On Tuesday next week, the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is expected to ratify the appointment of a new substantive national chairman of the party from the North East zone. Several candidates are already in the race for the position. In this piece, MIKE ODIAKOSE x-rays the leading contenders for the leadership of the party.
Since the race gathered full momentum, Alhaji Mohammed Wakil from Borno State, who was Minister of State for Power during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, has been mentioned as one of he leading contenders for the position. Before his appointment as a minister, he was the North-east National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, following the suspension of Alhaji Girigiri Lawal, Wakil was leader in the House of Representatives between 1999 and 2003. He left to contest the PDP governorship ticket of Borno State in 2003. He was floored by Kashim Imam.
While it is not contestable that Wakil is an astute politician, one major thing that is counting against him is that he is perceived as another “Abuja politician” and not a grassroots person. The fact that his is from Borno State where PDP is still standing on one leg since 1999 is a weapon his opponents are using against him, more so since he has failed to use his influence to unite PDP members in his own home state. Those questioning his ability to manage PDP argue that a man that cannot keep his state chapter in order may not be able to manage a party with diverse followership as the PDP.
Indeed, during the last presidential campaign, some youths from Borno PDP operating under the aegis of PDPGoni.com’ predicted that the party will have a woeful outing if Wakil is made leader of the party in the state.
According to the chairman, Abubakar Musa, and secretary, Abatcha Haruna, of the group, Wakil “lacks the grassroots appeal and mobilisation drive within and outside the party, as such having him as a leader of the party will not augur well for the party”.
The eventual outcome of the election in Borno State vindicated the position of the Borno PDP youths.
If this contest is taking place about 20 years ago, Wilberforce Juta would have been the candidate to beat. He was Governor of defunct Gongola (now Gombe and Adamawa states) in 1983 during the Second republic and one of the surviving old brigade politicians. Juta was elected as Deputy Governor of Gongola State on the platform of the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP, in 1979. When the Governor Abubakar Barde resigned early in 1983, Juta was appointed Governor. He left office in October 1983, when he was succeeded by Bamanga Tukur, who had been elected on the National Party of Nigeria platform.
After General Muhammadu Buhari overthrew the democratically elected government on 31 December 1983 in a military coup, Juta was sentenced to 21 years imprisonment by a tribunal established to try ex-governors accused of corruption and abuse of power on 17 April 1985. Later that year the sentence was reduced to five years plus a fine. In July 1986, he was barred for life from holding public office. At the same time, his sentence was reduced to a three-year term.
Juta, a founding member of Adamawa PDP, was appointed Nigerian High Commissioner to Zimbabwe by former President Olusegun Obasanjo after PDP won the 1999 presidential election. Well educated, Juta received a bachelor’s degree from Concordia College, Morehead, Minnesota in January 1970, and then studied for a Masters degree in English Literature at the University of Iowa, USA.
A good chunk of delegates that will be attending the PDP convention in March were either not born or were mere not yet old enough to be voters when Juta was at the peak of his political carrier.
However, Juta found favour in the sight of the Adamawa State chapter of the PDP and his name was forwarded to the leaders of the PDP, including the PDP Governors Forum, for consideration as replacement for Adamu Muazu, the game changer whose tenure spelt doom for PDP.
Prof Rufai Ammed Alkali
Prof Rufai Ahmed Alkali is the former Political Adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan and Chief Olisa Metuh’s predecessor as the Spokesman of the PDP. An indigene of Gombe State, Prof Alkali is the only candidate among the lot that contested for PDP chairmanship in 2012 that is still in the race. In 2012, Prof Alkali and all the other contestants were prevailed on by leaders and elders of PDP to step down for Bamanga Tukur at the last minute at Eagles Square.
The decision to step down did not go down well with a good number of PDP members who felt the party needs an energetic and cerebral candidate to lead the party at that crucial time. A professor of Political Economy and former lecturer at the Nigerian Defense Academy, NDA, before he was appointed a commissioner in Gombe State by the last military administration in the state, Prof Alkali is considered in several quarters as a natural choice to lead PDP at this crucial time.
Known to be highly detribalised and a bridge builder across the divide, Alkali is said to have the blessing of PDP elders and leaders across the country. He has been severally described as “a well- enlightened, intelligent yet unassuming educationist, administrator and politician whose sharp intuitive and calm ambience would combine to make him the best material for the job.
Alkali’s record as Spokesman for PDP during the trying period when late President UmaruYarAdua was incapacitated and there was logjam before Jonathan became the Acting President through the ingenious Doctrine of Necessity, DON, is easily recalled by PDP leaders who are rooting for his emergence as the new chairman.
Apart from his track record as a team player, believe in party supremacy, patriotism, the spirit of give and take and internal democracy, one other major thing that is counting in Prof Alkali’s favour is his blemish-free record of public service. Many PDP members see Alkali as a stabilising factor in times of party internal bickering. PDP elders who are rooting for Prof Alkali are of the view that PDP needs a man with such record who will be in good stead to look at the APC administration in the face without any aorta of fear, if and when necessary.
Alkali was one of the victims of the 2011 post-election political violence in the north when his properties were destroyed after PDP won the 2011 election in Gombe State and at the national level.
Bala Abdulkadir Mohammed
Former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed’s role in stabilising the country when Nigeria was heading for the rocks during the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua has remained indelible in the mind of politically-conscious Nigerians. When Yar’Adua was on sick bed abroad for several months and leadership crisis was looming over the country, he was the first to call for declaring President Yar’Adua incapacitated and making the then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan the acting President through the famous Doctrine of Necessity.
To ensure the country was stabilised, Bala Mohammed, who was elected into the Senate on the platform of the defunct ANPP, had to decamp to the PDP to give the then Acting President every support. He later became the Minister of the FCT.
Throughout his tenure as minister and even after the party lost the 2015 general election, Bala Mohammed has been very steadfast in supporting all activities of the PPD. His entrance into the race for the chairmanship of the party did not come as a surprise as many concerned members of the party were said to have approached him to after Adamu Muazu resigned to take up the responsibility of leading the re-invention of the party.
A seasoned journalist and administrator, Bala Mohammed studied English at the University of Maiduguri, where he gained a Bachelor of Arts. He joined The Democrat as a reporter in 1983, then worked in the public service as an administrative officer from 1984-2000. He worked in the Ministries of Internal Affairs, Solid Minerals, Power and Steel and Transportation and Aviation. He retired as director of admin in the Nigerian Meteorological Agency. He then served as a senior special assistant to Isa Yuguda from 2000 to 2005 when Yuguda was in the federal cabinet. He was Director of Administration at the Nigerian Railway Corporation from 2005 to 2007.
Senator Bala Mohammed remains the few ministers that left indelible marks in the FCT as minster like Mallam Nasir El-Rufai. The new face of Abuja is largely to his credit. However, in spite of the popularity of Bala Mohammed, some PDP members and political observers are of the opinion that if he emerges as the new chairman of the PDP, the APC administration will use every arsenal at its disposal to go after him, even on trumped-up charges. It is believed the ruling party would want to humiliate PDP by giving him the Olisa Metuh treatment if he becomes the new chairman just to humiliate, demoralise and taint the party.