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With Tukur Gone, New Future Beckons to PDP

After months of a sustained campaign, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur was last week forced to quit his post as national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party. With his exit, Chuks Okocha considers how the crisis-ridden ruling party plans to reinvent itself President Goodluck Jonathan bared it all to the hearing of all members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), when last Thursday he confirmed the swirling speculation about the “stepping aside” of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur as PDP national chairman. He said Tukur’s stepping aside, a euphemism for his ouster from the post that he had for months tried to tenaciously cling to, was not because he had been found guilty of anything, but a price he was willing to pay for national unity and stability the ruling party. The president acknowledged that the party was having some problems when he said, “we have some internal problems that has been agitating the minds of the people and let us really thank the party National Working Committee (NWC) headed by Alhaji Bamanga Tukur,” an indication that all is not well with the umbrella party. Therefore, with Tukur gone, what the former party chair is handing over to his would-be successor is a party that desperately needs the kind of a total overhaul that it has never witnessed since its foundation in 1998, if it is to remain the dominant party in the polity. A Troubled Tenure The campaign that finally consumed Tukur started early last year. He had opened so many battlefronts right from his outset in office that to any discernible analyst, it was just a matter of time before he is consumed by the high-wire politics of the ruling party. Since his election as the PDP national chairman at the party’s national convention on March 2012, he had known no peace in office. Even the process for his emergence was enmeshed in a crisis. Tukur, the preferred candidate of President Goodluck Jonathan, for the PDP chairmanship, was not the favoured man for the post by other influential party members. He emerged the PDP chair, a post zoned to the North-east, because Jonathan wanted him for the post. At the zonal convention of the party to elect a candidate for the post, the North-east picked Dr. Musa Babayo as zonal national chairmanship candidate. He defeated Tukur by 14 votes to two. But Tukur got the post because PDP governors from the zone, under pressure from the president, traded off Babayo’s victory. They overruled the results of the zonal congress and Tukur emerged the consensus candidate for the chairmanship. From the outset of his election, Tukur wobbled from one crisis to the other. First was his face-off with the then National Secretary of the party, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, over the appointments of some of his aides and attempts by his Chief of Staff, Habu Fari, to usurp the functions of the office of the party secretary. At the end of the day, Tukur, who had initially resisted Oyinlola’s entreaties to run his office in line with the party’s administrative manual, had to sacrifice Fari to ensure harmony among NWC members. The next battle zone for Tukur was his state, Adamawa, where he was locked in a proxy war with the governor, Alhaji Murtala Nyako, for the control of the state party machinery. The story out was that Tukur was interested in controlling the state party machinery to facilitate the governorship ambition of his first son, Awwal. Despite many peace efforts, including that of a presidential committee, headed by Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, the Adamawa State PDP crisis remained intractable until Nyako, along with four other PDP governors, were pushed to defect to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Unknown to Tukur, PDP governors, who constitute an influential bloc in the party’s power structure, had seen a worrisome pattern in his administrative style. The attempt to take the party structure away from Nyako had raised a red flag that got them worried. If Tukur could do that to Nyako, he would do that to any one of them, they reasoned. To the governors, as with many other party bigwigs, Tukur was arrogant, dictatorial, unyielding, recalcitrant, and ran the party like a personal fiefdom. He got into further trouble with the governors and critical stakeholders of the party with his suspension of the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi and later his Sokoto State counterpart, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, without following due process. If he got away with the suspension of Amaechi because it served the interest of the presidency, with Wamakko’s, he was caught with egg on his face. The longer Tukur stayed in the party as its chair, the more his relationship with major stakeholders deteriorated. Like a forest fire in the dry season, the campaign for his ouster, which began with the seven aggrieved governors of the party that formed the now defunct New PDP, widened. Even other PDP governors who were his supporters began to join the cause. But he remained unbowed, knowing that he had the support of the president. Seeing that Tukur had become a danger to himself and to the party, the PDP Governors’ Forum joined in the call for his removal. By the time majority of NWC members identified with the Tukur-must-go group and 36 state chairmen of the party and that of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) passed a vote of no confidence on him last Tuesday, it had become a matter of how soon he would quit. With the gathering opposition, Jonathan had to rethink his support for Tukur under whose watch the party had lost five governors to the opposition; lost its majority status in the House of Representatives with the defection of 37 lawmakers; and was about to lose same in the Senate. It was a hard choice for the president to sacrifice a man who had claimed that he was the target of a campaign of calumny by people out to get the president. Why PDP Governors Fell Out with Tukur Emerging details revealed that Tukur might have incurred the wrath of the governors elected on the platform of the party when he championed that the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party would grant automatic ticket to members of the National Assembly seeking a return. The offer was a move to pacify the lawmakers in a desperate bid to stem the tide of defection in the legislature. With 37 PDP members of the House of Representatives dumping the ruling party for the APC and scores of senators threatening to do the same, PDP was in a mortal fear of losing its majority status in the National Assembly. The automatic ticket offer was a carrot that could make recalcitrant federal lawmakers to rethink their decision, the party had thought. THISDAY gathered that the PDP governors went up in arms against Tukur when the NWC under his leadership was scheming to ensure that the governors who would be completing their second term in office by 2015 were not given the sole opportunity to determine their successors. Following the defection of five PDP governors to APC, the number of governors elected on the platform of PDP depleted to 18. Of the 18, 14 would be completing their mandatory eight years tow-term tenure in office by 2015. Others such as governors of Kogi, Idris Wada; Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe and Ramallah Yero of Kaduna States would be seeking second term by 2015. Problem started for Tukur when at the meeting the NWC had with the National Assembly members in December 2013, he promised to ensure that anyone of them interested in coming back would be granted an automatic ticket. At the meeting, which took place at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, Tukur reiterated that the NWC would grant automatic ticket to any senator or House member interested in coming back in 2015. According to a source that spoke to THISDAY, “this innocuous pledge of automatic ticket was one of Tukur’s greatest undoing, because some governors with senatorial ambitions saw it as a threat to their ambitions of going to the Senate after their eight years in office as governors.” The source further said even at the meeting, some governors objected to the idea and insisted it was at variance with the local zoning and what was on the ground in their respective states. THISDAY was told that the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, noted that in his senatorial district, the situation on the ground was that no senator takes two consecutive slots, explaining that the promise of automatic ticket to members of the National Assembly should be allowed in line with the local politics in the states. Akpabio is interested in representing his people in the Senate, and to do that, he would have to snatch the ticket from Senator Aloysius Etuk, a move that might not be possible under the automatic ticket regime. It was also this pledge of automatic ticket, according to sources, that has put disunity between the Enugu State members of the National Assembly and Governor Sullivan Chime. The governor, a source said, was at loggerheads with members of the National Assembly from his state over the automatic ticket pledged by the Tukur-led NWC. Chime is also said to be interested to go to the Senate. He is from the same senatorial zone as the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Both Chime and Ekweremadu, at the moment, are not on the best of terms because of clash of ambitions. In Abia State, Governor Theodore Orji, is also said to be eyeing the senatorial seat currently occupied by Senator Nkechi Nwogu. Both Nwogu and Orji are expected to slug it out in the primary to determine who flies the PDP senatorial ticket in 2015. The most controversial, however, is Benue State. The former national chairman of PDP, Senator Barnabas Gemade, is the senator representing Governor Gabriel Suswam. The other senatorial zones in the state are not vacant as the Senate President, David Mark, may be seeking the fifth term, while a former governor of the state, Senator George Akume, is seeking a comeback on the platform of the APC. The battle is expected to be hotly contested. The source further said another reason the PDP governors were insisting on Tukur’s resignation was the perceived reluctance of the NWC to grant the PDP governors, the chance of choosing their successors. Tukur was in the vanguard of those campaigning for transparent primaries to determine the standard bearers of the party in all the elections. But the governors, it was gathered, see this as unacceptable. Fighting Back Tukur fought unsuccessfully to save his job. In the twilight of his 21-month reign, he constituted a special committee consisting of a former Minister of Petroleum and Education, Prof Jibril Aminu; former Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), General Haladu Hananiya; Air Commodore Dan Suleiman and other elders of the Adamawa State PDP stakeholders to lobby the chairman of the rebel Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State and the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State. Other members of the committee were Dr. Umar Ardo and Wilberforce Juta. The constitution of the committee was the outcome of the meeting between Tukur and the Adamawa PDP Elders at his Abuja residence and was done with the aim of lobbying the two governors in their respective capacities. But events moved at such a dizzying speed that the committee never got to achieve anything. In another bid to save his job, Tukur met with deputies to NWC members to get their support at NEC meeting. At the meeting at his Abuja home, he solicited for their support, should there arise the need for the NEC members to vote or any need for a vote of confidence or vote of no confidence. According to one of the deputies in the NWC who spoke to THISDAY on the outcome of their meeting, the national chairman solicited for their support should the Thursday NEC meeting result in voting on the leadership. “You know we are not automatic members of the NWC, but the national chairman solicited for our help should the NEC meeting go into voting of no confidence or vote of confidence. He asked us to vote in his support and that even if he would be removed, due process should be followed. He explained to us that for the party to grow, discipline and due process must be followed and that it would not be in the overall interest of the party for any national chairman to be thrown out due to gang-up by the National Working Committee,” he said. Tukur also fought back through some NEC members who supported him. Addressing a press conference on his behalf, Alhaji Mohammed Awwal Mafindi, a team leader of a group of PDP NEC members and ex-officios who are the voting members of the NEC, blamed the travails of the national chairman on those he described as “vested and powerful political interest who want Tukur out at all cost.” But reacting to Mafindi’s claim, an anti-Tukur group led by the former Rivers State Commissioner for Finance, Kenneth Kobani, described Tukur as an “undertaker who wants to see PDP collapse under his watch.” According to Kobani, “What else is Bamanga Tukur doing in PDP, if not to see to the destruction and collapse of the party. Five governors have defected and last week, 27 out of the 30 members of the Sokoto state House of Assembly defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the national chairman sees nothing in it than to say that it is democracy in action. To us, he is only an undertaker in PDP.” A Face-saving Exit Even in his last hour, Jonathan, showed Tukur support, when he pledged to offer him another job. “He is not guilty in any way. In fact, I have to give him another assignment that is tougher than handling PDP because we need people like Bamanga Tukur to market this country and the PDP. He did not just wake up to be the chairman of our party, he has paid his dues; he has held several offices and worked for this country and he has done very well. He has been doing that on the platform of African Round Table but we need a tougher job than the African Round Table for him,” Jonathan told a meeting of PDP National Executive Committee (NEC) last Thursday in Abuja. Sources said the job the president was thinking of giving Tukur was that of Nigeria’s ambassador to China. It was shortly after his speech at the NEC meeting that the president called on the Governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, to move a motion for Tukur’s stepping aside. In moving the motion, Imoke, who eulogised Tukur and acknowledged his efforts in stabilising the economy, polity and role in the international politics as the Chairman of the Africa Roundtable, said for 60 years, Tukur bestrode the nation’s political economy as a colossus starting from his days at the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), where he was the managing director. Seconding the motion, Senate Deputy Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi, spoke glowingly of Tukur as a politician, statesman and businessman, who has the interest of the nation at heart at all the time. With his seconding the motion, the president put the question to the NEC-in-session and they answered with a thunderous yea, capping it all with a standing ovation and a familiar chorus: “For he is a jolly good fellow.” The Contenders, Zoning and the Northeast Tukur’s stepping aside as national chairman of the PDP has thrown up likely successors. The good thing, however, is that his successor will still come from the North-east geo-political zone. The zone has six states with three of them being governed by APC. Adamawa has become an opposition state, joining Borno and Yobe States in the zone, with Nyako’s defection. The six states are paired into twos of Yobe/Borno, Taraba/Adamawa and Bauchi/Gombe axis and political offices are shared alongside that axis. For instance, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed, is representing the zone in the allocation of ministerial slots, while Ningi also represents the interest of the zone. In the same vein, the National Vice Chairman of PDP for the zone is Alhaji Lawal Girigiri from Yobe, while the Deputy National Legal Adviser of PDP, Mr. Basher Maigugu, is from Borno and the Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Abubakar Jalo is from Gombe. The office of the national chairman of the party was zoned to the axis of Taraba/Adamawa and Tukur represented the zone. Now that he has gone, the slot might remain in the Taraba/Adamawa axis, if the zonal sharing of offices is maintained, The states of Taraba, Gombe and Bauchi are under the PDP. But their governors are opposed to the national chairman of the party coming from their states. The reason for this is not far-fetched. They want to avoid a possible clash with the national chairman as was the case in Adamawa when Tukur and Nyako were locked in a supremacy battle for the control of the party structure in the state. It was for this reason that the PDP stakeholders might be focusing attention on Yobe, Borno and Taraba States to pick the next PDP chair. It is also for this reason that the main contenders to the office are coming from these states. First on the list of those being tipped to succeed Tukur is a former senator of the party from Borno State, Abubakar Mahdi. The plot to bring him in as the national chairman of PDP is strategic; it might be to break the wings of the former associates of General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua who left the PDP to form the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) and subsequently registered it as a political party. His aspiration is believed to have the backing of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) Chairman, Chief Tony Anenih. At the last PDP meeting, the PDM complained of marginalisation and not being carried along in the scheme of things. Those championing his emergence as the PDP national chair base their support on the need to bring all members of PDM on board and weaken the PDM as a registered party. He is from Borno State and all the governors of PDP, including the deputy governor of Adamawa State, who refused to join Nyako in APC are said to be backing him. Other PDP governors said to be backing him include the governors of Gombe and Bauchi, as well as the acting governor of Taraba, Garba Umar. After the PDP NEC, the PDP stakeholders held a series of meeting with their colleagues on the need to convince them to support Madhi as the new PDP national chairman. Another contender is a former Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Wakil Mohammed, said to be knowledgeable in political party administration and had carried out several assignments given to him by the National Working Committee of the party. At a time, Wakil was the acting National Vice Chairman of the party in the North-east and it is being said that he carried out the duties assigned to him by the NWC of the party conscientiously. THISDAY gathered that the members of the PDP NWC prefer him as the next national chairman because of his experience in party politics and administration. The Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, is seen as the preference of the First Lady, Patience Jonathan. Umar was a serving senator from Gombe State before he was appointed a minister. But he has to contend with Dankwambo. This is because the PDP governors are said to be opposed to a national chairman coming from their states. He was for eight years, a member of the House of Representatives before crossing over to the Senate in 2011. Notwithstanding, the clash with the governors, a former governor of Bauchi, Adamu Mu’azu, who is the chairman of Pencom, is seriously in contention for the office. His albatross is the governor of his state, Isa Yuguda. Both Mu’azu and Yuguda are sworn political enemies. Yuguda had to defect to the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to contest the 2007 governorship election, which he won and he later returned to the PDP. Though reports had it that Jonathan is making frantic efforts to reconcile Yuguda and Mu’azu, if the reconciliation scales through, then the office of the national chairman of PDP would be his for the asking. Alhaji Habu Fari from Taraba State is one of the founding members of the PDP. He was the first National Administrative Secretary of PDP and later the Chief of Staff to Tukur before he was sacked. Fari, a veteran politician, is said to have the support of his governor. Since leaving office as the Chief of Staff to Tukur, he has established a political consultancy office in Abuja and has remained a loyalist to the system. His political sagacity and experience are what could be said to go for him. Dr. Musa Babayo was the immediate past national secretary of the PDP. He was elected as the deputy national secretary, but by the time he left office, Babayo was the acting national secretary of the party. At the moment, Babayo is the Chairman of the Tetfund Governing Board. Another contender to the office is a former Minister of Environment, Hassan Adamu. He is from Adamawa State. But his major handicap is his age. The PDP after Tukur Aside the credentials that the next chairman of the party might boast is the need to get the party back on track. The post-Tukur PDP, especially in the year preceding the general election, is central to the showing of the party in 2015. This is why many people would reckon that Tukur’s forced resignation might have come a little too late. Had the authorities pondered this idea immediately after the August 31 special national convention where the aggrieved governors and their supporters staged a walk-out on the party, the defection of the five governors would have been prevented. Although there are speculations that the president has bought into the idea of setting up a special committee to lobby the five governors who had left the party to return to the fold, the presidency feared that the initiative might not be remedial for the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi. Amaechi is considered as someone who nurses a deep-seated animosity against the presidency and has shown no indication of rethinking his decision to leave PDP. Analysts therefore see a post-Tukur PDP as very inauspicious with likely poor showing in the 2015 elections. Besides, there are those who feel that a return to the PDP by the governors might be suicidal to their career in the light of the bitterness that characterised their fight and eventual exit. Nyako has already indicated his readiness to return to the fold, citing as reason, Tukur’s forced resignation. In the final analysis, the job of a new PDP national chair at this time is not fun and requires more than the rudimentary administrative acumen. Tukur’s successor major task will be healing a party that has gone through the worst phase since its foundation in 1998. PDP has never had it so bad since the nation’s ruling elite coalesce to form it in the preparations for the rebirth of democracy in 1999. Although it had weathered so many storms in the past, never had it been so torn apart on many fronts than now. Its dominance of the political space has been threatened with the defections of its governors and lawmakers, among other prominent party members to APC. Therefore, reinventing the party will not come easy for Tukur’s successor as his ability to achieve reconciliation will depend on how much latitude he would be given by the president, who as the national party leader, is busy scheming how he will return in 2015.

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