by Alexander O. Onukwue
“The PDP is back!” Well, we will really know by Saturday.
No less than 7 persons will be contesting the chairmanship of the People’s Democratic Party, Nigeria’s official opposition, when delegates converge in Abuja for the first convention of the Party since the resolution of the internal troubles that have plagued it for the past three years. The Supreme Court decision of 12th July which declared Ahmed Makarfi as the authentic chairman of the Party against Ali Modu Sheriff was the lifeline that saved the party from descent into obscurity. With the expiration of the extension of the tenure of the Makarfi caretaker committee, a new National Working Committee will now be elected and inaugurated as the party looks to build a force to battle the APC at the Presidential polls in about 60 weeks.
Barring any last minute changes, the convention is set to take place this Saturday with delegates already filling up hotels and guest houses in the Federal Capital Territory. Considering the prevailing currents of party politics in Nigeria and the imperative on the PDP to rebuild and reinforce, here are five things to look out for in the convention:
WILL BALLOTING BE OPEN AND FAIR?
The official pessimist view is that holding a national convention could just be a formality that aims to fulfil requirements as laid out in the party’s constitution and INEC regulations. For what it’s worth, the influential House and Senate caucuses, state Governors and other party leaders may already have decided through phone calls and Whatsapp messages about who the next Chairman will be. The position has been zoned to the South for a tenure of four years. Top amongst the contestants is former Ogun state Governor Gbenga Daniels, media mogul Raymond Dokpesi, two former Deputy Chairmen of the party Bode George and Uche Secondus, and three-time Governorship candidate of Lagos state, Jimi Agbaje.
WHO WILL DROP OUT?
Perhaps under pressure to let it be a contest between the South-West, Mr Dokpesi has reiterated that he will not step down for anyone before the final votes are counted on Saturday. Dokpesi made this known through a statement on Thursday from the head of his campaign, Mr Idea Eguabor. Mr Dokpesi visited Ebonyi state last week in the final laps of his canvassing for votes but did not get any definite assurances from Governor Dave Umahi that the Abakili contingent will be going to the booth to vote him. It will be interesting to see how the AIT chief reacts to a situation at the convention ground where it becomes obvious that he will come up short against a South-Western coalition. Besides Dokpesi, we will be looking out for some other candidates who will drop out to swell the votes of the more major candidates.
THE PLACING OF ATIKU’S AFFILIATES
The National Chairmanship position is the main thing about a party convention but there are other important spots up for grabs in the PDP congress. According to Part VIII, Section 29(1) of the party’s constitution, the National Working Committee (NWC) also comprises, among other positions, the deputy national chairmen for south and north, national secretary, national publicity secretary, national woman leader and the national youth leader.
In contention for the deputy chairmanship position for the North are Mrs Maryam Inna Ciroma and Abdulmalik Mahmud. Both are from Borno state and are not new faces in the party. Madam Ciroma has a more national resume having served as a Minister of Women Affairs in 2005, and the wife of Mallam Adamu Ciroma, a Minister of Finance between 1999 and 2003 during Atiku Abubakar’s first term as Vice President. Like Atiku, Mallam Ciroma was a founding member of the PDP.
AN APC INTERFERENCE
Does the APC want the PDP to hold a successful convention? The ruling party is holding its cards close to its chest by making little commentary about the PDP at this time. That has not stopped the PDP from alleging of a plot to disrupt their congress. Dayo Adeyeye, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, said the party had “credible information that some overzealous elements in the APC Government” wanted to throw a spanner in their works but noted claimed that the threat was “not from the very top”.
Police presence is expected around the convention venue, so we will be watching out to see if there will be any armoured personnel carriers around.
FATE OF THE DEJECTED
Conventions are almost always a potential ground for the fractionalization of a party. The disintegration of PDP before into at least two groups before the 2015 elections was the signal that it would lose its 16-year old hold on power. Even in rebuilding mode, it will not be out of place to see persons who will deem the outcome of the convention unfavourable or “not how we agreed” and, therefore, seek to sabotage the process and subsequently turn against the party. Unless someone reminds such persons of the legacy of the now deceased former Vice President Alex Ekwueme at the party’s first major convention in Jos. This year’s convention holds 19 years after Ekwueme, the pioneer Chairman of the party, handed over to Solomon Lar.
Does the party still have such men? We will see by Saturday.