John Alechenu of Punch Newspaper examines the recent Peoples Democratic Party ward and Local Government congresses held nationwide and posits that a lot of work is still required to return the party to winning ways.
Since its defeat at the presidential election in 2015, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party has struggled to find its feet and return to winning ways.
The battle for the control of party structure at the ward, Local Government and State levels among chieftains of the PDP, has resumed with a renewed intensity that has left some wondering if there is a general election by the corner.
A public affairs commentator, who identified with the party in its formative years, Chief Cosmas Ekpunobi, explained the reason behind what appeared to be a renewed interest in the party’s congresses.
He said, “For any politician worth his salt, the ward, Local Government and State congresses are not only important but also crucial. There is a reason why party members are expected to first register at the ward level. It is expected that a person who intends to seek to serve people using the party’s platform should be a person with a grass roots appeal. So, the importance of having a voice at these levels cannot be overemphasised.”
The PDP National Working Committee had issued guidelines for the conduct of its congresses at all levels across States of the federation starting from March 7, 2020.
Twenty three out of 26 States, including but not limited to Abia, the Federal Capital Territory, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Nasarawa, Niger, Ondo, Ogun, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Cross River, and Yobe, carried out the exercise.
However, three States namely: Jigawa, Ogun, and Yobe had yet to hold their congresses when the coronavirus-induced lockdown led to the suspension of the exercises.
As is often the case with congresses in multi-party democracies like Nigeria, divergent views have trailed the conduct of the exercise.
While some hailed the process, others took issue with either the conduct or outcome of the process. In Ekiti State, for example, a former Governor, Ayodele Fayose, is locked in a battle of political wits with the Senator representing Ekiti South Senatorial District, Biodun Olujimi.
Party stakeholders in the State have been embroiled in leadership crisis as far back as 2017 when Fayose was in office as Governor.
He ensured that his preferred candidate, Prof. Kolapo Eleka, emerged as the party’s standard bearer in the 2018 governorship election which the party lost to the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Kayode Fayemi.
A fresh battle for the control of the party structure presented itself with the conduct of ward congresses expected to usher in Executive Committee members for the 177 wards of the State.
The Deputy Governor of Taraba State, Haruna Manu, was delegated by the PDP National Working Committee to lead a Committee to supervise the exercise.
A party source who pleaded for anonymity in order not to jeopardise the efforts of the newly inaugurated Caretaker Committee said, “The congress was largely peaceful, it was supervised by the relevant bodies including the Independent National Electoral Commission and security forces. There were indications that candidates loyal to the combined forces of Senator Olujimi, Senator Duro Faseyi, and other party elders created upsets which loyalists of the former Governor found hard to accept. The two groups went ahead to inaugurate parallel Executive Committees which the party has refused to recognise and in its place appointed a Caretaker Committee.”
Stating her position in the dispute, Olujimi blamed the latest round of crisis on the Deputy Governor of Taraba State, Manu.
She told reporters in Abuja that the crisis in the State was far from over because the right things were not done.
Olujimi said, “There is no calm within the Ekiti PDP. What we have is the lull before the war. We are already in the battle mode.”
A former spokesperson for Fayose, Mr. Lere Olayinka, in an interview with Sunday Punch, described what is happening as a battle for the control of the party.
He said, “It is a battle for control. Olujimi wants to control the party, which is what she is doing. The truth is that a more knowledgeable person, grounded and loved by the people has taken control of the party.”
Even though the party has appointed a seven-member Caretaker Committee headed by a former Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Hosea Agboola, to oversee the party affairs in the interim, Olujimi and her supporters have gone to Court to seek judicial intervention.
A slightly different scenario played out in Ogun State as a party Executive Committee loyal to a PDP chieftain, Senator Buruji Kashamu, was inaugurated to hold the forth as the State party leadership for the next four years.
This situation drew the ire of the PDP NWC.
The National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus and the party’s National Secretary, Senator Umaru Ibrahim Tsauri, in a joint statement barely 24 hours after the Abeokuta inauguration, dissociated the party from the exercise describing it as “illegal, null and void.”
The statement partly read, “The attention of the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party has been drawn to some media publication, especially, the online media concerning a purported inauguration of certain unknown persons as State officers of the party in Ogun State on Friday, May 8, 2020.
“We want to advise members of the public, especially the teeming members of our great party in Nigeria and Ogun State in particular, that the Peoples Democratic Party has not conducted any congress for the election of the party officers at any level of the party: ward, LGs chapter and or State, in Ogun State.”
In response, the “newly inaugurated” State Party Chairman, Samson Bamgbose, said the inauguration was legal because it was in line with all the relevant laws of the land as well as the party guidelines.
Bambgose, who noted that the position of the NWC with regards to the inauguration was not unexpected, in a statement, said, “It is disturbing that our leaders in this great party still do not understand (or just don’t care) that all politics is local.”
While responding to some of these issues, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, said, “The position of the party with regards to the issue in Ogun State is clear. The matter is in Court and as a law-abiding party, we will await a judicial pronouncement before taking the next step.
“Our congresses which were held across 26 States of this country were largely peaceful and you can see from the outcome, the party is being repositioned to liberate Nigeria and Nigerians from the shackles of this rudderless regime of professional propagandists called the All Progressives Congress.”
He further explained that the fact that there were disputes in three or four out of the 26 States where congresses were conducted did not take away the fact that the exercise went on smoothly.
But a political affairs analyst, Emmanuel Acheme, recalled that the PDP was founded in August 1998 by members of several groups and political associations, some of which included the G-18 and G-34 that held sway as the party to beat for 16 unbroken years.
He said the party enjoyed a broad political base attracting old and new breed politicians, retired/retiring high-ranking military officers, and academics with an interest in political office as well as businessmen who wanted a piece of the action.
Acheme further explained that the founding fathers of the PDP most of who have either died or have left the party, were initially driven by a common goal of getting rid of the military and building a nation based on constitutional democratic ideals but that somewhere along the line, “greed and the disrespect for laid down rules took over.”
He said, “Like it or leave it, yes, the PDP brand has suffered a lot of bashing over the years but you honestly cannot write it off yet in the light of recent events.”
Speaking in a similar vein, a Kano-based political activist, Aminu Abubakar said, “This is to be expected because it is clear to everyone with eyes that the current All Progressives Congress regime has failed and we are confident that a window of opportunity will soon present itself for us to participate in the process to replace it, three years is not too long in the life of a nation.”
However, the Chairman of the Buhari Media Organisation, Niyi Akinsiju, disagreed.
He said, “The PDP brand is damaged beyond repairs. If you remember, they toyed with the idea of changing their name and rebranding but Nigerians are wiser today than they were 16 years ago when they allowed the PDP to run this country down. This administration is rebuilding our economy and our infrastructure from the scratch and all Nigerians of goodwill recognise and appreciate this.”
Political pundits express the hope that as the PDP attempts to rebuild its brand, it will carry along lessons learnt from previous experiences.
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