Members of the Peoples Democratic Party gather in Abuja on Saturday, December 9, at its national convention to elect officials that will lead the party to the 2019 general elections, but the most sought after job in the party for now, is the person who will serve as its national chairman
- By Olu Ojewale
IN about a week’s time, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is going to hold its much awaited national convention in Abuja on Saturday, December 9, and elect key officials to pilot the affairs of the party. Perhaps, one of the most important things for the PDP at the convention is to find a suitable candidate as the national chairman of the party.
Already, the media have been inundated with campaigns and talks about those who are interested in leading the party to the 2019 general elections. With the convention quickly approaching, eight party chieftains have so far indicated their interest for the post of the national chairman; six from South West and two from South-South.
The number of aspirants is low from the South-South because the party hierarchy was said to have, based on a gentleman agreement, decided that the position of the national chairman of the party be zoned to the South West.
But because the South West has only one governor from the South West, some persons from the South-South, where the party enjoys huge support, are said to be kicking against the zoning decision. Hence, the decision of the likes of Uche Secondus, a former acting national chairman of the party, and Raymond Dokpesi, a business mogul and retired chairman of Daar Communications, owners of Ray Power and African Independent Television, to appear on the ballot.
In any case, aspirants from the South West are Tunde Adeniran, a professor of political science and former minister of Education; Taoheed Adedoja, a former minister of Youth and Sports, a former commissioner for Sports and a former provost of the College of Education (Special) Oyo State as well as Gbenga Daniel, a former governor of Ogun State.
The rest are Bode George, a retired Navy commodore and former deputy national chairman of the party; Rashidi Lodoja, a former governor of Oyo State and Jimi Agbaje, a former governorship aspirant of Lagos State in the 2015 elections.
Apart from Adeniran, who comes from Ekiti State, all other aspirants come from the All Progressives Congress, APC, controlled states.
That notwithstanding, the race for the plum job of leading the party is going to be decided by party faithful who would gather at the convention slated to hold in Abuja, on Saturday, December 9, to elect national officials of the party.
Aspirants to various offices have been busy canvassing for votes, but as expected the most plum of the offices is that of the chairman of the party. Hence, the PDP would have to decide from the array of the eight aspirants, who among them is capable of leading the party to electoral victory in 2019, which, for now, remains the main focus of the party.
If the media reports are anything to go by, the three forerunners in the race include Adeniran, Daniel and George.
Adeniran is from Ekiti State where Governor Ayodele Fayose, a PDP chieftain holds sway. Apart from that advantage, the former Nigerian Ambassador to Germany and former chairman of the board of Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, is also a founding member of the PDP.
Adeniran chaired the presidential inauguration committee of Olusegun Obasanjo’s in 1999, and unlike many top PDP members, he has never left the party. He has also remained visible in all the happenings within the PDP.
Although he is generally seen as having enough intelligence and charisma to lead the party, some analysts believe that he is too gentle for the kind of dirty fights required by party leaders to forge ahead.
Besides, it is believed that Adeniran would not be able to give the kind opposition that could wrestle powers from the current APC government.
“For Adeniran to convince delegates he has what it takes to lead the party, he needs to convince them of his ability to bite and not just bark whenever the need arises,” an analyst said.
Adeniran is not sitting pretty on his oars. Addressing newsmen at a press conference in Abuja, on Monday, November 20, Shehu Gabam, the director-general of the Professor Tunde Adeniran Campaign Organisation, accused the National Caretaker Committee, NCC, headed by Makarfi of trying to railroad Secondus as the new national chairman of the party at the December 9, convention.
As if that was not bad enough, associates of Bode George also demanded Makarfi’s resignation on the allegation that he was backing a South-South chairmanship candidate.
Ibrahim Aliu, director-general of the Bode George Campaign Organisation, said Makarfi’s intention was to put the favoured South-South candidate as chairman so as to back his (Makarfi’s) alleged presidential aspiration in 2019.
The claims by Gabam and Aliu followed the late entry and popular acceptance of Secondus by a large section of the party’s mainstream.
Before Secondus entry into the contest, Adeniran was largely seen as the establishment candidate in the contest. He was said to have received the endorsement of the North. It was not surprising, especially given the enthusiastic support some of the party’s grandees like Jerry Gana, a former minister of Information, and Ibrahim Mantu, a former deputy Senate president, were giving to his aspiration. “He is being backed by the party establishment, those I refer to as people with old money,” a stakeholder said in reference to figures like Gana and Mantu who controlled the party in the past but have little influence in the grassroots today.
He does not enjoy such support the South West. More worrisome is fact that the professor is yet to get the backing of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, his home state.
Lere Olayinka, spokesman of the governor, said in an interview that Adeniran was yet to inform the state governor and the state chapter of the party about his aspiration to lead the party. “The governor has heard of Prof. Adeniran’s aspiration to be national chairman of the PDP just as every other person is hearing it, he has not informed us here in Ekiti, and I can officially tell you that we do not know of his aspiration beyond what is reported in the news media,” Olayinka said.
Ironically, Adeniran and Secondus are the only aspirants among the eight declared aspirants who have sitting PDP governors.
As a former governor himself, Gbenga Daniel is one of the popular choices of the party. The immediate past governor of Ogun State is believed to have the backing of his former colleagues in the party as well as sympathy of some serving governors. Daniel had held office from May 29, 2003 to May 29, 2011.
An engineer by training and a fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, the former governor has been in private business since he left office. He has also set up a “Political Academy” in his native Ogun state.
Reports said that he has been using the academy to teach Nigerian youths across the state the history of Nigeria and its political processes.
The one that may work against is that he once defected from the PDP and joined the Labour Party after clashing with Buruji Kashamu, a senator, over control of the PDP in Ogun State. He returned to the party in October 2014.
Nevertheless, he is seen as one of the strongest candidates for the PDP national chairmanship post as he has been moving round the country to reach out important party elements.
Besides, his campaign enjoys wide media coverage compared to the rest.
Daniel’s weakness appears to be the persistent crisis affecting the PDP not just in Ogun, but the South-West generally of which he appears to be a major player.
Similarly strong in the race is Olabode George, a retired naval officer and a former military governor of Ondo State from 1988 to 1990 in the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. A founding member of the PDP, George was appointed chairman of the board of Nigerian Ports Authority in 1999 by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He was also at various times the national vice chairman of the PDP in the South West, deputy national chairman, South and then national deputy chairman of the party.
George got into trouble after his tenure as the NPA chairman was investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in 2008. Subsequently, a Lagos High Court on October 26, 2009, sentenced him and five others to 28 years jail term for contract splitting and inflation. However, the Nigerian Supreme Court on December 13, 2013 quashed his conviction.
According to analysts, George’s major strength is his experience, having held various top party and government positions for a god number of times. In addition, he also appears to enjoy the support of the founding fathers of the party who prefer an older, more experienced personality, to run the party.
At 72 years old, age and experience are seen as his asset, the same appear to be his undoing.
In fact, a good number of the PDP members have been clamouring for a younger national chairman in line with the new aspiration of the party. Besides, they feel that the party needs a young and vibrant person that would have the energy to lead the party effectively not just as an opposition party, but also as a government-in-waiting.
Perhaps, one of those who would fill the bill of such as aspiration is Jimi Agabaje. Before the crisis that rocked the PDP during its national convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in 2015, Agbaje was said to have the highest chance of emerging the new chairman of the party.
Then, Agbaje had just lost the governorship election of the 2015 to incumbent Governor Akinwumi Ambode of the APC. A pharmacist by profession, Agabaje, had also contested in the 2007 governorship election under the Democratic Peoples Alliance, DPA, a then newly formed party.
An active member of Afenifere, a socio-cultural organisation, Agbaje ventured into politics after the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election by Babangida, which was won by the late Moshood Abiola.
Agbaje’s major strength is that he appears to enjoy the trust of party members, including hawks in the party.
Critics, however, say the Lagos-born politician is too stubborn to a fault and may not be receptive to other ideas once he makes up his mind. That, indeed, is seen as a minus for him and the party.
Rashidi Ladoja, a former governor of Oyo State, is one of the latest persons aspiring to lead the PDP. Ladoja returned to the PDP only of recent, having being a chieftain of Accord Party, on which platform he contested the April 2011 governorship elections and lost to the incumbent Governor Abiola Ajimobi.
Before that time, Ladoja had won election of the platform of the PDP and was sworn into office on May 29, 2003. He was impeached in January 2006, but was reinstated in December of the same year.
Ladoja defected from the PDP having failed to secure the PDP’s ticket to contest for a second term as governor.
Now that he is back in the party, the former governor would need a waiver from the national executive committee, NEC, in line with the provisions of the PDP constitution, to enable him be on the ballot on December 9.
Ladoja appears to enjoy massive grassroots support, but whether that would be enough to get him elected by delegates at the PDP convention remains to be seen. Not only that, at the age of 73, the former Oyo State governor would, probably have another herculean task to get votes of young party faithful who have been routing for a young and vibrant person to lead the party.
Unlike Ladoja, Taoheed Adedoja is a former minister of Youth and Sports, a former commissioner for sports and a former provost of the College of Education (Special) Oyo State, is 66. He was also the governorship candidate of the PDP in Oyo state in the 2015 election.
Campaigning for the party chairmanship post earlier about two months ago, he said: “The PDP of today will bring us two things: the PDP of tomorrow and the new platform that will produce the President of Nigeria in 2019.
“Because the party is desirous of doing the right thing and to give Nigeria and PDP members fresh ideas to renew what it had done 16 years ago; I believe I owe Nigeria and PDP that opportunity of making myself available for the leadership of the party. Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led committee has promised Nigerians dividends of democracy better and that is why I have offered myself to lead the party to that promised manifesto; to lead the party to that promised reinvigoration of the aspirations of Nigerians in terms of their high expectations.’’
In recent times, however, Adedoja has not shown enough vibe to indicate that he is still in the race for party’s national chairman position.
The reverse has been the case with Raymond Dokpesi, a media mogul, who has virtually been everywhere with his campaign train all over the country. Dokpesi, a founding member of the PDP, retired as chairman of Daar Communications Plc, owners of AIT and Raypower Television and Radio, to concentrate on his political career and aspirations.
According to reports, Dokpesi is, perhaps, the only candidate who has traversed the length and breadth of the country to meet with delegates in order to win their support for his aspiration. He was also an aspirant for the chairmanship post of the PDP before the ill-fated Port Harcourt national convention.
Irked by the seemingly irreconcilable leadership tussle of the PDP between Ali Modu Sheriff, a former chairman, and Ahmed Makarfi, national chairman of the party Caretaker Committee, Dokpesi and some other persons formed another party christened the Advance Peoples Democratic Alliance, APDA. He was named the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Makarfi, Dokpesi returned back to the PDP.
In the party, Dokpesi is perceived to have the character the PDP needs to displace the APC in 2019. “He can “bulldoze” his way and does not shy away from taking decisions, no matter how unpopular. He challenged the leadership of the PDP and defied everyone in 2015 when it was decided that the office of national chairman should be micro-zoned to the South West,” one of his admirers who doesn’t want his name in print said.
The stumbling block for his emergence as the next chairman of the PDP, according to some party members is that the South West is much favoured to fill the post, while he is from South-South. This is also because the party have already zoned the office of president to the North, while it has also already agreed to pick a vice presidential candidate from the South East.
Besides, like Ladoja, Dokpesi would need a waiver to be on the ballot.
That notwithstanding, he was recently seen at the commissioning of the campaign office of Olabode George in Abuja, a few days ago, thereby making some members of the party to wonder if he had decided to step down and support the former Naval chief. He is also facing corruption charges in court.
Like Dokpesi, and also in the race is Secondus, who is also from the South-South. He was a deputy national chairman and subsequently, acting chairman of the PDP.
He was also a two-term chairman of the PDP in his native Rivers State. Reacting to the allegation of having the support of Makarfi and the NCC of the party, Secondus said he decided to run for the chairmanship position based on his personal conviction that he is best suited for the post and not that he was prompted by anyone.
In any case, according to the party hierarchy, Secondus has a deep knowledge and workings of the PDP, a knowledge that may come in handy as he seeks to be the next chairman of the party. But because the leadership of the PDP is disposed to producing a national chairman from the South West, a Northerner president and a vice-president from the South Eastern, his aspiration may thus be amputated.
Based on that, it would be difficult for Secondus to clinch the position even though he is said to have the backing of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and some other governors. Another argument being canvassed by opponents of a South-South national chairman of the party is that the region produced the immediate past president in Goodluck Jonathan.
Indeed, former President Goodluck Jonathan has also being quoted as having supported the the South-West zone’s contention for the chairmanship position and invariably rejected the attempt by some governors of the party to back Secondus.
But Dokpesi has been vehemence as he argued: “The South-South has never produced a chairman otherwise, they should tell me the convention where Secondus was presented, and he was approved as chairman. Chief Olabode George, our revered leader, and friend was a deputy national chairman just like Secondus. So there cannot be any claim in that area.”
Perhaps, to avoid any form of factionalisation, the party was reported to be working on reaching a consensus to produce a candidate for the position ahead of the party convention. But whether that would be agreed upon before the convention date is left to be seen.
In meantime, nobody would want to hazard a guess where the pendulum is likely to swing.
– Dec. 1, 2017 @ 16:10 GMT