OBIARUKO NDUKWE ON MATTERS ARISING
PDP AND THE REFORM OR ‘RETURN’ GROUP?
“No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment for the patch pulls away from the garment and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled and the wineskins are ruined but they put new wine into new wineskins and both aree preserved”. – Mathew 9:16-17
The Holy book couldn’t have been wrong and there is no better way to explain the actions and inactions of some members of Africa’s largest ruling party, The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The above quotation from the scriptures captures the scenario being created by the recently formed group known as the PDP Reform Forum, whose agenda according to the group is to reform the party which is said to be drifting. Well, nothing could have been better for a political party which has held sway for a period of eleven years at the presidency and controls about twenty-eight out of the thirty-six states of the Nigerian state. But I have my reservations as it concerns the name and path chosen by this group of political big wigs in the PDP from different states as there is no known face of reform amongst the group. While parading the names and faces of those involved in the new arrangement, one cannot wonder then that the group is largely made up of those who are disgruntled or aggrieved with the powers that be in their different states. There is hardly any known face of those who are at home with the incumbent governors and the leadership of the state excos of the party in the said arrangement. It looks more like the coming together of those who have one score or the other to settle with their state chapter of the party. This informs the need, and I suggest that rather than go by the name, Reform Forum, it should rather be Return Group or Returnee Forum.
While I agree that the ruling PDP has areas where the party needs to seriously look into, more so as it concerns the much talked about electoral reforms, the truth is that one doubts the level of sincerity amongst the members of the group. In actual sense, the group should consider as a matter of urgency, self-reformation first so that they would be able to reform the party. Let us take a closer look at the issues before the party and what may have incensed this oppositional stance by those who once controlled the party machineries.
In Imo State, the former governor, Chief Achike Udenwa must take credit for being used by the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo to frustrate the chances of Senator Ifeanyi Ararume from becoming his successor at the 2007 polls, despite the fact that both Udenwa and Ararume belong to the same Party and were mutual friends, until their relationship went sour. Ararume, in what would have crowned him ‘the face of the struggle’ in the fight to stop the indiscipline within the PDP, had gone to court, thus defying the powers that be in the party as well as the party’s constitution. He fought so hard and was lucky to have the supreme court decide the matter in his favour prior the April 14, 2007 governorship polls, but he was again stopped by Obasanjo and Udenwa who in turn defied the decision of the apex court, and played the worst kind of anti party activity by asking party members and the electorates to throw their weight behind the candidate of the less known Peoples Progressive Alliance, Ikedi Ohakim, who eventually won the election. The party since then failed to sanction both Obasanjo and Udenwa, rather Obasanjo was rewarded with the position of the party’s Board of Trustees Chairman, while Udenwa later became a Minister. The question is whether Udenwa deserves to be leading the struggle on the reform agenda of the PDP? Does it not also beat the imagination of people that both Udenwa and Ararume have teamed up again all in a bid to stop the incumbent governor, Ohakim, who committed what I consider the worst political suicide by defecting from PPA to PDP where he is now seen as a political neophyte despite his huge financial war chest?
Senator Ararume in any case, deserves to belong to the group to ensure that there will not be a repeat of the 2007 scenario which destroyed his near-His Excellency status. But am worried that he is romancing the same people who caused him the loss of several millions of naira , eventually stifled his voice and wiped his name out of the ‘Nigerian Guinness book of records’ as the symbol of the struggle to correct the injustice within the PDP. On the other hand, ex-governor Achike Udenwa must fight to stop Ohakim’s second tenure since both men no longer see eye-ball to eye-ball, no thanks to the issue of who gets what from the state’s meager allocation. This is a picture of the reformers in Imo PDP!
As for the Deputy Chairman of the group, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Bello Masari, one can understand his frustrations and his sudden appearance on the political stage, more so with the exit of former President Umaru Yar’adua, who was said to have imposed a stumbling block against the ambition of Masari to be governor of their home-state, Katsina. Yar’adua was said to have ensured that Masari does not make it to the seat of power. This angered the former speaker who now sees the exit of Yar’adua as an opportunity to re-launch himself to relevance within the Katsina PDP. Again, this is a case of an aggrieved party member who never bothered about reforming the Party while he was the nation’s number four man. Masari was the Speaker when Nigeria had a golden opportunity to amend about 104 sections of our flawed 1999 constitution excluding one which has to do with the tenure of the President and Governors. A reformer in principle, in truth and spirit, should have resigned, and that would have placed him as a leader of the new face of reform in PDP and the nation as a whole. Some argue that Masari was instrumental by virtue of his position, in stopping President Obasanjo from serving a third term. To a reasonable extent, this is correct, but it shocks me again that he is now working in the interest of Obasanjo who wanted Ogbulafor out at all cost, as a way of making him pay the price for stopping his (Obasanjo’s) nominee, Sam Egwu, from assuming the position of the Party’s National Chairman. Again, I think its all about interest and not about what they truly believe in.
The sudden message of ‘Reforms’ being preached by these politicians in the PDP is rather for the purpose of re-capturing power at all cost. Those who lost out of the political power game see this is an opportunity to return, if nothing else, impress upon President Jonathan that they have his interest at heart – 2011 Presidency! Mr. President needs to look beyond these claims if he must not be short-changed at the last-minute as former Gov. Odili was badly bruised by his mentor and a man he called ‘Father’-OBJ. The same forces are at play again, and it takes only the Solomonic wisdom and that of Nebuchadnezzar who sought the interpretation of the writing on the wall, for President Jonathan to escape the impending doom.
Former Senate President Ken Nnamani, having received accolades and a new leadership status courtesy of his role in shooting down Obasanjo’s ambition to continue in office beyond the constitutional mandate of a maximum of two tenures, does not really impress me with his new role as the Chairman of the Reform Group. This definitely is the bane of the South East in the political equation of our country. When it comes to such roles, someone from this part of the country must ‘lead’. One may argue that Nnamani is the right person to talk about reforms within the PDP, yes, I agree. But I must point out that Nnamani led the group that blew a once in a life time opportunity for Nigerians to draft a people’s Constitution and not the one hurriedly packaged by the Military. It was wrong for the National Assembly then to throw into the thrash can other sections of the Constitution which needed to be amended after an extensive research by the Constitutional Conference. A total of 105 areas were identified by the Conference of which tenure elongation was just one. I doubt if Nigeria in the next decade will have such an opportunity again. Funny enough, these persons were part of the cabal under Obasanjo when he grossly violated the party’s constitution in the process of choosing officers of the party as well as the party’s candidates for the general elections. Not even his deputy for eight years, Atiku Abubakar was spared of Obasanjo’s rod. Others include former governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieyeseigha, former governors of Rivers and Ekiti, Peter Odili and Ayo Fayose, just to mention but a few.
Some of these men, have decided to learn their lessons the hard way, while some still bask under the euphoria of being yesterday’s men who would change their tomorrow by way of compromise. I think it’s rather a wise thing to do, to be like dog that leaks its wounds, rather than be like the dog that goes back to its vomit.
The case of Rivers State is rather pathetic. It is not out of way for some aggrieved politicians in the ruling PDP to seek for ‘reforms’ since they were in the game for eight years and understand the way these things work. The hue and cry over marginalization by those referred to as ‘Abuja Group’ who form the present day PDP Reform Forum from Rivers State who have tasted power, emasculated the opposition and stifled voices of dissent both within and outside the PDP is better described as a joke. I think it is rather the fear of what they know that has compelled them to toe the path of opposition, than the sincere quest for reformation in the PDP. The emergence of Governor Rotimi Amaechi as the governor of the state after a ten –month legal battle against his party, (PDP), INEC and the then sitting governor, Barrister Celestine Omehia, has in no doubt further polarized the party and led to a PDP opposition group within the PDP. It would be recalled that Amechi had earlier won the party’s primaries with over 6000 votes out of the 7000 votes cast, but was eventually stopped from carrying the party’s flag by the then President and leader of the party, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo had declared at the South South Zonal rally of the party that Amaechi ‘s candidature had developed a ‘K-Leg’ , meaning that he (Amaechi ) would not be allowed to contest the governorship election as the candidate of the PDP. When this did not go down well with Gov Odili, and after several efforts to convince Obasanjo failed, Odili then moved to pick Celestine Omehia as a substitute for Amaechi, an action which was not only illegal (since Omehia did not participate in the primaries nor purchase the form for expression of interest), but was sort of belated since he (Odili) had actually encouraged Amaechi to go to court to challenge the action of the party. But when Odili was threatened by the party for supporting Amaechi‘s legal action, he decided to withdraw his support for him, since Omehia had emerged as his candidate. This move by his political godfather had irked Amaechi who remained resolute on his stance. Emboldened by the principle of justice and fairness, Amaechi defied all entreaties and sought to right the wrongs of the party. He was expelled from the party while the matter was at the Appeal court. That did not deter him. After a ten- month legal battle in spite of Omehia’s five-month stay in office, Amaechi with the help of the Judiciary (the Supreme Court) set the pace for the true reformation of the PDP. He single –handedly challenged his party which at that time had totally drifted.
Having remained consistent, he thus became the new face of reform in practical terms within the PDP. Till date, many of those who were disgusted at his emphatic position are yet to accept him as the governor of Rivers state, having been declared the actual candidate of the PDP for the April 14, 2007 governorship election. They have repeatedly said that the Supreme Court nay the Judiciary erred. Is it not then surprising that the same persons who have disregarded the supreme judgment of the apex court are those at the fore front of the change in PDP? For daring to challenge the party‘s National Working Committee, the ‘reformer’s were suspended from the party, and they immediately proceeded to court to again challenge the decision of the party. Is it right then for those who do not believe in the Supremacy and infallibility of the Court to again go to the same Court to obtain judgment? Who will enforce the judgment if it falls in their favor? These are the questions that need to be answered?
One of the key players in the reform forum is Dr. Abiye Sekibo – former SSG to Gov. Odili and a former Minister of Transport under Obasanjo. Abiye is one of the most avowed critics of Amaechi’s emergence and governance. He has not hidden his hatred for Amaechi. He is a member of the Reform Forum and a leader in the Rivers PDP ‘Abuja Group’. Others include Celestine Omehia and Austin Opara, who is said to have been the worst hit when he was asked to step-down for Amaechi by Odili, a night before the Primary elections.I agree with a friend of mine who said they need a platform on which they would re-negotiate their way back to the party in their various states before the next elections. For the sake of the party, the state chapters of the party need to re-absorb them if only they would change their name to PDP RETURNEE FORUM OR PDP RETURN GROUP! Let me end by quoting the National Secretary of the PDP, Baraje Abubakar Kawu, “after gaining relevance through the platform of the party, members of the reform forum are now seeking to reform the same party”. He further stated, “we believe that they have totally lost touch. It is only after they have fully re-integrated themselves in their constituencies that we can begin to consider their electoral value as well as, their reformatory value”. “They need to totally reform themselves before they can call for the reform of the party”.
The people must not forget that before a change can be made in the Party’s constitution, a convention must be held. The question is, how many of these men and women who belong to the reform group will make the delegate list that will participate in the convention? I sincerely think that the person or persons who should lead the fight for reforms in the party must be someone or those who dared to challenge the party’s leadership when it grossly violated its constitution and that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and not those who kept mute or chickened out when they were threatened by the EFCC. A reformer must be one who was not afraid of speaking the truth even in the face of intimidation and threat by the powers that be. Chikena!