BY AYORINDE OLUOKUN & DESMOND UTOMWEN/Abuja
Internecine feuds currently rocking the Peoples Democratic Party predispose it to an implosion
Even out of office as president and chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, BoT, former president Olusegun Obasanjo keeps his eyes on Wadata House, Abuja, the building that houses the national secretariat of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. His influence on party affairs remains considerable, a legacy of his eight-year presidency, during which he was an absolute monarch of the party. And despite the impact of his absolutist leaning, he was feverishly sold by party bigwigs as “the father of modern Nigeria” towards the end of his tenure.
Over five years after leaving office, the PDP is yet to free itself from Obasanjo’s grip. Last Saturday, party bigwigs gathered at the Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta to “celebrate” him, as was claimed in a series of newspaper advertisements. The event was, however, dominated by discussions on the crisis currently threatening to rip the party into shreds.
The crisis, in which Obasanjo is playing a lead role, is widely seen as a battle for the control of the party machinery in readiness for the 2015 elections. As crises like this tend to do, it has duly delivered the first instalment of carnage in the ousting of former governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola as the party’s National Secretary.
The rug was pulled off Oyinlola feet by a court judgment in a suit filed by Chief Adebayo Dayo and Semiu Sodipo, Chairman and Secretary of the Ogun State chapter of the party respectively. The court ordered Oyinlola to vacate office as it deemed him not validly elected as representative of South-west zonal congress held before last year’s National Convention of the party. Oyinlola emerged National Secretary after other candidates were forced to step down for him at the convention.
But Dayo and Sodipo had gone to court to stop the conduct of the zonal congress through which Oyinlola emerged, alleging that the process was being manipulated by Obasanjo and former National Vice-Chairman (South-west), Alhaji Tajudeen Oladipo, in favour of their proteges.
Two judgments of the Federal High Court in Lagos in different suits instituted by the Ogun State chapter of PDP, made respectively on 27 April 2012 and 2 May 2012, had indeed nullified the congress from which Oyinlola emerged. It was on the basis of the two judgments that the Ogun State PDP chieftains got the court deliver the recent judgement, which declared Oyinlola’s continued stay in office as illegal.
The plaintiffs, through their counsel, Dr. Amaechi Nwaiwu, asked the court to determine whether the candidacy of Oyinlola as a nominee of the South-west zonal chapter of the PDP and his consequent election to the office of National Secretary were not invalid by reason of the order and judgment of the Federal High Court made respectively on April 27, 2012 in suit no FHC/L/CS/282/2012 and May 2, 2012 nullifying the South-west zonal congress of March 2012.
The judge declared the former governor not only unfit to continue as National Secretary of PDP, but that his action amounted to a criminal conduct capable of attracting prison sentence for being a flagrant disobedience to subsisting court orders. The judge, who relied on Section 251(R) of the constitution in insisting that he had jurisdiction to adjudicate on the matter, argued that an order of a court must be obeyed whether valid or not, adding that any action taken by Oyinlola as the National Secretary of the PDP amounted to nullity.
He also argued that the subject matter of the suit was aimed at enforcing a valid court order and not related to internal affairs of PDP as the defendants had contended. The judge asserted that Oyinlola could not have emerged as the nominee in view of the two pending court orders restraining the South-west zone of the party from conducting the congress where he purportedly emerged. Immediately the court ruled him unfit to continue in office, Oyinlola indicated his intention to appeal against the judgment.
Relying on the judgment, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, PDP National Chairman, sacked Oyinlola and appointed Solomon Onwe, the party’s National Deputy Secretary, as acting National Secretary at a meeting of the party’s National Working Committee, NWC, last Monday.
Indeed, Oyinlola’s supporters had thought he would continue in office until the appeal had been dispensed with. This is why many of them were taken aback by the replacement of Oyinlola with Onwe, just as the former governor was busy in court filing his appeal papers. The insinuations were that Tukur saw an opportunity to get rid of Oyinlola, with whom he had been engaged in a supremacy battle over the running of the party since the inauguration of the NWC.
Some lawyers also condemned what they tagged the hasty implementation of the court order, contending that the proper thing would have been to allow Oyinlola remain in office until his appeal is decided.
The party, however, argued, in an unsigned statement, that its replacement of Oyinlola with Onwe was in obedience of a court judgment and the consequential application of the relevant sections of the party’s constitution. It cited Section 45 of its constitution, which says: “If a national officer of the party is removed or resigns from office, he shall immediately hand over to the National Secretary all records, files and other property of the party in his or her possession. (2) In the case of the National Secretary, he shall hand over to the Deputy National Secretary.”
This magazine gathered that both provisions used by Tukur to back up his action are not in the party’s constitution. Many PDP supporters, however, believe that the provisions may be in the amended constitution of the party yet to be ratified by all members, but which Tukur has been using to justify most of his controversial actions since he assumed office. The party also released a copy of the legal advice it obtained from its legal consultant, Chief Joe Gadzama, SAN, on the judgment against Oyinlola.
Tukur was also said to have based his decision to appoint Onwe as acting secretary on the legal advice, a copy of which was submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan to convince him that the move was in order. “Essentially, the judgment is declaratory and a declaratory judgment cannot be stayed in the sense that if there is an appeal against the judgment or an application to set it aside, such an appeal or an application cannot be a reason to stay the effects of the judgment,” Gadzama said. He advised that Oyinlola should avoid doing “anything that runs contrary to the order of the honourable court removing him as the National Secretary of the PDP or parade himself as such”.
An even more potent part of the advice that can be invoked by Tukur to ensure that Oyinlola never returns to office was the assertion that: “(c) The National Working Committee of the PDP shall ensure, in accordance with the order of the honourable court, that a valid congress of the South-west zone of the PDP is constituted within 21 days from the 11th day of January, 2013, to replace the first defendant with another candidate.”
There were initial indications that anti-Oyinlola elements may, in line with this part of the advice, be considering the conduct of a fresh congress in the South-west zone to foreclose the former governor’s return as National Secretary. This magazine gathered that some groups are already being propped up within the various chapters in the South-west for this purpose. Last Tuesday, De-Raufus, which described itself as a political pressure group in Osun State, applauded the party for removing Oyinlola.
Though the PDP NWC claimed that there is nothing personal between Oyinlola and Tukur, the relationship between the two topmost officials of the party has never been smooth.
Signs of frostiness between the two first came to public knowledge in June 2012, following the establishment of the Office of Chief of Staff, occupied by Alhaji Habu Fari. Oyinlola opposed the move, arguing that the PDP Establishment Manual has no provision for such an office. The former governor contended that Fari should have been designated as principal secretary. Soon after, Fari and Oyinlola began to swap allegations of usurpation of duties.
In an internal memo, the deposed National Secretary accused Fari of writing and sending out external correspondence, which he claimed ought to have been his responsibility. The memo, dated 8 June 2012, was titled: “Illegal Acts Prejudicial to the Interest of the Peoples Democratic Party.” The exchange of allegations got fiercer, with Fari, through a memo, accusing Oyinlola of being inordinately ambitious and lacking knowledge of how PDP was formed, a situation he said was responsible for the attitude of the former governor. “Your aggressive nature to issues in this letter and other correspondences has portrayed you as an overambitious personality and one with a hidden agenda that can be detrimental to the party,” Fari wrote in the memo to Oyinlola, which he claimed he had the authority of Tukur to write. Tukur eventually sacked Fari, who has since set up a political consultancy outfit believed to be primed for the second term ambition of President Jonathan in Abuja.
Bad would become worse, especially over party affairs in Adamawa State, Tukur’s home state. Last October, Olisah Metuh, PDP National Publicity Secretary, in a statement on behalf of the Tukur-led National Working Committe, announced the dissolution of Adamawa State executive committee of the party “in exercise of Article 31, section 2(e) and 29, 2 (b) of the 2012 amended constitution of our party and consequent on repeated breaches of the constitution by the Adamawa State chapter”. Metuh added that Article 31(2) (e) specifically empowers the NWC to, “where necessary, dissolve a state executive committee and appoint a caretaker committee to run the party until another executive committee is elected, provided that the period from the dissolution to the election of the new executive shall not to exceed three months.” The Publicity Secretary also accused the Minjiyawa Kugama-led executive committee of flagrantly disobeying the decisions of the NWC, especially in regard to the directive “to halt further steps towards the conduct of local government elections as agreed at a meeting of 9th October, 2012 between the NWC and the Adamawa State Working Committee”. He added that the executive committee did not only go ahead with the process, it submitted a list of candidates to the State Independent National Electoral Commission without the approval of the NWC.
An eight-member caretaker committee, headed by Ambassador Umar Damagu, was mandated by the NWC to take over the management of the party in the state. Kangama is widely regarded as a stooge of Governor Murtala Nyako and with him in charge, the Adamawa State chapter was effectively under the governor’s thumb. The prospect of this filled Tukur and other opponents of Nyako with dread. Tukur, who has been positioning Anwal, his first son, as Nyako’s successor, stealthily attempted free the party from the governor’s control even before becoming PDP National Chairman.
It was believed that the dissolution of the Kangama-led execo in the run-up to last November’s council elections was done at the behest of Tukur out of fear that if the results were favourable, Nyako’s hold on the party would become tighter. Contrary to the instruction of NWC, Nyako continued to work with Kangama. A Yola High Court also granted a motion exparte restraining the PDP National Chairman and the NWC from dissolving the Adamawa State executive committee pending the determination of the substantive suit filed by Kangama and 28 others. They are seeking a declaration of court that the dissolution of the state executive by the national leadership was illegal. And in the council elections held late year, the governor succeeded in installing his loyalists as chairmen in all the councils in the state. Nyako also rallied PDP governors against Tukur.
In a letter addressed to all the governors elected on the platform of his party, Nyako called on the governors to resist the dissolution of the Adamawa State PDP executive committee, rousing them with the suggestion that the same treatment could be meted out to them in the future if they did not support him in his resistance to the NWC. The governors, led by Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, have since taken over the battle. They took their complaints to the President who, in the last two weeks, met with NWC and the governors to find a way out of the jam.
Tukur is said to remain intrasigent, which necessitated calls for direct intervention of the President. Later, the National Chairman unilaterally directed the party in Adamawa State to hold statewide congresses between 27 December, 2012 and 8 January, during which Dr. Joel Madaki emerged state chairman of the party. But as governors continue to put pressure on the party, other members of PDP NWC took opportunity of recent pre-occupation of Tukur with organisation of the party’s BOT meeting to hold an emergency meeting where they uncoupled everything he had done. The emergency meeting was attended by 10 of the 12 NWC members.
Tukur and Onwe were not at the meeting. Sam Sam Jaja, Deputy National Chairman of the party, told journalists that the NWC at its emergency meeting rescinded the earlier dissolution of Adamawa State Executive Committee.
Jaja, who said it was embarrassing to read that ward, local and state congresses were going on in Adamawa State, said only the party`s National Secretariat has the authority to conduct state congresses. “Based on the above, the NWC hereby declares the purported congresses null, void and of no significance whatsoever. Consequently, we hereby declare that the only state executive committee constitutionally recognised by this party is the Kangama executive lawfully elected in March 2012 and endorsed by the national convention,” Jaja declared.
A visibly embarrassed Tukur described the action as a betrayal by some of his colleagues, adding that in a bid to avoid being accused of bias in the matter, he allowed his deputy, Jaja, to preside over matters related to the crisis in Adamawa State. “This is just a case of betrayal of trust. The documentation and correspondence in this matter will justify that the congresses in the state were approved by the NWC,” he insisted.
Sources told this magazine that though the announcement reversing Tukur’s designs was made by Jaja, supporters of the National Chairman believed Oyinlola, an Nyako partisan, was behind the move. PDP governors, in a communiqué read by Amaechi, gave their blessing to the reversal of the dissolution of the Adamawa exco. The governors approved the NWC’s decision disowning all congresses in the state and declaring same null and void. They affirmed the reconstitution of the Kangama-led executive as elected in March 2012 and as ratified by the party’s National Convention. They also called for quarterly meetings of the party’s National Executive Committee, NEC.
Ironically, it was Tukur who was thought to be on his way out of the party just before the 11 January court judgment. There had been strident calls for a NEC meeting, where a no confidence vote was expected to be passed on the businessman and politician.
Tukur has been able to survive so far because of the strong support he is receiving from President Jonathan. With his eyes on the party’s presidential ticket in 2015, especially with the challenges that may come from the Northern part of the country, the President is being careful to ensure that only those he trusts are in critical party positions. It was for this reason also that Jonathan supported the choice of Tukur for the position of National Chairman during the March 2011 convention of the party.
Tukur’s ambition had suffered a big blow three days to the convention, as he was rejected by stakeholders of the party in his North-east region, where the national chairmanship position was zoned to, in a straw poll conducted in Bauchi. Members of the party in the region rejected Tukur’s aspiration in favour of Shehu Babayo, who polled 14 votes to Tukur’s two.
The North-east delegates were believed to have been spurred by some governors from the zone to adopt Babayo, who was the acting National Secretary of the party, as the consensus national chairmanship candidate of the zone. The defeat shocked the President, who sensed a rebellion from the governors of the North-east states who had earlier given an indication that they would support Tukur’s bid for chairmanship.
But undaunted, the President and his men returned to the drawing board to get the support of the governors for his preferred candidate. Adopting a carrot and stick approach, the President, at a meeting held hours before the convention, was said to have impressed it on the governors that he must have his way. In return, the governors also demanded that the President support one of their own, former governor of Osun State, Oyinlola, for national secretaryship.
Indeed, there were insinuations that the loss of Tukur at the North-east region poll was orchestrated by the governors to send a strong message to the President on why he must work along with them.
Remarkably, Oyinlola was not earmarked as a candidate for any position on the list published by the NWC a few days to the convention. He bought and submitted the form outside the time frame allotted after he was drafted into the race for the position of National Secretary by the governors. As at the time of writing this report, most of the governors were said to remain sore at the treatment of Oyinlola and continue to insist that Tukur must go.
The governors, it was gathered, argue that with the removal of Oyinlola, Tukur must also be ready to vacate office. There are, however, indications that the President, who is determined to ensure that Tukur remains in office, may be gradually breaking the ranks of the governors.
Isa Yuguda, Governor of Bauchi State, is said to be in support of Tukur’s continuation in office. While the hearing of Oyinlola’s appeal will begin on 24 January, reports last week indicated that the Presidency sees the sack of the former governor as an opportunity to wrest the control of the party in the South-west from Obasanjo. This is with the aim of securing the votes in the region for the President if push comes to shove in the battle for PDP’s 2015 presidential ticket.
The gameplan, it was gathered, is to keep egging on anti-Obasanjo elements like Chief Buruji Kashamu, who is the chief financier of Adebayo Dayo-led faction in Ogun State. The former president is supporting the faction led by Senator Dipo Odunjirin. Obasanjo supported Jonathan’s emergence as PDP presidential candidate and election as President. But the former president seems no longer keen on Jonathan’s stay in office beyond 2015. He has made a habit of subjecting the Jonathan administration to wounding criticisms. There are speculations that Obasanjo is ready to support a Northern presidential candidate in the 2015 election.
The stand-off between the two men has also ensured that attempts at reaching consensus on the choice of Obasanjo’s succesor as the Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees failed about two weeks ago.
Though the PDP constitution assigns strictly advisory roles to the BoT Chairman, the emerging battle within the party over the 2015 presidential ticket means that nothing can be left to chance by the influential stakeholders in the party. Obasanjo had backed Ahmadu Ali, a former PDP National Chairman, for the position, while Jonathan rooted for Chief Anenih. Jonathan, according to sources, believes that Anenih will be useful in rallying party members and containing dissent when matters get sticky in the struggle for PDP’s 2015 presidential ticket. At the end, BoT members, who gathered to select their chairman, had to disperse without achieving the purpose.
Analysts believe that the ongoing crisis has an enormous potential to cause the party’s implosion. The prospect of this must be provoking glee within opposition groups, which have already started moves to coalesce and provide the PDP with a sturdy challenge in the next elections.
.This article originally appeared in TheNEWS magazine of 28 January 2013