The storm in the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may appear to have calmed down but it has left in its wake some unfinished business, like the choice of a new national chairman. Yusuf Alli, Managing Editor, Northern Operation, takes a look at the intrigues as the party’s different tendencies move to determine who succeeds current party chair Uche Secondus.
Overwhelmed by the internal crisis within their party, governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), members of the Board of Trustees (BOT) and other elders on Tuesday opted for a ‘no winner, no vanquished’ solution to defuse tension.
The party was in a cul-de-sac and its leaders ran helter-skelter to pull two extreme ends to a point of compromise. In the end, they gave national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus a soft landing and got the arrowhead of the rebellion in the party, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike, to sheathe his sword.
WHERE, WHEN AND HOW SEED OF DISCORD WAS SOWN
What was a harmless Yuletide visit by Secondus and members of the National Working Committee (NWC) to Wike in Port Harcourt in December 2020 laid the foundation for a seven-month crisis in the party. A member of the NWC said: “It was not the first time that the governor will demand the exit of the NWC. Last December when Secondus led NWC members to him, he told all of us that we will be removed by January 2021. We are now in August; we were able to weather the storm during the week. This is a confirmation that some forces in the party are greater than any individual or group in this party.
Other factors were ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s palaver, the Bayelsa and Edo governorship primaries and complicated local politics in Rivers State. Another source said: “Last week’s battle was a carryover of the 2018 presidential primaries when Secondus refused to do the bidding of Wike. Governor Aminu Tambuwal, who was the governor’s favourite lost out to Atiku.”
The refusal of the chairman to do the governor’s bidding in the Bayelsa and Edo governorship nomination processes was the remote cause of the cold war between the two leaders.
Wike, in cahoots with ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, had supported Timi Alaibe as the PDP’s flag bearer in Bayelsa State. But ex-Governor Henry Seriake Dickson wanted Douye Diri as the candidate. Dickson allegedly threatened PDP leadership that he would defect to the All Progressives Congress (APC) if he cannot produce his successor.
Since party primary is a game of numbers, he shored up the support base for Diri by inaugurating newly-elected local government chairmen and councilors to rev up the votes for his anointed candidate. Wike and loyalists of Alaibe faulted the inclusion of the chairmen and councilors as delegates. They asked Secondus-led NWC to reject the council leaders but after legal consultations, the chairman stood his ground.
The participation of the local council leaders made Diri win the governorship ticket at a point when Alaibe appeared to be coasting to victory. Wike felt wounded that the chairman allegedly stabbed him on the back.
The same scenario repeated itself in Edo State when the Rivers governor and the erstwhile PDP chairman in the state, Dan Orbih, rejected Governor Godwin Obaseki as candidate. They preferred a member of the House of Representatives, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, as the party’s standard bearer.
The NWC and NEC later accepted Obaseki’s candidature after shifting ground to Wike. One of the concessions was the office of the National Vice Chairman (South-South) going to Orbih, who is the governor’s chief strategist. Wike needed the office to plant his true loyalist in the NWC to have firsthand knowledge of the operation of the organ. It would also checkmate Secondus and prepare Orbih as a replacement for the chairman.
There was a trade off with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to drop the National Vice Chairman (South-South), Emmanuel Ogidi, from Delta State for Dan Orbih. To assuage the aggrieved governor with regards to Obaseki, he was appointed as the PDP’s chief campaigner in Edo – thus papering over the party’s internal wrangling.
An insider said: “After Obaseki won, Wike and Dan Orbih wanted to control the structure of the party in Edo State, not minding an existing agreement for a 50-50 sharing of offices. To have the control of the party machinery, Obaseki started working on party officers until the state PDP chairman of the party was suspended.
“Today, Obaseki is in charge of party structure. He cannot allow anyone to enter his house through the backyard.”
There were also irreconcilable differences between Wike and Secondus on Rivers politics as regards 2023. Another source added: “There are signs that there may be no power shift in Rivers State in 2023. Wike has been accused of planning to retain the governorship slot in the upland axis, whereas the national chairman believes the ticket should go to the riverine area.
“Since 1999, the upland has been producing the governor in the state. The calculation of the All Progressives Congress is to cede its ticket to the riverine axis,” the source said.
“It is also clear that Wike is not favourably disposed to Secondus as his successor. Secondus will certainly not hawk presidential or vice presidential ticket to Wike: he wants a level playing field.”
HOW THE PARTY LEADERS NAVIGATED THE STORM
The week of long knives was characterized by intrigues amongst the tendencies in the party such that for the first time in three and a half years, the national chairman was shaken. Factors bolstering his position were his heavyweight backers, especially from the North; his insistence on due process; ability to play on the legal and constitutional implications of any ambush; and the unpopularity of the revolt among governors. Those after Secondus had resources but they did not have the goodwill to generate the numbers to remove him.
A top source, who spoke in confidence, said: “Despite pressure, the governors met and rejected the call for Secondus’ resignation because it is not legally sustainable. The PDP national chairman had not committed any infraction to warrant his sack.
“The governors also felt forceful removal of Secondus might lead to a long-drawn legal battle in the party which will not augur well for PDP’s preparation for 2023 general elections.
“Although the governors took judicious notice of the demand to reshape the party, they opted for a 50-50 option ( a win-win solution) by bringing in the National Convention forward from December to late October.
“They also resolved that Secondus and his NWC be persuaded to make sacrifice by not contesting for a second term.
“But ex-Minister of Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs; Tanimu Turaki and some elders felt Secondus and his team members constitutionally cannot be stopped from re-contesting.
A former governor, who spoke in confidence, gave insights into other decisions of the governors which were presented to party elders, including all past Presidents of the Senate, former Deputy Presidents of the Senate, past Speakers and Deputy Speakers of the House of Representatives, some ex-principal officers and members of the Board of Trustees.
He said: “After taking their decisions, the governors consulted the elders who ratified them with additional suggestions.
“They agreed that the National Convention will come earlier than December. It may likely be the end of October.
“They also directed the National Executive Committee (NEC) to constitute the National Convention Committee soon.
“Also, the PDP Governors Forum is advised to suggest zoning of party’s positions.”
WHAT THEY DID NOT TELL THE PUBLIC
The legal consequences of removing Secondus weighed heavily in the resolutions reached. Most leaders on Tuesday were careful in their decision in order not to drag PDP into a long-drawn crisis which can consume the party. If the governors and elders had allowed a free-for-all, there would have been many actions in court with judges giving different orders.
The PDP National Legal Adviser, Emmanuel Enoidem, was more emphatic by drawing attention of the political warlords to legal challenges. He said: “The issue of resignation of any officer of our party at any level is a personal decision as stipulated in Sections 45(1) and 47 (5). There is no provision of our constitution which donates powers to any organ, individuals or group of persons to ask an officer of the party to resign for any reason whatsoever as was purported in the so-called press release.
“The power to remove any member of the NWC and indeed any national officer is reserved in the national convention which is due for December 2021.” With the timely legal advice, the hands of all were tied. They all opted for sanity as manifested in the win-win formula.
But Wike on Friday said he has no personal problem with Secondus despite some interventions by church/ community / party leaders and personal efforts of Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State.
He said his primary concern was to salvage the PDP from impending doom occasioned by inept leadership.
“Everybody believed that whatever the national chairman was doing was dictated by Wike and must have the backing of Wike. I believe when you support somebody, support him to succeed.” he stated.
“But when things are also going wrong, if you don’t speak out, people will believe you are part of it. Therefore, I owe it as a duty to say things are not going right.”
TENDENCIES AND THE BATTLE AHEAD
One thing the PDP crisis did was allow open manifestation of the tendencies competing for the soul of the party. Some are jostling for the 2023 presidential ticket, while others are trying to influence the primaries for political gain.
Leading the pack is the Northern/Southern group with a solid backing for Secondus and the National Working Committee (NWC) which they put in place. This tendency includes the likes of a former National Chairman of PDP, Ahmed Makarfi, ex-governors Henry Seriake Dickson, Sule Lamido, Ibrahim Shema and Aliyu Babangida.
Others are governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Darius Ishaku (Taraba), Duoye Diri (Bayelsa), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Godwin Obaseki (Edo) and Deputy Governor Mahdi Aliyu Gusau (Zamfara).
The group being coordinated by Wike includes governors Seyi Makinde (Oyo) and Ahmadu Fintiri (Adamawa), some National Working Committee (NWC) members and some former principal officers of the National Assembly. Joining the league is a former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who has issues with Ugwuanyi over the zoning of governorship ticket in Enugu State.
A third tendency is the camp of ex-Vice President Atiku and others who are waiting in the wings. They include former Vice Presidential candidate of the party, Mr. Peter Obi, Governors Samuel Ortom (Benue), Emmanuel Udom (Akwa Ibom), some NEC and BOT members. They romance all groups because they don’t want to jump into the fray. At a stage, Atiku embarked on a shuttle to Rivers State to make up with Wike over the fallout from the 2018 presidential primaries.
Another caucus comprises ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo/PDP founding fathers and 28 elders. The elders are Mark, ex-Senate Presidents Anyim Pius Anyim and Adolphus Wabara, former Deputy President of the Senate, Ibrahim Mantu, former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Austin Opara, ex-Minister Jerry Gana, ex-governors Sule Lamido, Ibrahim Danmkwambo and Olagunsoye Oyinlola, ex-National Chairman, Okwesilieze Nwodo, ex-Ministers Odion Ugbesa and Hajiya Zainab Maina, Senators Biodun Olujimi and Zainab Kure.
Others are a former Chief of Staff to the President, Mike Ogiadomhe, Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Eyinnaya Abaribe, Sen. Helen Esuene, Sen. Agboola Hosea and Hajiya Adiza Adodo.
WHAT WILL DETERMINE CHOICE OF THE NEW CHAIRMAN
The outcome of the governors’ assignment on zoning of positions/ offices is expected to define which zone or who will lead the party. According to a source, the NWC will table their recommendations before the National Executive Committee (NEC) for ratification. The PDP Constitution says: “The guidelines for elections to any office of the party shall be approved by the National Executive Committee of the party in accordance with the provisions of this constitution.”
Investigations show that the key issue in the party is zoning of offices among the nation’s six geopolitical zones in a strategic manner that can earn the PDP presidency in 2023.There is a herculean task before the governors in coming up with an acceptable proposal more so when the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum Tambuwal is an interested party as a presidential aspirant.
The 2019 Elections Review Committee of PDP headed by Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, in March submitted a report which is a guide for the governors’ forum. Other members of the committee were the deputy national secretary of the party, Emmanuel Agbo (the secretary of the panel); Sule Lamido and Tanimu Turaki, (representing the North-West); Yakubu Dogara and Alhasan Muhammadu (the North East); Babangida Aliyu and Istafanus Gyang (North Central), Francis Nwaifuru and Austin Nnamani (South East) and Austin Okpara and Stella Omu (South South). While claiming that the Northeast and the Southeast deserve a shot at the presidency, the committee approbated and reprobated by recommending to the party that it throws open its ticket in 2023.
The report of the committee said in part: “In line with certain unwritten conventions of the nation’s history, many people think that, for fairness and equity, the Northeast and Southeast geo-political zones that have had the shortest stints at the Presidency, should be given special consideration, in choosing the presidential flag bearer of the party, for the 2023 elections.
“While we admit that this is a strong argument, we should not lose sight of the fact that Nigeria is endowed with many capable and very experienced leaders in every part of the country. Moreover, the exigencies of the moment demand that nothing should be compromised in choosing the leader, with the attributes to disentangle the country from the present quagmire.
“Therefore, we think that every Nigerian, from every part of the country, should be given the opportunity to choose the best candidate, through a credible primary election; as a way of institutionalizing a merit-based leadership recruitment process, for the country.”
As at Friday, findings confirmed that PDP leaders from the North are mostly angling for the retention of the presidential ticket of the party by the zone. They based their push on Mohammed’s panel’s report; the likelihood of brighter chances and the alleged body language and desperation of some powerful forces in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to cause power to remain in the North.
They believe that only a Northern candidate can match any similar choice by APC. Although the PDP leaders are yet to agree on which part of the North out of the three zones (North-Central, Northeast and Northwest), their agitation is more intense for the 2023 mandate.
Atiku, who was the presidential candidate in 2019 is from the Northeast. He is seeking the same slot with Tambuwal; ex-President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki; ex-Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido; and ex-Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, among others.
In the last few weeks, there have been different permutations in the PDP on which of the six zones will produce the next national chairman. Initially, a former President of the Senate, Sen. David Mark was proposed by some party leaders but it was reliably confirmed that he’s done with any form of political appointment and prefers to remain a statesman.
Apart from Mark, the North is not interested in PDP chairmanship. A party leader, who spoke in confidence, gave insights into the power calculation. He said: “As it is now, the Southeast is only after the presidency or vice presidential slot. The race for the chairmanship is realistically between the South-South and the Southwest.
“Due to the covert politics of 2023, some presidential aspirants have started scheming to hijack the party structure or be in good stead to be privy to its inner workings. The row over Secondus’ resignation or not is about the scramble for the heart of PDP. Wike was uncomfortable that the chairman he installed was not of help during the 2018 presidential primaries. The same Secondus is now talking of a level playing field in 2023 when he will vie for either presidential or vice presidential slot.
“Therefore, it is obvious that the power game among the presidential aspirants and their godfathers will play crucial roles in choosing the new chairman.
“More importantly, most of the founding fathers of PDP have been relegated to the background in the affairs of the party. They are waiting for this opportunity to regain the control and return it to the party’s essence.”
SOME POSSIBLE SUCCESSORS TO SECONDUS
Barely few hours after peace was restored to the party, all the groups and leaders returned to the drawing board to look at options on those to lead the party from October. It was obvious that the advisory of the PDP Governors’ Forum to exclude Secondus and NWC members did not go down well with some leaders of the party. A former Presidential Aspirant, Tanimu Turaki (SAN) was truthful in telling the leaders of the party that such advice was not legally binding. He said it was a constitutional right to aspire to any office.
Before Wike and others’ aborted coup plot, Secondus was eyeing a second term ticket in office. It was unclear if he will still try his luck in October. Having spent the last 22 years as a party officer, which earned him the sobriquet “Total Chairman”, he is more experienced than any party member.
Beyond the support of Wike, the PDP national chairman has succeeded in courting most leaders of the party, especially Atiku, Tambuwal, Saraki, Makarfi, Lamido the BOT chairman and powerful party leaders in the North and in the Southeast.
He has an advantage as an incumbent. Like a source jocularly said: “We may end up with Secondus contesting against Secondus. What can change this is if President Goodluck Jonathan miraculously seeks the presidential ticket.” But Wike and others who are swallowing their pride till
October will never accept Secondus’ bid for another term because such a risk may seal their political fate.
Apart from the incumbent, investigations show that some founding fathers are pushing for ex-Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola as the next national chairman of the party to appease the Southwest. Oyinlola was unjustly removed as the National Secretary of the party. Despite the November 6, 2013 order of reinstatement by the Court of Appeal, the PDP never did so.
Despite his background as a lawyer and administrator, some groups feel that handing over the party’s machinery to Oyinlola will amount to Obasanjo being in charge. The founding fathers, who are political puritans, have not relented in asking for the former Osun governor.
A member of the NWC said: “Leave Obasanjo out of the game, the truth is that justice must be served. PDP has been unfair to Oyinlola since 2013. I know that some people were unhappy that he did not stay on course when he defected from PDP to APC in 2014. The PDP gives equal rights to returnees but the scars of 2015 defeat of the party are still memorable. How do we trust him?”
Some leaders are, however, trying to change the equation by propping up the candidacy of the defeated governorship candidate in Ondo State, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), to checkmate Obasanjo’s influence on the party. It was learnt that Makinde, who was initially backing Oyinlola, seems to be having another thought.
That said, some party leaders are uncomfortable with Jegede, who is a close ally of Atiku. A NEC member said: “With Jegede in charge, our presidential ticket automatically goes to Atiku without sweating. The presidential primaries for 2023 poll will be one-sided. A fair-minded, polished and urbane politician, Jegede is good for the job but his Atiku connection will haunt him.”
From the South-South, Wike and like-minds were said to be re-strategizing on how to regain the structure of the party. Some party leaders say his associate and strategist, Dan Orbih, who is the party’s National Vice Chairman (South-South), is being penciled down to replace Secondus. It was the same Orbih who allegedly coordinated the revolt against Secondus in the NWC in the past two weeks. Most of the governors may oppose him because of his ‘eternal’ bond with Wike.
Other than health and age factors, some stakeholders in the party are equally considering media mogul, Raymond Dokpesi, who will be 70 years on October 25. It is unclear if Dokpesi will want to plunge into party politics again. Having associated with the North since the Second Republic, he has the required experience and contacts within the powerful Northern wing of the party to lead PDP.
More aspirants are yet to show interest but in the next few weeks, the tempo of the game will determine who succeeds Secondus.
The opposition party has a date with history. Its power zoning formula and national convention will surely determine its future.