The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will elect new leaders at its national convention fixed for October 30 and 31 in Abuja. Unless Uche Secondus stages a miraculous comeback there, the event will end his tumultuous reign as the national chairman of the party.
The convention will also indicate where the party will look in picking candidates for the 2023 presidential election.
Mr Secondus was elected the national chairman of the party in 2017. In the election, also held at the Eagles Square, Abuja, Mr Secondus polled 2,000 of the 2,296 total votes cast. He beat three other contestants and became the 11th National Chairman of the party founded during the transition to Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in 1998.
His resounding victory followed the endorsement of his candidature by the 11 state governors elected on the platform of the opposition party and other key stakeholders.
The governors of Rivers and Ekiti, Nyesom Wike and Ayodele Fayose respectively, led the mobilisation of support for Mr Secondus, who was a friend and political ally of Mr Wike in Rivers State.
In his acceptance speech after the election, the new chairman promised to make the time of the PDP in opposition short. The party had broken into factions over a leadership tussle after losing its 16-year hold on the Nigerian presidency. Mr Secondus promised to rebuild it.
“By my understanding, the mandate you have given us today is clear and unambiguous. It is to return our party to power come 2019. As Herculean as this mandate seems, I know it’s achievable. My campaign pillars for this election are ‘To Rebuild, Reposition and Regain’,” he said.
“Let me assure you, great members and leaders of our party, that by the grace of God and with all hands on deck, the brief tenancy of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Aso Rock Villa expires on May 28, 2019. By this, we serve them a quit notice.”
However, the PDP has continued to be riven by internal crisis and Mr Secondus has become a major casualty of the turmoil. A court has removed him from the chair and consigned him to the sidelines as the party prepares for the national convention where it will elect a new chairman and other leaders. It is not clear yet whether Mr Secondus intends to run for the position again.
According to his critics, Mr Secondus lacks the leadership skills required to reposition the party for victory in the 2023 General Election.
In the last 10 months under his watch, the PDP lost three state governors, including two from the south; some national and state lawmakers as well as many members across the country to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Mr Secondus faces the fate suffered by his former counterpart in the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, who was also booted out of office as national chairman of the ruling party last year after a costly fight with his home state governor, Godwin Obaseki. If he fails to recover the chair, he will also follow in the steps of a majority of the people who have sat on that chair in the 23-year history of the PDP.
Of the 11 persons that have served as the party’s national chairman, only eight, including Mr Secondus, were elected into the office in substantive capacity. The three others served as interim chairmen.
Except Ahmadu Ali who completed his four-year tenure in 2008, no other chairman, including the first, Solomon Lar, has seen out their term. The others are Barnabas Gemade, Audu Ogbeh, Vincent Ogubulafor, Okwesilieze Nwodo, Bamanga Tukur, and now Mr Secondus.
Mr Secondus, who was suspended five months to the end of his four-year tenure, is the longest-serving, behind only Mr Ali. Messrs Ogbeh and Tukur held the seat for three years while the others did two years or less before being forced to resign.
Going by the constitution of the PDP, Mr Secondus is entitled to seek another four-year term. But sources in the party hierarchy told PREMIUM TIMES that this is unlikely due to the influence of the forces against him in the party.
Like Mr Oshiomhole who was forced out of office as APC chairman by his protégé-turned-rival and other party leaders, Mr Secondus’ political troubles are linked to his frosty relationship with Mr Wike, the man who handpicked him for the top seat four years ago.
But Mr Secondus was not new to party positions. Before his election as PDP chairman in 2017, he had served two terms as the party’s state chairman in Rivers, National Organising Secretary, deputy National Chairman (South), and acting National Chairman, following the resignation of Adamu Mu’azu in 2015.
All these, many believe, he enjoyed with the support of his friend and longtime political ally, Mr Wike.
Although the two continued to publicly deny reports of a rift between them, recent instances indicate the contrary.
At the 60th birthday celebration of a former governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke, in July, the Rivers State Governor publicly called Mr Secondus a liar who should not be trusted to continue running the PDP. He also blamed him for the crises in some state chapters of the party.
Reacting to the public attack a few days later, Mr Secondus said he was not ready to join words with Mr Wike. But the Rivers governor persisted in his public rebuke of his party’s national chairman.
“Everybody believed that whatever the national chairman was doing was dictated by Wike and must have the backing of Wike. I believe when you support somebody, support him to succeed.
“But when things are also going wrong, if you don’t speak out, people will believe you are part of it. Therefore, I owe it as a duty to say things are not going right,” Mr Wike said in August.
A few days after that remark by the governor, the Rivers State High Court barred Mr Secondus from parading himself as PDP national chairman, having been suspended by his ward’s chapter of the party in Andoni Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The court decision, coupled with the earlier resignation of seven national officials of the party, intensified the controversies around the party leadership and 2023 politicking.
Can Northern allies save Secondus?
The PDP is divided over which between North and South of Nigeria should produce the party’s presidential candidate in 2023. Mr Secondus has found himself at the centre of that tempest.
It is couched as a battle to determine the zoning formula of the party ahead of 2023. Zoning has become the most sensitive issue not only in the PDP but also in the APC as President Muhammadu Buhari nears the end of his final term in 2023.
Southern state governors from across parties have repeatedly made a public demand for a southern president in 2023. But that does not seem to be swaying leaders of the PDP, even though the party has nine of the 17 southern state governors.
After announcing October 30 and 31 as the dates for the National Convention, the PDP NEC, on Thursday, constituted the National Convention Organising Committee and Zoning Committee. The latter was tasked with recommending a zoning formula for National Working Committee (NWC) offices.
If he retains the seat or is succeeded in the office by another member from the South, it would be an indication that those clamouring for the presidency to continue to reside in the North after eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC are winning the war.
From the list of known aspirants for the office, it appears the PDP is tilting towards electing another chairman from the south. Does this mean good news for Mr Secondus?
Mr Secondus is believed to still enjoy the backing of the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, Aminu Tambuwal, and some of his colleagues. This further shows the crack among erstwhile allies because Mr Wike in 2018 backed Mr Tambuwal’s presidential bid until he was beaten at the party’s primaries by former vice president Atiku Abubakar. Following his nomination, Mr Abubakar worked very closely with Mr Secondus, a development which some analysts believe sowed the seed of mistrust between the suspended chairman and Mr Wike.
It is not known whether Mr Abubakar will stand by Mr Secondus or follow the flow of popular opinion in the party on the chairmanship contest.
Aside from the 2023 calculations, however, there are party leaders who are unimpressed by Mr Secondus’ leadership style. They believe he needs to be removed to save the party from implosion and increase its chances of electoral victory against the ruling APC in 2023.
In a conversation with PREMIUM TIMES after the 93rd NEC meeting, a party leader dismissed Mr Secondus’ chances in the coming elections into the NWC offices.
Against speculations that a larger number of state governors were behind the embattled chairman, the party chieftain said the body language of many of the party leaders show that although they may favour a northern presidential ticket, they are against Mr Secondus continuing in the office of national chairman.
“Many of us want a southern national chairman but definitely not Secondus. We want someone formidable to guide the sail of the party to victory, not losing what we already have.
“We are weighing our chances and Secondus is not in the equation if we really mean business to take over from this incompetent government in 2023. As you can see, we are one family again and we are ready to speak and act as one,” the NEC member, who asked not to be named, told this journalist last Thursday.
However, when quizzed on the chances of Mr Abubakar, emerging PDP’s flag bearer again in 2023, the source did not offer a direct answer.
“You are a journalist, figure it out. Is the body language not obvious?” the party chieftain said.
Most of the members who have declared interest in Mr Secondus’ chair are southerners like himself, but from the Southwest. They include a former Governor of Osun State, Ọlagunsoye Oyinlọla; former deputy national chairman of the party from Lagos, Olabode George and a former South-west National Vice Chairman, Eddy Olafeso.
If any of these emerges victorious in the race at the end of October, it may do more than end the long career of Mr Secondus in the leadership of the PDP. It will also indicate that despite the clamour for power rotation in Nigeria, the PDP will be looking north for its next presidential candidate.
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