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A few days after Dr. Ahmadu Ali, a trained medical doctor, retired colonel and ex-senator was named the chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, following the forceful exit of the former chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh, some stalwarts of the party met in the Asokoro District of Abuja.
A few days after Dr. Ahmadu Ali, a trained medical doctor, retired colonel and ex-senator was named the chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, following the forceful exit of the former chairman, Chief Audu Ogbeh, some stalwarts of the party met in the Asokoro District of Abuja. At the meeting, reportedly attended by about nine of the party members, some of who were delegates to the defunct National Political Reform Conference, the controversial resignation of Ogbeh and the subsequent emergence of the Igala-born Ali and others as members of the National Working Committee were critically reviewed.
The party men, believed to be political allies of Vice-President Atiku Abubakar were said to have frowned on the appointment of Ali, not only because of his military background, but also because of his closeness to President Olusegun Obasanjo under whom he served as a Federal Minister of Education in the 70s. The meeting particularly noted that Ali was on a mission, given the events that preceded his appointment as the party’s helmsman. It noted with reservation the new chairman’s vow to, at all cost, restore discipline to the party, acclaimed by its members to be the largest in Africa. For them, it was not that discipline was inevitable in the PDP, but their fear was that it would be one of the measures to deal with the perceived enemies of Obasanjo.
Nevertheless, at the end of the meeting, which lasted for about four hours, those in attendance, who are astute politicians in their own right, took some decisions, one of which was that every step Ali would make must be watched very closely. Thus, when the national chairman announced some months ago that the party membership register would be reviewed after about seven years of its formation, it was clear to them that something terrible was in the offing. One of them from Katsina State told our correspondent during the week, "We suspected that the move to re-register members of the party was not a sincere one. We suspected it was not going to be a membership drive as such. It is not that we did not want people to revalidate their membership, we only thought that with the way things were going, trouble was ahead. We truly felt that the PDP will not remain the same again."
And truly, since the re-registration commenced a little over a week ago, the PDP has not remained the same. The exercise has been mired in controversy. There have been hues and cries by members of the party who felt shortchanged in their attempt to revalidate their membership. The situation is the same all over the country. Among those who have protested were governors, legislators and council chairmen elected on the party’s platform. Ministers, commissioners and other party chieftains are not left out. They have all shouted from the roof tops over attempt by their own kinsmen in the wards to shortchange them.
While some have openly protested in their states, others have visited the national secretariat alleging foul play in the registration exercise, which ordinarily should be an opportunity to attract new members to the party. Regrettably, the opposite is the case.
As a result, in the last two weeks or so, Ali has played host to many of his partymen who want the re-registration properly organised.
As early as Wednesday, September 21, preparatory to the commencement of the exercise, both the vice-president Abubakar and Governor Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom had at different times, stormed the party’s secretariat in Wadata Plaza, Abuja to complain about the distribution of the registration materials, which they claim was lopsided.
The vice-president was said to have met with the national chairman and his Board of Trustees counterpart, Chief Tony Anenih for more than one hour during which he (Abubakar) reportedly told his hosts that the party’s registers and membership cards were being distributed to party chieftains who were opposed to him.
On his part, Attah reportedly complained to Ali that PDP members loyal to his erstwhile deputy, Chief Chris Ekpenyong was having the upper hand in the distribution of registration materials. However, both Atiku and Attah, who had a few days earlier, had a rough time during the national executive meeting of the party, were assured that things would be rectified. It was not so because they merely grew worse.
One after the other, they came complaining. The roll call included Ebonyi State governor, Dr. Sam Egwu, who told Ali that the Culture and Tourism Minister, Chief Frank Ogbuewu had hijacked the registration materials. The Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani was also a guest of the national chairman over the exercise in his home state of Enugu.
But some governors would rather dispatch their supporters to Abuja. For instance, only last Thursday, party members in Governor Orji Uzor Kalu’s camp stormed the national secretariat to present a three-page protest letter to Ali. The letter, endorsed by Senators Uche Chukwumerije and Chris Adighije and 15 others, did not only complain about the exercise but also the way and manner the ward congresses were being handled.
Hear them, "Up till today, the 6th day of October 2005, the registration materials are yet to be delivered to the current elected party officials at the ward and local government levels as required for this exercise. In spite of this irregularity, the PDP members in Abia State went to the designated link men for the revalidation and registration of their PDP membership cards but were denied access to the validation/registration materials, which is being done in secret places."
The protesters, therefore, demanded that adequate quantity of registration materials for the state should be forwarded through the proper channels for the revalidation/registration of teeming PDP members in Abia State as soon as possible.
On the dissolution of the state executive of the party, they said among other things, "We were, to say the least, shocked and disappointed when a publication from the PDP national secretariat announced the dissolution of the state executive of the PDP Abia State, despite a court order restraining the NEC of the PDP from dissolving and/or tampering with the state executive of the party in Abia State."
Before they came to Abuja, their governor, Kalu had threatened to quit the PDP.
In the neighbouring Imo State, government officials were reportedly denied registration by people allegedly led by the National Vice-Chairman, South East, Nze Fidelis Ozichukwu. The Imo state Commissioner for Information, Chief Chris Okwelonu alleged that it was his belief that specific instructions had been issued to prevent the entire members of Governor Achike Udenwa cabinet and other political office holders from registration because of a covert move by the caretaker committee to rig the congress. True to type, the state factions held different congresses.
In Bayelsa State, the deputy governor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan expressed objection to the modalities adopted for the re-registration of members of PDP and over some people appointed to handle the exercise. He alleged that the persons were working for some people nursing gubernatorial ambition in the state.
The situation in the Northwestern state of Kano is tense. There, some party stalwarts led by BOT member, Abubakar Rimi; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba and former Labour and Productivity Minister, Musa Gwadabe have vowed to float a parallel party.
"If by tomorrow," Rimi had declared at a unification rally, "they refuse to register you, I urge you to open a new office for the peoples’ PDP in all the 44 local government areas of Kano State."
In Plateau, those opposed to Governor Joshua Dariye have taken charge. Led by the Deputy Senate President, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, the governor’s supporters have been schemed out of the exercise. The national headquarters had set up a parallel executive with the Mantu group fully in charge. This has pitched them against former national chairman, Chief Solomon Lar and Ambassador Yahaya Kwande, both of who are Dariye’s supporters.
In Benue, it is the same kettle of fish as Governor George Akume’s supporters have locked horns with those of former party national chairman, Barnabas Gemade, who surprisingly, have bounced back as one of President Obasanjo ardent supporters.
But none could be as disgracing as the treatment meted out to Atiku himself in his home state of Adamawa last weekend. The vice-president, who travelled to his Yeli ward to revalidate his membership of the party, which he contributed in its formation, was merely registered in an exercise book without a card. Although, the matter threw up controversy with Atiku and the leader of the exercise, Senator Jubril Aminu trading blames, it was what was needed to show that the exercise was everything but transparent. It took the intervention of Ali, who visited the vice-president in his office in the Presidential Villa on Tuesday to register him before frayed nerves were calmed. He was eventually issued with registration number 001 with ward number 3364544. Even so, the damage had been done.
Clearly, a close analysis of the situation revealed a pattern and that is, only those perceived as enemies of the President are complaining.
But those complaining of inability to revalidate their membership may not necessarily be supporters of Atiku’s alleged presidential ambition. Some may just have been unlucky to belong to groups within PDP that do not like the President from day one. Some may just be those who, along the line, fell out with the President. Yet, others may just be those who are opposed to the alleged third term ambition of the president or an extension of his tenure by whatever number of years.
However, more than anything else, the complaints are coming from those states whose governors are believed not to be friendly with the president, but are supporters of Atiku. For instance, governors of Imo, Abia, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Taraba, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Plateau, Benue, and Edo states are known to be close to the vice president and are presumably marked for "discipline."
In those states, some of which parallel executives committee exist, there have also been parallel congresses. Some members of the party based in Abuja have made desperate moves to rattle the governors by setting up parallel executive committees with the backing of the national leadership of the party. Imo, Abia and Plateau states fall into this category.
But the situation is not so in states presided over by the president’s "boys" such as Kaduna, Nasarawa, Rivers and a few others. Not much noise has been heard from those states.
For many watchers of the nation’s renascent democracy, the current rumblings in the party point to one thing: disintegration. Will PDP break? Will those complaining quit for other parties? What is the future of the party? Even if it survives, can it possibly return to power at the centre? Can it retain the 28 states (now 27 following the expulsion of Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State) it won in 2003? There are a lot of questions begging for answers.
To be sure, PDP had in the past, witnessed such rumblings. But the magnitude of such rumblings may not be the same. Two examples will suffice. There was a time when some of its original founders were frustrated out of the party. They include the incumbent national chairman of the All Nigerian Peoples Party, Chief Don Etiebet; former governor of the old Gongola State, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur; current chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, Chief Sunday Awoniyi; late Chief Marshall Harry and a host of others. At that time, Atiku had total grip on the party. Many thought that the party would crumble, but it did not.
Also, before the 2003 general elections, the party faced some crises, particularly over who should be the presidential, gubernatorial and senatorial flag-bearers. Not a few defected to other parties where they had hoped to actualise their ambitions. At that time, it was thought that conflict of ambition may tear the party apart. The party did survive. In fact, most of those who left have returned and are playing some roles in the on-going re-registration.
Therefore, it may be safe to conclude that despite the angst that has trailed the registration exercise and the congresses, PDP may just become stronger. After all, how many people would want to pull out from the party which, at present, controls the Federal Government and 27 state governments? The party is just behaving like most ruling parties the world over. Besides, the party has some strong following in other states being controlled by other parties. In a country where politicking is devoid of principle, but based on "bread and butter," most members of the PDP would rather stay behind and wait patiently for the crumbs, which may come in form of appointments and contracts. Also, in a country where one hardly survives outside government, there is the possibility that no member of the PDP will leave. That is why even the likes of Abubakar Rimi, Na’Abba, Orji Uzor Kalu may not leave the party yet. That is also why Atiku cannot call it quits with the PDP despite the ceaseless harassment and humiliation. The vice-president knows that upon leaving the party, he will also vacate his office and the president will come after him.
Even if they decide to leave, where will they go? Interestingly, the remaining 29 political parties are just like appendages of the PDP. The parties in opposition appear to be in disarray. It is not uncommon to find chieftains of the opposition parties praising the ruling PDP to high heavens, even more than members of the PDP because of the crumbs that might fall from the party’s table. Regrettably, the opposition parties cannot even organise successful congresses and conventions as many are factionalised. Membership of some of them merely revolves around the husband, wife and children.
Controversial Senator Idris Kuta sums it up this way, "PDP can afford to be arrogant because opposition parties are so weak and disorganised. If the opposition was going to give PDP a good run for their money, this thing (problems associated with the registration exercise) would not happen.
"I keep telling you, right from 2003, if you hear anybody criticising the Federal Government; he is a PDP member and not that of any of the opposition parties."
But more importantly is the selective anti-corruption campaign. For now, the Obasanjo administration appears to be chasing perceived opponents using institutions like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and perhaps the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the Code of Conduct.
With these institutions breathing down the throat of perceived but allegedly corrupt "enemies," they cannot contemplate quitting the PDP. Even with the report that some governors are already pencilled down for harassment by the EFCC, it will be surely difficult leaving the party. Ask James Ibori, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and a few others.
As things are now, it is only the third term agenda of the president that has the potentials of tearing the party apart. But, as a political analyst, Chidi Olua puts it in a chat with our correspondent, "None will stay to stomach the pains."
According to Olua, not every members of the PDP believes in the third term agenda. Even among members of the party’s NEC, NWC and BOT at the federal, state and ward levels, there are many who do not believe in what is going on but they have no choice than to stay in the party because getting out of the party would be like a fish battling to survive outside water. In fact, more people will like to come into the party." If that remains the situation, Obasanjo, Ali, Anenih and their acolytes can afford to play with the destiny of the party and indeed that of Nigeria.
SATURDAY PUNCH, October 08, 2005