The curtain has finally been drawn on the turbulent tenure of Bamanga Tukur, a close ally of President Goodluck Jonathan, as chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). His resignation was announced by the president yesterday at a national executive committee meeting of the PDP and brings to an end a tempestuous and divisive reign which has been fraught with infighting and seen a mass defection of PDP members to the growing opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Liyel Imoke, Governor of Cross Rivers State, proposed a motion to accept Tukur's resignation, saying: "We have some internal problems that have been agitating the mind of the people. For us to make sure that we rest these issues, the party chairman agreed to step aside."
Tukur was central to this infighting. In recent months, calls from within the PDP for Tukur to resign have grown louder, and the defection of dozens of PDP representatives, including five governors, to the APC in December finally made Tukur's position untenable.
Although it was perhaps inevitable that Tukur had to go, the biggest loser of his resignation is probably the president, who has now lost his party enforcer. The choice of Tukur’s replacement will go a long way in assessing the power dynamics within the party. Both Jonathan and his rivals will be jostling for supremacy in choosing the new chair, especially with the presidential elections of 2015 fast approaching.
Tukur, who only became chair of the PDP in March 2012, first began to ruffle feathers when he started trying to make changes to executive positions and the party structure without the approval of state governors. His moves were mostly seen to be attempts to shore up Jonathan's support base, though in the case of Adamawa, some believed he was attempting to destabilise the state in a bid to set his son Anwal up as the next state governor. A number of PDP members complained − such as the governors of Rivers State and Sokoto State − but were either ignored or sanctioned.
Tensions within the party grew and finally came to a head when a disgruntled group of seven governors (referred to in the Nigeria press as G7) announced in September 2013 that they had created a breakaway faction of the PDP. They claimed that there was a lack of democracy within the party and identified Tukur as being a major obstacle to internal harmony. According to Rabiu Kwankwaso, governor of Kano, Tukur's leadership and intimidation had been aimed at satisfying “the wishes of microscopic individuals at the expense of the interest of the overall majority.”
Reconciliation talks were held with the G7 governors in an attempt to bring them back into the fold, but the president's reluctance to meet one of their core conditions - that Tukur be removed - led to a deadlock, and in November, five of the seven joined the APC along with many of their allies in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Some other PDP stalwarts have similarly expressed grievances with the PDP leadership, most notably former president Olusegun Obasanjo who has been highly critical and who a few days before Tukur's resignation announced that he would be withdrawing from party activities.
"Tukur ostracised powerful individuals within the PDP in order to support Jonathan and tighten their grip on the party, but the move has backfired and we can now see that Tukur has done more harm than good," says Adigun Agbaje, Professor of Political Science at the University of Ibadan. “His political calculations were wrong."
With Tukur gone, some believe that that a major hindrance to PDP unity has been removed and that the tide of criticism from within could finally begin to subside. "Tukur’s resignation will appease some of the PDP’s disgruntled elements, restrain the party’s further implosion and put it in a better position than currently, ahead of the 2015 elections," says political analyst Raymond Eyo. Although it seems to be too little too late. Several of the high level former PDP members who left the party for the APC have issued statements that they will not return.
On the other hand, some commentators have interpreted Tukur's resignation as weakening Jonathan's position. The president has come under criticism recently over his inability to address a whole range of problems facing the country − from government corruption to the Islamist insurgency in the north to high poverty and unemployment − and losing one of his closest allies could be a symbol of his irreparably damaged authority. "If those within the party genuinely wanted to see Jonathan pick of the PDP ticket for 2015, they would not have asked for Tukur to step aside,” says Sani Tukur, Head of Northern Operations for Premium Times (and no relation of Bamanga).
This is perhaps why Jonathan stood by Tukur for so long despite repeated pleas for his removal throughout the party. Furthermore, even in announcing his resignation, Jonathan insisted that Tukur "is not guilty of any offence and I am going to give him an assignment that is tougher than PDP chairman.” Rumours abound that this means Tukur will enjoy a soft landing and be rewarded with a plum ambassadorial position.
The fate of the PDP remains more uncertain. The position of chair will be chosen early next week and will likely be another figure from the northeast. If Jonathan's rivals who have remained in the PDP have their way, the next chair will be one of their allies and Jonathan will be left more vulnerable. If Jonathan has his way, another chair in mould of Tukur could be appointed, but after all the grievances provoked by Tukur's tenure, even this would be likely to probably prove to be a pyrrhic victory for the embattled president.
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