As political preparations for the 2023 general elections are gradually gaining steam, the Chairman of the country’s main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Uche Secondus, is at the centre of an intense intra-party struggle.
Secondus’ foray into politics dates back to the Second Republic in 1978 when he served as Rivers State Youth Leader of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He was the Rivers State Publicity Secretary of the National Republican Convention (NRC) (1993 – 1998) and later on went on to serve as a two-term Chairman of the Rivers State PDP, before being elected as deputy National Chairman of the PDP in 2013.
In December 2017, he won the keenly contested election into the position of the PDP chairmanship in a four-year tenure that will expire in December 2021. He replaced Adamu Mua’zu as the man charged with spearheading the revival of the party heading into the 2019 elections. Although the party was unable to wrestle power from the incumbent party at the centre, it performed relatively well in that particular election, welcoming back some heavyweight politicians into its fold and winning a fair portion of states and legislative positions. Since then, circumstances have, however, deteriorated with the party’s below-par performance in subsequent off-season elections and the wave of defections from its flock, leaving it in a floundered position heading into the next political cycle.
Lately, there have been rising calls within the party for a fundamental change towards repositioning the party’s leadership, which has been accused of non-vibrancy as an opposition party due to poor leadership and inefficient administration. Many stakeholders wondered why the stock of the party has been plummeting, in spite of the perceived governance failure of the ruling APC; which naturally should have played in the party’s advantage, to make the PDP more viable than ever and in prime position to take over government at the central level, come 2023.
News emerged recently that some members of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) resigned from their positions. According to them, their resignation was based on the management failure and uninspiring leadership style of Secondus. Claiming they were sidelined and marginalised by the party, they further expressed pessimism at the political chances of the party in the 2023 elections if Secondus’ stay is not terminated. They also pointed to the gale of defections as an indicator that all is not well and an urgent need for an internal reconstruction of the party. Few of the resignees would later withdraw their resignations.
The dimension which the crisis was assuming made the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party led by Senator Wali Jubril to convene an emergency meeting, towards finding a lasting solution to the growing challenges rocking the party. Jubril said this is not a time for the party to engage in in-fighting when the governing party has failed citizens in the country. He insisted that the PDP must put its house in order and prepare for its next Congress, in a bid to strengthen the party and position it strategically ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, attended that meeting, despite not being a regular attendee of the BoT meetings. But he apparently decided to take part in this because he is the major force championing the moves to ensure Secondus’ removal before the party’s national convention slated for December. However, the PDP BoT’s position was that Secondus should be allowed to complete his tenure, which would soon end. The board members faulted what they termed as uncomplimentary remarks by some party leaders, including Wike, against the National Working Committee, while condemning the way the NWC handled crises in some state chapters of the party. The BoT proceeded to set up a 35-member elders’ committee, which would meet to proffer ways in resolving the crisis.
Speaking at the meeting, Secondus, who the national officers blamed for their resignation, said regardless of the divergent opinions, the party’s national congress planned for December will make way for a peaceful smooth transition from one NWC to another. He explained that the NWC made efforts to get the national officers that resigned to rescind their decision, including meeting with them, but that did not change their minds. He further appealed to the BOT to look critically at the issues to avoid jeopardizing the planned National Congress.
The PDP Governor’s Forum also held a meeting to agree on a position, ahead of the meeting of the party’s elders. Wike, who was leading the anti-Secondus forces, tried to convince his colleagues that were backing the embattled national chairman to dump him. However, pro-Secondus members, led by the Chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum and Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, stuck to their position, insisting that the national chairman should be allowed to end his tenure. The meeting ended in a stalemate, with no definite position being arrived at. Efforts of the governors to resolve the logjam hit a brick wall, with Secondus facing an uncertain future.
The PDP members in the House of Representatives were also divided over moves to remove the national chairman. Leader of the PDP caucus in the House, Kingsley Chinda, in a statement said the caucus at a meeting called for Secondus’ resignation due to prolonged party maladministration. But in a quick riposte, the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, faulted the anti-Secondus lawmakers. Elumelu said members of the PDP caucus in the House have not met on the leadership crisis in the opposition party and therefore, dismissed the call for Secondus’ resignation.
In a related development, 9 out of the 19 members of the NWC also held a meeting where 6 of them were said to have voted in favour of the call for the resignation of the national chairman towards charting a path for the party’s rescue. Former Governor of Bayelsa State and senator representing Bayelsa West, Seriake Dickson, faulted a statement by some members of the NWC, who called for the resignation of Secondus, describing the meeting convened by the NWC members as illegal, as only the national chairman could convene such a meeting. He further said that the party leader cannot be stampeded to resign because only the National Convention could remove him.
Responding to the cacophony of calls for his ouster, Secondus has come out to say that he will not resign as the national chairman of the party. He stated that nothing so far warrants his resignation from the position and challenged those calling for his resignation to come clean and tell party members across the country his offence and why he should resign.
Evidently, there is disharmony in virtually all organs of the party, with the PDP Governors’ Forum, the Legislative caucus, National Working Committee, and National Executive Committee all seemingly working to achieve non-unified interest. The incongruence of ideas and strife eating the party from within puts it in grave danger and is also working in favour of its political opponents. It is obvious that a definitive action needs to be taken and quickly too.
This led to the most recent move to stabilise the precarious situation, which culminated in yet another meeting of stakeholders of the party made up of 13 governors, the Board of Trustees, and other organs of the party, who decided to bring the convention forward to October from December, in what is a move to calm frayed nerves and placate anti-Secondus forces who have been pushing for his removal in the past few months. They maintained that a convention planning committee will soon be inaugurated.
The convention will help to elect a new Chairman and other members of the NWC, who will be tasked with unifying the party and pushing behind it all the prevailing internal disputes and conflicts.
With the declaration, it is safe to say the calls for resignation will subside, with focus now expected to be on intense political machinations, horse-trading, and scheming in determining the next occupant of the position. Secondus is presently at the cross-roads; and it is uncertain if he will contest for the chairmanship again, but over the coming days a clearer picture will be seen when other interested party members declare their intention to vie for the office.
In the history of the party, none of its national chairmen has served a complete tenure of four years, let alone being re-elected. History is therefore against Secondus, although nothing is certain yet. Also to be factored in is the PDP culture of zoning, which often pertains to the position of National Chairman being rotated amongst the zones and also being selected from a different zone from the presidential flagbearer. The party is yet to zone any position to anywhere and the established rotational culture may be tinkered with, as dynamisms are rapidly changing.
The PDP itself can bear witness to what a sturdy opposition can achieve; seeing the adept manner in which the All Progressives Congress (APC) snatched power from its hands in 2015; but since then, the nation has been lacking coherent and well-structured opposition, with the PDP unable to carry out the role in an efficient manner.
Heading into the next political cycle, the electorate is keenly watching to see if the PDP can be trusted with power again. The signals coming from its fold wherein it cannot even properly administer its own party is a negative indication of its non-preparedness to reverse its political misfortunes. The nation needs a cohesive and vibrant opposition to turn to if it is not convinced at the governance philosophy of an incumbent party and the PDP needs to give the nation that credible alternative. As at now, the PDP is still the only party with the national structure, followership, and capacity to challenge the APC in 2023.
Nigerians are therefore expectant of an expedited resolution to the travails of the party, as the political season beckons.