By Bamidele Salako
Nigeria’s principal opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is in search of a leader. The party has never had it this tough. Once the single largest political entity in Africa with a vision to rule Nigeria for 60 unbroken years, it has become a shadow of its old self – and like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall and needed fixing – the party has fallen from an exalted height and its stalwarts are rallying to put the pieces back together again.
A brief history lesson! It was a glorious past when the party boasted a significant share of Nigeria’s political capital, having within its ranks a good number of the country’s most illustrious political figures comprising ex-military heads of state and political big shots from the first and second republics. That now feels like a distant memory. Those were the halcyon days of the PDP when it seemed like the political behemoth’s chokehold on power would never weaken.
Apart from the colossal losses it suffered before, during and after the unforgettable tsunami of an election in 2015, it has also had to contend with constant outbound defections, an internal leadership crisis and the fallouts from an overall inexperience in playing second fiddle to another political party.
The party has since found itself in the precarious position of having to navigate Nigeria’s unforgiving political maze as a challenger rather than the challenged. What’s worse, the PDP’s misfortunes attract scant or no sympathies at all from disgruntled Nigerians who have held on to their grudge against the party even at the risk of their country morphing into a one-party state if the PDP were to go extinct. Not a few Nigerians believe that the party fluffed several gilt-edged opportunities between 1999 and 2015 to write its name in gold in the nation’s political history, opting rather to entrench corruption in the pursuit of selfish agendas while stacking a record of incompetence rather than working to leave indelible development imprints.
In the intervening couple and half years since 2015, the climate of public opinion seems to suggest that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has not done better. Whereas many had hoped the APC would deploy the lessons from the crash of a mammoth and indomitable PDP machinery to banish the memory of its rival to political Antarctica, the ruling party appears to be running headlong into the same pitfalls and landmines that led to the dismantlement of the PDP.
A continued haemorrhaging of the wealth of goodwill the APC enjoyed ahead of 2015 – especially as its boat continues to be rocked by infightings among the president’s principal appointees and allegations of corruption, nepotism and duplicitousness – has created a perfect storm for the PDP in which a flicker of hope has appeared on the horizon of its political fortunes as it rallies to stage a solid fightback in 2019. As the drumbeats for the those elections begin to sound in the distance, the PDP is working assiduously to regain its political weight starting with the elections of a new party chairman and other key officials who can help rebuild a formidable party structure that is well–positioned to stand up to the APC.
A tempestuous judicial tango over the chairmanship of the party saw former party Chair, Senator Ali Modu Sherriff given his marching orders at the party’s non-elective convention last year leaving the PDP’s fate in the hands of a caretaker committee headed by former Kaduna State Governor, Senator Ahmed Makarfi. The committee received a mandate upon inauguration to convene an elective convention at which the party’s key officials would be elected.
At its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on Tuesday, the PDP confirmed that the convention would hold on Saturday, December 9, at the Eagle Square, Abuja. Eight aspirants for the party’s chairmanship – all party stalwarts – were present at the meeting. Rumoured efforts by the party’s leadership to pick a consensus candidate in a bid to immediately have the PDP present a formidable and united front hit an inevitable cul de sac as the eight aspirants reportedly insisted on a fair contest.
Also, Makarfi debunked the claims from some quarters that the party had sub-zoned its chairmanship to the South-West affirming that it was zoned to the entire South while the presidency was zoned to the North.
TheBoss takes a look at the protagonists for the party’s chairmanship – their chances, strengths and weaknesses.
A chieftain and warhorse of the PDP, the former National Deputy Chairman of the party, Bode George, 71 (turns 72 November 12), has been there and done that. A loyal PDP man through and through, the only position he is yet to occupy is incidentally the position of party chairman. Many PDP members, particularly the founding members from the South West believe he epitomises the kind of institutional experience, political savoir-faire and respectable personality that their party needs to orchestrate a grand comeback in 2019 – considering that he has served in several leadership capacities within the party’s hierarchy since its formation in 1998.
His proponents say he does not just possess a knowledge of the inner workings of the party but that he is also a firm believer in its philosophy, has a broad understanding of Nigeria’s rocky political environment and has extensive interparty connections that spread across the country’s political spectrum. It is believed that his extensive network and the respect he commands within the political circuit will serve as assets in the rebuilding efforts of the party particularly with regard to wooing and winning over aggrieved ex-PDP members lost to the ruling APC and other parties.
The drawback however for the old timer is the trail of divisions that has tainted his track record within the party. For instance, in August 2002, Nick Mbaezue, the leader of the Anambra People’s Forum (APF), a group within the Anambra State chapter of the PDP accused him of auctioning the state’s party executive to the faction of then governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju. In another instance, the founding chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the PDP, Chief Olorunfunmi Bashorun, in a petition he filed to the party’s National Chairman in 2003, blamed Bode George for the crisis rocking the party in the state. And as if those were not enough, in June 2004, a splinter group of the PDP accused Bode George, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, and Mohammed Ashorobi of breaking up the party through “intimidation, blackmail, discrimination and abuse of power.” These and a host of other controversial issues in which he was embroiled have made some within the party’s leadership to question the wisdom of having a person who has previously proven to be a polarising figure at the helm of the party’s affairs at such a critical juncture in its history.
These nagging doubts have however not impeded the Lagos PDP caretaker committee and PDP youth leaders from 19 Northern states from endorsing the veteran politician for the position.
Otunba Gbenga Daniel
Former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, 61, is pulling all stops to ensure he emerges as the chairman of the PDP come December. It was initially thought that he would surrender his ambition to allow easy passage for Bode George ahead of the convention, but he stated in no uncertain terms that that was mere speculation.
Before officially declaring his ambition at the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, last Wednesday, he paid a series of consultative visits to party titans including former heads of state, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar; Gen. T Y Danjuma, ex-governor of Kano State, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, former governor of Katsina State, Ibrahim Shema and even former president, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Sources close to him told TheBoss that the visits were not just aimed at mustering the support of his hosts but to serve as a political barometer for measuring his acceptability among the party’s leading lights. The Northern slant of his visits shows that OGD as fondly called is banking on the overwhelming support of the party’s northern caucus as a counterbalance for his thin southern support base to coast to victory at the convention. This was buttressed by the presence of several former federal ministers of northern extraction at his official declaration. Some political commentators believe he is essentially telling Northerners in the party that they can count on him as a friend, particularly at a time that the Northern section of the party can boast of only two state governors out of 10 in the powerful PDP Governors’ Forum.
Not just this, OGD as Gbenga Daniel is fondly called does not enjoy the support of his home state PDP caucus. A former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State and now member of the state’s caretaker committee, Chief Joju Fadairo, told ThisDay newspaper last week that the caretaker committee had not endorsed OGD and stated categorically that his loyalties lie with Bode George.
Another issue that OGD will have to face up to is the dent on his reputational capital by a pending corruption court case at the instance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The fear is that if OGD eventually emerges as chairman, the APC may leverage the corruption charge hanging over his head to discredit the PDP. That as well as the immense drawbacks and distractions that an expedited trial and an uncertain outcome would bring thereby plunging the party into turmoil all over again.
Prof. Tunde Adeniran
Ex-minister of Education and Deputy Director General of the Jonathan/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation in the 2015 election, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, 72, has said the PDP needs a leader with the right vision, passion for good leadership qualities and the right experience and he believes he is the man to deliver the goods.
An ex-ambassador to Germany and a current member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), he presents an urbane option. A politician by choice but a technocrat by calling, the non-controversial septuagenarian is perceived by many to lack the steeliness that Nigeria’s rugged political topography often requires.
As a founding member of the PDP, he is said to enjoy the support of some of the party’s founding fathers like Prof. Jerry Gana and Senator Ibrahim Mantu who are always with him on the campaign trail, yet there are those within the PDP who insist that he lacks the toughness and daring that the job of party chairman demands. They say given the size of the task their establishment is up against, a stern and unbendable character would me more suiting for the role, whereas Prof. Adeniran brings the soft touch. All the naysaying has not stopped him from soliciting the support of IBB and former president, Goodluck Jonathan in his quest for the party’s top seat.
Adeniran has remained resolute in his insistence that his calm demeanour should not be a disadvantage but a pass mark saying, “The belief in some quarters that the party does not need a gentleman as leader is an insult not only to the party but every member. Leadership is not by thuggery or violence, but by ideas, passion, vision and commitment. We don’t need a violent person in PDP as chairman. We need a man with ideas to drive the party‘s vision. I am that man. I am that gentleman.’’
Prof. Taoheed Adedoja
Former Minister of Sports and Youths Development, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, 66, has espoused strong ideals which he intends to pursue if elected. He is hoping the party stakeholders will buy into his 15-point agenda for the “re-positioning” and “rebranding” of the PDP. In addition to a pledge to making the party more appealing to the electorate, he has vowed to nurture within the party a culture of meritocracy that yields candidates with the pedigree to triumph at the polls.
Some of his other campaign points include the promise to promote party sustainability at the ward, local government, state and national levels through viable business ventures and investments; to ensure party internal democracy and party discipline as well as to implement standard financial regulations that conform to international best practices on transparency and accountability.
Jimi Agbaje, 60, burst on the PDP scene when he flew the party’s flag in the 2015 governorship contest in Lagos but failed to win at the second time of asking following an earlier unsuccessful attempt in 2007. Agbaje was on the edge of being named Chairman of the party at its botched Port Harcourt convention in 2016 having reportedly enjoyed the backing of PDP governors who believed he possessed the carriage and charisma to immediately set the PDP back on a victory path. It was not to be however and the strong sentiments around the transformative role he could play in the party have since dissipated. He has a reputation for being principled and some within the party say, given the opportunity to lead, he will inject new life into the PDP and drive the party to imbibe strong positive values that will reposition it for success in Nigerian politics.
In declaring his ambition for the seat Tuesday this week, he took to his official Facebook page to address “fellow members of the PDP”. An excerpt: “The decisions we make today in our Party are critical to whether or not these promises (of Nigeria’s founding fathers) will be achieved in our lifetime or in that of our children or our children’s children. This is why as a party, it’s time to rebuild, it’s time to unite, and that time is now. My name is Jimi Agbaje, and I am running to be the national chairman of the PDP.” The announcement garnered over 2,700 likes and reactions as well as hundreds of positive comments from young and old Nigerians alike demonstrating that he still enjoys a strong positive public perception.
Dr. Raymond Dokpesi
Daar Communications Chairman, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, 66, is a staunch PDP man at heart. His contributions to the success of the party are not in doubt. He demonstrated this in Edo State where he pulled resources to back the party’s senatorial candidates, Clifford Ordia and Urhoghide Aishagbonnriodion in the 2015 election, and saw to it that they both won against all odds in an APC-controlled domain. His broadcasting platform, the African Independent Television (AIT) is almost always at the disposal of the PDP for live broadcasts of its events.
His ambition to be PDP chairman may however be dead on arrival as there appears to be an unspoken consensus that the party chairmanship be micro-zoned to the South West even though caretaker chairman, Makarfi has denied this. But, Dokpesi’s open support for Bode George at the opening of the latter’s campaign office in Abuja on Wednesday may be a way of tacitly lending credence to this claim.
Prince Uche Secondus
The 62-year old former acting Chairman of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) from 2015 to 2016 is reportedly being backed by the financial muscle of Rivers State Governor, Barrister Nyesom Wike, who has been pushing his candidacy among the party’s major stakeholders.
However, like Dokpesi, South South origins of the onetime Chairman of the Rivers State PDP could mean his dream may not see the light of day. Moreover, word is there are residual feelings of resentment among several PDP members because of Secondus’s role in the immediate past NWC which party members blame as having unwittingly overseen the party’s decline, leading to its subsequent implosion.
Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja
Former Oyo State governor, Rashidi Ladoja, 73, only re-joined the PDP a few weeks ago following an 8-year absence from the party having previously defected to the Accord Party where he met with little personal political success. He is hoping to revive his political career with a shot at the chairmanship. His chances however appear to be quite slim when weighed against those of his counterparts who have remained faithful to the party’s cause through the most turbulent spell of its existence.