PDP still searching for consensus as May 21 beckons

Ali-Modu-Sheriff-1The last may not have been heard of where the chairmanship of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will berth, come May 21, when delegates would elect a new national chairman at the national convention billed for Port Harcourt.

No doubt members of the Governor Udom Emmanuel-led Zoning Committee recently inaugurated by the National Chairman of the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff have an uphill task in resolving the puzzle of which of the principal offices go the different geo-political zones of the country.

Beyond the office of the chairman there appears to be a lull over other key offices either from individual members of the party or the geo-political zones.

Although the jostle for the most exalted office of the party had been subtle and covert, the seemingly hushed approach to the contest, points to a contemplated agenda of the incumbent to elongate himself in office.

This is said to be generating some tension particularly among those that had been opposed to the chairman’s emergence from the beginning. In particular, many members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) would want Sheriff to conclude his assignment and vacate the seat by May 21. But his associates disagreed insisting that there was no strain in the party as all was well.

So far, the battle line is loosely drawn between the North and the Southern part of the country with the South, which is largely divided staging what may more or less be described as a lame fight.

“All is well, we are preparing for the congress, the allegation over the chairman’s plot to extend his tenure is false, don’t mind them, they are mischievous,” an aide of Sheriff claimed at the weekend.

According to the aide, there was no intention of anything untoward in the conduct of the national chairman, hinting that the argument on ground was whether the chairmanship slot should go to South or to the North.

Most members are in agreement that it should be given to the North but some prominent and powerful party faithful are vehement in their opposition contending that since the presidency has been virtually set aside for the north in line with the recommendations of Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s-led committee, it would be unfair and gratuitous to take the chairmanship to the North.

The South East, which ranked second to the South-South in the number of states controlled by the PDP boasts of three out of the five states that make up the zones. In addition, Ekweremadu, the deputy president of the Senate and the highest elected public officer of the PDP are from the zone. To date, they had produced two former national chairman of the party – Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo and Chief Vincent Ogbulafor.

A top member of the party alleged that the wobbly attitude of members from the South East has discouraged attention from being focused on them, saying: “The Igbos have had it before so they don’t want to give it to them. Moreover people have the feeling that if you give it to them, they commercialize it.”

The South-South has remained the mainstay of the party, having produced the immediate past president of the country, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as well as dominating in five states out of the six states in the geo-political zone. The zone seemed to be contented with its current position of deputy national chairman of the party presently held by Prince Uche Secondus.

There has been no serious attempt to covet the topmost job fuelling speculations that the zone was complicit in the alleged plot to foist Sheriff at the Port Harcourt convention. “We in the South-South are satisfied presently and are not interested in the chairmanship” one of the leaders from the region informed The Guardian.

However, there are some dissenting voices that argued that the South-South has been the strongest pillar of support for the PDP numerically and financially and should be rewarded accordingly.

It is a different ball game in the Souht West where there are sharp divisions among members and even between the two Governors that were supposed to be leading the way in the affairs of the party in the zone.

Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko who is also the chairman of PDP Governors Forum and his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayo Fayose who has sacrificially assumed the opposition gauntlet, have not been able to forge a common front on the matter with each other acting in suspicion of the other.

The consequence has been the rudderless sailing of their affairs in the zone as manifested in the recent dramatic outing in Abuja, when a delegation of the party in the zone visited the national chairman

Although the zone has given birth to the longest serving president of the country since the current civilian dispensation, some party members from the zone believed there was need to go for the chairmanship having not occupied that position since the PDP was founded in 1998.

A member of the party’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Ebenezer Babatope from South West wondered why some members from the zone should be working against such “legitimate demand by a zone that has never produced the national chairman since the party was founded in 1998.”

When the National Vice Chairman, Southwest, Chief Makanjuola Ogundipe, led the delegation to the national chairman, he said the North should retain the position. He argued that, if the position comes to the South, it would result in branding the PDP as a regional party. The reverberation of the visit is yet to be calmed.

In the North no one has come out or indicated interest apart from perhaps the chairman who many believe would want to continue and he is seen as capable and suitable.

“Some people are thinking he should continue, he has demonstrated that he has the capacity, what the party wants to know is that Nigerians are given the right leadership. And he is not interested in contesting the presidency. The other people that would have been good for the position all of them have political ambition. A lot of the leaders in the north who are in the PDP have political ambition. So since this man does not want to contest the presidency why not leave it for him that is the feeling of most people,” a PDP member from the North East said.

The resistance from the BoT is weakened technically by the fact that it has no voting rights. “They are just the conscience of the party, they are an advisory body, they just advice and it’s not compulsory you must take the advice,” an interested member of PDP stated.

Besides, it was gathered that the BoT members were divided. According to an official of the party, “Some of them (BoT) are saying that the idea is good, while some are saying no. Some are querying the people who have made public utterances on the matter; it’s not a healthy situation. So the thing is neither here nor there but at the end of the day I know we are going to put it to vote at the National Executive Council (NEC).”

The moderates and liberals are said to be pushing to have Gombe State Governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo drafted into the race for the 2019 presidency and if this works out, it may pave the way for Sheriff on one hand.

But conversely, it may backfire as those opposed to Sheriff argued that such a move would pitch the North East against the North West and North central. Thus the two zones currently under the control of the All Progressives Congress (APC) may coalesce into a formidable force that would further push the PDP into the back seat of irrelevance in the politics of the north.

Besides, as argued by Ogundipe and his group taking the chairmanship out of the north would creat the impression that PDP is a southern party or regional party.

This group noted that if by 2018 a presidential candidate emerges, they could swap. “But for me there is nothing wrong, what is important is a person who can deliver. If you give the national chairman to a northerner and the presidency to a northerner, provided they can deliver that is what matters

And the way things are going now it’s only some body that is well grounded politically in the north that can remove the people out of where they are now (from APC); there is no much difficulty in the south, we need a reliable person who can do the work properly from the north.

The waiting game however is on as members look forward to the party to come up with the zoning formula to be proposed by governor Emmanuel-led committee. The outcome no doubt will establish how far the party has gone in repositioning itself to wrest power from APC come 2019.

Assurance has been given by the Ekweremadu though that the process of zoning would be transparently done to carry everyone along and forge unity among members.

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