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All Eyes On Iyorchia Ayu As PDP Inaugurates New NWC

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Beyond the successful outcome of its recent national convention, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, under a new leadership is faced with the daunting task to reinvent itself and return to its winning ways as 2023 approaches, writes Emameh Gabriel

The Rescue Nigeria mantra recently adopted by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as its campaign slogan for 2023 will come in full fledged on Friday, December 10 when its newly elected National Working Committee (NWC) takes over the baton to steer the affairs of the party for the next four years. Beyond this, the new leadership of the party is shouldered with the responsibility to return the former biggest political party in Africa to the centre of power come 2023.

Coming out of its last national convention without rancour has put to rest speculations of a gasping PDP that many believed the exercise could be its last as a political party. But against all odds, the PDP proved to be more resilient. The party is not only ready to push the ruling APC to the limit this time but it is also determined to give it a fight for its power and money come 2023.

Obviously, the outcome of the convention has sent shivers down the spin of the ruling party that is currently not certain of its direction to 2023, given the current leadership tussle that has engulfed its various state chapters; all the way to the national level- a situation tied to who decides what, takes what and gets what in 2023.

On Sunday, October 31, former Senate President, Ayorchia Ayu formally became the party’s national chairman through the party’s old tradition- consensus building. Ayu and 19 of the 21 new officials emerged by consensus after a high level horse trading at the geopolitical/zonal caucus levels, underlining the strong desire of the major opposition party to portray a veneer of unity and stability, and give order to an otherwise very difficult situation.

The PDP was riddled with leadership crisis that cost it a huge fortune in the last few years and became even worse in 2021 when three governors and several lawmakers from the Senate and House of Representatives left the party for the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).

Before the party’s latest twist of fortune, it was enmeshed in an atrocious internal wrangling among factions, underlined by the conflict between the erstwhile party Chairman, Uche Secondus and the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. Since the party’s defeat at the 2015 election, all has not been well, as all prescriptions intended to put it back on its feet fell short of restoring the health of the former biggest political party in Africa.

The bulk of this blame was directed at the party’s leadership under Uche Secondus, who they accused of complacency and corruption. A factor attributed to the loss of Zamfara, Ebonyi and even Cross River to the APC as their governors decided to jump ship.

Despite the success recorded at its recent convention, Nigeria’s major opposition party is still confronted with crisis in some of its state chapters- a leadership conundrum bequeathed by the outgoing Uche Secondus led-NWC.

Prince Kassim Afebgua, a former Edo State Commissioner for Information, acknowledged this when he told THISDAY in exclusive chat that the “new leadership of the party has a lot on its plate to resolve.”

Notwithstanding, the fortune of the party can be turned around. The timing is not at all bad for Ayu who has won the confidence of members of the PDP. The current economic woes in the country, hunger, inflation, the rising state of insecurity across the country, the cracks in the ruling party and the rage by Nigerians who are no longer comfortable with the state of the nation, provide a starting point for the new National Chairman of the PDP to activate the PDP’s rescue agenda in profound ways.

With all of these put together, Ayu will assume office with the strongest political tailwind, like Buhari did in 2015 with the APC’s ‘Change’ mantra. Of course, his party and well-wishers are desperate to make a hero of him by ensuring that the APC is sent packing in 2023. But first, he must start as a bridge builder.

Last week, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike confirmed that the new leadership of the PDP, waiting to be inaugurated on December 10, has started engaging Nigerians and other party members on identifying what the problems are and how to address them properly.

The election of Ayu, a former Sociology lecturer and Minister in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration as party chairman was a watershed moment for a party that tried unsuccessfully to dislodge the APC at the 2019 general election. Many analysts see it as an attempt by the PDP to return to its old ways, as it was during the nascent days of the Fourth Republic, when the party was driven by ideas and populated by men who understood the high ideals of democracy.

A former Governor of Plateau State Nigerian Ambassador to Kenya, Fidelis Tapgun, has described the adoption of Ayu as the best decision taken by the party in the last few years, noting that he is a peg fit for the job.

He said the “election of Senator Iyorcha Ayu, as the National Chairman, of the PDP, means the party has returned to the ideals of its founding fathers.

“The PDP is not called the PDP for nothing. I want to congratulate the new national chairman and the chairman of the national convention committee for a job well done because the party is now in the hands of those who understand the idea that informed the formation of the PDP.”

“No single person was dictating happenings in the party. When people saw how truly democratic the PDP was in its operations during the conduct of the council elections, many more people joined the party afterwards.

“The implication is that the party will now go back to its original philosophy centred on fairness and value for the people”, he noted.

This assertion is a testament to Ayu’s credentials but beyond this, he must prove that he is worth the confidence reposed in him by the PDP.

Reinvigorating Saraki led- Reconciliation Committee

Obviously, PDP’s journey to its national convention was confronted with various crises, but despite the smooth outcome of the exercise, some of the cracks in the party has either been resolved or mitigated.

Credit must go to the National Reconciliation and Strategy Committee, (NRSC) which was set up by the out-going NWC, in December 2020, to identify problems in the party and resolved them while also suggesting strategies that could help the party.

Led by immediate past Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the NRSC has former Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim, former governors Liyel Imoke, Ibrahim Shema, and Ibrahim Dankwanbo, and former leader of the House of Representatives, Mrs Mulikat Akande-Adeola among others as members.

The body was set up at a time when the party was in tatters and many top members were leaving in droves. The committee resolved the crisis in Ogun State, the 14-year old crisis in the Borno State chapter. It also recorded success in bringing together the feuding groups in Nasarawa, Ekiti and Plateau states.

The committee also recorded a breakthrough in the Niger State crisis. The crisis in Lagos was also resolved, though the disruption in the last congress in the state suggested that there is a lot more to do in Lagos State. However, the PDP is also making frantic efforts to poach from the ruling party in the state and has successfully infiltrated the Lagos State chapter of the APC.

Despite these achievements recorded by the committee, more is expected of Ayu to ensure that the party has a smooth ride to 2023.

Afegbua has advised the new leadership of the party to be more calculative in its approach and be concious of the fact that there is work ahead to ensure that the party regains its position at the centre of power.

Afegbua in an exclusive chat with THISDAY said the NWC started on a good note with the structuring of the party’s account system to entrench a culture of transparency.

He said: “The new leadership no doubt, has a lot on its plate to resolve, but with the way they have started, the sky will be its limit.

“The party’s accounting system has to be well structured to entrench a culture of transparency different from the opaque system of the previous exco. The recent retreat of the party captured in eloquent details what the way forward should be.

“The new leadership should apply holistic measures to have the buy-in of critical stakeholders in party activities. The language of inclusion and not exclusion is very important in rallying all the factors together for any party engagement. The women and youth are critical mass effect which must be accommodated and cultivated to expand the support base of the party”, Afegbua advised.

He added that, “Before the 2023 presidential election, the PDP must take deliberate, conscious and sustained steps to sustain its present stability across board to be able to withstand the monstrosity of the APC. The opportunity is there for grabs by the PDP if the leadership is able to look beyond selfish and parochial interest to embrace a most encompassing and robust approach to dealing with party issues.

He continued: “The sins of the APC are so many that it will be shocking if Nigerians could forgive them. They have impoverished millions with their nebulous policies that are not properly captured and structured to address the precarious situation we find ourselves. Nigeria is now the poverty capital of world, corruption has gone worse under a government that preaches anti-corruption, while unemployment has become pandemic. So, for the PDP, the campaign issues are self-defining and might become more compelling when the subsidy removal becomes manifest.

“It is going to be a tough battle ahead, said Afebgua who expressed confidence in the quality and content of the Iyorchia Ayu-led executives that he said “would put the party in stronger stead in contention for power”.

On his part, Efe T Williams, a public affairs analyst, said the PDP has a very good chance for comeback but that would depend on if the leadership of the party is willing to return the party to the people.

He said despite the huge disappointment to Nigerians by the ruling party, the PDP still has an ugly story that it must in first instance convince Nigerians otherwise.

William said: “It will be more than miracle, but possible if certain things are done right to rebrand the PDP.

“Considering some of the glaring failures the ruling APC, and the wobbling party politics, the PDP can harvest from it, when and if the party first and foremost put its house in order. The party started well with a rancour free convention, it can build on it by repositioning the itself across the the country, from the ward level.

“The 16 years of PDP has its ups, and so many terrible downs, and the label will not leave by wishes. There has to be deliberate, strategic rebranding, a daily marketing of what the party represents, something far from the hubris that the umbrella means to Nigerians.

“The party should be owned by the “people”, not by some godfathers and mothers. Nigerians who are denied participation in other parties, will find home in the party,” he said.

Ekiti as Ayu’s First Test

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has slated the elections to hold in Ekiti for June 18, 2022. While APC in the state is working round the clock to retain its control of the state, the opposition PDP has boasted that it has retooled to retake the state.

No doubt, even being an opposition party in the state, the PDP in Ekiti State remains well structured and strong enough to give the ruling party in the state a run for its power and money.

The elections do not just signpost a renewal of bitter rivalry. There is the 2023 general election context playing out in the preparations for the guber polls by the parties, especially as far as the South-West geopolitical zone is concerned.

APC currently controls five out of the six states in the region and has boasted it will retain Ekiti and subsequently, Osun. But the opposition PDP is roaring a big comeback.

Is South-east in the Piicture?

In what appeared to be a surprise twist, last week, the new leadership of the PDP took its reconciliation train to the Aso Rock residence of Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Orji Kalu.

The team was led by the National Secretary of the PDP, Senator Samuel Anyanwu alongside other newly elected officials of the party.

The visit came amidst strong talks that the former Abia State Governor was being positioned for the 2023 presidency to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. This also came few days after the visit of APC National Leader and former Governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, also a presidential candidate, hopeful for the ruling All Progressive Congress.

Kalu’s recent visit to the leader of the Indenginous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, had also raised many questions about speculations of his ambition to throw his hat into the ring.

The PDP had said its presidential ticket is open to every region and would only support a candidate that can win election for it. The opposition party has punctured the position of the South-east that it is the turn of the region to produce the next president, based on justice and equity.

Ahead of the 2023 general election, the PDP on Thursday, appealed to the Senate Chief Whip, Sen. Orji Kalu to return to the party.

The National Secretary of the Party, Sen. Samuel Anyanwu, had during the meeting with Kalu appealed to him to return to his former party.

According to Anyanwu who described Orji Kalu as a respected leader in the South-east, he said they came to visit a friend, “And to let him know the reason why he should move over to our party. We had a good discussion and this is just the beginning.”

He said the visit was part of efforts by the PDP to bring their members back and reposition the party.

“We are talking about bringing people back to the party because the more the merrier.

“This is a place he started, so you have to leave where you are and go back to where you started,’’ Anyanwu stressed. Kalu, is an ardent supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari and a reliable member of the APC left the PDP in November 2016.

Though he has not openly declared interest in the 2023 presidential election, his presidential posters flooded major cities in the country recently and should Kalu consider the bait, with the influence of Anyanwu’s office, he might be the favourable candidate for the opposition party from the East and going by the agitation from the region, the South-east as it has always been, would be a no-go-area for the ruling party.

But will Orji Kalu take the offer if the speculation is anything to go by? Again can Kalu win a Presidential election for the opposition party when the ruling party controls most of the state in the North and South-west?

Kalu was among names of prominent South-east leaders shortlisted by a group, under the aegis of Umunna Lekki Association, as potential candidates for the emergence of an Igbo President in 2023.

The group that comprises young Igbo entrepreneurs residing in the Lekki, Ikoyi, Banana Island, Victoria Garden City (VGC) and Victoria Island axis of Lagos State, expressed its readiness to support the course.

In a statement by President of the group, Ikem Umeh-Ezeoke, the group said it was ready to donate billions of naira to sponsor the election of the shortlisted names from the five states of the South East geopolitical zone. Among theme are: Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Prof. Ngozi Okonji Iweala, Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and former Abia State governor, Orji Uzoh Kalu.

From Anambra State, they listed former governor of the state, Peter Obi, Charles Udeogaranya, Ben Obi and Henry Okolie-Aboh. The candidates listed from Ebonyi State included the state governor Dave Umahi, Ogbonnaya Onu and Anyim Pius Anyim.

In Enugu, they picked Geoffrey Onyeama, Prof. Barth Nnaji, Nnia John Nwodo Jnr and Ike Ekweremadu. For Imo State, they listed Emeka Ihedioha, Rochas Okorocha, Kema Chikwe and Humphrey Anumudu.

“We are ready to donate billions of Naira to the two main national political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) if they nominate Nigerians of Igbo extraction to fly their flags in the 2023 presidential election,” the group revealed in the statement.

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Notwithstanding, the fortune of the party can be turned around. The timing is not at all bad for Ayu who has won the confidence of members of the PDP. The current economic woes in the country, hunger, inflation, the rising state of insecurity across the country, the cracks in the ruling party and the rage by Nigerians who are no longer comfortable with the state of the nation, provide a starting point for the new National Chairman of the PDP to activate the PDP’s rescue agenda in profound ways

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