VANGUARD Newspaper- Jide Ajani

A New Turf battle

The next turf battle will be staged at the National Assembly.
That is where the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is heading with its high wire politics and intrigues in the realignment of political forces in the country.

As the push for the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan engages top gear, the National Assembly is expected to play a strategic role. The role has to do with how to determine the number of delegates that are expected to attend the PDP primaries from where the party’s presidential candidate will emerge.

*Okwesillieze Nwodo, PDP chairman
Whittling down Governors’ Power
Leading the assault on what is generally seen as the massive influence of the government in determining the fate of the party in crucial matters is Jonathan’s Chief of Staff, Mike Ogiadome. The Chief of Staff who has become very powerful in the present administration of Jonathan is said to be constantly playing the role of a hawk in the administration.

At a meeting at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa on Wednesday, July 28, which had in attendance principal handlers of the Jonathan-For-President Project, Ogiadome was said to “have insisted that the only way for a ticket-in-the-bag presidential aspiration for President Jonathan would be to first reduce the powers of state governors”.

The reason for this is that the latest version of the PDP Constitution vests in state governors, enormous delegate muscle.
It is this seeming gubernatorial pre-eminence that Ogiadome seeks to thwart.

This move is understandable; and Ogiadome may be right.
Coming shortly after the Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, meeting of Tuesday, July 27, where 10 northern governors backed the PDP zoning arrangement, the meeting deliberated on the needed numbers at a PDP convention from where a presidential candidate is expected to emerge. After crunching the numbers, it became clear that with 10 northern governors and the seeming hunting ground status that the South West and South East geo-political zones have gained, the definite possibility of a President Jonathan making a clean sweep of delegates at the PDP presidential primary seemed distant.

Therefore, the position of the Chief of Staff to the President, that the overbearing influence of state governors on the convention be substantially whittled made sense.

How To Do It?
One of the ways this would have been made easier is an amendment to the PDP Constitution at its national convention. But Article 12.84 of the PDP Constitution states clearly those who would populate the party’s convention!

Article 12.84 (g) states that “all governors and deputy governors who are members of the party” are automatic delegates. In like manner, the constitution follows this up from Article 12.84 (i) through to Article 12.84 (q) with other category of delegates who, ostensibly, would be at the beck and call of the state governors thus: like 10 state commissioners, 10 special advisers to the state governor who are members of the party, all the members of the state house of assembly who are members of the party, members of the Board of Trustees (who most likely must do his governor’s bidding), all members of the zonal working committee and state party chairmen and secretary, including those of the FCT, all women and youth leaders including those of the FCT, all party chairmen of local government areas, one national delegate elected from the local government congress, all elected local government council chairmen who are members of the party, chairmen of the boards of federal parastatals who are members of the party.

With this long list of delegates at the beck and call of the state governors, they are indeed very powerful.
But an attempt to amend this constitution with a view to whittling the influence of the state governors would require calling an extraordinary convention which will still be composed as stated in Article 12.84 and the state governors would still have the upper hand in determining which amendments are carried and which ones are not.

Dumping that option, the alternative being contemplated is a possible amendment to the Electoral Act which will bring about a regulatory clause for political parties. The clause is to guide the conduct of primaries for the emergence of candidates for elective offices. A certain senator from the eastern flank of the South South geo-political zone and leader in the Senate is the anchor man for the project, in the National Assembly.

However, there is yet another anticipated brick wall.

That brick wall would come in the form and nature of litigations that would trail such an amendment to the Electoral Act.

The litigations would be engendered by other political parties and not even the PDP.

The reason is simple: It is because foisting the problem of the PDP on the statutes of Nigeria would not augur well for other political parties. Just as such an amendment would not be wholly compatible with the letters of spirit of the 1999 Constitution even as amended and, therefore, would not stand.

Zonal Convention?
But the PDP, ever ingenious in its activities, is trying a new arrangement that is not yet on the table. It is the possibility of holding zonal primaries across the zones as is the case in the United States of America where parties hold their congresses in the states and by the time the national convention is held, the presidential candidate is as good as known with the number of delegates won.

But this idea of a zonal convention is said not to be going down well with President Jonathan. The President has his concerns, Sunday Vanguard has learnt. For instance, those who oppose a zonal congress are wondering how President Jonathan would feel in the event that he goes for a North West Zonal congress and loses; or, with the seeming indifference of the South East governors to the on-going debate about zoning, “how would Mr. President feel should he lose at the South east zonal congress”, a dependable Aso Rock source told Sunday Vanguard.

Therefore, at Wednesday’s meeting in Aso Rock, which did not have the benefit of the attendance of the President himself – he was away in Kampala, Uganda, where his plane developed fault and was forced to return late – Sunday Vanguard learnt that the Chief of Staff waxed imperial in his position.

A few of the party leaders in attendance at that meeting at Aso Rock did not “particularly buy into the thinking of the Chief of Staff”, Sunday Vanguard learnt.

Sunday Vanguard was told that “whereas the chief of Staff at a point refused to shift from his position, the near stalemate meeting resolved to wait for the return of President Jonathan from Uganda.

A follow-up meeting was scheduled for the Presidential Villa last Thursday, but Sunday Vanguard could not confirm the details of the appointed meeting or whether it took place at all.

However, what Sunday Vanguard can confirm is that the move to secure for President Jonathan, the presidential ticket of the PDP has engaged the over drive gear.

Sources suggested that the chief mover of the project is the Chief of Staff to the President. Therefore, his rigid position on the possibility of reducing the influence of the state governors should be understandable.

He is the clearing house for all matters concerning the Jonathan-for-President project. Interestingly, however, especially with the one-voice position of the South South geo political zone supporting President Jonathan, and the wisdom of political leaders and strategists like Chief Anthony Anenih and the bullish approach of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and a few others, the battle to secure the ticket for Jonathan would be very, very interesting.

Options for Jonathan
Yet, there are some observers who believe that judging from history, the best option open to President Jonathan may be one that is no option for the movers of his aspiration: Not to contest at all.

Those insisting that Jonathan should not bother contesting are not even in the group of the Northern Political Leaders Forum. They insist on this position and make ready reference to the first handover of Olusegun Obasanjo in 1979 and the handover of General Abdulsalami Abubakar in 1999.

Their position is that in the event that President Jonathan rises above the urge to seek the presidency next year, he would present himself to the world as a statesman who is interested in and committed to the unity and success of his country and not one sectional agenda. Once General Obasanjo handed over in 1979, he became a global super star on account of his action at a time when other African heads of state chose to rule for ever.

In 1999 when Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over to Obasanjo after just about 11 months as head of state, even the United Nations recognised his deed and promptly began sending him around the globe as an envoy.

After the shambolism that was the Obasanjo transition on 2007, a transition which followed a failed attempt to elongate his tenure, Obasanjo lost face among the international community and soon was reduced to a local champion, one content to struggle for power within his party.

For President Jonathan, he has a bounding duty to present to Nigerians free, fair and credible elections next year.

Shehu Musa Yar’Adua shocked them all. In fact he walked out on them.
The face of politics in Nigeria was to change in 1988 at a meeting held in Kaduna. The northern political leaders were bracing-up for the resumption of political activities preparatory to Ibrahim Babangida’s transition programme. A few fat cats sat together and, typically, were going to decide how to play the game, by which rule, by whom and for whom? It was that meeting that Yar’Adua was invited to. But rather than flow with them, he questioned the audacity of the gathering and why politics should continue to be played with the same mentality.

He also questioned the authority upon which the leaders operated as leaders of the north. In fact, Yar’Adua asked who made them leaders of the north, and also wondered why politics should continue along ethno-religious, nay geo-political lines.

Done with his presentation, he picked his file jacket and stormed out. Following quickly on his heels was his budding political associate, Atiku Abubakar. Yar’Adua reportedly held a parallel meeting at the Isa Kontagora House, Kaduna, later on where he laid a grand plan for a quasi pan-Nigeria politics.

From that moment, Yar’Adua formed Peoples Front of Nigeria, PF. But when Babangida banned all the political associations vying for the presidency in 1992, PF was collapsed into the Social Democratic Party, SDP, with another face which evolved to become known as Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM. In 1998, when the need for political reconfiguration on the national front arose occasioned by the Abdulsalami Abubakar transition programme, the PDM machine moved into what is today known as the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Today, pundits are observing the shifting tectonic plates of Nigeria’s political topography.
It was that 1988 meeting in Kaduna which sounded the death knell for the northern establishment, creating a sense of new awareness in Nigeria that age-long paradigms could actually shift. That same shift brought about the election of an MKO Abiola in 1993 as president, running on a Muslim/Muslim ticket with Babagana Kingibe on the platform of the SDP.

The once formidable shot-calling northern establishment as we know it is facing a stiff challenge from a plethora of fronts, thereby causing major shifts in alliances, engendering fresh political alignments across the field. All these because of next year’s presidential elections and the possibility of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan seeking re-election!

Between a massive dose of naivety and arrogance spiced with an uncommon belief in disputable numbers, the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum, NPLF, is pushing its case for zoning, an internal arrangement of the PDP – the arrangement allowed Olusegun Obasanjo from the south of Nigeria to have eight years as President, on the understanding that the north would have another eight years, commencing with the emergence in 2007 of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Jonathan.

It is the untimely death of President Yar’Adua which paved the way for Jonathan to emerge as President last May.
Faced with a legitimate choice of pushing Jonathan to seek re-election on the one hand, and the clamour from the NPLF and some other politicians that the zoning arrangement in PDP should be honoured, political activities in all the geo-political zones is at a frenetic pace, even though President Jonathan has not made his position known whether he would contest or not.


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