PDP: In make or mar reorganisation

ALIMODUFor the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the May 2016 national convention would mark its defining moment. At that event, the party would return to the basics. And as it does so, it would be seen, whether, it is on the path of healing and regeneration or further atrophy.

One of the major questions PDP is expected to answer, through the conduct of the national convention, is whether it has been able to conquer the ghost of acrimonious leadership selection. Maybe the party understands, maybe it does not.

The National Working Committee (NWC) of the party had earlier set March 19 for the convention. Within that timeline, the ward congresses ought to have taken off on February 27, followed by that of the local councils on March 5, before the state and zonal congresses on March 12 and 16.

However, at the 69th meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in Abuja, PDP rescheduled the dates and venue of the convention to May 21 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. And under the revised timetable, as announced in a statement signed jointly by the National Chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Secretary, Professor Adewale Oladipo; congresses from the ward to the zones would commence on April 23, culminating in the national convention on May 21.

But by extending the tenure of office of all the party organs at all levels to the congress and national convention dates, the party raised apprehensions about a possible return to the path of codes and tricks.

Governorship polls are billed for Edo and Ondo later in the year. As such, congresses in the two states have been isolated from others. However, to show its seriousness, last week the party inaugurated four committees, including those of national convention, reconciliation, zoning and finance.

The fact of raising those institutional pillars to drive the various aspects of the party’s revival efforts does not erase the notion that the national convention could make or mar PDP. There are a lot of concerns as to whether PDP can take its best foot forward in managing its affairs and new status as the main opposition party in the country.

Part of the fear is whether the culture of imposition; impunity and cronyism is still endemic in the party. Most of those who show sedate interest in PDP’s ability to manage its affairs in the best of democratic tradition, point to the emergence of the stop-gap national chairman, Sheriff.

Despite the person of Sheriff, the process that threw up the stand-in chairman fell short of collective sanction. But the compromise that conferred consensus on Sheriff succeeded in sending shock waves to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

That singular element of shock seemed to have brought the party into public consciousness. The chairman upped the ante with rhetoric. He set a tall mandate for himself and the party, saying that with him in the saddle, PDP would reclaim its perch at the pinnacle of political power in 2019.

It is this talk of 2019 and its diverse interpretations that have come to add to the anxious state of affairs in the PDP. Some signs of opaqueness seem to be creeping back into the party management. In moves shrouded in cryptic puzzles, the NWC, led by Sheriff, appears set to re-enact same old stamp of abracadabra that defined PDP’s national conventions from the Obasanjo era.

Such lack of openness robbed the party of the invaluable contributions of experienced politicians like the late Sunday Awoniyi. When indicators pointed to the possibility of the Mopa, Kogi-born politician and chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), would clinch the chairmanship post in a clean contest, Obasanjo set the party machinery against him in preference for Barnabas Gemade.

Ali-Modu-Sheriff-1Enduring such bitter undemocratic exclusion, Awoniyi said PDP, as a party, was in a big mess. He told journalists that PDP had painfully neglected the “principles of integrity, brotherliness and transparency upon which the founding fathers founded the party,” stressing that unless the party returned to those original ideals, it will continue to be in a mess.

The late Awoniyi’s utterances seem to have been casting a malefic influence on PDP’s conventions ever since. The transition from Gemade to Audu Ogbe was not smooth; the exits of Ogbe, Okwesilieze Nwodo and Ogbulafor had been with pain and vexation of spirit.

When the former chairman of African Business Roundtable, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, came on board, many people thought a new climate of peaceful ascension had become the lot of the party. Tukur gave way to the game changer, Adamu Mu’azu, only for the former Bauchi State governor to be forced out in unwholesome circumstances.

It was the effort to replace Mu’azu that threw up new manifestations of mess, which Awoniyi warned of in 2004. And the notorious intrigues have reared its ugly head. It seems PDP godfathers do not want national chairmen that can stand erect and adopt a principled position on knotty issues of constitutional implementation.

That could be why Obasanjo did not want Awoniyi; because when the issue of the obnoxious third term plot was ranging, the Mopa chief wrote a letter to the then president, telling him to leave office gracefully in 2007. “I beg of you, for your own good and for our country’s good, make a simple announcement to say that you are not interested in a Third Term and that you plan to go back to Otta in 2007,” Awoniyi stated.

Having left that bad example in PDP, the imprint has been sustained by other self-serving godfathers. The absence of competition of ideas has continued to define PDP’s approach to party management and leadership selection.

Those who want Sheriff to remain in office beyond May 21 have successfully deployed the argument that in absence of steady source of funding, the interim national chairman that has been sustaining the party with his private pocket, should enjoy two extra years to stabilise the party.

Either out of concert or contrived political altruism, the Southwest zonal chapter of the party, which ordinarily should be on line to take over the chairmanship, is now creating the impression that a better replacement to Sheriff cannot be found from the zone.

If the Southwest is demonstrating a newfound sense of consensus and team play, the united front behind Sheriff could be the needed elixir to take the party to the commanding heights of national political leadership. With sound political background and ready knowledge of issues in the North, especially the Northeast, the Sheriff leadership should not have come at a better time.

Chairman of the Southwest caucus of the party, Senator Buruji Kashamu, told the media that the decision of the zone to support Sheriff’s continued stay in office as chairman was a strategic initiative to ensure that it makes a better case for a presidential running mate in 2019.

PDP has zoned, albeit tentatively, the presidency to the north. If PDP alters its zoning format again, that could be a pathway to final diminution. Already, the signs of exclusion in decision have started being renounced.

Reacting to the composition of the four special committees, PDP youth, under the auspices of Concerned PDP Youths (CPY), condemned the lack of inclusion of young people in any of the committees.

In a statement signed by Comrade Phils Thomas, Anthony Ehilebo, Ariyo-Dare Atoye; Babasola Kuti; Emmanuel Umeh; Olome Joseph, among other representatives of the six zones, CPY declared: “By our findings, we dare say that this is the worst composition of committees in the history of the PDP as far as the youths are concerned without any genuine representation.”

The youth noted that owing to the fact that they make up over 60 per cent of party membership in all strata, “this latest action has violated the basic democratic principles of youth integration and inclusion in the party and of which the PDP has identified with overtime. The present should be about making progress and not going backwards.”

Another aspect of segregation is also brewing within the NWC. The attempt to weed out all members of NWC that came alongside Tukur, is presenting some grumbling. Party faithful wonder whether those to come in 2018 would do a full term or be seen to complete the terms of Sheriff and co?

A lot depends on the ability of Sheriff to stand his ground in enforcing internal democracy. Already, feelers from the party headquarters indicated that PDP could not have got a better hand to rock the party back to stardom.

Given his grasp in grassroots mobilisation, Sheriff could turn the fortunes of PDP faster in the north. Again with his inside knowledge of APC’s strengths and weakness, the chairman could use his reinvigorated term to normalise PDP’s systems and structures.

So far, the creation of four strategic committees to organise the convention, pursue inclusion through reconciliation and zoning, as well as, ways of raising funds, the national chairman has given himself out as an inclusive leader. How far the Dickson Committee goes to reconcile various interests in the party before and after the convention would show how far PDP could go in bouncing back to glory.

The future political calculations in the country would then take PDP serious because it would have been obvious that the party cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. From now, through the congresses to the ultimate national convention date of May 21, PDP could have its destiny in its own hands.

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