From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
All eyes are on the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). Tomorrow, over 2800 delegates from across the country will converge on the Eagle Square to elect new members of the party’s National Working Committee ( NWC).
The convention is coming after the 15 months bitter struggle for the soul of the party by its former national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and his supporters on the one hand and the National Caretaker Committee led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi and supported by all the organs of the party on the other hand.
Expectedly, there have been serious concerns by both members and supporters of the opposition party if it will get it right. This anxiety is not misplaced. Since inception, conducting a crisis free convention has been the bane of the PDP.
Analysts say past conventions have been more a less a coronation exercise, where pre-determined aspirants are anointed as NWC members.
In the past when the PDP was in power the choice of the party leadership is usually decided between the governors and the presidency. A member of the PDP National Executive Committee ( NEC), who does not want his name in print, told Daily Sun “when we had a president, there used to be a unity list. Usually, the Presidency draws the list from the various interest groups in the party. The aim is to ensure that the convention is peaceful and that there is cohesion in the party.
“So, when delegates get to the convention, they are given a list containing the names of the aspirants they will vote for in all the positions. That is the unity list. Those who lose out in the unity list are pacified with different appointments, “the source said.
But with the party out of power, things have changed. Pundits say tomorrow’s convention is going to be different in many respects. For instance, the influence of the governors on who becomes the next chairman may not be as pervasive as it used to be.
There are currently 11 governors elected on the platform of the PDP, unlike in the past where the party controls more than two third of the states. The implication is that delegates from states where there are no PDP governors are not likely to have anyone breathing down their necks regarding who to vote for.
Consequently, for once it is expected that the convention will be keenly contested and its outcome not pre-determined. Already, a many of the chairmanship aspirants have traversed the length and breadth of the country, canvassing support from the delegates, in expectation that the delegates will determine who carries the day.
This weekend’s convention is not just like any other convention of the opposition party. PDP’s future is tied to the outcome of the convention and the way and manner the new leadership of the party emerges, would go a long way to determine the fate of the party in 2019 election.
Not a few have argued that it would be suicidal for the party to continue in the same old way especially that it is trying to re-launch itself ahead of the 2019 polls.
Analysts say the party leadership must ensure that the convention is free and fair. The outcome of December 9 convention will have a lot of implications for the PDP. Specifically, it will determine if the party will actualise its dream to regain power in 2019 or not or continue to exist as it is presently known. Daily Sun gathered that it is a convention that would make or mar the party.
One of the chairmanship aspirants, Chief Olabode George, said Nigerians are expecting the PDP to make a statement with this Saturday’s convention.
According to him: “ December 9, we will confirm whether we are going to win the hearts and minds of those who are going to elect the next set of legislators, the president of the country, the governors and others. They are watching us if we can prove that we can manage our selves very effectively.”
Also, recently former President Goodluck Jonathan warned that the opposition party would be in serious trouble if it makes mistakes in its choice of national chairman and national publicity secretary in tomorrow’s convention. He said the party must be careful in its choice of national chairman and national publicity secretary, because both positions are delicate, saying that “this is key so that by 2019 when we go for the general elections, PDP will have majority in the states and national assemblies and of course, PDP must win the presidency, “ Jonathan said.
There are eight aspirants for the chairmanship position. They include former acting national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus; former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George and former minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran.
Others are: former chairman of Daar Communication Ltd, Chief Raymond Dokpesi; former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel and former Oyo State governor, Senator Rashidi Ladoja. Also in the chairmanship contest are 2015 PDP governorship candidate in Lagos State, Jimi Agbaje and former Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Professor Taoheed Adedoja.
So far, Secondus, George and Adeniran has emerged as the top contenders for the chairmanship. Ironically, Agbaje, who was the anointed candidate in the botched 2016 convention, today, nothing much, is heard of him.
Expectedly, the political antecedents of the trio, as well as that of the other contestants have come under serious scrutiny in the run-up to the national convention.
No doubt, all the aspirants, particularly the three top contenders are qualified in their own rights to lead the opposition party; however, the party needs a chairman that can lead it to victory in the 2015 polls.
According to former President Jonathan, “this time around, we need a very courageous and vocal person to be the chairman. There are two positions that we must not make mistake on – the position of the national chairman and that of the national publicity secretary, because I have worn the shoes before and I know where it pinches.
“If we make a mistake as a party and elect wrong chairman and publicity secretary, we are finished.”
The odds against the South west
Although a lot of party leaders across the country believe that the south west should produce the next national chairman, the number of aspirants from the zone is a big drawback. Six out of the eight aspirants are from the zone.
Prior to the botched August 2016 PDP Convention in Port Harcourt, the Southern caucus of the party had micro- zoned the chairmanship to the south west. Unfortunately, that convention was aborted by a court order.
Since the beginning of this current contest, there has been clamour for that micro- zoning to be sustained. But that clamour did not bear fruit.
In the absence of a micro-zoning, the leaders of the party in the zone muted the idea of a consensus candidate. But that also did not fly.
Daily Sun recall that Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose met with some PDP leaders from the zone in Lagos, to explore possibility of the zone coming up with a consensus candidate.
In the aftermath of the Lagos meeting, former minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope told Daily that it would be good if it materialises. However, the former minister, who is one of the leaders of the George campaign team said consensus or no consensus, his candidate would not withdraw from the contest.
Babatope said “if it materialises good. But it takes two to tango. I cannot say what we are going to do. But I will remind you of what the bible says: ‘He who puts his hand on the plough must not look back.”
Similarly, Adedoja also rejected the consensus arrangement, stating that “everybody should be given opportunity to contest at the national convention. Whoever emerges at the national convention is the consensus candidate of the new PDP which the members are building.”
Also, there were indications earlier in the week that the bulk of northern PDP leaders who are in the vanguard of the south west producing the next chairman of the opposition party may be having a rethink over the inability of aspirants from the zone to close ranks.
The 2019 connection
PDP leaders with political ambition for 2019 are aligning with aspirants who they believe would further their ambitions. For instance, Fayose is said not be in support of the chairmanship coming to the south west, because it would work against his 2019 aspirations. The Ekiti governor, who recently declared interest in the 2019 presidential ticket of the party, is believed to be aiming to be the PDP presidential running mate.
Also, those that lost out in the power play in the recent past are also using the convention as an avenue to re-launch themselves. In this group are supporters of the immediate past national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff.
Daily Sun reliably gathered that the remnants of Sheriff’s men in the opposition party are backing one of the chairmanship aspirants, so as to position themselves effectively for the 2019 general elections.
For the PDP and its members, the die is cast. It has a golden opportunity to reinvent itself by making sure that the convention is rancour free. Like the phoenix, it must seize this opportunity to rise from the ashes. But for any reason, the opposition party fails; it would have to live with the consequences for a long time.