BY SEGUN ADEBAYO, ABUJA – The likely emergence of Port Harcourt as favored venue for the October 5, 2018 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primaries is generating heated debate among stakeholders within Nigeria’s main opposition Party
Though an official announcement has not come from the Party, insiders said fierce resistance is already mounting against the PDP Governors Forum’s speculated endorsement of the Rivers State capital over what some party stalwarts described as ‘dubious plans’ to hijack the process for the governors’ self-serving interests.
According to competent PDP sources, the protestations are coming from groups loyal to some presidential aspirants who have expressed fears that hosting the party’s primaries in the Garden City will confer advantage on some camps while putting others at a disadvantaged position given the Governors’ known overbearing influence and their readiness to capitalize on the party’s ‘skewed delegates’ structures’ at all levels.
Rising from their meeting in Ekiti State Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro, Abuja on Tuesday night, the PDP governors had reportedly okayed the Rivers State capital as venue for the all-important gathering to choose the PDP Presidential flag-bearer for the 2019 general elections.
But some concerned aspirants and their supporters have rejected alleged security reasons advanced by the State Chief Executives for purportedly choosing Port Harcourt over Abuja, describing it as an ‘implausible excuse’ going by Rivers State’s notoriety and propensity for ‘unmanageable hostilities’ whenever there are political contestations by different interest groups.
A source close to one PDP presidential aspirant readily picked holes in the governors’ so-called worries over that clash at Wadata Plaza, Abuja when former vice president and frontline aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, submitted his Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms.
“Using such an isolated incident to simply rule out Abuja from hosting what many consider will be a defining moment for the PDP is worrisome. Our group believes that there could be more to it than meets the eye given the usual machinations of these governors”, the source argued.
Another insider within the camp of a presidential aspirant from the North-west geo-political zone pointedly fingered Governor Nyesom Wike as the brain behind his colleagues’ assumed soft spot for Port Harcourt as likely host for the national convention.
Not holding back his fury, the party chieftain, who refused his name on print fearing possible backlash against his principal at the forthcoming primaries, said; “The truth is that our camp is not comfortable with this arrangement. With Governor Wike always complaining about the Police that is expected to provide security at the PDP convention, what happens if things go awry? Nobody should deceive us because Abuja is absolutely safer than Port Harcourt in every sense of the word.”
“Our party members cannot easily forget events in the same Garden City that led to the botched National Convention and eventual crisis that split the party into the Alhaji Modu-Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi factions. So, if it is true they picked Port Harcourt over Abuja that is obviously central and neutral for all aspirants, then there must be other mundane interests to serve other than just security”, he submitted.
Other sentiments being expressed by some stakeholders are that the National convention to elect the Party’s presidential candidate is a serious event that should not be left at the whims and caprices of the governors. “The concerns are that there should have been an all-inclusive meeting involving all presidential aspirants; the National Working Committee (NWC); the National Executive Committee (NEC); and party Elders to arrive at any choice of a venue. For the governor arrogating to themselves absolute powers in such decision making means the days of impunity are still here with us”, an aggrieved insider in the Campaign organization of major aspirant fumed.
Though the camps of most presidential aspirants are unwilling to openly condemn the position taken by the PDP Governors’ Forum position, some leaders are in agreement that only transparent and fair primaries will be good enough for the party and acceptable by generality of members
One of the party Chieftains told Forefront on condition of anonymity that among the concerns of his principal is that; “All relevant organs of the party must work hard to ensure a level playing field for all aspirants. There should be no compromise by the party in keeping faith with its pledge to embrace due process and equity in dealing with all contenders for elective offices. So, Nigerians are watching to see if things have really changed within the main opposition party.”
“I can tell you that the camps of many presidential aspirants are carefully following up events given the dynamic nature of party politics; the inherent weakness and subservience to political scheming”, he said
However, hammering on an open and transparent process in the overall interest of PDP come 2019, a source close to Senator Bukola Saraki’s Presidential Campaign Organisation dismissed fears expressed by those agitated over the governors’ choice of Port Harcourt as venue for the convention, stressing that “the important thing is to extract commitment from the Party that every aspirant would be fairly and justly treated going into the primaries.”
However, reliable sources said two aspirants from the North-West and North-Central zones are leading the agitations for Abuja to host the party primary elections, adding that intense lobbying may have commenced to convince stakeholders and South-East governors to adopt the Abuja venue for ease of access and fairness to all contestants.