Bola Adebiyi, Tunde Rahman and Ike Abonyi
culled from THISDAY, June 13, 2006
Since the crisis broke in
August last year, President Olusegun Obasanjo has left no one in doubt that
he will not leave the Presidency in the hands of his deputy, Alhaji Atiku
Abubakar, who he accused of disloyalty. But Atiku after spending seven years
as vice president, with an eventful political background, including being a
top presidential aspirant of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP),
believes that he has what it takes to succeed his boss and is determined to
take the reins of government in 2007.
These two mutually exclusive interests are at the heart of the crisis in the ruling party with the two leaders employing proxies in an acrimonious battle that promises to be long-drawn with devastating consequences for a party that prides itself as the biggest in Africa South of the Sahara.
Initially, the President, using the awesome powers of his office had gained the upper hand, stripping his deputy of the enormous powers he (the President) had given him in their first term before things went awry. With the loss of power, Atiku’s base within the party was heavily decimated as his loyalists were shoved out of the party as well as the government. By the time the party leadership under the watchful eyes of the President went for its non-elective congresses in October last year, the Vice President was not only down, but almost out as Obasanjo’s men took over the leadership of the party putting him in good stead to deliver the party’s presidential ticket to anyone he wanted.
But the President’s total control of the party soon became counter productive as he was emboldened in his war of attrition against his deputy with the effect that he (the President) allowed himself to be convinced that with his hold on both the PDP and the government a constitution amendment that would elongate his tenure could be pushed through the National Assembly. This move turned out to be a major error of political judgement that offered Atiku a lifeline to come back on to the stage. He seized the opportunity.
As it turned out, the idea of an extra tenure for the President was very unpopular among Nigerians for various reasons and the PDP leadership appeared unable to read their lips. There were many Nigerians who felt that the President was changing the rules in the middle of the game. In the North, the idea would kill their quest for return of power to the North despite an alleged gentleman agreement in 1999 that the presidency would revert to the region after eight years in the South.
Obasanjo, as it were, walked into a moral crisis, which Atiku exploited to bounce back to reckoning by offering leadership to the struggle against the much hated third term agenda. By the time the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, (Amendment) Bill 2006, which contained, among others, a clause seeking to extend the presidential tenure from two to four terms of years each, got to the National Assembly, Atiku, ridding on the crest of popular sentiment against the third term project had mobilised more than the required one third plus one members to defeat the bill. The defeat of the amendment bill offered the Vice President the much needed equaliser to save his sinking political career as he moved to use it as a leverage to return to contention as a top contender for the nation’s topmost job.
But his boss was not done with him. Obasanjo knew that the defeat of his extension project had given Atiku an edge and sought to deny him the dividend of that monumental victory which had ridiculed the ruling party. One of the implications of the defeat of the project was that erstwhile pro-Atiku state governors who had been forced to abandon him and support third term under duress may return to the Vice President’s camp. If that happens, it will provide Atiku a platform to regain control of the party using the governor’s enormous reach and resources. Obasanjo’s response to this was to play the governors against Atiku by proposing to yield his position to any of their nominees. This was not a novel idea though as he acknowledged that it was modeled after an American succession pattern which tends to produce presidents from the ranks of governors and senators. The problem, however, was that the President failed to explain why he decided to overlook another American succession pattern where a sitting vice president is supported by the incumbent president to take over from him.
So far, Obasanjo’s strategy of playing the governors against Atiku appears to be working as the state chief executives have embarked on a search for one of their own to be president.
If the President thought his strategy was a master stoke that had put his deputy at bay in the party, he was obviously mistaken as the Vice President, using a two-prong approach, moved to neutralize his boss. With the contentious revalidation and registration of members exercise in October last year, the Atiku camp knew it had been largely pushed out of the party and it had become clear to it that its leader, Atiku, would be denied the party’s presidential ticket. The camp, therefore, developed a counter plan the main component of which was to weaken the PDP and move on to form another party that will provide Atiku the platform to contest the presidency in 2007.
But the strategy raised an issue: If Atiku has to leave the PDP, how and when should he leave? In developing the counter plan, therefore, the Atiku strategists decided to deal with the issue in two ways. One: weaken the PDP and leave a rump that will be incapable of challenging the new party. Two: leave no constitutional loophole for the PDP to force the Vice President to resign whenever he defects from the party. Efforts to achieve these two objective appear to be making headway to the demolition of the PDP.
Already, some of the Vice President’s men have formed and moved into the Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) while others have remained in the PDP with the sole aim of splitting it.
By splitting the party, an objective that was realised last Friday with the emergence of the Solomon Lar-led Interim Management Committee (IMG), Atiku and his supporters in the federal and state legislatures now have a leeway to exploit a constitutional encumbrance which insulates a defecting legislator from one party to another from resigning his seat if his action is caused by a split in his party.
One point of frustration for the President, however, is that although it is obvious that the split in the party is under the watch of his deputy, it can hardly be traced directly to him (Atiku) as the war is being fought by proxy. Within the two factions, some political actors have since taken positions behind either the President or the Vice President in the battle for the soul of the country
For President Obasanjo
Perhaps the biggest foot-soldier of President Olusegun Obasanjo in the extant battle for the soul of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the country is the party’s National Chairman, Dr. Ahmadu Ali. The relationship between Obasanjo and Ali dates back perhaps to the late 1970’s. Both were in the military. Ali served as Federal Commissioner for Education under Obasanjo in 1977-78. It was perhaps because of that military espirit de corp and the fact of unquestioning loyalty to superiors that obtains in the military that Obasanjo brought Ali to be PDP chairman in 2004. And Ali has been fiercely loyal to the President. With Ali in the saddle, the PDP as it is today is Obasanjo’s political party. The President’s grip of the party is bewildering. Ali and others got the PDP to adopt Obasanjo third term ambition as an official project though they could not pull the idea through the National Assembly. Ali has been employing bullying tactics, calling those opposed to Obasanjo and his plans all kinds of names. This has not worked much before. Will it work now in the unfolding fight?
President Obasanjo would have relied heavily on the former National Chairman of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Chairman PDP Board of Trustees, Chief Tony Anenih, now more than any other but Presidency sources said things have changed. Anenih is popularly called Mr. Fix-it in PDP circles but his inability to pull through the President’s third term agenda drew the ire of Obasanjo and spoilt his reputation before the President. But nonetheless, Anenih remains with the President. He will tell anybody who cares to listen to him that he will do whatever Obasanjo wants him to do. But ironically, Anenih and Vice-president Atiku Abubakar shared a common antecedent. They both belonged to the political machinery of the late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua called Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM).
Another rampaging politician within the PDP circle is former military governor of Ondo State and Deputy National Chairman (South) of the PDP, Chief Olabode George. George has a larger than life image within PDP circles in the South-west. His word is law. The five PDP governors in the zone hold in with awe and getting them to rally round the President in the battle ahead is as easy as putting knife into butter. But that seems to be where the matter ends. Beyond PDP South-west, George’s influence is uncertain and this is also not help by his often unguarded utterances.
PDP National Secretary, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, is perhaps the head of the intellectual arm of the establishment wing of the ruling party rallying behind Obasanjo. . The PDP national secretary is a believer in the gospel according to Obasanjo. Ojo was once Transport Minister in the present government and later Special Adviser on Constitutional Matters from where he was brought to the present job. Ojo’s intellectualism has come handy on a number of occasions including the third term matter, which he rationalized to high heavens But how far this will go in the extant battle is yet to be seen.
For Vice-President Atiku
The name of the founding PDP National Chairman, Chief Solomon Lar, has been mentioned as the National Leader of the Interim Management Committee of the new faction of the party. In his days as PDP chairman, Lar was called the emancipator within the party circles. Lar is at present battling with his health at the National Hospital Abuja and how far and well he can wage a war in support of Atiku remains to be seen. But his disgust at the way President Obasanjo has been handling things and his anger at the state of affairs in the PDP and in his Plateau home state are palpable enough.
Former Deputy National Chairman (South) of the PDP, Chief Shuaib Oyedokun, has never hidden the fact that he is an ally of the vice-president even when he held sway in the PDP. He is astute politician with a load of intelligence. Oyedokun from Osun State was also in the PDM with Atiku. It was for his brazen support for Atiku that he was removed from office but he has been unrepentant in his support for the vee pee’s presidential aspiration. He is the real face of Atiku in the new faction. It was he who spoke with journalists over the emergence of the new faction. A major drawback for him in the new battle may be coming from the home front. Shortly after he announced the formation of the new faction, the PDP in his home state dissociated itself from his action saying he was on his own.
Another strong ally of the vice-president within the PDP is Alhaji Ibrahim Safana, former Deputy Chairman (North) of the party. Safana has fought many battles and incurred the wrath of even the Presidency because of Atiku. He has been named the National Chairman of the new PDP faction. Safana is said to be independent minded. It was because of his support for the vice president that he was muscled out of the party but he seemed to have opted to fight till the last because of Atiku.
Another experienced politician that has filed behind Atiku in the extant fight is Ambassador Yahya Kwande from Plateau State. Kwande was one of those who worked for the Obasanjo presidency in 1999 but before the end of the first time of the President, both of them had become estranged. Since they were muscled out of the PDP, Kwande and his associates in Plateau State including the state governor, Chief Joshua Dariye have virtually gone into the newly formed Advanced Congress for Democrats (ACD) formed around Atiku’s aspiration. So it was therefore no surprise that Dariye and his associates were the first to welcome the new PDP faction.
Political watchers knew all along
that the ruling PDP had not been enjoying harmony in its fold and that it
was just a matter of time before the bubble burst.
In a ruling party where the number one and two topmost citizens are anything but friendly and changes national leadership every other day, one can hardly expect less.
Since 1999, the PDP has given the nation a dose of political acrimony next to none in the history of the country. It has not been in doubt to followers of political events in the country that the struggle for power ahead of the general elections of 2007 is no doubt the driving force of the crisis rocking the ruling PDP which got worse at the weekend. All the political manipulations within and outside the party have been a deliberate step aimed at controlling the soul of the party and indeed Nigeria in 2007.
This struggle has no doubt made the party very vulnerable even as it prepares and hopes to retain its controlling influence in the next dispensation.
But with the crisis taking this dangerous turn on the eve of a general election that is just ten months away, the party is bound to experience very unpleasant consequences. The implication of the latest development in the party is certainly going to be far reaching.
For instance, if the Lar group now up in arms against the Ali group succeeds as it seems, in creating factions within the party, it certainly will weaken its chances of having controlling influence in next year’s polls at least not the way it would have wished as a ruling party.
This is because if the party is factionalised, it will open an avenue for some elected aggrieved members who had all along been held ‘hostage’ because of the constitutional inhibitions which says that you may lose your position if you defect to another political party unless there is evidence that the party is factionalised.
If they succeed in factionalising the party, some state governors who have been on the fringe will have the basis upon which to walk away from the party to join opposition forces.
Some sizeable number of state governors for instance, who would have wished to dump the PDP have stayed on because of the effect on their current position. A clear case is Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and his entire cabinet and other elected members on the ticket of the PDP in the state who have virtually joined the revival party, the ACD, but just waiting for an auspicious time like this.
In Anambra State where a faction of the PDP is currently controlling the state House of Assembly, a successful factionalisation of the PDP will help them take a decision to dump the party alongside their leader, the former Governor of the state, Dr. Chris Ngige, who has been holidaying in the US since his ouster by the Court of Appeal March 15, 2006.
The situation will also help protect the PDP members who stood vehement against the party during the aborted third term struggle. Most of them have been apprehensive that they will be penalized by the current leadership of the party and they have been seeking a way to have a platform from which to operate. The new development certainly will give them the political space to operate.
Those who even have their soul in another party have allowed their body to linger in the PDP for fear of the limitation arising from the constitutional provision. Such people by the recent development have found a lacuna and the PDP is bound to be the loser for it as they are definitely going to reap the negative consequences.
Because the PDP is the ruling party controlling 27 of the 36 states. 28 state Houses of Assembly, over two third of the two chambers of the National Assembly-the Senate and House of Representatives – anything affecting it is sure bound to have spill over effect in the entire political system.
The implication is that the ongoing crisis in the party is going to heat up the already tensed political environment ahead of the 2007 general election.
If the collapse of the third created more fear in the people as to how the 2007 will fare in the end, political watchers see the emerging crisis in the PDP as the beginning of what is to come.
The crisis will directly or indirectly impact on the PDP’s direction on choice of flag bearers not just at the presidential level but at the state and legislative levels as they are bound to face formidable opposition in all the positions for contention.
The development also underscores political watchers’ fear that the 2007 contest may be in real terms between aggrieved PDP members and what may be left of the party and this will make it fiercer.