Former President Jonathan with the party leaders
THE anticipation was that the next national convention of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), would be a night of long knives. But the daggers got drawn earlier than expected. The attempt to fill the void left at the exit of the party’s last game-changer provided another opening for new frictions in the PDP.
Recall that similar attempt to regularize the (s)election of some members of the National Working Committee (NWC), of the party gave rise to the initial tremor that swept five state governors out of the party. Recall also that by virtue of that unexpected tsunami that produced the erstwhile newPDP, the then national chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, was later to lose his seat. In the recent attempt to replace Adamu Mu’azu, who replaced Tukur, PDP is still bogged by its paranoia over persons, rather than obedience to its institutional template.
Disdain for Method
IN the processes leading to the emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff (SAS), as the make-up national chairman to serve out the tenure of the Northeast, analysts have picked holes in PDP’s methods. They quarrel that instead of scouting for potential candidates, the ideal thing should have been for prospective candidates to announce their intention and sell their candidacy, programmes and plans to resuscitate the party.
Members of the NWC, most of whom have been fingered for the problems bedeviling the party, insisted on behaving like employers of casual labourers. As they looked at faces and weighed “financial capacity” of aspirants, the party chieftains foul the ideals of democratic choice. Part of the grouse over the pedigree of the anointed chairman by some members of the party, especially members of the Board of Trustees (BoT), seems to be that SAS would owe allegiance and loyalty to his benefactors, namely PDP governors and NWC members.
But while some of the BoT members point at the perceived image burden, which the new chairman may place on the party, nobody seem to have cited a constitutional infringement or breach of laid down procedures in his emergence. This seeming collective disdain for method throws up, once again, the question of who owns PDP.
It has been observed for countless times that the state governors constitute more than 90 percent of the problems that have continued to harass PDP as a political platform. PDP governors it was, that saw to the untimely removal of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, based on his strategic initiative to return the party to the people via the online membership registration. When the issue of who should fly the party’s flag for the 2015 presidential election, the same governors shuffled their feet even as others were cowed to swallow their belief in open presidential primary and power shift.
While their colleagues from five states switched allegiance to the then opposition, those that remained behind angled for money and failed to take a principled stand. It is therefore left to be seen, whether the governors were moved by peer solidarity or sheer political strategic thinking in their support for the former Borno governor.
However as if to explain their stand, the governors under the aegis of PDP Governors’ Forum (PDPGF), stressed that Senator Modu Sheriff had all it takes to reposition the party, adding that electing the former chieftain of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) would help make the party more inclusive.
It was noted that, the governors before settling for SAS, had embarked on extensive and careful deliberations on his potentials for “the battle ahead.” The governors explained that “the situation in the country” was a good opportunity for the former governor to prove that PDP was truly the only national party uniting the country. They enumerated Senator Sheriif’s good points to include: immense wealth of experience; his vast network of contacts; ability to restore members’ confidence and above all, a counterforce to APC and its many antics. While assuring the new PDP helmsman of their support, the governors urged him to “shun all diversionary tactics” and concentrate on how to bring all aggrieved party members together
Uniting Amid Disenchantment
BUT even as the governors laid out what could be described as an elaborate scheme of work for the new chairman, they left Sheriff with the burden of carrying out the endless reconciliation of aggrieved members of the party. From 2003 to date, PDP has never ceased to injure the feelings of its faithful. And in most of those avoidable sour situations, the party was quick to set up reconciliation committees. Yet in most of those episodic interventions, scant respect was shown for the party’s rule book.
For instance, one issue on which PDP usually troubles its waters is issuance of waivers. Despite the constitutional stipulation that new members must wait for two years before aspiring for elective office on its platform, waivers are usually granted at the whims of influential chieftains.
The lack of clear-cut format for the issuance of waivers provides members of the NWC the opportunity to dispense political wickedness or mischief on some aspirants. In 2010 after former Vice President Atiku Abubakar rejoined the party, the mere inkling that he was set to contest the presidency made the NWC to dither in issuing him with a waiver, until the then President Goodluck Jonathan intervened. Double standards were also applied in the charges against Mu’azu on the aftermath of the dismal outing of 2015 election, just as in the case of the gang up against Tukur.
The question begging for answers from the stump NWC is why did they not share in the culpability of the loss of 2015 election? Again, were they acting in the best interest of the party when they observed the PDP constitution in the breach regarding the position of Mu’azu’s replacement until Ahmed Gulak went to court? Granted that union does not translate to unity, how can unity of the party be guaranteed when members are aggrieved and disenchanted at the way things are done?
Threats, Trends And Temperament
IN the past few days PDP has left its supporters and members confused as whether it wants to retain the trend of mischief making or stamp its authority as a party of purpose. Would the cause of mobilization, membership inclusion and internal democracy have been served if Sheriff and other aspirants from the Northeast had moved round the six geopolitical zones? The lack of inclusion in the choice of the new national chairman may have given rise to the new threats by some members, especially former members of the federal cabinet in the last dispensation.
Former President Jonathan, who to some extent depended on the so-called networks of Sheriff to try to solve the intractable puzzle of Boko Haram insurgency, did not waste time to congratulate SAS on his elevation. The former president must have seen the political reason that informed PDPGF’s support for Sheriff and sided with them. He has always believed, albeit to his eventual undoing; that governors hold the ace in the party.
But more than 10 members of the former president’s cabinet feel otherwise. Despite Dr. Jonathan’s belief that there could not have been a better arrowhead for the opposition against APC than SAS, his former aides see it as an imposition. The challenge for PDP is to define the limits of party caucus and sphere of influence of members. Part of the political dissonance is caused by fears that Sheriff may over stay the term limit of Mu’azu that he was coming to replace and go ahead to contest the presidency.
While some sources fear the possibility of Sheriff’s presidential candidacy, others fault the process, saying that he was merely imposed by those who want to retain the party structure as their money-making machine. But in a television progarmme, PDP deputy national publicity secretary, Alhaji Abdullahi Jalo, disclosed that the leadership caucus of the party comprising governors and national leadership had a straw poll. Jalo disclosed that while his nominee and Walid Jibrin secured the singular votes of their nominees, Girigir Lawal came behind Senator Ali Modu Sheriff with nine votes.
Stressing that transparency and democratic process were observed, the assistant national publicity secretary noted that with 16 votes, there was no way anybody could fault his popularity among the caucus. Though Jalo pointed out that a total of 26 aspirants were screened, he did not reveal why all of them did not face the caucus during the straw poll. He said that the hullabaloo attending the emergence of Sheriff should be seen as part of political attitude of disagreeing to agree.
Leader of Southwest PDP caucus, Chief Bode George, was said to have pleaded with the naysayers to sheathe their swords in the overriding interest of the party. In a recent interview with The Guardian, former Deputy President of Senate, Ibrahim Mantu, said the fears of impunity and capacity of incumbents to use their position to perpetuate themselves or their cronies in office are part of the challenges of fixing PDP.
Inspite of those concerns, some former ministers seem to have constituted themselves to a third bloc to oppose Sheriff. Sources disclosed that the ministers insist that Sheriff was not near the caliber of leader they expect to reform PDP, saying that apart from not being given to team play, the former Bornu governor is embroiled in many damaging controversies, ranging from his association with the insurgency in the Northeast and division in his state of origin.
One of the former ministers, Dr. Suleiman Abubakar, a close confidant of Dr. Jonathan; declared that the attempt to rescue PDP had crashed with the enthronement of Sheriff. In a statement he released in Abuja shortly after Sheriff was announced, Dr. Abubakar declared: “The redemption boat has capsized and our journey to recovery has come to an end. Whosoever partook in the decision does not mean well for the party and democracy in Nigeria. It is obvious the fifth columnists have hijacked the party and they are hell bent on sinking it deeper into irrecoverable level of the pit. Some of us would rather review our membership than subject ourselves to selfish interests of a cabal whose main goal is political profiteering. After all, our umbilical cord is not tied to any party.”
The new chairman has succeeded in raising the political temperature in the country by his boast of sacking APC from the Presidency. That was a major political sound bite that announced him as a political actor. In Umuahia, where he attended the thanksgiving by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, SAS maintained, “we are going to Aso Rock, Insha Allah by 2019.”
Laying emphasis on his trademark Kanuri cap, he added: “This my long cap is prepared to lead my colleagues and brothers to Aso Rock, Insha Allah. By the grace of Allah, nothing will deter this party from going to Aso Rock in 2019. By the time we put down our master plan I am sure they will go back to where they came from. And Insha Allah, nothing will stop us.
Push And Pull, For And Against
FOR the time being, those for and against have continued to muse on the emergence of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the national chairman of the party. Former Special Assistant to President Jonathan on Media, Dr. Doyin Okupe, stated that though SAS “is a very adroit and astute politician of perhaps a sublime class”, his good points are written off by a “crushing weight of burden”. Okupe reasoned that such incubus could fatally destroy “the few strands of moral fibers on which rejuvenation (of PDP) will depend on.”
Okupe added: “For the post of national chairman of PDP, he (Sheriff) is a wrong candidate and also coming in at a wrong time. For a morosed and severely prostrate political party, thanks to the overwhelming and effective propaganda machinery of the former opposition party in power, this may yet be the mortal wound that may cause the eventual hemorrhage of its long perplexed followership.”
Threats of defection have continued to agitate the temperament of some PDP faithful. The question then is; are those threatening to leave part of the problem or the quiet majority that feels that party has not found the panacea for its disease? Okupe distanced himself from defection but there was an ominous tinge to his complaint against the current party leaders. His words:
“We still will not leave the party. Better still in spite of the present situation of things we will continue to engage all who care to listen and deepen consultation across the country, seeking help from everyone ready to help to revive this severely challenged sickened giant. But if it is the divine will of God that our present masters must kill PDP, then by the Grace of God we shall yet tarry at the graveside to bid it farewell.”
Could it be that more vociferous campaign against the leadership awaits the national convention? That may be what Okupe meant by tarrying “at the graveside”. Even at that his tantrums may amount to an empty threat. Ekiti Governor, Ayodele Fayose, who has been standing strongly in defence of PDP, has been one of those who rooted for Sheriff. Fayose has called for popular support for Sheriff, arguing that the choice of SAS was in the best interest of the party.