These must be trying times for Chief Audu Innocent Ogbeh, until recently, the chairman of the People's Democratic Party (PDP).
These must be trying times for Chief Audu Innocent Ogbeh, until recently, the chairman of the People's Democratic Party (PDP). Given the manner in which Ogbeh was hounded out of the ruling party, his current travails are scarcely a surprise to me. For the never-forgiving PDP apparatchiks, Ogbeh's persecution is yet to run its full course. For daring to speak truth to power, the Idoma-born politician has been visited with all manner of harassment, including being put under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which like its cousin, the ICPC, is fast being turned into a scare-crow against perceived enemies of President Obasanjo.
Ogbeh's offence, as far as his traducers are concerned, is that he caused the leader of the party and president of the country embarrassment by pointing out to him the possible consequences of government's criminal complicity in the Anambra political crisis. But for the more than casual interest of the media in his troubles with the party, Ogbeh would have got into bigger troubles. Didn't someone after all describe the PDP as a nest of killers?
Just last week Ogheh cried out against what he described as a threat to his life by people apparently still hunting him for his presumed crime against the ruling party. He said a gang whose motive leaves little to the imagination, visited his Abuja residence twice in one day while he was away to Benue, his home state, for the burial of Senator Adagba. The unsettling thing about the visits was that on each occasion the visitors seemed desperate to meet with the former PDP chairman. Ogheh confessed that he was worried and that he had written to both the president and the acting inspector- general of police. None, he said, had replied to his letter.
However, responding to Ogheh's allegation, the PDP treated it as though it couldn't be true. Statements by the party's publicity secretary, Mr John Odey, tended to give the impression that Ogheh was engaged in mere theatricals. But I see no basis for such presumption. Enough PDP members have disappeared in murky circumstances in the past six years to warrant Ogheh's alarm being accorded the seriousness it deserves. Those who would rather dismiss it as wolf-crying had better think again. One hopes the Nigeria police thinks differently and would respond appropriately.
Ogbeh's present travails raise one important question about the politics of PDP. How come a party founded by a broad-based coalition of interests has become the private platform of a handful of individuals who consider those with dissenting views as mortal enemies only fit for liquidation. Yet, in a paradoxical way, the blood hounds in the PDP became so powerful only because people like Audu Ogbeh who chaired the party for three years allowed things to go that way. He may plead that he frequently spoke out against the buccaneers. But he never rose beyond that. Instead, he was fond of portraying those who took exception to the reprehensible style of the party, as coup fomentors or as people seeking to upstage the PDP ( as though that is not part of what democracy is all about ).
It was Ogbeh who first peddled the fallacy that Dr. Alex Ekwueme, by going to court to challenge the conduct of the PDP presidential primaries in 2003, was paving the way for military seizure of power. Astonishingly, some of those who should have dismissed that view as a mere blackmail supported it for parochial reasons. The implication of Ogbeh's reasoning is that recourse to the court of law is not part of the democratic process. One unintended effect of that is the ready resort to brigandage by members of the PDP in resolving political differences. If recourse to the judicial process was discouraged by the party leadership , how could anybody be surprised about the flagrant recourse to arm-twisting and outright political banditry so rife in the country today.
Coincidentally, it was that excessive phobia for military intervention that ultimately made Ogbeh to fall out with his political benefactors. But it was not until he wrote the president last year about the possibility of the party's and the presidency's actions setting off another coup d'état, that the PDP began to see Ogbeh as a schizophrenic, to use the harsh language of one PDP critic. The rest is history.
Before he was deposed, Ogbeh went through the motion of trying to reform the PDP but in the end not much came out of it. Nor was I surprised. Those who seemed loudest in asking for reforms were the greatest beneficiaries of the mess in the party. If the reforms were successfully carried out, the undue advantage they enjoyed would cease. This is fundamental to understanding the seeming inability of the PDP to redeem itself. For quite a few influential members, only by remaining the way it is would the party offer them any thing meaningful. Ogbeh's reform panel was therefore dead on arrival. If it was meant to democratise the party and instill discipline among members, it was obvious from start that it could achieve neither of the twin-objective. Thus, Ogbeh left the chairmanship of the party with that dream unrealised.
Things have become even messier in the PDP since Ogbeh left. The new chairman, Ahmadu Ali, is a self-confessed side-kick of Mr president who likes to have his way in all things. Not even the presence of a seemingly credible character like Ojo Maduekwe may make any serious difference. The truth is that when the chips are down even the new secretary of the party cannot stand up to the antics of the president.
I do not expect that the current PDP leadership would be too concerned about what happens to the party's former chairman. Those who are out to do harm to Ogbeh probably realise this. Like Ngige, Ogbeh is a political orphan and what ever befalls him couldn't be of great interest to a party that sees him as a saboteur. When the party's national publicity secretary, Mr Odey says that the PDP cares about what happens to its present and past leaders, it is obvious that he is merely trying do well a job he is paid for. I have no problem with that except that leaders of "great" parties do not get humiliated out of office the way Ogbeh was, for simply calling attention to political land mines.
Nonetheless, the group-think that the ouster of Ogbeh was supposed to foster in the PDP will become even harder to enforce as the next general election approaches. Various tendencies are emerging that will be ready to battle with the party czars who may want to foist candidates on members as was the case in 2003. I do not see the prospects of unquestioning loyalty to the party leadership in the run-up to the next elections. It is indeed not unlikely that the sort of violence that marked the 2003 election would re-occur unless the parties adopt more transparent and credible ways of choosing their candidates.
Eliminating those considered to constitute serious threat to plans of manipulating the nominations may not be ruled out. But what that would mean is that the ruling party may be putting the nation on the road to anarchy.
For people like Ogbeh, eternal vigilance should be the watch word. That, sadly, is the price to pay for having presided over a party where scruples count for little.
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