Secondus, Saraki, Atiku and Kwankwaso
Deputy Editor, LEON USIGBE, highlights the fears and hopes as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) heads to Port Harcourt to select its presidential standard-bearer for the 2019 election.
This weekend, over three thousand delegates will gather in Port Harcourt, Rivers State for the national convention of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Baring any unforeseen circumstances such as some aspirants withdrawing from the race or the party comes up with a consensus candidate, 12 men will go into battle during the exercise to attempt to clinch the party’s presidential ticket to face the presumed candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari as well as the candidates that may be thrown up by other political parties for the 2019 presidential contest.
Just like the previous editions organised by the national leaderships of the opposition party, this one is not without its controversies, particularly as it concerns the venue thought to have been unilaterally chosen by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. Recall that former national chairman of the party, Senator Modu Sheriff, fought strenuously to avoid taking the August 2016 national convention of the party to the same Port Harcourt after he fell out with Wike, who with Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, were blamed for foisting him on the party in the first place despite his perceived baggage. Wike chose Port Harcourt as the venue of that convention and insisted that it should hold there to the consternation of the then party boss. What followed were series of litigation instituted by members of the party on different divides.
Wike is thought to be at it again. He demanded that this convention be held in his home stead and reportedly vowed to deal with any of the presidential aspirants who may go against his wish. “Nobody should dare Rivers State any longer. Enough is enough. PDP should know that we are not a punching bag. We are not a people you can use and push. We are not harlots – whenever you want, you come, when you finish, you push us aside,” Wike was quoted to have said on a visit to Gombe state. To some of his critics, the statement confirmed the worst kept secret that PDP is the property of the Rivers State governor. He is thought to be its main financier and has provided direction for it since its ouster from power in 2015. Cynics quickly cite the rise of Prince Uche Secondus to the post of the national chairman of the party against those that were regarded as the favorites for the post, including Chief Bode George and Professor Tunde Adeniran, and blame Wike and his acolytes for the emergence of a “national unity” list that effectively cut short the ambitions of several of the candidates to become the party boss. The ensuing controversy was successfully managed but not before Adeniran dumped the party on account of what he perceived as the injustice meted out to him.
Many of the presidential aspirants were also thought to have taken exception to Wike’s remark and it was hot topic for deliberation during the last National Exective Committee (NEC) meeting of the party. There were suggestions that the governor addressed the remark at the meeting and apologised over how it had been interpreted. In the end, the NEC unanimously accepted his proposal to hold the convention in the Garden City.
So far, no order or injunction is known to have emerged from any court challenging the venue or the conduct of the exercise unlike the August 2016 version and party stakeholders are hoping that there will be no such thing and the exercise will go on as planned. Be that as it may, fears are rife that something untoward may yet occur during or after the convention depending on how it is managed by the party hierarchy. Already, there are allegations that many of the state governors under the party have an eye for a particular aspirant and may tailor the process to favour him. If that is the case, observers fear that there may be repercussions for the party after the convention. However, the aspirants themselves appear to have come up with an understanding among one another that they will cooperate and work for any of them who emerges at the end as the party’s standard-bearer. But they want that person to emerge in a free, fair and credible primary election.
The national leadership of the party is giving a guarantee on this, that everything will be fine and to the satisfaction of all concerned. The spokesman for the party, Kola Olagbodiyan, said as part of the measures to reassure the aspirants, each of them is to nominate two members of the accreditation committee for the national convention. This, he argues, demonstrates the neutrality of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party with the conviction that any of the aspirants who emerges as the candidate will be good enough for Nigeria. Beyond that, each of the aspirants will be availed with a list of the delegates that will participate in the election. It means that they may have access to them unlike when certain interests had hidden convention delegates from aspirants in the past.
Ologbodiyan also believes that those who think that Wike blackmailed the party into moving its convention to Port Harcourt are wrong because it was a decision of NEC. He therefore assures that given the processes to be adopted at the convention, there will be no post-convention crisis as had been witnessed in the past. He seemed to suggest that trouble makers in the PDP had been acquired by the APC which he said had even gone beyond that “because we have never heard of men biting others in PDP,” in a veiled reference to an incident in the APC governorship primary in Akwa Ibom State. The PDP is confident that after 20 years of existence, it is in a mature state to organise a successful national convention that will provide an acceptable candidate that will provide solutions to Nigeria’s developmental challenges.