From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
For the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP), it is becoming a case of one week, one trouble. In the run-up to the 2023 general elections, top party chieftains are locked in a titanic battle over the control of the party’s structure.
In the immediate, the gladiators have their gaze on the PDP national convention, where a new set of leaders would be elected. For leaders and members of the opposition party, the convention will signal the beginning of politicking for party tickets in the 2023 general elections.
The members of the National Working Committee ( NWC) that will emerge from the convention will among other functions, preside over the nomination of the party’s candidates for the 2023 polls.
However, the tussle for supremacy, which has put the PDP on the edge in the past one month, assumed a new twist last Monday, as a Degema High Court, issued an interim injunction, restraining the national chairman, Uche Secondus from functioning as the leader of the opposition party, pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The crisis blew open three weeks ago, when the major crack in the NWC became obvious. The national youth leader, Sunday Ude-Okoye, at a press briefing, at the PDP national secretariat, in Abuja, called for the resignation of Secondus as national chairman.
Few days later, six NWC members including, Ude-Okoye, the PDP national deputy chairman( North), Senator Suleiman Nazif; national vice chairman, South East, Ali Odefa; national vice chairman, South South, Chief Dan Orbih; national vice chairman, South West, Ambassador Taofeek Alapaja in a communique called for the resignation of the national chairman over the alleged poor management of party affairs.
Nevertheless, Secondus, who attributed the moves to oust him to politicians desperate to hijack the party, said he would not resign.
Amidst rising tension, PDP leaders and elders waded in to save the opposition party from implosion. After a meeting of party stakeholders, including PDP governors, members of the Board of Trustees (BoT), members of the National Assembly amongst others a fortnight ago, it was resolved that the party’s convention, earlier scheduled for December, when the life span of the current NWC will elapse, should now hold in October.
It was also resolved that the national chairman should convene a meeting of National Executive Committee(NEC) meeting last week, to set up convention and zoning committees. NEC is the second highest organ of the party, next only to the convention.
In the aftermath of the peace deal, there have been alignments and realignments within the opposition party as the various groups seek to consolidate their position ahead of the national convention to elect new officers.
Nevertheless, Daily Sun gathered that NWC at its meeting, last Wednesday, could not agree on convening the NEC immediately, as resolved by the stakeholders, as the schism in the party organ showed up again.
It was gathered that at the meeting, the pro-Secondus members argued that holding a national convention in October would be counterproductive as the party was yet to conduct congresses in nine states and the North West zone.
They posited that having a convention without first concluding the congresses might result to litigation by members from the affected states.
According to them, the NWC should return to the stakeholders and engage them on the likely consequences of holding the convention on October, before convening NEC.
Before the crisis broke out, the party had scheduled congresses for Adamawa, Borno, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Osun and Oyo states for October 16 while appeals from the congresses would be entertained on October 20.
However, on the flip-side, the anti-Secondus group insisted that the NEC meeting must be held immediately, to set machinery in place for a national convention in October.
Nevertheless, pundits say the Degema court order, which has opened a vista in the power tussle in the PDP, has one way or the other complicated things for the opposition party.
In the aftermath of the court order, the deputy national chairman ( South), Elder Yemi Akinwonmi, and Nazif clashed over who should take over the affairs of the opposition party as acting chairman.
Akinwonmi, had in a statement, on Tuesday morning, said he had taken over the affairs of the opposition party, in line with Section 35(3) (b) of the PDP constitution. Consequently, he announced the indefinite suspension of an earlier scheduled meeting of the PDP National Working Committee ( NWC).
“Section 35(3) (b) of the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party empowers me to summon and preside over party meetings in the absence of the national chairman.
“In the foregoing circumstances, as Deputy National Chairman (South) of the Peoples Democratic Party, after the consultations and in exercise of the aforesaid powers, hereby deem it fit and proper to postpone the National Working Committee ( NWC) meeting earlier scheduled for today until further notice to allow for broader consultations in the overall interest of our party,” he stated.
Few hours later, Nazif, at a meeting with some NWC members, at the party secretariat declared himself acting national chairman and immediately summoned a NEC meeting for tomorrow.
According to him, “a court has also ordered that from the 23rd of August 2021, Prince Uche Secondus should stop parading himself as a national chairman. NWC hereby comply fully with the court order.
“We have waited this morning for the deputy national chairman (South), who has been incapacitated, who has not been attending NWC meeting in the last 9 months.
“Like you know, in the absence of the deputy chairman (South) I take full charge, so I am hereby calling for an emergency NEC meeting on the 27th August, 2021, 10 am prompt to deliberate.”
Surprisingly, Akinwonmi, appeared at the Wadata Plaza, about three hours after Nazif and his men had left the Secretariat. The party, who was joined by the PDP national secretary, Ibrahim Tsauri, at a meeting with the staff, declared every decision taken by NWC presided over by Nazif, in his absence, null and void.
“ PDP has a good succession order. There is order here. The chairman is followed by the deputy national chairman 1 (South), followed by the deputy national chairman (North).
“Everything conducted here while I was not here is null and void. At the appropriate time, we will call on a meeting of NEC, BoT and we will meet here,” he stated.
Tsauri who was one of those,who attended the NWC meeting presided over by the deputy national chairman(North) earlier in the day, said there was no division in the opposition party.
According to him, “the meeting that was held this afternoon happened because the constitution says if the national vice chairman 1 is not around, the national vice chairman 2 should take over.
“The crisis that brought all this started here; it is here and it will end here. We shall be prepared for NEC and convention. NEC will decide when the convention will hold.”
However, it is not clear whether with the emergence of Akinwonmi, Nazif will continue to lay claim to the position of acting national chairman. It is equally not clear whether the NEC meeting called by the deputy national chairman(North) for Friday would hold.
Analysts say the next few weeks will be crucial to PDP, as its fate in the 2023 general elections will be inexorably tied to how party leaders respond to current developments in the party, especially with regards to sanction against party, as enriched in its constitution.
Section 59(3) of the PDP constitution stipulates that “not withstanding any other provision of this Constitution relating to discipline, no executive committee at any level, expcept the National Executive Committee, shall entertain any question of discipline as may relate or concern a member of the National Executive Committee, President, Vice President, Governors, Deputy Governors, ministers, ambassadors, special advisers or member of any of the legislative houses.”
At the moment, it is not clear what Secondus’ next line of action would be, as battles to vacate the court order against him.
However, there are concerns amongst party stalwarts that the order by the Degema High Court may open a floodgate of litigation in the party, akin to what obtained during the 2016 leadership tussle involving former PDP chairman, Alhaji Ali Modu Sheriff and the party’s national caretaker committee led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi.
Analysts say it is incumbent on the PDP leaders to quickly resolve all the issues in the party if they intend to make progress in the 2023 polls.
Former Bayelsa governor, Senator Seriake Dickson, recently, urged PDP leaders to guard against any crisis in the opposition party in the run-up to the 2023 general elections.
According to him, “with only about a year to the nomination of candidates in the light of the ongoing electoral acts amendments bill, it again does not make sense to push a divisive agenda that the party may not have the time, resources and mechanism to resolve before the nomination processes and primaries which by their nature are divisive…
“Our window of opportunity to take over power in 2023 is fast receding as a result of these self inflicted challenges and the hope that Nigerians have in us as an alternative is fast dimming too unless we pull back from the brinks and do so quickly.”
Pundits say as the gladiators return to the trenches, party members will be looking unto the elders, especially the PDP Governors Forum, to restore order in the opposition party.