Published On: Thu, Dec 14th, 2017

Wike: the new strong man

.           Inside story of how Secondus won

By OBINNA EZUGWU

There are many definitions of politics. One of them is the skill of determining who gets what and when. Such skills abound in only few men with power who can influence elections and the distribution of resources. Such people are known as strongmen or power brokers.

One of them is the Rivers Sate Governor, Nyesom Wike, who over the weekend overcame all odds to install his nominees as national officers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

At exactly 3:59am Sunday morning of December 10, 2017 at the Eagle Square, Abuja, the national anthem played. The elective convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had come to an end with Prince Uche Secondus emerging chairman of the party with a total of 2000 votes after what was a battle of wits, deals and compromises. His closest rival, Prof Tunde came distant second with 230 votes, while media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi got 60 votes. Governor Nyesom Wike, Rivers strong man had shown that what he could do in his state, and in Anambra where he was largely instrumental to the emergence of candidate Oseloka Obaze as the party’s flag bearer for last month’s election in the state, he could also replicate at the national level.

With notable figures like Chief Bode George; Prof Adeniran; former governors Gbenga Daniel and Rasheed Ladoja and media mogul, Chief Dokpesi, among others initially in contention, few people could have predicted a landslide victory for Secondus, especially given that there had been suggestions that the post be ceded to the South West. But in the end, the party’s governors, notably Wike, proved beyond doubt that they are the new power bloc in town. Against the wishes of some of the party’s founding fathers, including Prof Jerry Gana; Ibrahim Mantu; former head of state, Ibrahim Babangida and even the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan who had allegedly favoured the South West bid, the governors not only succeeded in having their way, but did so in grand style.

It was Governor Wike and to a smaller degree, his Ekiti State counterpart, Ayodele Fayose, who hatched the Secondus idea. Wike, for the obvious reason that the party’s chairman coming from Rivers State would help strengthen it in the state ahead of what would be a ‘mortal combat’ for the soul of the Rivers in 2019, had early enough, began to campaign for Secondus.

Accompanied by the new chairman, the governor made trips to a number of states in the South East and South South in the name of regional integration. His ambition at the outset looked quit impossible, especially with the South West largely tipped to produce the party’s chairman. But he persisted, such that in the run up to the convention, it had become obvious to the neutrals that Secondus was the man. He had managed to subdue the political colossus, Bode George. On Friday, rattled George addressed a press conference berating the governor whom he labelled a little man whose time will soon come to an end. Wike had earlier, in an interview on a national TV, dismissed South West’s argument for the chairmanship slot as unwarranted. According to him, the zone had not done enough for the party overall. He also insisted that the South South had never produced chairman. Chief Geoge’s attack had been in response to the said interview granted by the governor.

Fayose, on his own part, was always on the same page with the River’s governor. He is eyeing the vice presidential slot which would not be possible if the South West produced the party’s chairman. For this ambition, he actively worked against the interest of the zone in this regard. Even when other aspirants, including Chief George, Daniels, Ladoja and Jimi Agbaje, having realised that the odds were against the zone, decided to step down for Prof Adeniran who happens to come from the same Ekiti, Fayose insisted that he had not consulted him before declaring his intention to contest for the position and even afterwards. He was said to have boasted at the venue that he told the South West contenders to step down, but they refused.

The governors’ efforts began to pay off gradually. Before long, governors Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe and Darious Ishaku of Taraba were brought on board. And Senator Ahmed Makarfi who by the way, had emerged chairman of the caretaker committee of the party courtesy of the governors, particularly Wike, was always on the same page with them. It was Markarfi who consistently dismissed the idea of micro-zoning the slot to the South West.

However, it was during the convention that the actual drama took place. Having sufficiently lobbied the delegates (it was alleged that each delegate received $10,000 (about N3.6million), the governors were said to have initiated a certain unity list of candidates which they circulated to the delegates. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Mantu and his group staged a walkout. Adeniran stormed out of the venue and called for cancellation of the convention and Dokpesi insisted that the process had been rigged. But despite the outrage, Wike and his men had their way. Dokpesi later accepted the outcome and congratulated the winner, leaving Adeniran with few choices.

When confronted with the allegation of the said list however, Chairman of the convention’s Organising Committee and Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, dismissed it as unfounded. While he admitted that there was indeed a list, he maintained it was meant to guide those who could not read or write.

Yet, while allegations of financial inducement were rife, Hon. Jerry Alagboso, member representing Orsu Federal Constituency of Imo State denied such as falsehood. He said he was also a delegate but did not receive any money.

The rancour which characterised the convention was probably not unexpected. In the days leading up to it, there was little to suggest otherwise. But it has come and gone with Jonathan; former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; former Aviation Minister, Femi-Fani Kayode, among others expressing satisfaction with the outcome and congratulating the winners. But the important question is what next for the aggrieved members, especially in the South West.

“Personally, and because I am from Lagos State whcih had put forward our prime leader, Chief Olabode George for the national chairmanship, I will say I am not too happy,” said Mr. Taofeek Gani, spokesperson for the party in Lagos. “But it has come and gone. The prime leader I know will also take it like an elder statesman.

“But what is fundamental and cannot be taken away is that the office (of chairman) should have come to the South West to boost the chances of the party in 2019 being the only region that does not have any serious presence in the PDP presently. So, what I will say is that the new managers of the party, particularly the new chairman, should look at making sure that those actions that can boost the chances of the party in the zone are concentrated in the hands of the leaders in the zone. Obviously, nobody is happy in the South West now, apart from those few people who feel that they have had their way. But like I say, PDP is one big family; it is now left for the chairman to concentrate on building up the party in the zone.”

Asked however, whether the zone would welcome the idea of vice presidency, Taofeek said he is not keen on the slot as according to him, it should be left for the South East.

“As it is now, it should be a good consolation since we didn’t get the national chairmanship. But the national chairmanship would have been better. However, we should be looking at the overall PDP arrangement because we are going into the general elections. The South West taking the VP slot might not really produce the result, it does not matter whether the APC has a VP from the zone. Some other positions can be ceded to the zone, for instance the senate presidency. The VP should be left for the South Easterners who are already looking forward to it.”

He expressed confidence that the party had what it takes to win in 2019, and will do so.

Also speaking, a chieftain of the party in Ebonyi State, Chief Abia Onyike, expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the convention while faulting the argument that the South West should have produced national chairman. According to him, the interest of the party and Nigeria should be paramount.

“I don’t think anybody would be right to make that kind of argument. That would be parochial in thinking. It was thrown open to candidates from the entire Southern Nigeria. It was an open contest.”

Onyike also insisted that the suggestion about the governors being overbearing was out of place, describing the walk out by the likes of Mantu as democracy at work.

“Is there any party where governors are not powerful?” he queried. “In APC, are they not powerful? In APGA where you have one governor, is he not powerful? You don’t expect the governors who control the resources of the state, who have also been sustaining the party not to be powerful. That is the same way that governors are powerful in APC and the president is powerful in APC.”

Interestingly, two weeks to the December 9 date, there is little yet to suggest that it would be a convention devoid of rancour.  There is little doubt, the December 9 Convention of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will be the most critical in its history; it is a convention that would, to a large extent, determine its fate and course for action ahead of the much awaited February 2019 general election.

It is the first convention the party would be holding since it lost power in 2015. And as an opposition party looking to bring a largely depleted membership under its one umbrella especially after a protracted leadership crisis, it has little margin for error.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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