DANIEL AYANTOYE examines the frequent change in the leadership of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and how this may affect its chances in the forthcoming general elections
The ongoing call for the resignation of the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, brings to the fore again the dingy tradition that has haunted the party since 1998. Ayu, a former Senate President, emerged as the national chairman through consensus at the party’s 2021 national convention held at the Eagles Square in Abuja on Sunday, October 31.
The convention, which was attended by hundreds of party delegates, brought Ayu into the national leadership of the party alongside 20 others elected into various positions in the PDP National Working Committee. In his acceptance speech, Ayu said, “It is back to rescue Nigeria from the terrible mess we have been in the last six years.”
Of course, the PDP boss hanged to his word when he led the party into the primary election where former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar emerged as the presidential candidate after beating 12 other candidates, including Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, in a keenly contested election in Abuja.
Out of 767 accredited voters, Atiku polled 371 votes, while his closest challenger, Wike, got 237 votes. Since the PDP concluded the presidential primary, the major opposition party has been struggling to stay united following the announcement of the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, as the running mate to Atiku as against the wish of some members of the PDP loyal to Wike.
The situation is further compounded by the argument that Ayu, a northerner, should step down as the national chairman of the PDP, which should be zoned to the South after the emergence of Atiku as the presidential candidate.
In what seems as a payback, Wike called for the removal of the PDP chairman. The issue of Ayu’s resignation has been on the front burner because of a reported agreement that the PDP national chairman should step aside should the North produce the party’s presidential candidate. But following the emergence of Atiku, it was learnt that the song changed to allow Ayu stay in office till the conclusion of the general elections.
However, it is on record that successive leaders of the main opposition party have had one reason or the other to leave the position on different occasions, though not for similar reasons.
Solomon Lar (1998-1999)
The emergence of the pioneer chairman of the party, the late Solomon Lar in 1998, birthed a new frontier in Nigeria’s democracy as he led the party to victory at the 1999 presidential election, which saw the PDP flag bearer, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, emerged as the President of Nigeria.
However, shortly after the victory, Lar’s leadership faced opposition as the then President was reported to have craved full control of the PDP and decided to remove Lar, who was one of the founding fathers of the party. Lar resigned from office and became a member of the PDP Board of Trustees in 2004. He died in October 2013.
Barnabas Gemade (1999-2001)
Sequel to the resignation of Lar, Barnabas Gemade, an indigene of Benue State, who was in the good books of Obasanjo, emerged as the national chairman at the first national convention of the PDP after the April 1999 general elections. Having completed his first tenure of two years and aspired for another term, he met strong opposition from powerful interests. His ambition was, however, scuttled and he was defeated at the 2001 national convention held on November 9 and 10. Although there was infighting within the party, he was enmeshed in controversy after he became the party leader. Gemade was later expelled by the leadership of the PDP in 2003 for allegedly engaging in anti-party activities and political violence.
Audu Ogbeh (2001-2005)
Similarly, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who emerged in 2001, resigned as chairman of the PDP due to criticism from Obasanjo on how he handled the Anambra political crisis. He had a frigid relationship with Obasanjo because of his comments on the excesses of the government. During the last quarter of 2004, the rift deepened to such an extent that Ogbeh could not withstand the heat. Consequently, he resigned in January 2005. He later dumped the PDP for the All Progressives Congress.
Ahmadu Ali (2005-2008)
Ahmadu Ali replaced Ogbeh in acting capacity until March 2, 2005. He was subsequently elected the substantive national chairman of the party. His tenure witnessed election victories of ex-presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan. His tenure as PDP boss ended in 2008 when the party’s chairmanship was zoned to the South-East.
Prince Vincent Ogbulafor (2008-2010)
Ogbulafor emerged in 2008 and was pushed out of office in 2010 after the death of the then President, Umaru Yar’adua. He was ousted after speculations that the presidential ticket would return to the North after the death of Yar’adua. The position of the chairman, it was learnt, did not go down well with the then President (Jonathan). Consequently, he was forced to resign due to allegations of financial recklessness.
Okwesileze Nwodo (2010)
Following the resignation of Ogbulafor, Chief Okwesileze Nwodo, a former governor of Enugu State who had been the secretary general of the party, took over as national chairman in 2010, but his tenure was short-lived after the presidential primary that produced Jonathan. The major fallout for him began when he purportedly started initiating policies that would halt state governors from funding and hijacking the party. Also, he had a rift with the then governor of his state, Sullivan Chime, over who should take charge of the party structure in the state. The intrigues that followed led to his unceremonious exit.
Haliru Mohammed (2011)
Following the resolution of the 56th National Executive Committee, Mohammed took over in 2011 in acting capacity until he was appointed the Minister of Defence in July of the same year. He was later appointed as the acting chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees.
Kawu Baraje (2011-2014)
Baraje, who is also a founding member of the party, took over from Mohammed in 2011 in acting capacity. He was in office for one year until the election of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur at the March 2012 convention. He later became leader of the New PDP (nPDP), which emerged following an intense crisis in the party. Baraje later dumped the PDP for the APC.
Bamanga Tukur (2012-2014)
Tukur emerged the national chairman of the PDP on March 24, 2012 at the national convention, which was earlier zoned to the North-East. The convention had aspirants for the seat who were reportedly forced to step down. They included Prof Rufai Alkali; Gambo Lawan, the former acting national secretary; former Bauchi State governor, Adamu Muazu; Dr Musa Babayo and Ibrahim Birma, among others, who came out very strongly, but were reportedly forced to step down.
The party was, however, enmeshed in a crisis after Atiku, who was also the presidential candidate of the party for the 2023 general elections, stormed out of the meeting alongside six governors and later formed the New PDP.
The split birthed the factionalisation of the party as a result of lingering disagreements. Consequently, the PDP governors came to a conclusion that the national chairman must go. They reasoned that this was the only solution to the political logjam in the party. The governors argued that since Tukur became the chairman of the party in 2012, the PDP had not witnessed peace because of his administrative style, which did not go down well with members.
In what could be seen as bowing to pressure on August 13, 2014, Tukur resigned as the chairman of the party,
Adamu Mu’azu (2014-2015)
Mu’azu, a former governor of Bauchi State, assumed office as the PDP national chairman in January 2014. He resigned on May 20, 2015, after leading the party to defeat in the 2015 general elections. It was alleged that he worked for the opposition to achieve victory at the polls. The PDP governors and other stakeholders mounted pressure on Mu’azu, who had no option but to resign.
Uche Secondus (2015)
Secondus was the deputy national chairman of the PDP, but took over the party’s leadership in acting capacity after the resignation of Mu’azu. Although the mandate was for him to run the party for only three months for a substantive chairman to emerge, he, however, remained until he was sacked by an Abuja High Court, which ruled that his tenure had elapsed.
Ali Modu Sheriff (2015-2016)
Senator Sheriff was appointed in February 2016 to complete Mu’azu’s tenure. However, his emergence was faced with serious opposition and crisis considering that his name was not among the nominees sent by the North-East caucus to the party’s national leadership. Just like his predecessor, he was expected to serve for only three months but chose to stay put, a development that plunged the party into more turbulence until an Abuja High Court sacked him.
Ahmed Makarfi (2016-2017)
The ousting of Ali Modu Sheriff as the national chairman plunged the party into more serious crises. The party’s convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on May 21, 2016, appointed the former governor of Kaduna State, Ahmed Makarfi, as the chairman of the national caretaker committee. At the same time, a former Minister of Information, Prof Jerry Gana, held a parallel convention in Abuja a former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, and Prof Tunde Adeniran, were appointed as co-chairmen of the party.
Uche Secondus (2017-2022)
Following the troubled quest to elect leaders after it suffered defeat in the 2015 presidential election, Uche Secondus, a former acting chairman of the party emerged as the PDP national chairman at the national convention held at the Eagles Square in Abuja in December 2017. The election was marred by several claims of irregularities by contenders, which resulted in several court cases.
The leadership crisis deepened with two of Secondus’ deputies laying claim to his seat. The Deputy National Chairman (South), Yemi Akinwonmi, and his counterpart from the North, Sulieman Nazif, had released separate statements quoting sections of the party’s constitution that purportedly gave them the right to take over from Secondus.
In August 2021, a Kebbi State High Court in Birnin Kebbi presided over by Justice Nusirat Umar affirmed Secondus as the national chairman of the party.
Justice O. Gbasam of the Degema Judicial Division vacation court sitting in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, had granted an interim injunction restraining Secondus from parading himself as chairman and member of the PDP. There was a subsequent court order barring him from parading himself as the national chairman. The tenure of the Secondus-led NWC officially ended on December 9, 2021.
The sequential style of removing past chairmen of the party disgracefully since its establishment may have adverse effect on its strength in the forthcoming elections, experts say.
Speaking on the move to remove the current chairman of the party, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Debo Ologunagba, said there was no such plan, insisting that it was only the organ of the party that would be able to remove Ayu if it was necessary.
He said, “There are no plans for any removal; there is no issue on that. The circumstances are not the same. What you are asking me are issues that are speculations. I don’t comment on speculations. Other chairmen that were removed did not have the same fate as Ayu. The people that can remove the chairman are organs of the party. We need to understand how the NEC, the highest organ of the party, works.”
A professor of Political Science, Kamilu Fage, described the situation in the PDP as disastrous, stressing that going into the general elections divided would have adverse effect on its chances in 2023.
He said, “When you start sacking people left, right and centre, I don’t think it will augur well for the party because it will always create an internal crisis for it. If you have such a situation, especially when the campaigns are about to begin, it will also culminate in the election and will cripple their chances at the polls. Democratically, it is wrong; politically, it is disastrous for a political party to go into an election divided.”
A professor of Law, University of Jos, Nnamdi Aduba, said, “They will use you and dump you. Ayu should know that he has served his purpose, and that purpose is for Atiku to get the ticket. His usefulness (to the party) is over and now, if they win, they may find a ministerial position for him or something. His continued stay as the chairman now is unattainable or else the PDP does not mean business.
“Ayu has served his purpose, now is for him to go and he must go willingly or be forced out, and my projection is that he will go unwillingly. But he should be smart enough to know that he has served his purpose.”
Similarly, a professor of Political Science at the Ambrose Ali University, Philip Agbebaku, said, “As far as Nigeria politics is concerned, there are always intrigues; there are always crises and there are always conflicts, which the party should have machinery for resolving. I think it’s better for him to step down.”
Speaking on the situation, the PDP spokesman in Oyo State, Akeem Olatunji, said the call for the sacking of the national chairman was justified.
He said, “Wike is not threatening. What Wike is offering is a suggestion on how to win the election with ease. We have the electorate; the electorate are not party members, but you have to convince the electorate to buy in. We have southerners who will also vote. Wike is not talking about his own person, he’s not talking about the membership of the party, but he is talking about getting things done.
“We are moving beyond partisan relationships, we are moving beyond party affairs. The electorate are also monitoring what is happening in our party. The presidential candidate is from the North, the chairman of the party is from the North, the BOT chairman is from the North, and even the chairman of the governor’s forum is also from the North. So, how do we tell people that we will give them a sense of belonging when we come on board? This is not about Atiku. Atiku has emerged, we have all embraced him. Nobody is going to embark on any anti-party activity. We are all going to work for our party.
Also, the PDP spokesperson in Kwara State, Tunji Moronfoye, said the ongoing crisis would be resolved before the 2023 elections.
He stated, “You need to realise one thing, whenever there is democracy, there is always going to be conflict. Wherever there is no democracy, where somebody will talk and nobody will answer, nobody will be able to challenge the person.
“Whatever you see Wike doing is within his rights. He is going to negotiate and at the end of the day, I can assure you, as there is God and there is night and day, there is going to be a resolution of this issue. All of these show the presence of a vibrant democracy. It’s not a military regime and I will not call it a crisis because this is what you see in a democracy. People will disagree and they will finally agree.
“I don’t think there will be an adverse effect on the party come 2023. We are in the opposition, and in 2023, if there is nothing to win, do you think there will be a fight? At the end of the day, after all these disagreements, they will agree and resolve. The APC decided to have a Muslim-Muslim ticket; has the heaven fallen? You need to prosecute your election in the way you know you are going to win. If it is all northerners that are going to make us win, why not?
“But at this point I know there is going to be a resolution. What that resolution will be, I don’t know, because a lot of you, including me, don’t have the full information. There are a lot of things you and I don’t know that we are just seeing on the surface. So you can be rest assured.”