The crack in PDP: Why they want Secondus out
KUNLE ODEREMI writes on the mutual suspicion and distrust among entrenched interests in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the raison d’être and the options on the table in the various caucuses.
JUST a few of the founding fathers of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are still alive. Quite a number of the 32 key personalities that midwifed the party which prides itself as the largest political party in Africa have passed on, while quite a sizeable number of others form the leading light in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the African Democratic Congress (ADC). The few founding fathers of the PDP still remaining in the party have chosen to take the back seat in the running of the party due to old age, while others have become mere figures even though the party’s top echelon often run to them for counsel in very critical moments. There is another set of PDP leaders that have elected to maintain an ‘arms akimbo’ stance, because of the activities of hawks that are perceived as having hijacked the PDP, distorted the vision of the founding fathers and paved the way for the declining fortunes of the party in the major electoral contests in the last few years.
Officially formed in August 1998 by leaders from diverse groups and organisations, including the groups tagged G-18 and later G-34, the interim national chairman of the PDP was the Second Republic vice president, the late Dr Alex Ekwueme, with a former Minister of Information, Professor Jerry Gana, as the first party secretary. The party drew its membership from even traditional rulers, academics and businessmen along with more than 100 retired senior military officers. The latter category of members collaborated with prominent politicians of northern extraction, including Adamu Ciroma, to prop up former military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo, to seek the ticket of the party for the presidency. Then, the late Abubakar Rimi, Solomon Lar, Aljhaji Sule Lamido and others were pivotal to the formation of the PDP.
Recent developments in the party indicate a widening gap among the various power centres within the party with the symbol of umbrella. In fact, feelers within the party showed a seething anger by some influential stakeholders against the national leadership. Some of the topnotch claim the leadership had been completely hijacked by forces loyal to the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, who is regarded as the alter ego of the national chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus. He was the preferred candidate of the governor during the keenly contested election into the exalted office. The cynicism arising from the contest was as a result of the belief by some power blocs in the PDP that the South-West deserved the position since it was the only zone that had never had one as national chairman. Accordingly, a number of influential PDP elders and stalwarts from other geopolitical zones, especially in the Northern part of the country, had rallied support for the prominent PDP leaders from the South-West that indicated interest in becoming PDP national chairman.
Thus, a former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George and a former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran, became the front-runners for the position from the South-West. While Chief George has promised to remain in the PDP despite all odds, Adeniran is now the current national chairman of the SDP, with the memories of the intrigues that threw up the chairmanship of Secondus unobliterated within the rank and file of the PDP.
Having succeeded in influencing the emergence of Secondus as the PDP national chairman, it was the belief among the loyalists of Wike that he could determine the presidential candidate of the PDP for the last general election. A coalition of forces soon emerged in the midst of horse-trading and consultation among the caucuses loyal to different power centres in the PDP. The welter of forces in the coalition triumphed at the end of the intense lobbying as its preferred choice, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, secured the ticket. But, the contest only left the party further split down the line, with two distinct power blocs working across purposes emerging from the five governors from the South-South zone elected on the PDP platform. The division is believed to have contributed to the ‘loss’ of the PDP during the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa State, as some stakeholders in the PDP from the South-South failed to lend maximum support to the party during preparation for the poll.
It will be recalled the South-South, arguably though, contributed the bulk of eminent persons that comprised the membership of the PDP at inception. They formed the bulwark of the party not just during elections, but also during trying times through undisguised loyalty and commitment. The list of such personalities included Chief Tony Anenih, Chief Victor Attah, Dr Peter Odili, Chief Don Etiebet, the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, among others. Their role made sure that the PDP did not just control and dominate the political space in the zone, but also guaranteed that they spoke with one voice on matters concerning the party, the zone and mainstream politics. The seamless rapport appears significantly threatened in the present dispensation because of the supremacy contest and deliberate bid to either rubbish the tendencies that nurtured the PDP from the stage of embryo to adulthood in the zone. The situation is heavily rubbing on Secondus as PDP national chairman whose leadership is reportedly being put to question by some key stakeholders in the party and championing shakeup in the PDP National Working Committee (NEC). They are reportedly pushing for a vote of no confidence in the national chairman because of his style of leadership that was said to have caused a spit in the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) and the Board of Trustees (BOT).
Result of Bayelsa governorship election as vestige of angst
That the PDP is seriously in the mode of crisis is amplified by the controversy and anger generated by the outcome of the election in Bayelsa State on November 16. Prior to the election, it was evident that the major political actors in the state were not on the same page with the governor. However, the party could not reconcile the various tendencies, in spite of setting up a reconciliatory committee. Neither could the visit of a team that comprised governors elected on the ticket of the party cement the cracks and heal old wounds that had festered after the conduct of party primaries. Coupled with this was the sharp disagreement between the incumbent governor, Seriake Dickson and loyalists of former President Goodluck Jonathan who had vehemently accused of the governor of marginalising their people.
But Dickson said the election did not reflect the wishes and aspirations of the voters in the state. He alleged that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) compromised the integrity of the election. The governor claimed there was no election, as the APC came with already prepared results in connivance with INEC and the security agencies who forced it on the people. He further alleged that the poll was “a predetermined concoction of figures in the image and likeness of an election but which fell far short of internationally acceptable standards of civility and democratic norms.”
NASS leadership angle
Another major grouse about the Secondus-led PDP leadership is said to be the raging feud over the choice of Minority Leader for the party in the House of Representatives. Some party buffs were said to be angry with the party’s NWC for extending the suspension it imposed on incumbent Minority Leader of the House, Honourable Ndudi Elumelu; Honourable Tobi Okechukwu, Honourable Wole Oke and two others following their emergence against the anointed candidates of the Secondus team for the positions. The PDP caucus in the House, under the leadership of Elumelu, remained adamant to the threats and sanctions initiated by Secondus.
From 1999 to 2014, the dominance of the PDP in the Nigerian political space was indisputable. It controlled the executive arm of government at the federal level. The party controlled a simple majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, just as it formed government in more than two thirds of the states in the country, as well as controlled majority in the state Houses of Assembly. With such an intimidating record and credentials, some leaders of the PDP boasted that the party would rule the country for 60 years. That desire soon came under serious threat because of intense struggle among the kingmakers comprising governors, elders, members of the National Assembly elected
on the PDP platform. The consequent implosion led to five of its governors defecting to the All Progressives congress (APC), a coalition of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) as the preparations for the 2015 general election peaked. The defection dealt a big blow on the PDP as it suffered its first major defeat since Nigeria restored civil rule on May 29, 1999 after a prolonged military rule. The defeat became a major setback for the PDP, as the party was embroiled in a protracted crisis. So many of its leaders and members had given up hope of redemption, because of the intransigence of majority of the forces that were involved in the supremacy tussle for the soul of the party. A litany of litigation soon compounded the crisis over leadership in the PDP; it lost more members to rival political parties, especially the governing APC.
Against all odds, the PDP bounced back and began to gradually rebuild ahead the 2019 general election. Even though it could not fully regain much of the lost ground, the PDP consolidated its grip on some states and made serious incursions into the perceived territories of the APC, Oyo, Bauchi and Zamfara states inclusive. But according to some party stalwarts of the party, those electoral gains have almost paled into insignificance because of the loss of Bayelsa State by the PDP to the APC on November 16. The defeat is believed to have a serious
implication for the party in the South-South, thus, the accusations and counter-accusations by major stakeholders in the PDP on the circumstances that might have caused the electoral setback for the PDP. For instance, Alhaji Lamido, who was the governor of Jigawa State for two consecutive terms of four years each on the platform of the PDP, has traded blame with former President Jonathan for the defeat of the PDP in Bayelsa, the home state of the former Nigerian leader from 2011 to 2015. While Lamido accused Jonathan of betraying the PDP during the election, the latter denounced such accusation. Whereas other aggrieved PDP members are saying the party should discipline Jonathan for the alleged betrayal, Lamido dismissed such call for sanction.
“What I am saying is that people have done worse than Jonathan. People who are senior to him, people who are more elderly than Jonathan and who offer bigger option than Jonathan. Naturally, it is his home state, otherwise he is simply copying from his political elders and leaders.
“To me, when you say PDP, 80 per cent of the stronghold of APC is PDP; you know it. Anybody, who was anything in the National Assembly between 1999 and 2015, was PDP. Anybody, who was anything today in Government House, was PDP. So, to me, betrayal is part of the hallmark of the party. Tell me anybody who has not betrayed PDP? Anybody you can think who PDP had honoured and dignified and made, who PDP invented that has not come to hurt PDP.”
The Obasanjo, IBB and Jonathan factor
Despite discarding his membership of the PDP, former President Obasanjo remains a major factor in the politics of the party. He is seen as the rallying point, especially when the PDP is confronted with serious and contentious issues. He played such role at the threshold of the 2019 general election. That he is still able to act as the rallying force for the PDP is astonishing to many observers, given the barrage of verbal assault from a few PDP elements in the past, coupled with the circumstances under which he disengaged from the party before he apparently made a U-turn. But as the most beneficiaries of the PDP platform, Obasanjo remains an incontrovertible fulcrum for the party.
Another former Nigerian leader, whose awesome influence in the PDP has refused to diminish is General Ibrahim Babangida. From his residence in Minna, Niger State, Babangida constitutes part of the engine room of the party. His foot soldiers within the party include his core loyalists with military background, as well as a pool of civilian politicians and business men whose relationship with him spans decades of mutual benefits.
Former President Jonathan is also a father figure in the PDP. His towering heights in the politics is seen in some circles in the South-South as subsuming, hence the two distinct power blocs in the PDP in the zone. His followership is said to cut across the six states in the zone.
Beyond the trio of Obasanjo, Babangida and Jonathan are other stalwarts of the PDP whose influence and pedigree are equally responsible for the goodwill of the party. But a lot of them were said to be apparently nonchalant to the current state of the party. A lot them were said to be members of the party in states in the northern part of the country. In the midst of back and forth trend in the party, many of the prominent leaders of the party have kept dignified silence. But Chief George, who was the deputy national chairman during the Obasanjo Presidency, said it was time for the party to salvage the PDP again because of the overall interest of the country. According to him, the founding fathers of the party should quickly move to take a pragmatic step on the way forward for the PDP, especially against the recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the presidential election petition filed by the candidate of the PDP, Atiku and the party.
“For the PDP, the Supreme Court’s judgment is a wake-up call. It is a wake-up call for us to get all party’s elders and leaders to hold a very important meeting to plan the way forward. This is time for us to have serious analysis of the situation. Our leader now who is Alhaji Atiku Abubakar should rally other members of PDP together, he must return to the country so that we can have this important meeting on how to strategise and plan for 2023,” George advised.
When will such emergency meeting to reconcile all the tendencies in the PDP hold? Or will history repeat itself as the dust raised by the conduct of the 2019 general election begins to settle? What role can the new set of PDP governors, especially the young one among them, play in order to rein in the forces with varying issues and agenda?