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Reconciliation Drives Nigeria's Ruling Party Polls


Nigeria's People's Democratic Party says it is committed to reconciling and rebuilding a divided party by picking new national officers. The ruling party, which was mired in internal struggle that has often led to violence, avoided a potentially divisive election by settling for a compromise candidate to lead the party. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja.

The new chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor, a former cabinet member and national secretary of the ruling party, was not initially considered a frontrunner for the post. The 58-year-old economist only emerged a favorite after state governors from the PDP endorsed him as a compromise candidate capable of uniting rival factions. All the other candidates for the post subsequently withdrew.

The governor of Benue in central Nigeria, Gabriel Suswam, says the new chairman who will serve a four-year term, was the best man for the job.

"Some of the issues were the discontentment and disenchantment of some major stakeholders in the PDP who left unceremoniously and we considered to produce a leadership that would treat people equally, irrespective of their opinions," said Suswam. "It was with this at the back of our minds that we decided collectively that we will take a decision that is in the best interest of the country, and we arrived at a candidate. We looked at somebody who can harmonize our party that is suffering from disenchantment."

With significant monetary reserves, tight control over security forces and an unrivaled nationwide network, the People's Democratic Party has remained a dominant force in national politics.

The highly influential party has won every election in Nigeria since 1999, when the country returned to democracy after nearly three decades of military rule.

New party chairman Ogbulafor says his priority will be to reach out to founding fathers of the party who left in frustration during the rule of former president Olusegun Obasanjo.

"I want to assure all party members, we will ensure that there is peace, there is unity and there is harmony in PPD," he said. "I am asking everybody to please forget and forgive, let's come together and move this party forward. This executive will undertake without delay, making sure that all the founding fathers of the party return to the party without delay."

Analysts say the choice of Ogbulafor, who was favored by President Umaru Yar'Adua over the nominee of his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo, could be an indicator of the declining influence of the former president over politics in Africa's largest oil producer and the continent's most populous nation.