Politics

Convention: How PDP governors dared military powerhouse

For the first time since the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), exmilitary officers failed to have their preferred candidates emerge at the party’s national convention. ONYEKACHI EZE examines what went down

 

Prior to the October 30 and 31 national convention of the PDP, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former military president, Gen, Ibrahim Babangida(rtd), former Minister of Defence, Gen Aliyu Gusau(rtd) and Gen Aliyu Akilu, held secret meeting at the Hilltop Minna, Niger State residence of Babangida.

 

These are all retired military officers, who even though no longer active in politics still control what happens at the political scene.

 

The meeting became part of activities marking Babangida’s 80th birthday on August 17. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had scheduled its National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting that same week, to constitute committee for the convention. A source described the meeting as, “not ordinary that they barred you guys (journalists) from entering the house.

 

They know what they want to do; you media men are a distraction for them to freely discuss.

 

“As you can see, it was not only the media; even some close associates of IBB in Minna were not allowed inside. The birthday just afforded the big men an opportunity to talk.”

 

Even before the PDP scheduled its elective national convention, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola was already being addressed as the party’s National Chairman. He attended every meeting of the PDP Governors’ Forum, even though he is not one of them. Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, was marketing him to the governors to be the next PDP Chairman.

 

Oyinlola, a former civilian governor of Osun State, and also former military governor of Lagos State, left the African Democratic Congress (ADC) about two years ago because he was promised he would be made PDP national chairman in 2021. He was national secretary of the party but was removed in 2013, about two years to the end of his tenure.

 

Obasanjo and Senator David Mark, who was President of the Senate at that time, assured Goodluck Jonathan, the president then and other PDP leaders that Oyinlola would be of good behaviour, if reinstated as national secretary.

 

But he was not. It was believed that this was one of the reasons Obasanjo left PDP and supervised the tearing of his membership card. Obasanjo, a general in the army, ruled Nigeria between 1976 and 1979, while Mark, a brigadier-general, was former military governor of Niger State.

 

Oyinlola joined the All Progressives Congress (APC), and when Obasanjo threw his weight behind ADC, he joined the party and later became national coordinator of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), formed by other opposition parties in 2017 in attempt to defeat the APC in 2019.

 

A week before the PDP zoning committee headed by Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, came out with its recommendation, Oyinlola’s posters surfaced at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja. He boasted that he has the strength and capacity to be PDP National Chairman, even though he was being blackmailed for leaving the party.

 

“I did not leave PDP. I was pushed out of PDP,” he defended. The report of the zoning committee, which zoned the national chairmanship position to the north was a big blow to Oyinlola’s ambition. Nonetheless, he decided to settle for Deputy National Chairman (South).

 

But instead of Makinde giving him the needed support as he promised, since the position was micro-zoned to Osun State, the governor told Ambassador Taofeek Arapaja, Vice Chairman (South-West), who is from Oyo State, to pick the nomination form.

 

The governor might have foreseen that former National Secretary, Prof. Wale Oladipo, who is also from Osun State and who had filed nomination for Deputy National Chairman (South), would be disqualified, and Oyinlola would become sole candidate.

 

The former governor later lost to Arapaja by 705 votes to 2004, at the convention. A source said: “Election is the most important thing the governors had to deliver Arapaja, not just for Governor Makinde, but to send a message to those old power brokers in the party. “Oyinola is an ally of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo and he is a former governor.

 

Who is going to control him?” David Mark was the last card former military officers had, after Oyinlola was edged out of the national chairmanship race, for them to continue to remain relevant in PDP. He looked good to clinch the position after it was micro-zoned to North-Central.

But former President of the Senate, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, was dusted from political retirement and adopted as consensus northern candidate.

The manner Mark was shut out looked more of an ethnic rivalry between the Tiv and Idoma people of    Benue State. But it was orchestrated by the PDP governors to blackout former military officers from political relevance. Nigeria’s former military officers, since 1999, had been dictating affairs in PDP even after the party lost power in 2015.

 

They were the ones that drafted Obasanjo to the presidential race in 1998, shortly after his release from prison. Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chairman of the G-34 of eminent Nigerian politicians, who confronted late military dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha, on his planned transmutation to civilian president in 1998, looked set to becoming the PDP’s presidential ticket, when Obasanjo came into the scene.

 

Senator Ahmadu Alli, a retired military officer, was also PDP’s National Chairman between 2005 and 2008. The governors believed that former military officers will be too independent minded to be controlled. When Obasanjo was president, no one dared to challenge him.

This scenario is now playing out under President Muhammadu Buhari, who is also a retired military officer, even though he is of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

 

A research by Henrik Angerbrandt and Anders Themñer on ex-military rulership in Nigeria politics, showed that “ex-military-turned-presidents place themselves above politics – a mode of governance that systematically undermines democratic institu tions by not subjecting oneself to democratic procedures. “This implies that ex-military leaders act and express themselves in a manner that equates the presidency with a general’s position in the army.

 

“Rather than following due process and adhering to the separation of powers, decisions are taken without consultation and institutions are expected to follow the position of the president.” Obasanjo had many frictions with the National Assembly even though his party had majority members in both Chambers.

 

He often referred National Assembly members as “legislooters” and “boys” having “power without knowledge or experience”. He told his appointees:

 

“To me, there is no 99 per cent loyalty. It has to be total. If you cannot give total loyalty, then you should look for another job. You have heard of something they call military loyalty. If that means total, then there is no other thing except military loyalty.”

 

This is probably what the PDP governors, who have positioned themselves to takeover the party ahead the 2023 presidential election want to avoid. But the stronghold of the governors on the party is seen as a threat.

 

Dr Obianuju Ogoko, convener, PDP Youth Coalition and Ambassadors of Good Governance, stated that, “the new trend where our esteemed governors are seen to take over the affairs of party organs, party administration and all party decision-making processes, is rooted in autocracy and does not portray an example of the PDP of our dreams.

 

“We wish to inform our governors that whilst they have refused to heed to all reason and overtures for peace and reconciliation as expected of an indivisible family, we are left with no option than to send this public message. “We state categorically that the recent stranglehold on our dear party which is currently in opposition, by governors will only spell doom and lead to a mass exodus of members who have come to erroneously believe that PDP has been hijacked by a few governors.”

 

The presidential primary for the election of the party’s 2023 flag bearer will be another test ground between the governors and other party stakeholders. This time, the battle field would be widened to include ex-military officers, former governors and founding fathers of the party. How this plays out will determine the future of the PDP.

 

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