By Chibuzo Ukaibe, Abuja
Ahead of today’s national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), indications have emerged that the race will be keenly contested between a former acting national chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus and a former minister of education, Prof Tunde Adeniran.
This comes as one of the nine national chairmanship aspirants in Saturday’s National Elective Convention of the PDP, Bode George, has withdrawn from the contest.
George accused the leadership of the party of refusing to keep to the micro-zoning principles which gave the chairmanship position to the South West.
The former PDP deputy national chairman (South) also called for unreserved apology from Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike for humiliating the people of the South West over what he called unguarded statements against the Yoruba race.
He said the statement by Wike that the Yoruba race had not contributed to the PDP was too much of an insult. He, therefore, demanded an unreserved apology from the governor.
Stressing that he was not withdrawing for any aspirant, he noted that his delegates were free to decide their next move at the convention.
“I entered the contest on the micro-zoning principle, which had been thrashed by little men who have compromised. It appears the PDP is bent on self-destruction. I can’t be part of this. The chairmanship position has been sold to the highest bidder,” George said at a briefing yesterday night.
“I will not step down for anyone. I am stepping down for the wrongs done to us,” he said, adding that the disregard of “micro zoning destroyed the fibre of the party. All positions should be micro-zoned. I didn’t step down for anybody.”
On his delegates, he said: “We don’t have personalised delegates. They are members of the party. I am withdrawing purely on principle. The choice to stay or go is up to them.”
Some South-West PDP leaders who were at Bode George’s residence were fellow chairmanship aspirant and governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former governor of Ondo State, Olusegun Mimiko; Board of Trustees member, Chief Ebenezer Babatope.
Earlier, the party had cleared the nine aspirants seeking to contest the national chairmanship of the party.
In all, a total of 87 aspirants have been cleared to contest 21 statutory positions in the party, excluding six ex-officio seats.
It was also gathered that pressure was mounted on some aspirants to withdraw from the race.
It was learnt that some aspirants from the South-South and some from the South-West were cajoled to step down their ambition in the interest of another candidate from the South-West region.
Besides Uche Secondus, media mogul, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, is also a keen aspirant from the South-South.
Besides Adeniran, other contestants from the South West include former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja; PDP gubernatorial candidate for Lagos State in the 2015, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, another former Minister of Education, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja and Mr. Segun Aderemi.
A source said: “Yes, some aspirants were prevailed upon to step down. The issue is due to security reports made available to them that may hinder their effectiveness in office as PDP national chairman.”
The source added that a party leader had cajoled a governor backing one of the aspirants from the South-South to withdraw his support from the aspirant and allow the South-West produce the party chairman.
The source added that “there will be no objection if some aspirants choose to step down at Eagle Square today”.
Another party source also revealed to LEADERSHIP Weekend that Secondus was likely to split the votes of the northern delegates.
The source told our correspondent, that votes from the North has been broken, adding “Secondus will win votes from the North. It has been broken”.
Chief Raymond Dokpesi yesterday denied reports that he had withdrawn from the race for any aspirant.
Dokpesi, a media mogul, also revealed how he turned down overtures by a governor for him to step down from the race, saying also that he had not had any meeting with aspirants with regards to the emergence of a consensus candidate.
Although he refused to disclose the name of the governor, Dokpesi described as mischievous an advertorial placed by Dan Orbih, the Edo State PDP chairman, that the state chapters of the party had endorsed a fellow aspirant, Prince Secondus.
Accompanied by his campaign director-general, Engr Mohammed Baba Kachalla, Dokpesi, while speaking on the convention committee list, said: “They are known PDP members. They are members of the party and they have the right to vote and to align on the way they want. I won’t criticise the committee. I am satisfied with that.
On his part, Kachalla said: “Only delegates can and will decide the fate of aspirants on the floor of the campaign ground
We will be bold to challenge the aspirant that had brought defeat to PDP in the past.
He added: “He (Dokpesi) has not and will not withdraw from the race for no reason whatsoever. If the so-called leaders and some governors are sure of themselves, why ask Dokpesi to drop out of the race. He will accept the outcome if the election is free, fair, transparent and adjudged credible.”
On his part, former President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday declared that he had no preferred candidates ahead of the election at the convention.
Jonathan stated this in his goodwill message to members of PDP as they vote at the convention.
A statement by the former president, signed by his media aide, Ikechukwu Eze, said, “As the father of the party, ex-President Jonathan has no preferred candidates for any of the positions, and is prepared to work with all those that will emerge as members of the new NWC, to ensure that the party regains its pride of place in the affairs of the nation.
“Contrary to speculations and permutations by some interest groups, Dr. Jonathan has never discussed or plotted with others against the ambition of any of the candidates, as is being falsely reported by those who are adept at spreading negative stories against the immediate past president.
“The former President is therefore optimistic that the convention will produce a positive outcome that will help the PDP consolidate its position as the party with the best democratic ideals in the country.”
Similarly, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar also said he had no preferred candidate but supports the emergence of a stronger PDP after the convention.
Atiku, in a press statement signed by his media office, said as an advocate of internal democracy in a political party system, he believes that all the aspirants for the respective elective positions in the PDP National Executive Council (NEC) are eminently qualified.
He noted that the challenge before the delegates of the party is to vote according to their consciences.
The statement reads: “As our great political party sets forth to elect new set of national officers for the party today (Saturday), we must put the interest of the party first and I urge our delegates to vote for people they believe will better promote the interest of the party.
“I am an advocate of democracy and it is my belief that the best way to strengthen a political party is to promote the principle of internal democracy in the workings of the party. I believe that all of the aspirants for respective positions are eminently qualified and the task is before our delegates to pick people who will make PDP even a stronger party after the convention.
“I do not have any preferred candidate; all I ask of our delegates and members of the organising committee is that they should give us a national convention that is transparent, free and credible – one that will establish a standard for how intra-party elections are to be held in the country,” Atiku said.
However, the South-East zone yesterday endorsed Secondus as candidate for the national chairman of the party.
The South East leaders had met in Abuja and declared that they were throwing their weight behind Secondus because he was an aspirant with character and competence.
Some of the leaders at the meeting include Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu; deputy national vice chairman, Austin Umahi; Sam Egwu; Hon Emeka Ihedioha; Sen Theodore Orji.
A communiqué from the meeting read by national vice chairman of the party, Austin Umahi, said: “In our meeting today, December 8, we the stakeholders of PDP in the South East geo-political zone, having examined all the people vying for the national chairmanship position of our party, PDP, we wish to commend highly all the aspirants, especially on how they have conducted themselves during their campaigns fully aware that this is an internal party affair.
“We are very conscious of the personality of who becomes the national chairman of our great party for the next four years. Based on the foregoing, we have unanimously, in our today’s stakeholders’ meeting here in Abuja, decided that we will back an aspirant that has character and content.
“In this circumstance, and without prejudice to the right of other aspirants to this national chairmanship position, credible and transparent election, we have decided to back and vote for Prince Uche Secondus for the position of national chairman of our great party.
“We have also agreed to vote the following positions zoned to the South East: Col Austin Akobundu for national organising secretary; Hon Ude Okoye for youth Leader; Alphonsos Gerald, deputy financial secretary.”
However, an aspirant for the position of national publicity secretary and former journalist, Kola Ologbondiyan, has insisted that he is prepared for the assignment ahead.
He said: “I am psychologically prepared for the assignment ahead. I have consulted and campaigned widely among party faithful across the length and breadth of Nigeria. I have received overwhelming support. I am convinced that delegates will make a right choice in me”.
Answering questions from newsmen after consultations with various stakeholders and delegates to the PDP Convention, Ologbondiyan said, “I believe my opponents have given up.
“My experience as a newspaper editor and image manager to the former President of the Senate, Senator David Mark from 2007 to 2015 will put me in a better stead ahead of my opponents in the management of the party’s affairs”.
Ologbondiyan stated that what the party needs at the moment is an experienced technocrat like himself to project and promote the image of the PDP forthwith.
According to Ologbondiyan, “this is the time to tell our story and change the narrative that will once again endear the party to the people of Nigeria. I am aware of the challenges ahead and I am prepared never to fail.”
However, the event which comes at a time the United States Mission in Abuja has raised the alarm over attack threat.
But speaking on the development, Delta State governor who is also the convention chairman, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa said there is no cause for alarm, assuring that extra security measures will be put in place to forestall terror attack at the Eagles Square, the convention venue.
According to him, a thorough screening exercise will be carried out to ensure that those who have no business at the convention venue, do not get near the area.
“We have also put in a lot of security measures. We are working very closely with the police, Department of State Services (DSS) and other security agencies to ensure a hitch-free convention.”
“We are very much aware of the alert concerning Abuja. A lot of security measures have been put in. So, at our convention venue, you may not have the usual large crowds that you have at the convention venue because it is going to be very restrictive.”
“The security committee is working very closely with all security agencies and we are assured that the process is full-proof and by the special grace of God, we are going to have a convention that will end up very well for our party and for the people of Nigeria”.