The affront, last week, on President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, was, perhaps, the most tendentious action ever driven by any group of individuals within the party that is giving it sleepless nights. Like an earthquake, the launching of the revolt and the unveiling of the forces behind the mutiny shook the party to its foundation.
With their heads lifted above the mainstream party, those holding forte at the original PDP began to shriek over what to do in order to contain the uprising.
Its strategists continued, last week, to ward off the looming debacle that has all the potentials to cause its huge political assets to nosedive. Barely a week after, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and seven governors announced the formation of a new leadership over that of the mainstream PDP headed by Alhaji Bamanga Tukur; the import is not lost that the once united, veritable and ambitious party is in bad shape.
The crack in the leadership of the party has once again brought to the fore the underhand politicking, bare faced manipulations and outright frustration of the perceived ‘opponents’ or recalcitrant members of the party. Those are the victims of the selfish politics of the PDP, which has been going on over the years, who now feel imperiled and marginalised and need a vent in order to recoup their places or perish forever as far as the PDP is concerned. They may indeed consider themselves lucky that their first sneeze has made the party to catch cold.
Vice-President Namadi Sambo, President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patience Jonathan and Bamanga Tukur at the PDP Convention in Abuja
By midweek, it was obvious to Jonathan, Chief Anthony Anenih, the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees, BoT, and its National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur, that they might have, indeed, inadvertently stepped on a dangerous viper, whose venom can be very mortal to them and the party, which they have been using in the last 14 years to gain access to the leadership of Nigeria and derive both tangible and intangible benefits in the process. The fever of what initially started with seven governors later spread to the National Assembly and took root. No fewer than 26 senators and 58 House of Representatives members opted for the faction as soon as it came on stream. By the close of work on Friday, more lawmakers had served notice of their intention to dump the mainstream PDP for the New PDP all in a bid to show them how frustrated they have been with the party in the past.
Almost all the members of the NASS from Kano also threw their weight behind the parallel group. The same situation is expected to play out in Rivers State, whose Governor Rotimi Amaechi is part of the New PDP and has been unduly provoked by the Tukur group.
An immediate solution was not in sight, last week, as the President and his strategists struggled to find a way out of the logjam, which they, unconsciously, brought on their shoulders through selfish actions, which, among them, was the attempt to manipulate the controversial special national convention, to produce and which produced a pre-determined outcome.
Although the Presidency and the party leadership ‘got’ their way and imposed those they wanted to return as members of the National Working Committee, NWC, of the party, all in the name of ‘special convention’, they nevertheless got more than they bargained for when the Atiku group shocked them with a revolt. The group was unmistakable as it laid bare the litany of its grouse against the Tukur-led PDP and went ahead to announce it had broken away in order to salvage the party and Nigeria from imminent collapse.
On that sunny Saturday afternoon, former National Chairman of the PDP, Abubakar Baraje, sandwiched by Atiku, the seven governors, lawmakers, and some former national officers of the PDP and hordes of supporters, who had come for the controversial convention, shook the foundation of the Yar’ Ádua Centre with the announcement that a new leadership had been put in place to pilot the affairs of the party.
While Baraje was named the National Chairman, Sam Sam Jaja emerged the Deputy Chairman while the former Osun Governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola got the post of National Secretary of the new group. It was not difficult to see how elated those present in the hall were once the jolting announcement had been made. Ecstasy was in the air. Shouts of ‘carry on’ rented the air for a moment and resounded as new names were rolled out as members of the faction.
Baraje did not disappoint the group and its supporters as he mounted the podium to assume the mantle of leadership entrusted on him by a combination of circumstance and ambition to offer himself to lead the group all in a bid to effect a positive change at a time the PDP was losing steam and missing the fine points enunciated by its founding fathers in 1998.
Shortly after being proclaimed the factional National Chairman of the party, Baraje said he was ready to make the PDP the party that would give priority attention to all members and give them a level-playing field to achieve their political ambitions.
Baraje said the Tukur-led PDP had destroyed the core values, which the founding fathers of the PDP bequeathed to Nigeria and frustrated many key members out of the party, while those who knew nothing about the philosophy of the party were now the leading lights.
New PDP Faction: From Left, New National Secretary and Former Governor of Osun State Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Former Nasarawa State Governor Abdullahi Adamu, Kwara State Governor Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed, Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amechi , New PDP Factional National Chairman Abubakar Kawu Baraje, Kano State Governor Rabiu Kawankwazo and Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido at Press conference announcing new PDP Factional Leadership in Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan.
He also denounced the tendency by the Tukur administration to breathe down the neck of members, who do not do the bidding of the Presidency and its lackeys, saying that such a practice was undemocratic and retrogressive.
Giving some form of assurance to deviate from the ‘provocative manner’ in which Tukur was running the PDP, Baraje said he would bring about a new lease of life for all by democratising the party to give a sense of belonging to all the members and stakeholders.
Baraje said, “From now, the new leadership of the party under us will strive to build a fairer as well as a more transparent and accountable PDP that will put the interest of members and indeed all the people of Nigeria above that of one single individual. “For all the members of our great party who may have become disillusioned by the anti-democratic tendencies of the Bamanga Tukur leadership, there is a new lease of life in the horizon. It is a new dawn for the Peoples Democratic Party.
The forces arrayed against Jonathan, Anenih and Tukur are fully aware that unless they act fast, the ticket for the 2015 election might have been delivered on a platter to the President by the BoT Chairman (Anenih) and his associates. Anenih did not mince words at the mid-term dinner organised by the Presidency, where he canvassed for the amendment of the party’s Constitution to make it possible for Jonathan to run without a primary election as is the case in America and other advanced democracies in the world. He is not wrong on that score. That is the norm.
Many other stakeholders had known beforehand that the main purpose of the PDP special national convention was to weed out those in the NWC considered to be anti-Jonathan and serving as moles to either former President Olusegun Obasanjo or the governors who spearheaded their emergence as members of the NWC.
Such members were also not considered useful to the re-election bid of Jonathan and a decision to edge them out of the NWC had been in the works for some time.
For instance, Atiku, who is suspected of still nursing a presidential ambition, had to raise the alarm before his name was included as a delegate on the Adamawa list to the convention. But knowing that the Rivers governor, Amaechi, whom the PDP leadership had suspended and refused to lift the suspension even after the stipulated one month, would not attend the convention, it had his name dubiously smuggled into the list of voters. Paradoxically, the same party excluded the names of all the commissioners and other statutory delegates from the state from the list predicating its action on their refusal to appear before the Felix Obuah exco in the state to answer to charges of anti-party activities.
Beyond the manipulations that manifested prior to and during the special convention, the alleged attempt by the President to seek re-election in 2015 appears to have quickened the resolve by the aggrieved parties to move against him before they lose ground.
A source close to the Atiku camp said that the former Vice President and many northern governors elected on the platform of the PDP were convinced that some forces were set to field Jonathan as presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2015 election, contrary to an earlier agreement to run for just one term of four years.
There has been unease in the PDP since Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu challenged the President, last March, not to contemplate running for second term since he had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with them in 2010 not to go for second term if he was elected in the 2011 election.
Although the letter has not been made public, thereby fueling speculation that it remains a conceptual variable, many presidential aides have challenged the anti-Jonathan forces to produce the said agreement as a proof or shut up forever.
The former VP, who is alleged to have had a hand in the newly-registered Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, was said to be ready to challenge the forces bent on imposing the President on the PDP in 2015 not minding how long it would take. A source noted that the move against Jonathan’s re-election was a popular decision backed by many northern governors and political leaders in the PDP and that many other governors might jump on the band wagon in the coming months.
The move, it was gathered, is aimed at weakening the PDP to a point that whoever emerges as its presidential candidate would not stand a chance of winning the next election.
The source said that although the PDM was registered to provide a fallback position for those to be thrown out of the PDP as a result of the rebellion, most of the actors would want to remain in the ruling party until it crumbles.
One of the key actors said, “It is true that what has been happening in the PDP lately has given Atiku and other stakeholders in the country a serious cause for concern. It is clear to all of these people that Jonathan is desperately plotting to return in 2015 against an earlier agreement he had with some northern leaders to run for a single term.
“What the Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu exposed, last March , is nothing but the whole truth. Jonathan pleaded with them to support him only for one term and his decision to run is against that ‘gentleman agreement’ and that is what is causing ripples in the party.
“Atiku even met with Jonathan shortly after the 2011 election and he told him he would not run again. I can tell you that it was that assurance that prevented Atiku from challenging Jonathan’s emergence as the candidate of the PDP in the 2011 primaries”.
The Tukur group, which had earlier dismissed the revolt by the New PDP as a child’s play, later got the message and knew how serious the group was. It moved fast to checkmate the recalcitrant elements with a sledgehammer but did not apparently know how to go about it. First, Tukur threatened to jail all members of the faction and declare the seats of the lawmakers vacant if they dared to defect.
PDP Special National Convention: Delegates casting their votes at 2013 PDP Special National Convention . Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan.
With support from the Presidency, Tukur took it upon himself to tackle the rebel governors and lawmakers from two fronts: judicially and politically. But all these moves are yet to bear fruit.
While claiming that Baraje and others in the parallel PDP were jesters and impostors, Tukur threatened to mobilise the security agencies against them.
He boasted, “The PDP has only one duly elected National Working Committee (NEC) under my chairmanship. I wish therefore to state with all emphasis that any group of persons parading themselves as leaders of NWC or any other organ of our party are impostors and I urge all Nigerians, especially the security agencies and other institutions of democracy, to regard them as such.
But, in a swift reaction, the chairman of the New PDP, Baraje, described Tukur and those on his side as jokers.
He said: “They are all jokers; they don’t know what party politics is. We are not surprised because he (Tukur) is ignorant of party politics. In any case, the process of declaring a seat vacant or recalling members of the National Assembly is well known in the constitution; to wake up and say he is going to recall people or declare their seats vacant is sheer ignorance. He is not fit to be called the National Chairman of the PDP.”
Baraje had hardly ended his statement when the spokesman for the House of Representatives, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, who hails from Kwara State and is in support of the New PDP, thundered like a volcano.
“The man (Tukur) should go and read the Electoral Act as that will guide his utterances. This is about the law. What he does not understand is that when a party is factionalised, I can decide to say that I belong to PPA today. It doesn’t matter because it is public knowledge today that we have two factions of the PDP and nobody can pretend about it”.
Still from that state, members of the executive of the party joined their governor and threw their weight behind Baraje.
The state chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Ishola Balogun Fulani, speaking at a press conference at the party secretariat in Ilorin, recalled that Baraje was able to maturely handle the crisis in the party to a minimal level and even won more electoral victories for the party.
According to Fulani, who was represented by his secretary, Prince Yemi Afolayan, the Tukur-led PDP has committed several constitutional breaches, which has made it impossible for members to reap the dividends of democracy and should quit office with immediate effect”.
The present crisis rocking the PDP has all the trappings of a tug-of-war and can consume those who are not well-rooted in the game they are trying to play. As it has always been in Nigeria, the expectations of the Presidency and the Tukur group is that, at the ‘right time’, the renegades would be ‘settled’ one way or the other in order for them to drop their opposition to Jonathan’s re-election in 2015. But given the calibre of personages involved in the ‘new struggle’ to bail out the party ‘from predators and pretenders’ and the need for them to also have a shot at the pinnacle of power, it may turn out that the projection of the pro-Jonathan group may not hold. The anti-President elements may decide to hold their heads up and fight to the finish and earn the applause of many Nigerians and those who believe that the PDP under Jonathan has failed to deliver the goods to them in the past and can therefore not do any magic in the future.
The split in the party leadership also has the capacity to stop the President from returning to the Aso Rock in 2015. If the situation remains as it were, Jonathan may then need to appease the gods in order to salvage him from sinking into the abyss of political failure in 2015. Now, with Lagos solidly in the kitty of the APC while Kano and Rivers states, two former PDP strongholds with large voting population, glibly tilting towards the opposition, the President may need to take extra steps in order to win re-election.
The browbeat being undertaken by his loyalists in order to clear the way for him to win second term may not deliver the expected result since the tactics may not readily add up. Those who have convinced Jonathan to use his ministers and other aides to deny governors of the structures of the party may have missed the point and unlikely to get it right in the final analysis. The situation in Rivers State is a case in point where the governor is still able to swim against the tide despite having been stripped of the party structures and given to Obuah and the Minister of State for Education, Nyesome Wike. It may sound good to those plotting for Mr. President but the truth remains that in Nigeria the greater power to elect and be re-elected still resides with the man who signs the cheque at the end of the month – the state governor.
Baraje and Tukur
How the President and his supporters will navigate their way out of the imbroglio remains a miracle.
But a founding member of the PDP and former Education and Petroleum Minister, Prof Jubril Aminu, believes Jonathan will always trounce his political detractors, if he remains focused on the job Nigerians gave him to perform.
Aminu said, “President Jonathan appears to be too concerned about his second term and there are some persons who are making a capital out of that obsession, which provides a very good menu for others to capitalise on.
“If Mr. President continues to put too much emphasis on the 2015 election, he may lose focus on the job he was elected by Nigerians to deliver. My advice to him is to concentrate on the work that Nigerians gave him to do. He will certainly get his second term if he does the work well.
“As long as he continues to work towards resolving the contentious issues in the education and health sectors as well as the security challenges facing the North, he will certainly be re-elected when the time comes.
“My fear is that some people are taking advantage of Jonathan’s second term ambition to cause more avoidable problems in the country and distracting him in the process.”
While kicking against the action of the former Vice President and the seven governors, the former Education and Petroleum Minister said the ‘rebels’ could not be acting in the interest of Nigerians but for their personal interests.
Aminu pointed out, “I don’t support what Atiku and the seven governors are doing because I don’t think that what they have done is right. I don’t think that they are motivated by altruism but I suspect that they are just trying to protect their ego.
“I strongly suspect that what the governors and their backers are doing is a bit of political gambling aimed at settling scores, distracting the PDP or pure mischief”.
It may well be that it would have been too late to salvage the PDP by the time the forces behind the ‘coup’ is unveiled. That is why those who want to still relish in the comfort, which the PDP has come to offer them since inception, should rise to the occasion and reconcile the Tukur and Baraje factions in order for the two groups to arrive at the same destination in 2015. Failure to do so at once may still give some people a fleeting comfort and massage their ego for a while but such reticence has the dangerous potential to drive the final nail in the coffin of the PDP and consign it to the history books of Nigeria.