By Raymond Oise-Oghaede
It is no longer news that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been caught up in crisis following the outcome of the presidential primaries which produced H.E. Atiku Abubakar as the candidate. The genesis of the problem could be hinged on the allegation of imbalance in the composition of the leadership positions in favour of the North against the South. This cause of action is spearheaded by H.E. Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers state with the support of four other governors and some prominent leaders of the party. Consequently, they have called for and are still insisting that the chairman of the party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu (from the North) must resign for a southerner to take his position. These proponents are relying on an alleged promise made by Ayu before the exercise that he will relinquish the position should a northern candidate emerges from the process. After the emergence of Atiku, the chairman was called upon to honour his words; but, he has failed to do so. As such, Wike and his allies comprising of H.E. Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue state; H.E. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia; H.E. Seyi Makinde of Oyo; H.E. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu; H.E. Donald Duke, former governor of Cross Rivers; H.E. Olusegun Mimiko, former governor of Ondo; H.E. Jonah Jang, former governor of Plateau; and, Prof. Jerry Gana to mention but a few have excused themselves from having anything to do with the presidential campaign until the needful is done. Their adamancy has caused serious concern in the party and efforts are ongoing to see how best they could resolve it.
Though, the crisis is an internal party issue; and, I do not have a problem with leaving it at that; but, this review is informed by the statement made by the chairman on Monday 10th instant during kick off of the party’s presidential campaign in Uyo that “Nigerians are not interested in the crisis going on in the PDP……..”. In as much as I am well convinced that this is a harmless remark for political expediency; I am equally of the opinion that the crux of the ongoing crisis in the party is very sensitive and should be of serious concern/interest to all well meaning Nigerians for the following reasons;
1. The allegation of imbalance in the composition of key positions in favour of the north against the south is extremely weighty; and, capable of pushing us back to the era of politics of north-south dichotomy with grave consequences.
2. The PDP is presently the main opposition party to check on the activities of the government towards encouraging competitiveness and effectiveness of governance as applicable in all modern democracies of the world.
3. There is need to quickly find amicable resolution to the imbroglio to forestalling same from degenerating or escalating into a major crisis because of the party’s national outlook which would make it very easy for crisis within the party to spread across the nook and cranny of the country; and,
4. The party, like others, will provide the electorates with options to make their desired choice of candidates at the polls.
Consequent upon the aforementioned, it is very pertinent for every well meaning Nigerian to be interested in the matter because of what it portends if not properly tackled. Therefore, with all due respect to Mr. Chairman Sir, you will agree with me that it should rather be a thing of great concern to you and other leaders/members if Nigerians are not interested in the crisis going on in your party; thus, we are very much interested; and, we are calling for amicable and urgent resolution of same.
In my two recent articles titled “THE DELICATE ETHNO-RELIGIOUS ROAD TO 2023” and “LEARNING TO WALK AGAIN INDEPENDENTLY AT 62”, I delved on issues bordering on ethno-religious factors in the country’s political arena; such as, the alleged jettisoning of zoning arrangement in the PDP; the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket; the call for Senator Ayu’s resignation; and, the tribal and religious tendencies of the third force movements. These cases were looked into from non-partisan perspectives by outlining the inherent dangers and discouraging the people from allowing the facts in issues to pushing us back to the unpleasant situations of the bygone days. Flowing from the aforesaid, I (as an interested Nigerian) would want to crave the indulgence of the leadership of the party to come to equity with clean hands to considering this unique review with the aim of finding workable and lasting solutions to the imbroglio.
The issue of zoning arrangement or understanding which is the foundation of the problem could be addressed from both legal and political angles. Looking at it from the legal aspect, the party has not contravened any known law or rules in the process that led to the candidacy of H.E. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the flag bearer. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended); the newly promulgated Electoral Act, 2022; and, the Constitution of the PDP did not make any provision for zoning of the office of the president. If this is anything to go by, it means that there is nothing wrong for any eligible person from any part of the country to contest and emerge as the candidate of the party. From the political perspective, the party also made spirited efforts towards ensuring that no particular region or zone was unjustly treated by the setting up of a committee to deliberate on the issue of zoning before the primaries. It was this committee that threw the context open for every region/zone to vie for the position (even though anything contrary would have been inconsistent with the subsisting law); and, by so doing gave further credence to the right of every eligible individual to contest regardless of his region or zone of origin. Thus, the thoroughness of the selection process adopted by the party is very germane; and, this could be said to be in order.
On the issues pertaining to the chairmanship position; the party did not also breached any known law in the process that produced Senator Iyorchia Ayu as its chairman. Thus, the call for him to resign because he is from the same northern zone with Atiku cannot hold water in the face of the law; since, the subsisting legal framework guiding the process did not preclude any one zone from holding the positions of presidential candidate and chairmanship of the party simultaneously. In the same vein, the allegation of his biasedness during the primaries which was fueled by the mere statement credited to him where he addressed H.E. Aminu Tambuwal, governor of Sokoto state (who earlier stepped down from the contest and urged his supporters to vote for Atiku) as the “Hero of the Convention” would have to be proven on a balance of probabilities by the plaintiffs (the proponents) before a court of competent jurisdiction; and, this is perhaps, the reason why seeking judicial relief was not activated by them. Another point that Ayu gave his words that he will relinquish the position of chairman should a northerner emerges from the primaries; and, the promise Atiku gave to Wike that he will ensure that Ayu is removed will also fall like pack of cards before the law. However, when the issues are weighed from political or partisan point of view, there is no gainsaying the fact that the Wike’s group has a crucial point for the thoughtfulness of the leaders of the party. The first area of cruciality is their call for balanced representation at the helm of affairs of the party (though, the imbalance was not illegal). To this, the North has conceded the position of the chairman of the Board of Trustees and a Southerner in the person of Senator Adolphus Wabara has taken over in acting capacity; but, the aggrieved parties are still insisting that Ayu must give way for somebody from the south.
At this juncture, it is very important to mention that electioneering is a game of numbers; and, it is very paramount to hold on to the numbers that you have as tightly as possible, especially at a crucial time close to a major election. Members of the Wike’s group are too important to be pushed aside at this critical time; and, as such, there is need for both sides to make vital sacrifices through effective negotiation towards achieving a WIN-WIN situation. The use of threats or imperious style of seeking redress is uncalled for and should not be encouraged in order not to send wrong signals to the outside world. At this time and age where the most civilized and potent means of achieving conflict resolutions are through negotiations, mediation, conciliation and arbitration; it is very worrisome that this issue is taking a demeaning dimension. A lot of people are trivializing the matter because it is happening within the PDP; but, the fact is that, if care is not taken, it could go out of hand; because, if the dissenting group should align with any of the southern candidates, the northerners will see it as a direct affront against the north; and, before you say jack, the electorates will be divided into the north against the south. Gradually, it will come to a time when governors and national assembly members will be ganging up and revolting against the government at the centre and leadership of the national assembly on ethnic or zonal basis on issues that should ordinarily be resolved within the ambit of the law. One may wonder how this could happen in the face of the law; but, the answer is that, the present crisis that has taken this strange dimension is also happening in the face of the PDP’s constitution. The party is in a dilemma because elections are very close; and, it will be unwise to take disciplinary actions against these members; but, the fact remains that the issue is not being handled properly. The confrontation the federal government is presently facing on the issue of procurement of automatic weapons for members of local vigilante group is a typical example of what we are saying.
From the foregoing, it is therefore not an exaggeration to say that all the exchanges of derogatory or demeaning statements/remarks going around all over the media are and the flying from one country to another in the name of holding crucial meetings are disappointingly unnecessary. They can only worsen the situation rather than helping the cause of action. As I said earlier, this review is not meant to take sides but to say it as it is because the larger picture is more delicate than what is presently playing out. Whether it is pleasant to mention it or not; the fact remains that all the frontline candidates are already playing ethnic and religious cards; and, the PDP crisis can compound the situation in the coming weeks/months without proper handling. Therefore, it is my considered opinion that all parties should embark on principled negotiation to arriving at a WIN-WIN position. Under this arrangement, supercilious mindset(s) are prohibited because parties should be prepared to make sacrifice(s). Whether the individuals involved like it or not; the fact remains that Nigeria’s democracy will still survive without them or their party. The NPC, NCNC, AG, NPN, UPN, NPP, PRP, GNPP, SDP and NRC to mention but a few, were once vibrant political parties in Nigeria; and, most of them have either being proscribed or transformed to new parties; but, our democracy still survives despite the numerous military interventions. In the present circumstance, Ayu is backed by the law to hold unto his position as chairman; but, there is nothing also stopping him from stepping aside or resigning for political expediency, if doing so will lead to or guarantee the overall objective(s) of the party in the coming elections. However, any action to be taken in the cause of settlement must be weighed pari passu with the legal/constitutional implications in order not to push the party into a precarious position where all actions taken will come back to hurt it.
As a result of the aforesaid, I will recommend that the party’s team of legal luminaries should be drafted into the committee already set up to find amicable resolutions to the matter (the committee should be enlarged to also include all the governors and members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the party). This is necessary because there is need to look into what the laws say concerning the resignation and replacement of the chairman of the party. In this case, can the party replace the chairman without going through the process of a convention?; can the party replace the chairman with somebody from a different zone or region in the event of resignation?; is the time frame to effect this change still feasible considering the tight schedule for campaigns and other crucial engagements?; and, what other arrangements can be put in place in the case of infeasibility to satisfying the legal requirements to effecting the proposed change (this is very crucial in view of the uncertainty posed by the recent Federal High Court judgment nullifying the nomination of H.E. governot Isiaka Oyetola as the candidate of the APC in the last gubernatorial election in Osun state as a result of the alleged illegality of the actions taken by the then Caretaker Chairman of the party).
If the laws permit, Ayu can take the position of chairman of the Board of Trustees while another person from the south is elected to take his place as the chairman of the party. However, if this process of resignation and change is not supported by the law; then, the Wike’s team should also be prepared to concede and respect the status quo based on concrete plans on paper (writing) for an all inclusive and balanced composition as soon as practicable (most probably after the elections). The sacrifice made by Atiku himself during the 1993 SDP convention in Jos should serve as a very crucial reference point to buttressing the fact that the people should also make sacrifices or concessions for the overall interest of the party.
Meanwhile, the chairman as the leader and father of the party should tender unreserved apology to all members for any unwarranted action or statements that must have been made inadvertently or intentionally before, during and after the primaries. Also, Alhaji Atiku should personally apologize to Wike and members of the committee set up to profile and recommend a vice presidential candidate (if feelers that leaked into the media that the committee actually recommended Wike; but Atiku opted for H.E. Ifeanyi Okowa is anything to go by). I am of the strong opinion that, if Atiku had confided and explained the rationale for not going by the recommendation of the committee to Wike before going public with the choice of Okowa, things would not have been as bad as they currently are. Wike and his allies are now of the strong conviction that they need better assurances before they can give their commitments (in view of the failed promise of Ayu and the action taken by Atiku which are now seen as warning signals). When all these have been accomplished, it is only those that have skeleton in their cupboard or that have made up their mind to destroy the party that will refuse to shift their grounds for settlement.
Once again, it is very important to put it on record that this write up is my humble response to the statement made by the chairman of the party, Senator Iyorchia Ayu during the flag off of the presidential campaign in Uyo, that “Nigerians are not interested in the crisis going on in the party”. Though, I am not a card carrying member of the PDP or any other party for that matter; but, the facts in issue of the imbroglio is very delicate and capable of snowballing into a humongous problem in the country if not handled with care. Therefore, every committed and well meaning Nigerian will not shy away from showing concern; and, that is the reason why I took it upon myself to show that we are indeed interested in the crisis.
Please, TAKE NOTICE that this review is WITHOUT PREJUDICE to anyone or group.
Raymond Oise-Oghaede writes in from Suru-lere, Lagos; and, he can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.