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The Race for PDP’s Big Chair

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 It is likely that the next national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, will emerge through a consensus arrangement despite the opposition of some candidates to it

A consensus candidate is likely to emerge as national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on March 24, in Abuja. The candidate will be chosen from a long list of aspirants from the North East zone of Nigeria, during the party’s national convention scheduled to hold at Eagles Square, in the Central Business District of Abuja.

The position has been vacant since January 2011 when Okwesilieze Nwodo, was forced to resign following opposition to his continued stay in office by PDP governors from the South-East, where he hails from. Bello H. Mohammed, the party’s deputy national chairman, took over in acting capacity until his appointment as minister of defence, last year by President Goodluck Jonathan. He was replaced by Abubakar Kawu Baraje from Kwara State who is not contesting because the post was not zoned to the North-Central geo-political zone where he comes from.

 Rufai Ahmed Alkali, PDP’s national publicity secretary, told Newswatch last week, that the party would opt for a consensus candidate to avoid having a post -election crisis. “One of the concerns of PDP is what happens after an election of that magnitude. There is usually acrimony and some who lose the election go for revenge by fighting back and at times engaging in sabotage of the party. It is also cost effective. We once had 27 candidates at a time the chairmanship post was zoned to the South-East. That would have meant using 27 ballot boxes at the convention. A consensus will erase all these problems.”

In preparation for the convention, more than five contenders had already made their ambition public as at last week. The aspirants for the post of national chairman include,  Bamanga Tukur, former top member of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in Nigeria’s Second Republic. Aged 77, Tukur, who hails from Adamawa State, is presently president of the African Business Round Table and chairman of New Partnership for African Development.

 Alkali, the party’s national publicity secretary and  Adamu Muazu, former governor of Bauchi  State, have also indicated interest in  the choice post.  Shettima Mustafa, a former minister of agriculture and Abba Aji, former special adviser to the president on National Assembly Matters are also in the race.

Also in the race are Gambo Lawan, leader of the Grassroots Democratic Party during the regime of the late General Sani Abacha and Shehu Brima, a leading politician from the North-East zone.  As at press time last week, all the contestants were reported to have paid the mandatory one million Naira fee to the PDP headquarters, to collect form for the contest.

The total number of aspirants who will slug it out at the convention, for the various elective positions has, however, not yet been known by press time on Thursday last week.  Indeed, some new entrants were still being recorded, as at last week.

But Newswatch learnt that President Goodluck Jonathan was under pressure to back either Tukur or Alkali as consensus candidate. Stakeholders who   are promoting Tukur’s candidacy were said to include Ibrahim Mantu, former deputy senate president, Jerry Gana, former minister of information, and Ike Ekweremadu, deputy senate president. The three politicians were also said to have worked hard and secured the support of Edwin Clark, an Ijaw leader and elder statesman to endorse the candidacy of Turkur.

In presenting Turkur for general acceptance, his supporters were said to have pointed out that he strongly stood out in support of Jonathan when it mattered most. That was when the president was contesting for the party’s presidential ticket. Turkur is also being presented as a global personality whose links in the private sector will help promote the President’s transformation agenda.

But old age may be a draw back for him. His critics say that at his official age of 77, Tukur does not have the stamina to meet the rigours of managing a ruling party whose ambition is to remain in power, and remain the biggest party in Africa.

Habu Fari, director-general of Bamanga Tukur Campaign Organisation, believes, however, that Tukur’s age is an advantage. Fari said, while collecting form at PDP headquarters on behalf of his principal, two weeks ago, that Tukur has all it takes to lead PDP at this crucial time. He described Tukur’s age as an advantage and balance to the new generation represented by President Jonathan.

Alkali and Muazu were also said to be enjoying good mention at the presidency. While supporters of Alkali were said to have pointed out that his performance and experience as national publicity secretary will assist in rebuilding the party, those of Muazu point out that he is the only ex-governor in the race. As ex-governor, the thinking is that all former and present governors, including Jonathan who was an ex-governor of Bayelsa State, would see him as one of theirs.

One hurdles which any candidate backed by Aso Rock may face soon after will be the endorsement of governors from PDP controlled states. The governors presently constitute a formidable force which no contender can ignore.

In preparation to making impact in the choice of the next national chairman of the party, the governors’ were reported to have already set up a five-member committee to assess the aspirants for the post of national chairman. Newswatch gathered that the committee comprises members from five geo-political zones.

Members of the committee are Chibuike Amaechi  of Rivers State from South-South,  Jonah Jang of Plateau State ,North-Central,  Suntai Danbaba of Taraba State ,North-East,  Sule Lamido of Jigawa State ,North-West, and  Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State, South-East.

The committee, it was gathered, was saddled with the responsibility of scrutinising all the national chairmanship aspirants and present a report to the governors for consideration and possible adoption. The committee was expected also to liaise with the President’s men, to ensure cordiality and general acceptability.

It was not clear if the consensus arrangement would work for other positions to be filled at the convention. The other positions include national secretary, zoned to the South-West, national publicity secretary zoned to the South-East, deputy national chairman zoned to the South-South, national organising secretary zoned to the North West and national legal adviser as well as national youth leader zoned to North Central.

The major contenders for the post of national secretary are Olusola Oke, present national legal adviser of the party, Ebenezer Babatope, former publicity secretary of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, and Tunde Adeniran, a professor of political science and former minister of education.

For the post of national publicity secretary, Chyna Iwuanyanwu, from Imo State is slugging it out with Olisa Metu and Okey Muo Aro, both  from Anambra State while the post of national youth leader zoned to North Central is being contested for by Solomon Bamola Gowin, from Kogi State, Adeyemi Olabode and Amade Edime.


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