By Demola Rewaju
The stakes are higher when parties elect their presidential candidates, so the process is usually more democratic. However, the process for electing the National Working Committee is frequently undemocratic in all major political parties – especially the PDP.
But now, we can say that the PDP national elective convention of December 9, 2017 is the most democratic ever.
Don’t just take my word for it – let’s take a trip down memory lane…
The late Dr. Alex Ekwueme was unofficially the first chairman of the PDP as he chaired most of the meetings that preceded the actual registration of the party before Solomon Lar was chosen as chairman of the new party in 1998. Only a handful of party faithful chose Lar. No convention was held, but everyone supported him as he midwifed the convention that produced Obasanjo as presidential candidate for 1999.
From the moment Obasanjo won as president, he moved to take over the party structure and backed Barnabas Gemade in 1999 against the more popular Sunday Awoniyi. Gemade emerged but was soon shoved out in 2001 in favour of Audu Ogbeh in processes that were entirely undemocratic but party members abided by the decision. Ogbeh himself was shoved out in 2005 in favour of Ahmadu Ali who oversaw the 2007 campaign of the party.
None of these chairmen emerged by consensus – popular or caucus – only Obasanjo knew why he chose them.
With Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as President, the Chairmanship of the party was zoned to the South-East. Despite Obasanjo backing Sam Egwu, other forces pressured Yar’Adua and Prince Vincent Ogbulafor emerged as chairman in 2008.
By 2010, Ogbulafor himself was pushed aside for Okwesilieze Nwodo who insisted that the presidency should stay in the North as per the zoning arrangement despite the fact that Pres. Goodluck Jonathan had intentions to run for president himself following Yar’Adua’s passing. Nwodo soon found himself replaced by Dr. Haliru Mohammed in the same year, followed by Kawu Baraje, then Bamanga Tukur in quick succession.
Tukur’s emergence could be said to be the most democratic ascension to Chairmanship in all the tenures so far referenced so let me show how it happened and also explain how the idea of a “unity list” works.
Each of the then stakeholders in the PDP met at a caucus meeting and presented candidates for all the positions without subjecting them to popular elections at the convention, only a voice ratification. Goodluck Jonathan as President presented Bamanga Tukur for Chairman, Olusegun Obasanjo presented Olagunsoye Oyinlola as Secretary, Rotimi Amaechi as the head of the Governors Forum presented Sam Jaja as Deputy National Chairman, Babangida Aliyu Muazu as chairman of the Northern Governors Forum presented a 60-year old Alhaji Garba Chindo as Youth Leader and so on and so forth. That was how every member of the NWC emerged based on consensus to one stakeholder or the other – none emerged by election at the convention as no one else except them were allowed to contest. The convention was merely to ratify the approved officers by a voice vote.
This NWC became the most controversial ever in PDP’s history as the various stakeholders began to fall out. Obasanjo was sidelined and Oyinlola his candidate had to go as Secretary, making way for Prof. Wale Oladipo. Amaechi was pushed out and Sam Jaja followed, with Uche Secondus as his replacement. Tukur was eventually eased out to appease the G7 Governors and Adamu Muazu came in, without elections – he was merely chosen. Babangida Aliyu and Sule Lamido did not leave the PDP after an agreement was reached but Aliyu was asked to replace Garba Chindo with a proper Youth Leader and Abdul Maibasira emerged.
The Uche Secondus NWC is the most democratic that has ever emerged in PDP, not because they were no discussions or behind the scenes arrangement but because in spite of those arrangements, there was a contest which the most popular and most consensual power blocs won. The most powerful blocs in the PDP were allowed to present their own candidates for various positions and the harmonisation of candidates made them formidable.
The interest generated by this convention especially in the APC is understandable. The ruling party has breached Article 5(a)i of its own constitution which states clearly that the APC should hold a convention once in two years on a date to be recommended by the NWC. The last time the APC held its conventions was in 2014 – first in June where Sam Jaja, Timipre Sylva and Tom Ikimi were forced to step down for the 75 years old John Oyegun. Its second convention was in December 2014 which had to do with the selection of a presidential candidate.
It must be that the APC was trying to learn lessons from the PDP on how to hold conventions – our party having held more conventions since the Supreme Court judgement earlier this year than the APC has held since it took over power.
Others in the APC also watched with best wishes hoping it all goes well in the PDP so that they can follow in the footsteps of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.
Those who watched with the intent to twist the narrative of how smoothly the PDP convention went made much ado about the ‘unity list’ that was circulated at the convention, forgetting that two of such lists actually emerged. Those lists merely represent the various efforts at harmonisation and further prove that this NWC did not emerge by the plans of a single person as some have tried to claim that only Gov. Nyesom Wike midwifed it.
Wike backed Secondus but did he also produce Elder Yemi Akinwomi as the Deputy National Chairman, South? Or Senator Babawo Garba as the Deputy National Chairman, North? While also bringing in Kola Ologbodiyan as the Publicity Secretary from the North-Central and Ude Okoye as Youth Leader from the East?
Clearly, the unity list can only at best be the result of a consensual arrangement between various power blocs within the party. The better part of it is that those who threw in the towel did so only after lobbying the various blocs including the Governors and failing to win their support. The best part in my opinion however is that those who insisted on contesting were allowed to contest – signifying that nobody was forced to step down if he or she thought he had a chance of winning.
For those who are not used to political shenanigans, such alliances and re-alliances are nothing new in politics – the 1999 Jos convention of the PDP which produced Chief Obasanjo as presidential candidate also witnessed the circulation of two different lists purported to contain the names of those Obasanjo and his major opponent Sir Alex Ekwueme planned to appoint as Ministers. The Obasanjo list had many Northerners to give the impression that he was a stooge of the North while the purported Ekwueme list had many Easterners to sell the argument that he was going to run an Igbo government.
PDP has held two conventions this year – one non-elective and the other: the most democratic ever.
And I make this assertion not from a place of gloating – I supported someone else for Chairman, Uju Ogoko for Youth Leader and hoped the Deputy Women Leader slot would come to Lagos – but it did not. A few others whom I supported however made it.
Particularly painful for me in addition to that is that the issue of a Youth Wing seems to have died a natural death despite our high hopes in that regard, and the amendment that would have paved way for Hajia Inna Ciroma to become the first woman elected as Deputy National Chairperson was also killed.
So I speak not as one happy with how the convention turned out but as a realistic and committed PDP member and as one with deep knowledge of political history.
Prince Uche Secondus must move to unify the party and Nigerians owe it a duty to themselves to support the PDP to become an opposition party that can keep the ruling APC on its toes by keeping its own Promise of Change which has now become a Change of Promise. As long as the APC is made to believe it has no opposition, it will always be complacent.
The duty of the PDP is to put its house in order and come to Nigerians from a position of humility. No more should the chant “PDP” be met with a response of “Power” but “Power to the People” and a heartfelt commitment to side with the People.
This piece is not to say that the PDP convention is the best possible – only that it was an improvement on how it has always been in Political parties in Nigeria. The Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa deserves much commendation for the conduct of this convention.
– Demola Olarewaju is a Lagos-based Political Analyst and Strategist with the PDP and can be found on twitter @DemolaRewaju.