As leaders of PDP meet today in Abuja, KUNLE ODEREMI takes a look at the ongoing battle of wits among the gladiators in the quest to reposition the party.
THE two-step, a popular American folk dance, involves two people endlessly trotting around each other: slow-slow, fast-fast ad infinitum, to the cheers of bystanders. In Nigeria, much the same can be said about the ongoing fight to control the PDP, which has fast turned into a ritual dance between different couples.
Makarfi vs Sheriff
The most visible couple is Senator Ahmed Makarfi and Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff, who are both currently laying claim to the PDP national chairmanship. Both men are Northerners; both are two-term ex-governor of their respective Kaduna and Borno states, and both are ex-senators. They can thus be said to have much in common. But in contrast, Makarfi is the quietly networking schemer, of aristocratic stock who, on 21, May 2016, was co-opted by PDP governors to chair their hastily created Caretaker Committee contraption after a court order halted their emergency National Convention that was scheduled to take place in Port Harcourt that same day.
Meanwhile, Sheriff has been described as a ruthless fighter, an iconoclast who would stop at nothing to break down the walls of Northern aristocracy. It is alleged that he even went as far as appointing Boko Haram’s Alhaji Foi into his 2003 cabinet as Commissioner for Religious Affairs simply to spite Borno leaders, who opposed his 2nd term bid. By 2016 and with grass-roots members clamouring for a change in leadership, Sheriff, who had crossed to PDP just a few months earlier, had somehow emerged as the first choice of PDP governors to chair the party. The four-year mandate of the then incumbent National Working Committee (NWC) members ended in March 2016. Indeed, a group of ordinary PDP members, led by Dr Fijabi Adebo, an aggrieved 2015 elections senatorial aspirant from Ogun Central, went to court to demand that the BOT should immediately take control of the party and organise fresh convention to elect a new NWC.
With EFCC investigations taking its toll of some of the PDP’s NWC members notably its embattled publicity secretary Olisah Metuh, the governors panicked, and drafted Modu-Sheriff to fill the position of PDP chairman, which was, at the time, still zoned to the North-East. They then planned the May convention, where they hoped to get him a new four-year mandate. But, as their working agreement with ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s group of ex-ministers broke down, the governors dumped Sheriff and sought to replace him with Makarfi.
Meanwhile, Jonathan’s ministers held a parallel national convention in Abuja on that same day, where they appointed Professor Jerry Gana to head their own hastily concocted Caretaker Committee. The PDP was dancing ever closer to factionalising and catastrophe.
Jonathan vs North
The second illustrious couple on the dance floor are ex-President Jonathan on the one hand and the North. Jonathan had risen from deputy governor to governor, vice-president, acting President and then president in the space of 10 years. He had been unable to cope with the challenges of the office and the heady wine that comes with having greatness thrust on humble shoulders. And as he and his men dug in at Aso Rock, a traditional North watched, waited and patiently plotted his downfall so that they could finally have their own two consecutive terms in office.
While Jonathan was magnanimous in defeat by shaking the hand of his opponent (ever before the final result was announced) and thereby frustrating alleged Plans B and C to stop Buhari from becoming president, his men appear to have nevertheless quietly planned for their second coming to power sooner than later. Their plan to return seems to have depended on their keeping control of the PDP party structure. Consequently, when the chairman of the defeated and disgraced PDP – Alhaji Muazu – resigned to enable a new leadership to emerge, his deputy from the South-South – Chief Uche Secondus ( a Jonathan loyalist) – stayed put and assumed the leadership of the party.
With ex-President Jonathan’s men in their respective offices at Wadata plaza, the North initially considered abandoning the PDP to its fate in the hands of EFCC and forming a new party altogether. But the logistical challenges of a new party proved insurmountable in the short term, especially as grass-roots members were unwilling to consider shifting away from the party but simply demanded a house cleaning. The North thus began to plot to recover control of the party, and have been in consultation with their Southern nationalist counterparts on the pros and cons of such a takeover. The two-step dance between Jonathan and the North to control the PDP and determine who rules Nigeria come 2019 thus continues.
Justice Liman vs Justice Abang
The more disheartening two-step in the ongoing dance around the PDP is the trading of rulings by Justices of the Federal High Court. Soon after the failed convention, Justice A.M Liman, in his Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court, ruled for Makarfi and ordered INEC to recognise him. On July 28, Justice Okon Abang, in his own Abuja Division of the same Federal Court, ruled for Sheriff. The ethnic colouration of these judgments is, of course, not lost on the polity and is worsening ethnic tension.
The final steps
Well-informed insiders observe that neither side of the two-step is happy with the calibre of contestants that are emerging from the South-West. For example, Chief Bode George is considered by some camps to be a difficult sell because of issues relating to his headship of the Nigerian Ports Authority. Mr Jimi Agbaje, who is new to the party, is seen as relatively unknown, while the likes of Chief Gbenga Daniel, Dr Doyin Okupe from the South-West and Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Dr Peter Odili, and Chief Lyel Imoke from the South-South, who are all believed to be preparing grounds to join the race, are considered by some as old faces that may not justify the push for new wine in such a critically visible frontline post.
The question on many lips is, if the PDP has zoned the chairmanship to the South-West, what happened to its frontline gladiators who, in 2012, contested the National Secretary, when that post was the one zoned to the same South-West? And it is perhaps unfortunate for the PDP that ex-Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the winner of the 2012 National Secretary election, crossed to APC only to be forgotten.
But what about the PDP revisiting some of those past aspirants whose loyalty have been tested and found to be unwavering. One of them, Professor Tunde Adeniran from Ekiti State, may have boldly risked the anger of his PDP governor, Ayo Fayose, by indicating interest. The alleged support of his cause by Senator Buruji Kashamu may not help the professor’s case. But there is still the defunct UPN’s former Organising Secretary, Chief Ebenezer Babatope from Osun State, or Professor Taoheed Adedoja (a former minister), who is believed to be running his business from Ibadan, or Chief Akintayo Akin-Deko, son of the late Minister for Agriculture, who is said to have retreated to his farm in Ondo State.
If zoning is not to cause the PDP to frustrate its dream to return to power in 2019, then the party must end this clumsy dancing on two left feet and present Nigerians with a fresh, untainted national chairman, who can be trusted to keep faith with party elders.