PDP: A convention like no other

Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, previews the National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), painting the scenarios of things to come.


Leaders and followers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are already gathered in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, for the second time this year. Their purpose is to hold another national convention, aimed at strengthening the party. It is a follow: up to the similar convention held in May, where the National Caretaker Committee, headed by former Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Ahmed Makarfi.

Just as it was with the May 2016 National Convention, when a plethora of court cases threatened to truncate the process, the August 17 convention is not faring better. The Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the executive, which was dissolved by the Port Harcourt. Convention in May, has continued to drag the leadership of the party through the courts, while also recruiting converts by the day. As at the last count, the party is engrossed in no fewer than 15 court cases, all relating to the struggle for the control of its soul.

All was actually set for the convention in May in Port Harcourt, but forces loyal to Sheriff, suspecting that he might come out of the convention an orphan had secured an injunction at a Lagos Federal High court, stopping the replacement of the national Chairman, and other key officers of the party at the convention. Sheriff himself, after days of denial, came off his shell and took ownership of the legal tango when he announced the postponement of the planned convention at a press conference.

Before the bubble burst, insinuations were rife  that Sheriff was planning not only to succeed himself as national chairman but also to emerge the PDP presidential candidate in 2019. Governors of the party, who blew open the insinuations confirmed at closed circuit meetings held ahead of the May convention that Sheriff had promised to partition the party and allocate same to his allies ahead of the next general election.

But with the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT), the Governors Forum and the National Assembly Caucus as well as the State Chairmen who constitute the bulk of the National Executive Committee (NEC), not on the same page with Modu-Sheriff, the coast appeared clear to push him out of the window. But did that secure respite for the PDP? Nay. As it indeed appears that the channel for trouble only became enlarged. As the former Borno stile governor found his way out of Port Harcourt, the national convention was held. The party tried to play safe off the long arms of the law by refusing to hold elective convention which had been barred by the Sheriff-induced court order.

The deputy national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, took charge of the Convention in line with the party’s Constitution, which vests the power on him in the absence of the National Chairman and the

Makarfi-led National Caretaker Committee came into effect. It was a sharp way of evading the punishment of the courts which had granted interim orders stopping elections into the office of the National Chairman and other seats.

What was designed as an easy way out has, however, further landed the PDP in more troubles. From its day one in office, the Makarfi-led team has never really known peace. The National Secretariat of the party has remained under lock and key, while Modu-Sheriff has also continued to hold court as rival National Chairman. A last minute effort by the BoT to secure Sheriff’s appearance and endorsement of the August 17 Convention fell flat earlier in the week as the man came up with what was considered impossible demands.

In an attempt to keep faith with the dictates of the Port Harcourt convention held in May, the Makarfi team fixed another convention for August 17. The hope was that all contentious issues would have been resolved before that date and that the party would have been in a position to elect a unifying executive. Despite all the efforts by the BoT which appointed the Prof. Jerry Gana-led Committee to broker peace with Modu-Sheriff, the former Borno state Governor remained a thorn in the flesh of the party.

Earlier on Monday, the PDP heave a sigh of relief, when Justice Ibrahim Watila of the Federal High Court Port Harcourt ruled in favour of the party and ordered all relevant agencies to monitor the August 17 convention.  But the Sheriff faction was to throw spanners into the works later in the day when Justice Okon-Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled to stop the convention.  The suit in Abuja was brought forward by Sheriff and his supporters. But the party had chosen to go ahead with the convention, choosing to rely on the ruling of the Port Harcourt judge.

Ordinary watchers of the development would merely interpret the development as an issue of conflicting rulings of the courts. Incidentally the two courts are of coordinate jurisdiction. But political watchers are bound to see more than that. Some observers are already insinuating that the push behind Modu-Sheriff is attributable to external influence. Such observers would liken the situation to the period of PDP’s dominance when its leaders set the smaller parties against themselves until the opposition was able to galvanise itself ahead of the 2015 election.

Whatever the permutation is, the battle is already fierce ahead of the all-important convention.  The number one position in the party is already pitching the old against the new in the party, creating a sort of bitter feud among erstwhile alter egos. In Lagos, the party is already sharply divided along the Chief Bode George and Mr. Jimi Agbaje lines. Agbaje was the PDP governorship candidate in the 2015 election, while George was a former deputy chairman of the party.

Besides George and Agbaje, there are three other candidates, including Chief Raymond Dokpesi, the only candidate from the South South, Professor Taoheed Adedoja and Prof Tunde Adeniran. Each of the candidates have their links and alliances which either provide succour or discomfort for loyalists of the party across the states, but one thing that is clear is that the contest this time is set to throw up intriguing politics.

Sources in the party indicated that the Governors’ Forum, having accepted the blame for the Modu-Sheriff debacle, is seeking to clean up the system and bring in a candidate they could vouch for. At the same time, the National Assembly caucus, which fought the choice of Sheriff till the last minute, appears to be taunting the governors for bringing the party to its present travails through their choice of the Borno politician.

Somehow, opinions coalesced and it was resolved that the Chairmanship slot be zoned to the South, the same way the Presidential candidate should be zoned to the North in 2019. It was however gathered that the thinking among some of the party chiefs was to zone the chairmanship slot to the South West, the zone that was yet to produce the chairman since the party’s inception but another thinking to the effect that the Presidency might have to also be micro-zoned if the post of national chairman is taken directly to the South West.  Sources in the party said that the thinking among members of the party was to ensure that the South East produces the vice presidential candidate in 2019, after a candidate might have emerged from the North.

The thinking above was said to have informed the decision of Southern leaders of the PDP, who met recently and announced the micro-zoning of the chairmanship to the South-West. Another meeting in Akure Ondo state  was said to have toyed with the idea of reserving the slot for Ogun and Lagos states, but the contention among members from the zone, as well as the push from outside the zone had indicated the slow move towards that agenda.


Will the South-West lose out?

On paper, the only candidate to have toured all the six geopolitical zones ahead of this convention is Dokpesi, the media mogul turned politician.  With Dokpesi being the only candidate in the race from the South-South, things ordinarily should come easy. But, affairs of the PDP are not that simple to predict, especially as the ballot to be cast today will certainly be done with eyes firmly set at tomorrow. Even though the party has not zoned the positions to each of the six geopolitical zones, it is certain that the minds of the party faithful is already being averted to the reality of zoning that would emerge in 2019.

Thus, the South East, which has an eye on the number two slot in 2019, will certainly deploy their votes to the candidate who pops up with assurances towards that goal. The same for the South-South and the Northern states. With only 12 governors in the party at present, some opinion moulders have argued that the caucus might not wield the sort of influence it used to amass but in reality, it could emerge that number has done only very little to whittle down the influence of the caucus to lobby other influential forces across the zones.

In essence, rather than relying solely on the power of campaigns or popular votes that would emanate from independent will of party men, loyalty to zonal caucuses with a promise of tomorrow will eventually define who wins the coveted chairmanship slot at the end of the day.