting up the Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee (NCC), after Sheriff was rejected by the party.
Throughout the 14-month political and legal tussle that eventually ensued, Wike and his staunch ally, Fayose, stood with the NCC and other organs of the party. As such, in the build up to the December 2017 national convention of the party, Wike had already established himself as a major factor in the party.
But watchers of the party, aver that what could be interpreted as Rivers State governor’s overbearing influence in the party might be because he seems to have more active engagement with the party than most other governors. Party sources confided in LEADERSHIP Weekend that Wike, has been very much more involved in the well being of the party compared to other governors.
A BoT member of PDP who pleaded anonymity said “I don’t want to take anything away from other governors, but I must say that the Rivers State governor has been very supportive to the party. He has proven that he is a party man. Yes, sometimes he can be overbearing and forceful in demanding what he wants but his passion for the party is not in doubt.”
The nature of his emergence as governor could perhaps have played a role in how influential he has become in the party. While most of the other governors emerged through the support of their immediate past predecessors or some very powerful godfather, Wike, despite enjoying the support of the wife of the former President, Dame Patience Jonathan, he had to battle his predecessor and estranged political ally, Chibuike Amaechi, in such a way that he practically emerged without a direct godfather like some other governors had.
However, watchers of the party believe that the political latitude that Wike enjoys in the party is reflective of not just his huge financial war chest but the seeming lax posture of other governors when it cames to critical decision making within the party.
It was in the light of this that serving governors of the party and members of NWC held a closed-door meeting at the Gombe State Government House to deliberate on the matter.
But the national chairman of the party, Secondus and Wike were absent at the meeting which lasted till about 3:00 am on Monday.
Another PDP governor absent at the meeting was that of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, while Bayelsa State Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State were represented by their deputies.
Hosted by Dakwambo, other governors present at the meeting were Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti) Emmanuel Udom (Akwa Ibom), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Ben Ayade (Cross River), and Darius Ishaku (Taraba).
Interestingly, while the Gombe meeting was on going, a statement by Governor Seriake Dickson further gave fillip to the simmering tussle for the party’s soul.
Although he was absent at the meeting, Dickson had, in a statement, through his press secretary, Francis Ottah, insisted that former ministers and former Board of Trustees (BoT) members of the PDP, Prof Jerry Gana and Tunde Adeniran, must be made to return to the party. He added that the PDP is a national asset owned by all Nigerians, and not by any individual.
Dickson, who is also the Chairman of PDP Reconciliation Committee noted that while the leaders of the party were important stakeholders in the scheme of things, the real stakeholders of PDP were the ordinary Nigerians in whom sovereignty lies.
He noted that the most rational thing for all PDP stakeholders to do now is to start a process of building consensus and reaching out to players across party lines with the PDP leading the coalition to wrest power from the APC in 2019.
The statement reads: “No one governor, no one lawmaker or leader of PDP can own PDP or singlehandedly produce a presidential candidate. Therefore, what is required of PDP leaders now is to work with all parties including those who have left the PDP to produce a credible candidate that is acceptable to the generality of Nigerians on the platform of PDP to defeat the APC in 2019.”
The governor said his reconciliation committee would continuously engage aggrieved party members including those who have left the PDP to return to the party, stressing that “we must be together to save our party and country from collapse”. He said with less than one year to the 2019 general elections, time was of essence and the right thing to do now was for all men of goodwill to come together to challenge the APC.
He also called on PDP members not to lose faith in the party. He said the next election was critical to the survival of democracy and the nation, stressing that history would be unkind to PDP leaders if they failed to lead a coalition to unseat the APC-led Federal Government.
Although the governors refused to speak with reporters who waited patiently for several hours for the communiqué of the meeting on the reason why the national chairman and Wike were absent, sources said the governors and other leaders of the party might have deliberated on the arrogant posture of the Rivers governor and the leadership style of Secondus which they feared that if not properly managed would affect the fortune of the party in the 2019 general elections.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND also gathered from sources at the meeting that, their absence was in connection with the existing cold war within the party as regards the party’s choice for the 2019 presidential election. Whatever the case may be, the point is that Secondus and Wike’s absence at the Gombe meeting revealed that all is not well within the party.
Some sources are of the view that the Gombe fellowship was strategically designed to plot ways for Dankwambo/ Fayose presidential ambition which the national chairman and Wike are vehemently against. One of our sources said while some of the serving governors and members of the NWC were pushing for the candidature of Dankwambo and Fayose, some, including the national chairman and Wike were strongly against it on the grounds that the Gombe State governor, despite achieving a lot in his state, was allegedly unreliable and deceptive to be trusted with leadership at that level.
They are of the view that former governor Sule Lamido and Wike will make a better combination and will also bring a larger followership to the party, considering Lamido’s political strength and acceptability within and outside the North which they claim overweighs Dankwambo’s popularity by far.
“Governor Dankwambo has no political structure beyond Gombe State, he is only relying on the support and backing of his colleagues,” a source said, adding that Atiku Abubakar and Sule Lamido have better and formidable political structures in Gombe State and the entire North-East when compared to Dankwambo.
He said if PDP were serious to win election in 2019, they should think of presenting more serious and acceptable candidates, not the likes of Dankwambo and Fayose.
Although Dankwambo is yet to officially declare for the nation’s number one job, his body language and information from his close associates show that he is seriously working underground to win the support of the the party’s leadership.
A source close to him told our correspondent that the former accountant general of the federation was busy going round and making consultations to win the support of political stakeholders across the country, especially traditional rulers and religious leaders.
“His greatest obstacle for now is winning the support of top players within the party and beyond, that is why he is busy going round to lobby the support of traditional and religious leaders to help him convince those concerned that he is the best man for the job.”
However, Fayose, while answering questions from newsmen shortly after disclosing the resolution of the meeting said they could not force anyone to remain in the PDP noting that those leaving or planning to live the party were “Abuja” based politicians without any relevance in their states.
According to him, some of them are just mere liability and burden to the party without adding any political value to the party. “You cannot be in Abuja and be making noise without adding any value to your party at the home front and claim to be a politician, we have passed that level in the PDP.”
In their resolution, they warned the All Progressive Congress (APC)-led administration against using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to intimidate them, vowing to resist such act.
They asked the APC to desist from misusing state machinery in fighting their perceived political opponents in the guise of waging anti-corruption war.
Fayose, who described the intimidation of the PDP members in the APC-controlled states as “worrisome” said if such harassment continued, it was capable of truncating the country’s hard earned democracy.
“The use of brute force, harassment and intimidation clearly show the level of desperation ahead of the 2019 election”, he said.
Fayose who said corruption was on the increase under the present administration added that the PDP remained the most credible alternative for Nigerians at the 2019 general elections.
According to him, the party is now well focused, strong and reliable of returning to power in 2019.
“We have very strong hopes of returning to power, we may not be shouting about strategies and the work that we are doing, the PDP is still the best option”, he said.
The PDP leadership while condemning the recent kidnapped of Dapchi girls, described it as “unfortunate and regrettable”, and called on Mr. President to live up to his responsibility of protecting lives and property of Nigerians which was APC’s major campaign promise.
However, Secondus has reiterated his commitment to implementing his reform agenda to take the party to a new height.
Secondus, in a statement, affirmed his faith in the strength of the party even as efforts are on to appease all aggrieved leaders of the party.
The party chairman reaffirmed his commitment to the three ‘Rs’ which formed the major plank of his campaign, the statement noted.
“The national chairman alongside other leaders will reform, rebuild and retake power for the party in 2018 and 2019. The challenges are many but the Chairman is in full consultation with key stakeholders to address all outstanding issues”, the statement narrated.
While acknowledging that the PDP is passing through difficult times, the statement noted that the National Chairman believes strongly that the various organs of the party are strong enough to resolve all knotty issues.
“The NEC, the Board of Trustees, the NWC, the Governors’ Forum, the Reconciliation Committee are all working to address ongoing challenges. As a team player, the chairman assures party members that reconciliation is upper most in his agenda”, the statement noted.
While no reference was made to the defection, the statement described the party chairman as a peace maker and consensus builder who will bend backward to accommodate all party interests.
“The chairman is open to peaceful and inclusive leadership and he has confidence in the various ongoing efforts designed to strengthen the party ahead of forthcoming polls “, the statement concluded.
With the absence of both Secondus and Wike, at the all important Gombe meeting, it is evident that all is not well with party. In the same vein, the fact that Professors Gana and Adeniran also left the party, citing its hijack by the duo of Secondus and Wike is both instructive and a pointer to the fact that the part still has a long way to go in its quest to return to power next year.