With few hours left to conduct the National Convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), governors elected on the platform of the party were were adamant yesterday on their choice of Prince Uche Secondus as its next national chairman.
The governors, who were being coordinated by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, insisted that Secondus was a party man with the qualities needed to lead the PDP.
Their insistence contradicted the position of former military president Ibrahim Babangida; ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, founders of the party and some members of the Board of Trustees led by Prof. Jerry Gana, who wanted the slot for the South-West.
Babangida and the PDP founders might however lose to the governors’ camp because at press time, they had not agreed on a candidate to back from the South-West.
Instead, some loyalists of the former military president have pitched their tents with High Chief Raymond Dokpesi who may not go far because the bloc votes from the South-South and South-East might be for Secondus.
The position of the governors has caused unease in the camp of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who is billed to address the convention today.
Investigation conducted by our correspondent revealed that the number of aspirants for the coveted seat had reduced from nine to seven as two of the candidates, namely former Deputy National Chairman of the party, Chief Bode George, and a former governorship candidate in Lagos State, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, quit the race yesterday.
Other aspirants seeking votes from the party’s delegates today include a former Acting National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus; a former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran; a former Minister of Sports, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja; a former Governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former Oyo State governor, Chief Rashidi Ladoja; a media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi and Aderemi Olusegun.
Observers, however, believe that it will be a straight fight between Secondus(backed by governors) and any other candidate that may be supported by Babangida-led old brigades in PDP.
A top party source said: “All is set for the convention with the intrigues bordering on the Unity List of the governors and the National List of Babangida, Jonathan and some members of the Board of Trustees of the party.
“So far, the governors are adamant on Secondus, and they seem to have drawn the battle line with Babangida and others.
“With the huge resources at their disposal, the governors may have their way.
“The governor of Rivers State, who is the main backer of Secondus, has a war chest that can hardly be matched.
“The real challenge with the camp of Babangida and others is that they have not zeroed in on a candidate as at Friday evening.
“While the likes of Prof.Jerry Gana are for Adeniran, some loyalists of Babangida are routing for Dokpesi.
“The case of Adeniran is compounded by the refusal of South-West candidates to concede the chairmanship slot to him.
“The race can be tougher if the South-West has a common candidate to slug it out with Secondus and Dokpesi.”
The likelihood of the governors taking over the party was already causing unease in Atiku’s camp last night.
A party source said: “The implication of the likely emergence of Secondus is the fact that it might be difficult for Atiku to secure the presidential ticket of PDP unless he rejigs his permutations and realignment.
“The governors have a different mindset on the presidential ticket of the party. They might not work for Atiku who will feel disappointed to have returned to the party.
“Those in the camp of ex-VP are really jittery because the pendulum may not swing in their favour.”
The foregoing notwithstanding, some of the candidates were still optimistic last night.
The Media Adviser to Secondus, Mr. Ike Abonyi, was in an upbeat mood yesterday.
He said: “Our candidate has no pact with anybody or group. Everything is working as planned.
“The only thing we will fine-tune is the Unity List. The list will be sorted out overnight before we convene for the convention.
“We are set. Everything is set. We are ready for the battle.”
The Director of Media of Adeniran Campaign, Mr. Taiwo Akeju, said: “We are ready for the election. We are sure of victory. We have toured the 36 states of the country and our candidate is acceptable to all the six geo-political zones.
“We are not intimidated by anybody. Go and ask, it is the status and political mileage of our candidate that are intimidating others.”
On his part, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja said: “I am ready for the election. I have not stepped down for anybody. I have what it takes to lead the party. I am hopeful that our delegates will vote for me.”
Meanwhile, the Northern delegates have asked the South-West to work towards the presentation of a candidate in order to checkmate the governors being coordinated by Governor Nyesom Wike.
A Northern leader in PDP said: “The only way to stop the governors from hijacking the party is for the South-West to agree on a candidate. If they go to the battle divided, Secondus may have an easy ride.
“Look at the situation now. None of the candidates from the South-West is ready to step down. Delegates will have to split their votes.”
But for the second time in 24 hours, candidates from the South-West converged on the residence of a former Governor of Oyo State, Chief Rashidi Ladoja, to weigh the options on the bait from the North.
The meeting was still in progress at the Ukpabi Asika Street residence of Ladoja in Asokoro District, Abuja at press time yesterday.
Ladoja himself was said to have changed his mind yesterday after initially declaring his decision to quit the race.
He told our correspondent in a telephone interview yesterday night that he had changed his earlier decision to withdraw from the race.
A South-West delegate said: “The candidates from the South-West have met for the second time on how to close ranks and agree to step down for a candidate.
“Once this is done, the South-South will have difficulty sticking to Secondus or Raymond Dokpesi because their candidates will be running against five other geopolitical zones.
“Northern leaders have reached out to South-West candidates and they have asked them to step down for one of them in order to make the battle a straightforward one. This is a product of the Maradonic negotiations in the last 48 hours.
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