At least six prominent members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are being tipped to replace the party’s embattled national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, at the October national convention, The Nation reports.
Five of the aspirants are southerners like Secondus, the only northerner being the immediate past governor of Gombe State, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo.
Party sources named the aspirants as former national secretary of the party and ex-governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; a former deputy national chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode George; a former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Liyel Imoke; the immediate past deputy governor of Bayelsa State, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd); and the party’s former governorship candidate in Lagos State, Mr. Jimi Agbaje.
Observers said yesterday that the preponderance of southerners in the race was an indication that the party was preparing the ground for the emergence of its presidential candidate from the north.
More aspirants may signal their interest before the convention.
Sources told The Nation that the convention would be a make-or -break affair because it will define the future of the party.
Groups and concerned members are holding consultations to ensure that the party comes out stronger after the current National Working Committee (NWC) quits.
Although the convention is statutorily scheduled for December, governors elected on the platform of the party at a recent meeting, which also had in attendance some other stakeholders, recommended that the convention be held in October as part of the peace deal struck to resolve the crisis rocking the PDP.
The crisis stemmed from the disagreement between Secondus and his erstwhile political godfather, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State.
There are indications that all parties to the crisis may have accepted the option of Secondus not seeking re-election as a way out of the imbroglio. The Nation gathered that the outcome of last Tuesday’s meeting by the governors will be endorsed by other organs of the party in the days to come.
“The next thing being planned is a meeting of the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC). All things being equal, it will take place very soon and the decisions reached at last Tuesday’s meeting are most likely to be endorsed by all the organs of the party during the NEC,” a highly placed source said.
The source added: “As at today, the popular opinion is that Secondus should stay till the convention and leave.”
With Secondus most unlikely to seek re-election, some governors, ex-governors, former presidential hopefuls and other influential leaders of the PDP have started the search for his successor.
Involved in the search are both the anti and pro Secondus forces in the party.
A pro-Secondus source said: “Even if they succeed in stopping Secondus from re-contesting, they are not going to succeed in hijacking the PDP.
“That is their intention all in their blind struggle to illegally corner the presidential ticket in 2023. We are ready for them.
“With or without Secondus, the PDP will remain the free, orderly and law abiding political party that it has become under the current leadership.”
Although majority of the anti- Secondus forces led by Governor Wike are said to be rooting for a southerner as the next party chairman, some others, including Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, are making a strong case for the position to be zoned to the north to ensure that the party’s zoning arrangement is not distorted in 2023.
A source said Makinde keeps reminding his colleagues and other stakeholders in the group of the need to consider the zoning arrangement in their decision on the position of national chairman.
“He wants to be sure the emergence of a national chairman from the south will not be used as a reason to cede the presidential ticket to the north,” the source said.
“He is not keeping quiet. He is talking. He is asking questions and he is making suggestions.
“But unfortunately, he appears to be the only one showing concern. Many of our people are busy negotiating for one position or the other, not minding the implication of their aspiration on the larger picture of 2023.
“Some of our National Assembly members from the south are with him on this.”
One of the names being touted to replace Secondus by those opposed to his continued stay in office is Chief Bode George, a former military governor of old Ondo State.
He is an unrelenting critic of Secondus and had shown interest in the position of national chairman in 2017 but withdrew along the line.
While he is yet to publicly declare interest in the job ahead of the October convention, sources close to him told The Nation that “chief is ever ready to take up any assignment that will make PDP a better party.
“He is one politician you can rest assured he will remain in the party even if he is the only one remaining there. He is eminently qualified and prepared for the job.”
George is said to have the backing of some prominent BoT members of the party as a middle way option in the event that PDP governors and other stakeholders fail to agree on who the next chairman of the party should be.
It was however gathered that his candidature is not popular within the Southwest zone of the party.
A party chieftain, Dr. Laji Aderopo, said: “In the Southwest, majority of us want the presidential ticket of the PDP to be zoned to the south in 2023. That is why we are not rooting for the chairmanship to be given to us.
“This is politics and we understand the game well. This is why we may not support George or any other southwest candidate at the convention.”
Aderopo was zonal Secretary of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) before he joined the PDP.
Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola has already openly declared his intention to run for the office of the national chairman of the party. Currently, he is an ally of Governor Makinde of Oyo State.
Last May, ex-Ekiti State governor Segun Oni said PDP chieftains and members in the Southwest zone were rooting for Oyinlola for the national chairmanship position.
“The person that all of us are setting our eyes on is Prince Oyinlola, and he has not yet told us that he’s not going to do it. That’s the man we all want to support for the position of national chairman,” Oni told reporters.
The Nation however learnt that former governor of Gombe State, Ibrahim Dankwambo, is being considered as a possible replacement for Secondus by those who want the position to go to the north as part of political permutations ahead of the 2023 presidential contest.
He is yet to declare interest in the race, but those promoting his candidature are said to be urging him to run.
With reality dawning on them that Secondus may not be seeking re-election, supporters of the embattled national chairman are not about to be caught unawares in the race to produce his successor.
The Nation learnt that the camp of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the predominant group supporting Secondus, is already considering some party stalwarts for the job.
“Now that the governors have succeeded in convincing the party leaders that preventing Secondus from returning as chairman is in the interest of the party, presenting him as a candidate at the convention will be ill advised,” a source said.
“Consequently, we will consider supporting another worthy party man for the job at the convention in the interest of the party and because we want to ensure we are not caught napping at the convention.”
It was also gathered that the Atiku camp wants the national chairmanship of the party to remain in the southern part of the country to enhance his (Atiku’s) chances of clinching the PDP presidential ticket.
What remains for the group is to decide who to pick for the chairmanship race and from which of the three geo-political zones in the south.
While some allies of the former vice president prefer Secondus’ replacement to be sought from the South-south to appease the zone for his ouster, others feel the next man for the job should come from the Southwest for certain political reasons.
“The only agreement for now is that there is need to replace Secondus with another candidate from the south,” our source said.
A source said former governor of Cross River State, Liyel Imoke looks like a credible candidate.
Some PDP elders are of the view that Imoke has what it takes to stabilise the party and unite all warring factions ahead of the 2023 elections.
“While Imoke enjoys the trust and confidence of former Vice President Atiku, he is also a good friend of Governor Wike,” a source said.
“What is more, he is seen as a very capable hand by most PDP elders who are desirous of a national chairman that will use his experience and connections to end the various disagreements bedeviling the party.
“His candidacy is being touted by moderates within the party who want an end to the infightings.”
There is also Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd), the immediate past deputy governor of Bayelsa State.
Jonah too has not announced his interest in the race, promoters of his candidacy are already doing a lot to advance his chances.
A source said: “His choice emanated from a school of thought that believes the core Niger-Delta should not be deprived of the slot in the event that Secondus is dropped.
“They feel a candidate from neighboring Bayelsa State will still be acceptable to the party chieftains and members in Rivers State where the current chairman hails from. Besides, he is said to enjoy the friendship of Atiku even before he joined politics and became deputy governor.”
His emergence is also said to be enjoying the support of allies of former Governor Seriake Dickson, who has stood solidly behind Secondus in his face-off with Wike. “He served as Dickson’s deputy for eight years and their relationship remains cordial even now.
“He is one man many of the leaders of the pro-Secondus camp can trust to remain loyal to the cause of the group while leading the PDP out of muddy waters ahead of the 2023 general elections,” the source added.
Also being touted as a likely contender for the plum job is Jimi Agbaje, PDP’s gubernatorial candidate during the last gubernatorial election in Lagos State.
Agbaje is not a new comer in the contest for the national chairmanship of the party. In 2015, he emerged as the PDP joker, whom some of the governors wanted to succeed the former National Chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, at the botched May 21, 2015 national convention in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Sources close to him claimed his national chairmanship ambition remains alive and he will definitely jump at any opportunity to contest the position again.
“He is one candidate many of us will not waste time to describe as capable. He is in the good books of most of our leaders across the country except in his native Lagos State where he has been having a running battle with Chief Bode George’s group,” our source said.