By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor and Dirisu Yakubu
Leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were last night bracing themselves for fallouts from the most competitive elective convention in the partyâ€™s 18-year history with about 92 persons jostling for 21 positions.
Despite assurances from party leaders, including Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, chairman of the National Convention Planning Committee, rancour was breaking out in the camps of some candidates following alleged de-marketing techniques adopted by some interest groups to force out some candidates.
The media mogul, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, who with Prof. Tunde Adeniran were providing the toughest challenge for the leading national chairmanship candidate, Prince Uche Secondus, was forced into a late Friday press conference to dismiss claims he had withdrawn from the race.
Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, a candidate for the position of National Publicity Secretary, was also forced to dismiss reports that he had also withdrawn from the race.
Chief Bode George, erstwhile Deputy National Chairman of the party, at a late night press conference withdrew from the contest fuming that Governor Nyesom Wike who is believed to be a major force behind Secondus had insulted the South-West as he demanded an apology from the governor.
Nonetheless, party chieftains yesterday were full of assurances that todayâ€™s convention would be an exemplary democratic process in which the will of the majority of 2,800 delegates would prevail.
The delegates are expected to vote for officers to fill 21 vacant positions.Â Reports that four positions would be uncontested could not be confirmed as at press time last night.
The most competitive contest was that for the office of national chairman in which nine candidates, namely, Secondus, Dokpesi, Adeniran, Taoheed Adedoja, Senator Rasheed Ladoja, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, Mr. Jimi Agbaje and Aderemi Olusegun are vying.
Secondusâ€™ position as the leading candidate was further reiterated yesterday after the South-East caucus of the party endorsed him.
However, other forces within the party were still fighting back with the South-West caucus and Dr. Dokpesi mobilizing to stop him.
Saturday Vanguard learnt yesterday that at least two of the candidates from the South-West had agreed to step down, but those two were unwilling to go through with their plans until they knew who they would step down for. Saturday Vanguard could not confirm how the late withdrawal of Chief Bode George from the contest would affect them as at least one of them had indicated he would not withdraw for George.
A final decision by the South-West caucus is not expected to be made until this morning and may be circulated on the convention ground. One source privy to the consultations said that the South-West could enter the election with two chairmanship candidates.
As part of the efforts to ensure a credible election, Saturday Vanguard gathered that delegates would be expected to vote in batches of three states at a time for all the 21 positions available including the four positions not being contested for.
Voting is not expected to start until after the process of amendments of some provisions of the constitution of the party including an amendment to allow former governors and former deputy governors as statutory delegates.
As a way of reducing the bad blood among the camps of some of the leading chairmanship candidates, the Okowa Committee had made them to sign undertakings to abide by the process and accept the results.
All eight candidates still in the race as at yesterday it was learnt, signed the undertaking, albeit on the provision that the process went according to laid down provisions.
Earlier yesterday morning, Chairman of the Screening Committee, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu lauded the conduct of the chairmanship hopeful, stating that with their clearance, the party was hopeful of a credible convention devoid of rancour.
Dr. Okowa also pledged the readiness of his committee to conduct a credible and transparent convention.
â€œWe are very much aware of the security alert about Abuja. The security committee is working very closely with the security agencies to ensure a smooth convention,â€� said Okowa who added that security sub-committee is working very closely with the police and relevant security agencies to ensure a smooth exercise.
He added that only properly accredited journalists would be allowed in to the convention venue.
On his part, Chairman, Post-Convention Planning Committee and Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson tasked all aspirants to demonstrate the spirit of sportsmanship before, during and after the contest, adding that only one of them is fated to win the election.
He thanked Okowa for his work rate, describing him and the Convention Planning Committee as â€œPeople we have confidence in.â€�
Governor Dickson also urged the aspirants to be at liberty to approach his committee to seek clarification on any issue pertaining to convention.
The endorsement of Secondus for the position of national chairman by the South-East Stakeholders Caucus of the party was conveyed in a communiquÃ© delivered by Austin Umahi, PDP National Vice Chairman (South- East) at a media conference held at the Chelsea Hotel in Abuja.
He said the caucus had mandated its delegates to the convention to vote for Secondus, saying the decision was taken after a careful consideration ofÂ his â€œContent and character.â€�
â€œWe are very conscious of the personality of who becomes the national chairman of our great party for the next four years. Based on the foregoing, we have unanimously in our todayâ€™s stakeholdersâ€™ meeting, decided that we will back an aspirant that has character and content.
â€œIn this circumstance, and without prejudice to the right of other aspirants to this national chairmanship position, credible and transparent election, we have decided to back and vote for Prince Uche Secondus for the position of national chairman of our great party.â€�
The stakeholders also endorsed Colonel Austin Akobundu (retd), Udeh Okoye and Alphonsus Gerard for the positions of National Organising Secretary, National Youth Leader, and Deputy Financial Secretary respectively.
The meeting was attended by South-East PDP bigwigs including Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, former Imo State governor, Sam Egwu, erstwhile Senate President, Adolphus Wabara and ex-Abia State governor, Senator Theodore Orji.
Others included former PDP national chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor, a one-time Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha and the PDP governorship candidate in the November 18 Anambra guber poll, Oseloka Obaze among others.
Meanwhile, the Raymond Dokpesi for National Chairman Campaign Organisation also last night rebuffed claims that Dokpesi had withdrawn from the contest saying that its candidate would take the battle to the convention ground.
The campaign at a late evening press conference addressed by Engr. Baba Kachallah, Director General of the campaign organization said: â€œIt is now very clear that some PDP members masquerading as leaders are hell-bent on sabotaging and inflicting several damages on the well organised and victory bound aspiration of High Chief Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi.
â€œThe position of this campaign organisation is that only delegates to the Convention can and will decide the fate of all aspirants on the floor of the Eagle Square and Convention grounds on Saturday, 9 December 2017.
â€œWe make bold to challenge the masquerades long known for their penchant for taking unpopular decisions that have brought defeat and humiliation for the PDP in the past.
â€œHigh Chief Raymond Aleogho Dokpesi has campaigned throughout the length and breadth of this country and will finish the race at the Convention grounds.
â€œRaymond Dokpesi has not and will not withdraw from the race for any reasons whatsoever.
This Campaign Organisation will like to ask a very simple question in the direction of those behind this wicked rumours:- â€œIf the leaders and some Governors hell-bent on ensuring victory for their aspirants are very sure of themselves, why ask Dokpesi to drop out of the race and resort to blackmail?
â€œDokpesi is not afraid to be defeated on the Convention floor