Tolu Ogunlesi profiles Adamu Muazu: The PDP chairman is a game changer (Y!/ Person of the Year 2014 Nominee)

by Tolu Ogunlesi

Adamu Muazu knows what it’s like to fall out of favour with the powers-that-be, after having himself once been among them. He spent the time between mid-2008 and late 2010 in exile, having fled an attempt by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to bring him to justice following accusations he had misappropriated more than 19 billion naira in state funds while he was Governor.

His attempt to install a favoured candidate as Governor in Bauchi had failed, as had his attempt to win the backing of the Peoples Democratic Party for the presidential nomination. Once it became clear beyond doubt that Umar Yar’Adua was the anointed, Muazu lowered his gaze and made a shot for the Senate. He lost that as well.

To worsen matters, in 2009 Yuguda, the man who succeeded him (against his wishes) as Governor, married the daughter of President Yar’Adua (whose candidature he had fiercely schemed against two years earlier). If it wasn’t clear before, from then he must have known he was a hunted man. In November 2009 a judicial panel of inquiry set up by Yuguda, having allegedly found him guilty of stealing state funds, banned him from holding public office for ten years. Things couldn’t possibly have been worse for a man who had just finished eight years as His Excellency an Executive Governor (1999 – 2007).

It took the ascension to office of Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 for Muazu to enjoy respite. Since then his good luck has been on the upswing. Jonathan appointed him Chairman of the board of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Authority (NIMASA), in March 2011, and in September 2013 Chairman of the Nigerian Pension Commission. Both appointments drew the ire of critics who insisted that his corruption-related troubles with the EFCC should have disqualified him from consideration for public office. But Muazu rode those winds easily, and even greater glory lay in wait. In January 2014, he emerged the PDP’s consensus candidate for chairmanship, after the divisive, high-handed tenure of the septuagenarian Bamanga Tukur. His wilderness days had come to a spectacular end.

The PDP Muazu inherited was a shadow of its old self; several high-profile members had defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). In his inaugural speech as Chairman, Muazu pledged to “[restore] the lost glory of the PDP…” He evidently was not grandstanding. If Bamanga Tukur’s stint in Wadata Plaza (the headquarters of the PDP) was defined by the exodus of powerful members; Muazu’s has been marked by concerted attempts at reconciliation.

“Nigeria is PDP and PDP is Nigeria,” the fifty-seven year old boasted in that first speech. In the months that followed it became clear that is confidence was not misplaced. In June the party’s candidate, Ayo Fayose, defeated incumbent Governor Kayode Fayemi in the Ekiti elections. On the strength of that the party vowed to repeat the feat in Osun. It might have; had the APC not thrown everything it had into defending its turf.

Under Muazu’s watch the party has welcomed with open arms high-profile defectors from the opposition, like Ibrahim Shekarau, Nuhu Ribadu and Ali Modu Sheriff. The bid by the APC to take control of the lower and upper chambers of parliament has come to nothing.

There must be much easier tasks than running the juggernaut that Wole Soyinka once described as a “nest of killers” and Nasir el-Rufai as an “opportunistic coalition of interests” (a term which today might also easily apply to the APC), and which delights in presenting itself to the world as “the largest political party in Africa.” But Adamu Muazu has mostly shown himself an adept, conciliatory administrator.

In recent months however he has run into troubled waters; with strong opposition to his chairmanship from the ranks of the party’s governors (who feel his actions have undermined their authority), and from his predecessor, who has gone to court to insist that the manner of his resignation was improper, and that he remains the real chairman of the party. (Indeed it can be argued that the PDP’s Governors are less powerful under Muazu than they were under his predecessor).

It remains to be seen how he will handle the latest challenge to his authority. Having once descended from the corridors of power into near-oblivion, Muazu will be determined to keep every ounce of his current clout. It is likely that the party’s ruling echelon will see any agitations for the sacking of Muazu as a needless distraction before February’s general elections. Muazu can therefore rest assured that he will be the one leading the party into the elections, and focus on proving beyond reasonable doubt that his nickname, ‘game changer’ – the creation of party leaders impressed by his energizing impact on the party – is no fluke.

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