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The fate of Nigeria’s once ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), now lies in the outcome of a December convention that is a source of controversies and divisions.

Chief Shuaibu Oyedokun is a member of the PDP’s Board of Trustees (BoT) and a former deputy national chairman of the party from the South West, who on November 3 came up with a ‘controversial’ advisory that banned some national chairmanship aspirants of the party from the race.

Since then, the PDP has not known peace even as its convention, scheduled to hold on December 9, is just about a month away.

Though Chief Oyedokun was the sole signatory of the purported document, he claimed that all BoT members from the South–West were in agreement with the decision, saying they found it pertinent to pick only three names from the eight contenders vying for the seat.

He said in arriving at the three candidates, the members considered such factors as acceptability, vision, experience, perception by members, winning chances, and educational exposure.

Oyedokun said the move was meant to also reduce election expenditure, avoid splitting of South–West votes and arrive at a consensus candidate for the zone.

Those selected to remain in the race included a former deputy national chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George; a former Minister of Sports and Special Duties, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja and a former Education Minister Prof. Tunde Adeniran.

The document named the South-West aspirants dropped from the race to include Oyo State ex-governor, Senator Rashid Ladoja; Ogun State ex-governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; ex-national secretary of the party, Prof. Wale Oladipo; Lagos State former governorship candidate, Jimi Agbaje and Akin-Deko Akintayo from Ondo State.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the development has sparked mixed reactions as those favoured  to participate in the race are individually and collectively celebrating as they work towards endorsing one of them for the coveted seat, while those that have been edged out of the race are crying foul.

In October, the PDP’s national chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, told the party’s chairmanship contenders to forget micro zoning of the chairmanship position to a particular geo-political zone in the South.

This means aspirants from the South-West, South-South and the South-East will slug it at the party’s elective convention.

Makarfi, who met with all the contestants for the PDP national chairmanship at the Wadata Plaza, the party’s national secretariat, in Abuja, said the Caretaker Committee lacked the authority and legal backing to micro-zone, except if the three zones in the South met and submitted their resolution to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for approval.

But with Oyedokun’s pronouncement, the three aspirants that emerged as South-West candidates will challenge a former acting national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus and a broadcast mogul, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, who are contenders from the South–South. 

This newspaper gathered that the whole arithmetic is about 2019, especially because of the fact that the North will produce the presidential candidate of the party while the South will produce the vice presidential candidate.

Some people said the convention would ultimately go in favour of Secondus from the South-South while the vice presidential candidate would be picked from the South-West “so as to deplete APC’s strength in the region because the vice president at the moment, Yemi Osinbajo, is from there.”

But Chief Bode George, in an interview with our correspondents, debunked the claim, saying the two scenarios, including who becomes party chairman and who becomes vice presidential candidate, are distinct.

While Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State from the South-West has already declared to run for the office of president, contrary to the zoning formula and decision of the various organs of the PDP, analysts say he is actually eyeing the VP slot.

There are also feelers that a former governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, may consider running.

Similarly, credible sources in the PDP told our correspondents that political heavyweights in the South-East are highly interested in the vice presidential slot and are relentlessly agitating for it, alluding to the fact that many of those in the race are only trying to assert their influence so that they would not be forgotten at the end of the day.

One of the sources, a former national officer, explained that politicians from the South-East zone have not shown any interest in the chairmanship race and have refused to make noise about it because they want to be considered for the VP ticket.

“Yes, it’s true, they are scheming to have it. About two politicians from the zone are angling for the VP slot,” he said.

It was gathered that the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, and a former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, may likely contest for the VP ticket.

However, party bigwigs say the decision to zone the vice presidential slot is not going to be reached at the convention.

Already, the chairman of the PDP’s BoT, Senator Walid Jibrin, has condemned the move to restrict the number of the party’s chairmanship aspirants from any of the geo-political zones in the South.

Jibrin, who was responding to the purported trimming of the South–West aspirants, said,  “I want to state clearly that the meeting in which such decision was taken was never at the instance of the National Board of Trustees and that we cannot afford to hold such meeting now as done in the South-West.

“In the South-West, we have two BoT members contesting for the chairmanship and who should never be in a meeting where such a sensitive decision was taken.

“I have invited Chief Shuaibu Oyedokun to a national caucus to explain what led him to champion that exercise. I want to further advise all other organs of our party to be extra careful not to rush to any one-sided decision. All aspirants must exercise restraint of give and take and wait for proper guidelines from the National Working Committee.

“Count me out in any game that deliberately excludes any aspirant from fair participation. The delegates of our convention should be allowed to decide in accordance with set up rules of the party,” he stated.

Since the time Senator Jibrin made this clarification, there is no indication that the embattled Oyedokun has honoured the invitation or not.

Also, Oyedokun has neither retracted what he said nor shed light on why he caused the confusion that might likely make the PDP convention nearly impossible.

Some campaign co-ordinators of the embittered contestants are already alleging that Oyedokun was “induced” to do what he did without any consultation, simply to cause confusion in the party and have their ways.

“He was actually settled to do what he did because the fact is that the chairmanship is not restricted to the South-West. Everyone from the South is free to contest. How on earth would he appear from the blues and say only three aspirants should go to the ring, what was the criteria he used?” one of them asked.

Efforts to get him to clear the air proved abortive. While his phone rang a couple of times on Friday, it subsequently went dead. The short message (SMS) sent to him was also not responded to as at the time of filing this report.

Barring any last minute change, the PDP will elect a new crop of National Working Committee (NWC) members during the December convention.

The convention, which is the highest decision-making body, will also ratify the amendment of constitution of the PDP.

It is expected to be the largest gathering of the PDP faithful since the party’s 14-month leadership tussle between Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff was resolved by the Supreme Court on July 12, 2017.

If all goes well, the convention would have more weight than that of August 12, which was tagged “mini and non-elective.”

Party stakeholders say if the party gets it wrong at the convention, it would equally get it wrong during the 2019 general elections by witnessing another round of defeat.

Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, ex-Vice President Namadi Sambo, serving and ex-governors, ex-ministers, serving and ex-members in both chambers of the National Assembly and Board of Trustees (BoT) members are expected to grace the event.

Similarly, founding fathers of the party, serving and ex-principal officers of the National Assembly, serving and ex-members of the state Houses of Assembly, serving and ex-state chairmen, serving and ex-local government chairmen, party elders, ward leaders and all members nationwide, are also expected at the convention.

‘EFCC watching us’

Already, some of the aspirants that were asked to leave the scene and other chieftains are voicing their anger, saying there must be restraint so that the PDP will not collapse for the last time.

In an exclusive interview with Daily Trust, Akin Deko said the EFCC would have enough grounds to descend on the PDP if any of those with case is fielded as chairman of the party.

“These are my fellow brothers from the South-West, I wish them luck. But I ask: Are they the right people for this position at this point in time?

“The APC is watching us happily, they already have the iron in the fire of the EFCC, that if you bring the wrong person out, they would haunt us all over the place. It is not the question of whether the person has been found guilty, just having a little bit of debt on your hand that you haven’t washed off, the APC would make fire on the PDP.

“I am lucky, nobody can point accusing fingers and say this man has done anything wrong. I am not saying the others have done anything wrong, but the allegations are mounting and the PDP cannot afford to have anybody coming to give them that kind of difficult time.

“It would be hard enough to beat the APC; it would be hard enough reconciling all our members behind one person and for that person to be a subject of EFCC investigation would be the death nail of the party. I have been in the race in spirit right from the beginning,” he said.

On his part, Senator Buruji Kashamu refuted a claim by Gbenga Daniel that the corruption charges against him would not be an obstacle to his bid of becoming the national chairman of the party.

The lawmaker said in other climes, anyone standing trial steers clear of running for a public office until he is vindicated, explaining that Daniel’s claim of being persecuted “does not hold water.”

He argued that if the party elects Daniel, who is standing trial for corruption, it would be indicative that the PDP condones corruption and is for corrupt people.

“This perception will adversely affect the party’s fortune. The PDP stands a chance to reinvent itself and improve its rating among the populace if it positions itself as a party that is ready to make a clean break from its sordid past.

“We should not repeat the mistake of 2015. This starts with electing who is not tainted by corruption charges or has an image deficit as Daniel,” he said.

 Daniel had earlier said he was innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction, adding that he had gone to court for about 40 times but was not proven guilty yet.

“I don’t want to talk about my trial. People call it prosecution, but I call it persecution. The case has dragged on for seven years. I don’t want to talk about it, but in our laws, a person remains innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction,” he said.

Ex-President Jonathan has already warned that the office of national chairman and that of the national publicity secretary should not be taken for granted, saying only persons of proven integrity who have in-depth knowledge of the workings of the party should be voted into those offices because of the complexities involved.

But while the day for taking the decision is approaching, there is anxiety, tension and uncertainty as to who clinches the seat of national chairman of the party.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the aspirants purportedly knocked out of the race have resolved not to obey that decision but keep their dreams alive in order to recover from the “damage” done to them.

For instance, Daniel has said that he has no plan of stepping down for anyone, including Chief Olabode George as being speculated.

“I will not step down for anyone because I did my consultations during our convention in Port Harcourt and I know so many leaders in Yorubaland who support me.

“People contest for various reasons. Some people contest to enrich their curriculum vitae, some contest to get donations while some run to win. It is not a do-or-die affair. It is an in-house contest and I’m running to win so as to bring my experiences to bear on the party and work on re-positioning it,” Daniel said.

But Chief George is already happy with Chief Oyedokun, strongly believing he is the man to beat.

George, through his media aide, Uthman Shodipe, said the South–West BoT caucus intervention was “a very significant step.”

“It is a necessary and important move, which is predicated on restoring order, establishing a coherent platform where the elders can speak collectively about what is fair and proper.

“You cannot have a strong South-West presence in the chairmanship race when everyone can basically jump into the fray, whether the person is qualified or not.

“We do not need a pliable and unassertive chairman. We need an experienced and tested hand who will be devoted to the greater glory of our party,” he said.

Prof. Adeniran also said he was favourably disposed to the South–West BoT endorsement.

There are feelers that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is preparing grounds to return to the PDP and would personally want a party chairman that would do his bidding in the scheme of things ahead of next year when he would vie for the party’s presidential  ticket. 

Though Atiku is still in the ruling APC, sources said he had gone far in preparing grounds for his eventual defection to the PDP, where he may likely find his way.  

Just last week, the newly elected leadership of the PDP in Adamawa State led by Barrister Tahir Shehu, urged Atiku to return to the party.

The party leaders made the appeal during the swearing-in of the 21 local government areas chairmen of the party who were elected during the recent congresses conducted by the party in the state.

It was based on this alleged gambit that a former aide of Atiku, Dr. Umar Ardo, who is also from Adamawa State, said the former VP had planted his stooges in his home state ahead of his return.

In a petition dated November 5, 2017, and addressed to the chairman, Adamawa State PDP congress appeal panel, Ardo called for cancellation of the congresses held last week in the state. 

“We learnt that Atiku is coming back to the party with an ambition; an ambition to contest for the presidency. Now, his return will be a source of conflict because there are others in the party (PDP) who are also interested and are nursing this ambition.

“Secondly, the deep pocket that Atiku has will not just serve that ambition, it will deepen the conflict. The third disadvantage is that those foot soldiers will also serve for the ambition, and in the process, deepen the conflict.

“Along with the friends that Atiku will be coming to the party are also those that will bring up enemies. For instance, it is an open secret and everybody knows it that Obasanjo will fight him.

“I think I will conclude that PDP will be better off without Atiku coming back,” he said.

But Atiku’s media adviser, Paul Ibe, said it is “ludicrous to accuse a man who is not a member of a party of plotting to hijack its structure.

“Whoever is making this allegation has to look elsewhere for their failings,” he said.

A foundation member of the party from the North–East, Alhaji Aminu Yakudima, told Daily Trust on Sunday in a telephone interview that it is wrong for Ardo to make such statement against Atiku.

“Ardo may be saying his own opinion, which he is entitled to. But what the PDP is doing now is serious membership drive,” he said.

When asked whether Atiku is playing a key role ahead of the PDP convention as being rumoured in some quarters, the party chieftain said, “I can’t say because it is not visible. You can’t ascertain that, but at the same time, you can’t dispute things like this in politics. Whether Atiku is backing anybody or not is not known, so we can take that as an allegation.”

It is now left to be seen whether or not the December convention will make or break the party.

Source:Daily Trust

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