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PDP occupies Abuja for National elective Congress

*Bode George, Dokpesi, Agbaje quit chairmanship race

*Who emerges PDP National Chairman?

By Sandra Onyekwere, Olayinka Elebute, Debo Adeoye

Character-asserting, resilience and splendour of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be put to test at the Eagle Square, Abuja, on Saturday, as the party holds its National elective Convention.

All the backstage manoeuvring deployed to re-assemble and galvanise the potential in the party after its tortuous 16 year-era which began with the “mistake’’ of conscripting Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as national chairman, will be put to test.

How the party survives post elective congress injuries and alignment of interests will be the biggest of the tests. Certain, a new Executive will emerge from the Convention.

Three quit National Chairmanship race: Three prominent aspirants for the national chairmanship position in Saturday’s Peoples Democratic Party National Convention, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Chief Olabode George and Jimi Agbaje, have quit the race.

The announcement by the aspirants comes a few hours after another high profile aspirant, Chief Olabode George, had earlier announced quitting the race.

George had cited the failure of the party to micro zone the position to the South West as reason. With the decision of George, Dokpesi and Agbeje to also quit, six persons are now left in the race for the national chairmanship.

Biggest party in Africa: Since the PDP, “the biggest political party in Africa” which had boasted that it would rule Nigeria for 60 years non-stop, in the first instance, tragically lost power to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015, it had contended with fierce internal challenges, especially recurrent defection of notable members, to the APC, investigation and prosecution of members for alleged corruption, exile of some chieftains and disenchantment among members.

The Supreme Court judgment of 12th July, 2017 provided succour for the party as it was in favour of majority of its “surviving’’ members, who in the ecstasy of the verdict, which injected life into the party, promptly began the process of rebuilding the party, with huge doses of rapprochement. The making of the new PDP as espoused then, climaxed with its non-elective convention on 12th August, at the same Eagle Square, to consolidate the gains of rebuilding and making the party formidable again.

It was at the convention organised by a committee headed by Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta, within a rather short period that 9th December date was announced for elective National Convention of the party. Soon after the event, gladiators for positions in the National Executive Committee that will emerge on Saturday went into subtle electioneering, consulting elders and leaders of the party. The star of the positions is the national chairmanship of the party, which is believed to be the game-changing seat that will leverage on the “recovery ‘’ the party is making and reposition it to wrest power from the APC in 2019.

Chairmanship race: Eight top members are in the race for the chairmanship of the party. Each prides himself as favourite for the job, having been one thing or another in the party, in government or in business at some time, and flaunting such credentials. The position was zoned to the South, and while the South-East gentlemanly stayed away from the contest, the South-West is presenting six candidates and South-South, two. The South-West last minute effort to produce a consensus candidate failed.

From South-West are former governor of Ogun, Chief Gbenga Daniels; former National Vice Chairman (South-West) of the party, Chief Olabode George; former governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja; National Secretary of defunct faction of Sen. Sheriff, Prof. Wale Oladipo; former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran and the party’s governorship candidate in the 2015 election in Lagos State, Chief Jimi Agbaje.

The two contenders from the South-South are founder of Daar Communications, Chief Raymond Dokpesi and former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Mr Uche Secondus.

Chief Olabode George: Bode George, 72, a retired Navy Commodore, was born in Lagos. He was Military Governor of Ondo State between 1988 and 1990. As politician, he was in the leadership of PDP and held sway in the affairs of the party in the South-West. In 2001, he became national vice chairman of the party in the zone, and in July, 2005, was made Deputy National Chairman (South). There were reports that he had pulled out of the race some hours ago.

In March, 2008, the then National Chairman of the party, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, relieved him of his membership of the Governing Board of the Peoples Democratic Institute (PDI), owned by the party. A month later, PDP National Disciplinary Committee (NDC), which George headed, was dismantled. He was indicted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) when it was headed by Nuhu Ribadu on charges of fraud at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

However, he was widely rumoured to have been shielded from prosecution by then President Olusegun Obasanjo. But, in August, 2008, the EFCC under new helmsman, Farida Waziri, arrested George in Lagos and arraigned him and four others on a 163-count-charge of conspiracy, disobedience to lawful order, abuse of office and alleged illegal award of contracts worth N84 billion while he was chairman of the NPA.

During the trial, the charges were reduced to 63, and in October, 2009, he was found guilty and sentenced to 30 months. George’s lawyers filed an appeal and requested bail pending the determination of the appeal. The appeal was, however, refused by the court.

On 13th December, 2013, the Supreme Court discharged the conviction of George. The court, headed by Justice John Fabiyi, said that the EFCC had no evidence that George intended to commit fraud at the NPA, and that the charges of “contract splitting” was unknown to law.

As an aspirant for the national chairmanship of the party, George says the position is for the South-West and that he is the most qualified for it. According to him, chairmanship of PDP is not for kids.

Otunba Gbenga Daniel: 61-year old Gbenga Daniel was governor of Ogun from 2003 to 2011. An engineer and fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Daniel founded his own engineering firm, Kresta Laurel, after a stint at Schroeder (W.A.) Limited, where he rose to become deputy managing director.

After his tenure, he had sessions with the EFCC over allegation of corruption involving N58 billion. At the court, Justice Olarenwaju Mabekoje struck out the charges and released him on technical basis, holding that the charges were not supported with factual documents. The EFCC made fresh application and raised new charges, but reduced the money alleged misappropriated by the former governor to N200 million.

Daniel was granted bail and the trial has been dogged by issues which had led to several adjournments. During the period, he took a break from active politics, but when he returned, he abandoned PDP and declared for Labour Party. He announced that he opted for Labour Party to build a platform that would serve as a proper check for irregularities in governance of Ogun.

Many people in the PDP frowned at this but his supporters followed him to Labour Party, which became instantly dominant opposition in the state, taking over from the PDP. After series of consultations and horse-trading, championed by national leadership of the party, Daniel returned to PDP in October, 2014. He also declared his intention to run for the Senate, but with the zoning of national chairmanship of the party to the South, Daniel joined the race, saying he has what it takes to lead PDP to the next level, especially to regain power in 2019. His supporters believe that he will defeat his opponents.

Prof. Tunde Adeniran: Former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, is also in the contest to “reposition’’ the PDP. The 72-year-old political scientist and university teacher from Ondo State, who is also former UN staff member embraced politics full time in 1998. Armed with experience, particularly with the inner working of the PDP, Adeniran says he understands the party and the national political landscape well enough to put the party together and make it the one to beat in 2019.

He subscribed to consultations in the South-West to enable the region to produce a consensus candidate, but the “project’’ was deliberately scuttled by egoist posturing of some persons and their sponsors. In assessing himself for the race, therefore, Adeniran boasts that his candidature has a national appeal that will translate to victory at the convention.

Chief Raymond Dokpesi: Media mogul, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, 66, has had long-standing ambition to lead the PDP in some way to enthrone liberalism, fairness and credibility in the affairs of the party. He is passionate about the integrity of the party and is in a hurry for an opportunity to contribute to the realisation of that. He wants a PDP where impunity and imposition, which are products of absence of internal democracy, will be extinct. In his campaign which took him to every state in the country, Dokpesi, whose AIT and Raypower Radio were big assets to PDP in the build-up to the 2015 elections, said that aside the media, he had great networks to deploy in consolidating the gains already being made by the party.

And, as with his opponents, the Edo-born businessman, who graduated from the “political colleges’’ of Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and late Alhaji Umaru Dikko, assures that he will lead the party to dethrone the APC in 2019. He said he knows the political arsenal to deploy to dislodge the APC.

Uche Secondus: Chief Uche Secondus and Prof. Wale Oladipo worked closely in the leadership of the PDP before the Ali Modu Sheriff era in the party. While the latter was National Secretary, the former was Deputy National Chairman, who acted as chairman when his boss, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, resigned in 2015, shortly after leading the party to the disastrous outing in the general elections.

In the events that followed the May, 2016 National Convention in Port Harcourt, which almost eclipsed the PDP, Secondus and Oladipo operated from different camps. Secondus was deep in the “popular and major’’ group, which had the National Caretaker Committee of the party, while Oladipo tagged along with his chairman, Ali Modu Sheriff, maintaining his office and hoping that cases in court would favour the rather tiny faction.

But the professor of chemistry demonstrated “partymanship’’ when he embraced the olive branch extended by the “victorious’’ group and quickly integrated into the “new’’ PDP, while his former boss, Sheriff, distanced himself from all activities of the party, till date.

Secondus lays claim to experience of decades in politics, especially at top positions at state and national levels. He is believed to be favoured by governors of states controlled by PDP, with his home governor, Nyesom Wike, as arrowhead. The movements for Secondus’ acceptance caused Wike to make a rather bizarre personal trip to Minna to see former Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, reported to be against the “gang-up’’ of the governors.

Rashidi Ladoja: With great credentials and claims of capability for the onerous task ahead by the contenders, including Rashidi Ladoja and Jimi Agbaje, the electorate of the party will in a few hours, decide who they will entrust the destiny of PDP in his hands, and avoid the previous “mistakes’’.

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