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  • Politics
  • Updated: April 18, 2024

Tension in PDP as party moves to elect new leadership

Tension in PDP as party moves to elect new leadership

There is palpable tension in Nigeria's main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the party prepares to elect a new National Chairman at its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting slated for Thursday (today) the 18th of April, 2024 in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The meeting is coming at a time there are agitations by several stakeholders of the party for the NEC, the party’s highest decision making organ to take sweeping decisions that will reshape and reposition the party ahead of the 2027 general elections.

Appointing a new chairman

Top on the agenda of the PDP NEC meeting will be the election of a new substantive National Chairman to complete the tenure of Dr Iyorchia Ayu, who was sacked by a court in the build-up to the 2023 general elections.

Iyorchia Ayu's problems started after the party’s presidential primary which was won by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, as the camp of some governors in the party then led by former Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike moved against him, insisting he must leave the position.

According to the G5 group, the presidential candidate of the party cannot come from the same North as the National Chairman of the party.

Despite Ayu's insistence on staying put, he was eventually eased off, paving the way for an acting chairman. Thursday's meeting will however seek to fill the gap created by Ayu's exit.

How this plays out is what is currently generating tension, with different camps laying claims to the position.

The North Central Argument

One of the zones laying claim to the chairmanship of the party is the North Central geopolitical zone, where Ayu comes from. The zone has insisted that another person from the zone should be allowed to complete Ayu's tenure.

Leading the charge from the North Central is a former governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswam, who believes he has the right experience and leadership acumen to lead the party.

At a media parley in Abuja recently, Suswam asked the party to allow him to assume the position of the national chairman of the party and complete the tenure Senator Iyorchia Ayu was removed from by a court order.

According to him, he was eminently qualified to step into the national chairmanship position of the PDP having served the party in various capacities as two-term governor of Benue, senator and a member of the House of Representatives at various times.

Senator Suswam pointed out that since the PDP had zoned chairmanship position to the North Central and micro-zoned it to Benue State, it would make political sense to allow him as an experienced Benue political leader from the preferred zone to step in and complete Ayu’s tenure.

He maintained that it was only by allowing him to continue from where Ayu stopped that the state and the zone would be compensated for their numerous contributions to the stability of the PDP.

Suswam said: “We at the party level believe that the North Central should produce the next president as stipulated by the PDP constitution to complete its tenure.The North central should not be shortchanged going by the precedent that has already been set by the party.

“I believe that it is important to hear from me. It is just for me to let you know that I have consulted with people in the zone to complete Ayu’s tenure.

"It is not a national contest, it is something that should be done through consensus and understanding based on the fact that the position was zoned to the North central by the PDP."

Suswam's kinsman challenges him

Though Suswam seems to be confident that if the zoning and micro-zoning remain sacrosanct, he may have a kinsman of his to contend with, as another Benue indigene and stakeholder of the party, Engr. Conrad Utaan, has thrown his heart into the ring to contest the chairmanship position.

According to Utaan, he is focused on setting a new agenda in the party administration, adding that he can unify the factions that exist within the party’s ranks.

Speaking with newsmen in Abuja on Tuesday, Utaan said his aspiration offers stability and a sense of sacrifice to bring together both founding and joining members of the PDP to enable it create a credible alternative for citizens, focused on delivering the true spirit that reflects the needs of Nigerians.

He said: “I am focused on setting a new agenda in party administration and can be trusted to reunify the factions that currently exist within our ranks. I am focused on healing the many cracks that have broken the true essence of our political culture as a party and to win back the admiration of all Nigerians.

“We are the Peoples Democratic Party, and like our name suggests, we must at all times recognise the expectations of our people and work to meet the same. We are the true party of the people.

“Aspiration to lead our great party at this critical time avails the PDP an opportunity to again, present a new direction to party administration in Nigeria. A novel idea I believe would chart the cause for a rebirth of not only the PDP but indeed the concept of what political parties should be within the context of evolving a paradigm shift in governance itself.”
 
He noted that the party has recycled former public officers at the helm of its affairs to the extent that it is running the risk of becoming a ‘former great party’.

“At this defining moment, our party requires new energy, new thinking and an entirely new face that members of our party can trust and all rally around to write a new chapter for our country,” Utaan said.

A divided zone

As at the last count, three more aspirants have shown interest in taking over from the acting National Chairman, Umar Damagun, aside Suswam and Utaan 

The aspirants so far are Suswam, Humphrey Abah, a former Minister of Police Affairs, also from Benue State, Phillip Salawu, a former Deputy Governor of Kogi State; Emmanuel Agbo, a former Deputy National Secretary of the party; and Utaan.

Aside the above, reports have it that groups within the party have made overtures to two former Senate Presidents, David Mark and Bukola Saraki to join the fray. Though David Mark was said to have outrightly turned down the overture, Saraki's situation is hampered by the fact that the party’s NWC already has an official from his home state, Kwara.

NWC's trump card and Wike's angle 

As the North-Central continues to persistently lay claims to the chairmanship position of the party in continuation of the tenure of the ousted Ayu, the party’s NWC, according to reports, is scheming to have the current acting National Chairman, Damagum to continue in office as the substantive chairman.

It is also been rumoured that the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike is backing the position of the NWC to have Damagum continue in office.

The scheme of the NWC was accentuated through a statement released on Wednesday by the PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, passing a vote of confidence on Damagum just a day to the all important NEC meeting.

The vote of confidence by the PDP NWC is coming amid calls for him to vacate the office of National Chairman and revert to his previous position as Deputy National Chairman (North).

Ologunagba, in the statement on Wednesday, said: “The National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has passed a Vote of Confidence on the Party’s Acting National Chairman, Amb. Umar Iliya Damagum.

“The decision of the NWC, which came at the end of its 584th meeting at the Party’s National Secretariat on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, commends the efforts and commitment of the Acting National Chairman to stabilize and reposition the PDP as the main opposition Party in Nigeria.

“The Deputy National Chairman (South), Amb. Taofeek Arapaja presided over the motion for Vote of Confidence on the Acting National Chairman which was moved by the National Vice Chairman (South East) Chief Ali Odefa and seconded by the National Treasurer, Hon. Yayari Mohammed.”

The PDP NWC also reaffirms its dedication to ensuring the "ongoing stability, expansion, and prosperity of our esteemed party."

It will be recalled that recently, 60 members of the House of Representatives demanded Damagun’s departure, advocating for the appointment of a substantive chairman from the North Central region.

However, shortly after this announcement, the House minority caucus, under the leadership of Kingsley Chinda, disassociated from the group, labelling it an unrecognized entity within the parliament.

A Tuesday gathering of the PDP Caucus in the House of Representatives, however, ended in turmoil, as lawmakers were starkly divided between those advocating for Damagunm"s support and those opposing his continued tenure.

Sources in the party said the primary objective of the Pre-NEC meeting, was aimed at endorsing Damagum with a vote of confidence by lawmakers working with Nyesom Wike.

Taming Atiku and Wike

Aside appointing a substantive National Chairman, the PDP NEC may witness serious fireworks as groups within the party have been advocating for NEC to prevail on the candidate of the party in the 2023 presidential election to shelve his presidential ambition for 2027 and beyond.

There are also calls for the suspension of FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike for working against the party during the 2023 presidential election and aligning with the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu as a minister.

Specifically, a pressure group within the party, PDP100% Loyalty, asked NEC to prevail on the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to shelve his presidential ambition in 2027 to enable the party move forward.

The National Chairman of the group,  Dennis Shima, also asked the meeting to  suspend FCT Minister owing to his association with the All Progressives Congress (APC).

According to the group, the problem of the party is attached to the ambition of Atiku Abubakar in 2027 and the inability of the party to suspend the the former Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike even after publicly working for the APC in the last election.

Shima also stated that their decision followed the unfortunate realities starring all members of the party in the face “as a result of political behaviors of some party stalwarts before, during and after 2023 general election.”

According to him, NEC should prevail on Atiku to stop further contest for PDP Presidential Ticket beginning from 2027, adding that “we further, request Atiku Abubakar to support one of his many mentees across Nigeria to contest for PDP Presidential Tickets beginning from 2027.”

They asked Atiku to “accept this clarion call for him to be a statesman and kingmaker politically going forward. We are optimistic that, former Vice President of Nigeria, and two times PDP presidential candidate will be grateful to God and PDP, for the platform provided for him, to serve Nigerians.

"Also we call on the forthcoming PDP National Executive Committee NEC to exercise its power and authority in line with provisions of PDP Constitution regarding; offenses and sanctions, to suspend Nyesom Wike from participating in meetings or functions of PDP at all levels at home and abroad."

Shima said the call has become imperative because of Wike’s present role as Federal Minister and responsibilities in APC led Federal Government, “which is alien to the character and ethics of PDP and also violates, the Constitution of our great party."

He further said that Wike should be out of the party “until the day he officially leaves the Pay Roll of APC led Federal Government under President Bola Tinubu. After all, PDP receives returnees into its membership.

“These decisions if taken by PDP NEC will uphold rule of law, as a tenet of democracy which PDP represents. This will also serve as deterrent to those who potentially think that, they can be made politically relevant today by PDP and later become more powerful than PDP laws and legitimate authorities in Nigeria. By so doing by PDP NEC, PDP Constitution will be upheld and discipline instilled, in the party", the group added.

Whichever way things go, analysts are of the view that Thursday's meeting of the PDP NEC has the capacity to either reposition the party or further widen obvious divisions already in existence in PDP.

According to them, a decision by PDP NEC to have Damagum continue in office will be a victory for Nyesom Wike, who has assumed a larger than life image in the party, while ousting him will throw the party into more crisis as a victory by any pro-Ayu candidate will push Wike and his allies into the trenches for a further onslaught against the party.

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