The dust is slowly settling after last weekend's national convention of Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP).

Accusations of arm-twisting by the party leadership were rife as the 12-member National Working Committee (NWC) was elected. The highly influential, and much sought after position of PDP National Chairman, was won by President Goodluck Jonathan's nominee, Bamanga Tukur, who will hold office for a single term of four years.

In the end, Tukur's victory was a formality as the other ten opposing candidates withdrew from the race before the convention even began. 3,185 delegates voted in Tukur's favour with 12 voting against and 51 spoiled.

The installation of Jonathan's preferred candidate will not only help consolidate Jonathan's hold on the party, but could also strengthen any potential bid by Jonathan for re-election in 2015.

Return to the frontline

The emergence of Bamanga Tukur as national chairman came as a surprise to many as he was not considered to be part of the party's inner circle despite the fact that he was a founding member of the PDP.

Tukur, who hails from the north-eastern state of Adamawa, is a well-known personality within political and business circles in Nigeria. His rise to prominence began in the 1970s during the military regime of Yakubu Gowon, when as General Manager of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) he led a largely successful modernisation and expansion drive of the county's ports.

Tukur entered politics in 1983 and was elected governor of the old Gongola State (now split into Taraba and Adamawa states) under the banner of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He lasted barely three months in office, however, as a coup led by General Muhammadu Buhari brought Nigeria's Second Republic to an abrupt end.

An unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1992 led Tukur to focus on business in which he was highly successful. Prior to signalling his intent for the chairmanship of the ruling party, Tukur was the Executive President of the African Business Roundtable. He is also Chairman of BHI Holdings Limited, a local conglomerate, and Chairman of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) Business Group. His extensive knowledge of the business environment, coupled with his political credentials, weighed heavily in his favour in the chairmanship selection process.

Party supremacy prevails

Jonathan and the party leadership had trumpeted the candidature of Tukur in the past month, and party feelers had put him as the sole candidate against the wishes of other aspirants. Jonathan solicited the support of northern governors in a meeting on March 12 and entered into consultations with members of the PDP who did not feel comfortable with Tukur's candidacy.

Tukur was initially opposed by powerbrokers in his own north-east geo-political zone, comprising of Borno, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe States, and had been defeated in the ward congress by Musa Babayo. But his defeat did not deter his backers as they pressed ahead with nationwide negotiations with the help of influential party stalwarts.

The national convention passed smoothly with all delegates towing the party line as Haliru Mohammed Bello, Chairman of the Electoral Committee and Minister of Defence, directed members to vote in order to decide between the panel of one.

Remaining influence

The influence of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo over the PDP was further demonstrated at the convention, as he proved to be a prominent figure behind the scenes, maintaining his staunch support for Jonathan's insistence on his candidate.

Obasanjo further exerted his influence with the election of his loyalists and close political associates into the NWC. Former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola,emerged the new national secretary, a position hotly contested until the consensus arrangement prevailed once again.

Other candidates who had the backing of Obasanjo included Bala Kaoje and Bode Mustapha, who were elected as National Treasurer and National Auditor respectively, whilst former Ekiti governor, Segun Oni, was named the PDP chairman for the south-west zone.

Oppositional voices

Opposition parties and civil society groups voiced their concerns and displeasure at the conduct of the convention and viewed the consensus agreement as contradicting the president's earlier promises.

At the last PDP executive committee meeting on February 29, Jonathan proclaimed that "the PDP is the only political party we have in Nigeria that does not have one person whose word is law".

Chief Ebenezer Babatope, former Minister of Transport and National Secretary candidate, openly protesting against the consensus arrangement at the venue of the convention from which he was persuaded to withdraw.

The National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Lai Mohammed described Jonathan as an "emerging dictator" and the PDP as "a party incapable of sustaining or deepening democracy in the country". In addition to this, The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) – which had previously monitored the congress and conventions of the Action Party of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) – had their request to monitor the convention turned down.

The future of the PDP

The orderly manner of the convention and the agreement of members to step down for each other reaffirmed the strength of Jonathan and the party leadership over the wider PDP caucus andcurtailed the growing influence of the governors.

The criticism trailing what was perceived as a "disregard for internal democracy" has been counteracted by Olisa Metuh, National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, who stated that "the voluntary decision by aspirants contesting various positions to step down at the convention ground shows the PDP's capacity for consensus building and internal cohesion".

The convention also seems to have placated the Yoruba ethnic group who have felt marginalised within the PDP since the election of Jonathan. Three of the five most influential positions on the committee went to Yoruba leaders.

The position of party chairman is not one for an ambitious political-climber, but for a level-headed organiser who can ensure the attainment the party's goals.

In his acceptance speech, Tukur described his election as "not about any personal victory, but rather a validation of my long-held belief in democracy and the conviction that we can only build a great Nigerian nation based on consensus and equality of all citizens".

The added importance of Tukur's position has political commentators prematurely looking towards the 2015 elections as the chairman plays an active part in picking the next presidential candidate. All eyes will be fixed on Tukur's performance in office and observers will be examining whether the newly ‘elected' NWC can improve the ruling party.

Lagun Akinloye

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