By Emeka Alex Duru
Those that describe the Saturday, December 9, National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as a make or mar exercise for the party, may be right. They may also not be wrong in asserting that the outcome of the encounter may go a long way in determining the future of democracy in the country in the years ahead.
At the convention, which holds in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, more than 2,800 delegates would be electing new officers to pilot the affairs of the party. 21 offices will be filled at the occasion.
Going by the efforts and time put in by the leadership of the party in ensuring the success of the convention, members anticipate that it would turn out a successful exercise. For example, the spread of the offices between the North and Southern divides of the country, gives the impression of a radical departure from the culture of impunity that PDP had thrived on in the past.
On Tuesday, September 12, when the PDP listed the offices to be competed for at the convention, it zoned the office of the National Chairman to the South.
Ebonyi State governor and Chairman of the Zoning Committee, Dave Umahi, who made the disclosure, had stated that all the 17 states in the South are free to field candidates for the office.
The office of the National Secretary, he added, was zoned to the North. All the 19 states in the zone are also free to field candidates for the post.
The party would now have Deputy National Chairman (North) and Deputy National Chairman (South).
Aside the National Chairman, other positions zoned to the South include, National Treasurer, National Legal Adviser, National Youth Leader, National Organising Secretary, Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Deputy National Woman Leader, Deputy National Auditor and Deputy National Financial Secretary.
The North would also produce the National Financial Secretary, National Publicity Secretary, National Auditor, National Woman Leader, Deputy National Treasurer, Deputy National Organising Secretary, Deputy National Youth Leader, Deputy National Legal Adviser and Deputy National Secretary, in addition to the National Secretary.
Each of the six geo-political zones is to present a National Vice Chairman who will be included in the party’s National Working Committee (NWC).
On paper, the new zoning arrangement, looks straight, aside observations that the key offices of the national chairman and secretary, should have been ceded to specific geo-political zones.
Make or mar convention
It is however how the leadership, contestants and various interests in the party, work in ensuring a transparent and hitch-free convention, that will signal how far PDP may go in the build-up to 2019 politics.
In particular, the success of the Port Harcourt exercise, will serve as a consolidation of unity that seems to have surged in PDP following the Wednesday, July 12, 2017, Supreme Court verdict which affirmed the caretaker committee, led by former Kaduna State governor, Ahmed Makarfi, as the authentic national leadership of the party.
With the historic judgment, the February 27 pronouncement by the Port Harcourt Division of the Court of Appeal, which had recognised former Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, as national chairman of the party, was set aside.
It also, effectively brought to an end, the 14-month crisis that had polarized the party and had seen some of its members defecting to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) or joining newly registered political parties.
But even as the resolution of the impasse in favour of Makarfi appeared to have brought new life into the PDP, seasoned politicians and informed analysts had argued that what was actually needed to heal the wounds in its fold and put it on a sound footing, was political solution, attained through genuine reconciliation and transparency in the conduct of its affairs.
These are the expectations on the Governor Ifeanyi Okowa-led national convention committee on Saturday.
Haunted by a sordid past
Incidentally, if history and antecedents of PDP activities are to serve as guide in the convention, not much, really, may be attained in meeting the yearnings of the members and the larger public.
In fact, despite its claims of being the largest political party in the continent, with an exciting motto of “power to the people”, PDP has not actually had a good story to tell on internal democracy.
It is this arrogant display of impunity, in terms of imposition of candidates and high handedness by the leadership of the party at various times, that has remained its greatest undoing.
Perhaps, at no other time in the history of the party that this ugly trend appeared to have received a stamp of authority as in the March 24, 2012, National Convention of the party in which major positions were parceled out to favoured candidates of the then President, Goodluck Jonathan in a consensus arrangement that analysts considered highly undemocratic.
In fact, while preparations for the convention peaked, the party hierarchy had sold impressions of a party that had exited from its past that was characterised by intrigues and chicanery.
Even, Jonathan had on occasions made pronouncements that tended to indicate that the party would conduct the exercise in line with standard practice.
Hopes of a reformed party were however dashed when few hours to the convention, words filtered out that Bamanga Tukur, governor of defunct Gongola State, an obvious Aso Rock candidate, had been selected for the job. His position was merely affirmed at the convention ground.
PDP never recovered from that crass error of judgement, when it literally limped into a Special Convention on March 31, at which former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and five governors, then on its platform, walked out of the party. These governors were, Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Abdulfattah Ahmed (Kwara) and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano). They later provided the verve for the formation of APC.
When PDP therefore lost to the APC in the 2015 general elections, it did not come to many as a surprise.
Learning from the past
For a party that has since been ruing its displacement and has vowed to return to power in 2019, the outcome of its Port Harcourt convention, is thus, very significant on how it goes about the tall order.
Success of the exercise, may, perhaps, give hope to its fringe and estrange chieftains in returning to its fold.
Cohesion in PDP also holds promise for deepening democracy, which will in turn, translate to good governance in the land.
Even if it fails to wrest power form the ruling APC in 2019, a strong and united PDP, will provide robust opposition that is seen as a veritable ingredient in democracy.
It is also argued that a transparent outing by the party on Saturday, may awaken the ruling APC that seems merely interested in acquiring power without being prepared for leadership.
Spanner in the works?
But will the PDP rise to the occasion? Not even the staunchest supporters of the party, would stick out their necks on this. In the last couple of weeks for instance, there had been snippets of grievances from members and groups, alleging that the convention had already been compromised to favour some aspirants.
These aggrieved members have vowed not to give in to what they see as discreet return to the opaque tendencies of the party. Some have even threatened holding parallel convention in the event of their suspicion not being adequately addressed.
The fear in many quarters, is that if the creeping disquiet in PDP is not properly handled, the party may return to war against itself. That, it is feared, may signal sudden death for the party that had at its formation in 1998, held out enchanting promise for the nation.
Okowa to the rescue?
Perhaps, gratifying for PDP and its followers, however, may be the assuring note from Okowa and his team that the convention would be peaceful and transparent. As a person and public office holder, the Delta governor has severally displayed attributes of a good crisis manager.
He also rides on sound reputation and public acclaim that he has garnered in his long period of political apprenticeship that spans his days as council chairman, commissioner, secretary to the state government, till his current position. Much is thus, expected of him.
Equally, on a good day, PDP can boast of a remarkable outing. Even with its loss in 2015 elections, the party still has in its fold, a generous spread of the country’s first rate politicians. It also commands a national appeal that the APC is yet to match. These are considerations that may come handy as the delegates file out to elect the party’s officials on Saturday. But that depends on how they interpret the task before them by voting according to their conscience for the interest of the party rather than being bought over by so-called godfathers and money-bags that masquerade as major stake-holders of the party.