After the victory it obtained at the Supreme Court on July 12, against pretenders who were bent on further ruining its blighted fortune, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) now has a fair opportunity to revive itself, in readiness for future relevance, particularly in the 2019 elections. But all that depends on how much its rancorous members are willing to repent from old ways. Even though 2019 is still far, relatively, that should enable the party resolve outstanding issues and match forward with courage.
One outstanding matter is the national convention that has remained on hold since the disastrous outing in Port Harcourt of August 2016, where the Ahmed Makarfi factional leadership was produced on interim basis. After that, his faction and that of Modu Sheriff went into the protracted course dispute that was put to rest by the Supreme Court. Later, at its post-conflict and non-elective convention of August 12, Makarfi got three months addition to sanitise the party and prepare for a major convention, where a new national executive will be elected.
Ahead of that convention, the party has wisely resolved that for the seat of national chairmanship of the party, the South should take the shot. In the South, there is also some level of reasonableness in the understanding to consign the position in the Southwest, which at this moment has not featured in that office for the time the party has been in existence. To a great degree, another party chieftain from the South, Raymond Dokpesi, chairman of Daar Communications once indicated interest in the office too, but as trouble lingered since after the Port Harcourt convention fiasco, he went along with other party men to form the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA), as backup for PDP. But since peace has returned to PDP, he too has returned, but his contention for chairmanship is yet to go full throttle.
And the Southeast PDP has only recently agreed to the zoning of presidency in 2019 to the north and party chairmanship to South. No member from Southeast has indicated interest in the chairmanship, even though it has been zoned to the South. Uche Secondus, a member of the defunct NWC of the party has indicated interest. That has not diminished the overwhelming preference for Southwest.
This is where the party needs to do serious work. First, to be chairman of the party is a great task, especially of a party that is out of power and can no longer deploy carrot and stick to compel good behaviour. Secondly, the party is just coming out of crisis and you need a leader who can manage the affairs like Makarfi has done. A potential chairman is one who has a good knowledge of the party and is of respectable candour.
As was the case on the way to Port Harcourt, leaders of the party in the states are expected to play major role in shepherding members to the convention. The other time, governors of the PDP were the major stakeholders who had the money and influence to direct the process. They were the ones who hired Sheriff to help ‘sanitise’ the party. Before they discovered that Sheriff was a mole, they were on the verge of installing a younger party man, Jimi Agbaje, who was governorship candidate in 2015 in Lagos State. They were bent on retiring former military administrator and strong party man, Bode George, until everything went berserk. Since then, all have gone back to drawing board, plotting and calculating. Bode George still feels the chairmanship is his. Elders of the party also think his wealth of experience, loyalty to party ideals and rock solid stability in the face of harassment are great assets to look out for.
Of course a major contender is former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel. Daniel has commenced his journey to meet stakeholders, to market his credentials. He is equally formidable, being a former governor who could appeal to the class of ex-governors of the party and even present ones. He was with former president Ibrahim Babangida in Minna, last week, where he received endorsement. Babangida is always very generous with endorsements and he has enough for everybody. With him, you never really know where you stand, especially when he is not expected to be physically present at the convention.
Others equally well experienced for the job are, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja and Bode Olajumoke.
But there is a group out there, not necessarily party members who still think the PDP leadership needs a younger and fresher blood. Younger in the sense of not having been among those that contributed to the successes and failure of the party and fresh in the manner of being free from encumbrances.
For instance, what is the wellbeing of the party in the state chapters where chairmanship candidates or aspirants are coming from; how have they faired since 1999, in terms of stability, winning capacity and reliability? To me, these are some posers that should help delegates and party leaders decide whom to hand the party to, in addition to individual capacity.
Both Lagos and Ogun chapters of the PDP, for instance, have been in deplorable state for many years. Despite the mix of population in Lagos and the opportunity it provides in terms of pluralism of political ideas, the PDP has been unable to take advantage of it. It is either they are warring over campaign funds from Abuja, or the elders and young Turks are always found pushing same cranky legs into one disorderly trouser. The last governorship primary of the party was settled with guns. Despite that, its candidate, Agbaje recorded substantial votes. The summary for Lagos is that the party has failed to harness opportunities the cosmopolis offer and the blame is on bad leadership and mob character of members.
As for Ogun, the initial contest that fractured PDP was that between former President Obasanjo and Gbenga Daniel. The two were unable to consolidate their separate ambitions to own the party and dispense favours. They used surrogates to do the battle and now the foot soldiers have come of age and want a pie of the action. Ogun PDP has been divided for more than 10 years and it does not look like the factions have anything in common anymore. It would have made a lot of us to ask Daniel to put the party together the way it was when he used it to win election in 2003 before going to Abuja to offer service.
It is the same story, but to lesser degrees in Oyo, Osun and Ondo, where leadership challenges have brought the party to its knees. Charity must begin at home. And if the party is able to elect a good leadership in November, that would have put one outstanding challenge out of its way towards 2019.
The other challenge is that of zoning. The PDP in the beginning saw sense in zoning key offices to the geo-political zones to address old complaints of marginalization. And it worked very well, until the president Yar’Adua episode. Now, the party has resolved to return to zoning, which gives the presidency to the north for 2019, while other offices will go to other zones. Like all agreements, it requires personal and group integrity to make zoning work. If a greedy man gets to office on the basis of zoning and decides not to abide by the terms, that could spell the beginning of crisis. In the past, we have heard of ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that were not spelt out in black and white, like the one former president Jonathan signed with Babangida Aliu & co. It is very easy for politicians to deny agreements signed in covens, but let the constitution of the party be clear on all issues. When that is done, it will be very clear when members cross the red line.
By Alabi Williams, Editor The Sunday Guardian