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Nigeria 2023: Secondus, the ‘total chairman’ causing the PDP top brass sleepless nights 

By Dele Yusuf
Posted on Wednesday, 1 September 2021 16:00

Uche Secondus, the chairman of Atiku's People's Democratic Party (PDP), is seen at the Court of Appeal in Abuja
Uche Secondus, the chairman of Atiku's People's Democratic Party (PDP), is seen during an election tribunal that is due to rule on opposition candidate's bid to overturn result at the Court of Appeal in Abuja, Nigeria September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Prince Uche Secondus returned at the helm of affairs as the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s main opposition party, after a leadership tussle that nearly caused the party to implode. He was replaced in August after a court removed him as chairman, and returned after another ruled in his favour. But the court rulings are only one manifestation of the power play behind the scenes in the capital Abuja, as he claims some powerful individuals want him out of the way. Infighting is set to increase as the party organises new leadership elections in October.   

Rebuild, reposition and regain. That was the framework with which Secondus contested and was elected the national chairman of Nigeria’s PDP in December 2017.

He has not yet succeeded in getting the party back to Nigeria’s seat of power after it was displaced by the All Progressives Congress (APC) coalition in 2015, but he seems to have succeeded in ruffling feathers in Abuja, especially among the PDP’s chieftains.

Secondus, speaking through Ike Abonyi, his spokesman, tells The Africa Report that his ordeal at the PDP in recent days is because some people are “not getting what they want”- including Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike, his longtime ally and financier.

“With the upcoming elections in 2023, so many people want to be president and officers of the party. Interests are clashing and those who feel they can’t get it unless they hijack the party’s structure are there. And when interests are clashing, they would want to run somebody down before getting up. And blackmail is a tool to them,” Abonyi says.

Long walk to the throne

Secondus, a 66-year-old businessman, has had a long history with the PDP dating back to its formation in 1998, when he joined the party. In 2007, he emerged as the South-South coordinator for the PDP National Campaign Council for that year’s general elections. In 2008, was elected the national organising secretary for the party.

He held the office until 2012. He then took on the role of the PDP’s deputy national chairman and, after the party suffered defeat in the 2015 presidential election, acted as temporary national chairman, replacing Adamu Mu’azu, who resigned.

With his goodwill at the party’s national headquarters aided with the home support he had in Rivers State – where he served as a two-time chairman of the PDP – Secondus was elected the party’s national chairman at a controversial convention in Abuja.  Some of his opponents withdrew from the race after crying foul.

Once a ‘total chairman’, always a total chairman

During his reign as the chairman of PDP in Rivers in the early 2000s, Secondus earned a sobriquet as the ‘total chairman’ because he likes to be “fully in charge, no matter what”, according to a senior member of the PDP.

Secondus maintained that policy at the party’s national headquarters when he emerged as the national chairman, famously declaring that no one would be allowed to impose their candidates in the party.

He said: “Under my watch, internal democracy will be strictly adhered to,  with deliberate policy to return real power to the party. No more imposition, no more impunity. Every member of this party can from this point consider himself or herself an equal shareholder in our common destiny.”

The power play behind the scenes

It was that style of leadership that might have gotten him into trouble with some big guns in the party, including governor Wike, his longtime ally.

As calls for Secondus’s removal as PDP national chairman grew in the past few weeks, so did his opposition to those calls. Secondus insisted he would remain in charge, telling the “tiny minority” calling for his resignation that “nothing warrants” their calls.

But behind that tiny minority, as he put it, there are “powerful individuals” who are focused on achieving their selfish interests, his spokesperson says. Though he did not name the people in question, spokesman Abonyi says the individuals in question “have nothing tangible to show against him [Secondus]”.

“They just want him off the way to enable them to realise their ambition. Not that he has any candidate in mind, but because he is going to be transparent in the convention. Those who know they can’t get it free and fair are those fighting him,” Abonyi adds.

Party sources, however, tell The Africa Report that powerful people in the PDP are “so concerned and worried” the upcoming national convention will play out.

Some of those not happy with Secondus, according to one source, include governor Wike, whose grouse with the embattled national chairman goes beyond the shores of Rivers State.

Some party sources say Wike has been plotting to win the PDP presidential candidate spot for his counterpart in Sokoto, Aminu Tambuwal. And “although [Wike] has denied this in the party, that option is still very open. You can’t rule anything out,” the source says.

The burden of chairmanship and the next step

Secondus was elected national chairman of the PDP in December 2017, less than two years after its 16-year rule ended. He was tasked with returning the party to Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, and things have not gone exactly as planned. The party has witnessed a gale of defections since the end of 2020, losing three governors at a time when it is seeking to consolidate its support ahead of Nigeria’s general elections in February 2023.

Secondus’s office is silent on whether he will go for a second term in October of this year in pursuit of that goal, but insists he has been able to clean up the party.

When Secondus took over as chairman, “the party was traumatised by losing the election, so members were scattered,” says  Abonyi.

“He came with a campaign promise to reposition the party, and he was able to reposition it, making it a brand before the 2019 general elections. The PDP was the only party that filed candidates in all the positions declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission,” the Secondus spokesman adds.

The party gained four more states after the elections, but has now lost three, including in the south-east, where the APC is making inroads.

But Abonyi insists that the governors that joined the APC did so not because of a crisis in the PDP but because “they have cases with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, so they needed to go where they will be protected.”

He says that having “brought sanity to the party”, Secondus has made the PDP “ready to dislodge the APC in 2023, not just because they are organised but because the APC has failed Nigerians woefully”.

The jury is still out on that. And in the meantime, many eyes are on the PDP and whether it can emerge as a united front.

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