PDP: Largest African party nearing death

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James Ibechi examines the factors leading to the relative poor outings of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the March 28 national and April 11 state elections and the perceived consequence.

His Royal Highness, Chief Ikande Idikwu (of blessed memory) the Ad’ Utu, the Igede First Class king that never was, no thanks to Och’ Idoma, in one of his many wise fairy tales, made a remark on the proverbial foolish bird, which, after a sumptuous meal, dared its god on a wrestling bout. Chief Ikande Idikwu, in his usual witty style, however, left his listeners to draw the deduction on where arrogance may have landed the idiotic bird.

This, in a way, is the story of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). At the dawn of the current civilian dispensation, the party had offered high hopes to Nigerians. Of course, it had to. Given what it had brandished as its vision and mission statement, Nigerians readily gave the party the mandate to pilot the affairs of the nation. But that, incidentally, has turned out its nemesis. Or so it seems.

A party and its ideals
At its formation on July 29, 1998, the facilitators of PDP were guided by far-reaching visions. They had, for instance, dreamed of a party that would put the Nigerian nation on a new phase of political engineering.

Part of their intention was to put in place a political platform that would ensure a “re-creation of civil political institutions, reconciliation of Nigeria, rekindling of the spirit of unity and brotherhood in the polity and the revitalisation of powers of the people to build a prosperous industrial democracy”. Propelled by these lofty ideals, the founders of the party had aimed at bringing together all patriotic and like-minded Nigerians into a single formidable party capable of renewing and refocusing the loyalties and productive energies of the nation to work for national reconciliation, economic and social reconstruction, respect for human rights and rule of law and to restructure the country in the true spirit of federalism.

Their long term aspiration was to erect a framework that would ensure a just and equitable distribution of power, resources, wealth and opportunities to conform with the principles of powershift and power sharing, rotation of key political offices and equitable devolution of powers to zones, states and local governments, so as to create socio-political conditions conducive to national unity and to defend the sanctity of electoral democracy.

The encompassing principles of the party were adequately complemented by an embracing motto – Justice, Unity and Progress, while the slogan of the party, instructively, acceded ‘Power to the People. To add up, the PDP had in its fold a generous spread of the nation’s first rate politicians. It also appropriated to itself the tag of the largest political party in black Africa. In a way, its claim of greatness had paid off, as it had garnered many electoral victories, though often questionable in some cases.

But in juxtaposition to its victories at the polls, the party, in irony of sorts, had been enmeshed in crises, most of which were incidentally traced to the contradictions by its successive leadership, especially in the conduct of its affairs.

At a time, in fact, erstwhile national chairman of the party, Vincent Ogbulafor, had sneered that PDP would be at the helm of affairs in the country for 60 years.

But by the last count, the party, which in 1999, had set out with 28 states in its column, had managed to cling to seven out 26 governorship election results so far released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Curiously, All Progressives Congress (APC) that had been in opposition won in 19 states. Elections in three states – Imo, Abia and Taraba – were declared inconclusive on account of alleged irregularities.

Confusion in the house
The March 28 presidential and National Assembly elections as well as the April 11 governorship and House of Assembly polls seemed to be the last signal that the party was in real trouble. In the new Senate, PDP is now left with 45 from its previous 64, while the APC clinched 62 seats from its previous 41.

The situation is the same in the incoming House of Representatives, where PDP has 125 lawmakers while APC will firmly be in control as the majority party with over 214 members.

Dazed by the unexpected blow from APC and faced with the unenviable choice of playing the role of the opposition in the odious winner-takes-all Nigerian system, PDP has been in disarray. Consequently, some of its chieftains, not prepared for the new underdog status of the party, have been crossing over to APC with their supporters.

Jonathan Zwingina, former Deputy Senate Leader, led the pack in the unprincipled move, shortly after the presidential election. In the last two weeks, however, the defection had taken the dimension of a deluge.

In Edo, for instance, PDP governorship candidate in 2012, General Charles Airhiavbere (rtd.), had joined the train. Before his defection, he was one of the coordinators of President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign in the state. Former Governor Oserheimen Osunbo was also part of the defection train. His movement, in fact, took many by surprise. The professor of Law was a major pillar of support for PDP in Edo Central Senatorial district. He was governor for 18 months before the emergence of Adams Oshiomhole through a court ruling. Osunbor was incidentally counted among the contributors to the victory recorded by PDP in the March 28 election in Edo. Curiously, he defected to the APC with his teeming supporters.

Other prominent members of PDP who defected with their supporters are former Deputy Minority Leader in the House of Representatives and co-founder of the friends of Goodluck Jonathan support group, Emmanuel Arigbe-Osula; and former Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, Brig-Gen. Idada Ikponmwen.

More trouble ahead
The defections and other uncertain developments portend more trouble for the party. TheNiche, for example, gathered that following the poor outing by the party at the polls, anger currently pervades its rank and file, with members demanding the resignation of the National Working Committee (NWC) or its sack. They also asked Jonathan to ensure the constitution of a caretaker committee to organise and reposition the party before handing over in May.

The aggrieved members, it was learnt, argue that the loss by the party at the election was an indication that the NWC had failed and should give way for fresh hands. Membership of the NWC include: Adamu Mu’azu (National Chairman), Uche Secondus (Deputy National Chairman) and Olisa Metuh (National Publicity Secretary). Other offices in the NWC are National Legal Adviser, National Organising Secretary, National Financial Secretary, National Treasurer, National Women’s Leader and National Youth Leader.

The grouse against the officers is that they did not present the president with the true state of the rot in the party before the election.

Governors on the platform of the party also share in the blame. They were particularly alleged to have hijacked the party and had turned the various state chapters into personal estates. Even when informed observers cried out that the practice was not healthy to the party, the governors scoffed at them and swaggered on. In fact, barely a week to the presidential election, former South South National Vice Chairman of the party, Edet Nkpubre, had bemoaned the tight grip of the governors on the party and had warned that they should be held responsible if the president failed to get re-elected. His argument was that the governors, in offering Jonathan a consensus presidential ticket, used the gesture to blackmail him into allowing ride roughshod in their states. The consensus option, he said, remained the bane of the party.

“The governors should be blamed if Jonathan loses the election. If the governors were just and fair; if they had unattached interest to project Jonathan other than their selfish interest in the entire process, Jonathan would have been sure of victory. The so-called consensus candidacy they gave to Jonathan wasn’t because they loved him; they contrived that process to use to it to blackmail Jonathan to reciprocate their plan to impose their anointed candidates. They brought the consensus issue to blackmail Jonathan and the party to give them powers to anoint anybody they wanted. They wanted that concession and that concession is what is going to destroy the party. That concession, which Jonathan gave them, will destroy the party and that is what is causing problems today,” Nkpubre had told TheNiche in an explosive interview.

Not even the harshest critics of the politician had faulted his views on the devastating impact of imposition politics on the fortunes of the party. What the governors did with the new power they subtly acquired was to retire to their states and began to throw up their cronies as candidates for various positions against aspirants that had more chances of winning at the polls. Enugu, Abia, Benue, Plateau, Akwa Ibom and Cross River were among the states whose governors allegedly featured more prominently in this exercise. What the imposition arrangement did on the party was that it alienated the members from the leadership and thus paved the way for the opposition to thrive.

Opening the Pandora’s box
Mr Okpete, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) however traced the rot in PDP deeper than the Jonathan consensus era. According to him, the decay in the party had been with it, adding that the dictatorial antics of the governors only served the purpose of pushing aggrieved members into working against the party or moving into the opposition fold.

“PDP had had a culture of impunity all along. The emergence of Olusegun Obasanjo as its presidential candidate in Jos 1999 presidential primaries, against the party’s laid down criteria, signalled the crisis in it. Even after his election, Obasanjo did not know where and when to draw the line. Consumed by his trademark self-righteous disposition, he carried on in typical village headmaster fashion, trying to whip every one into line. In the process, he appropriated the entire levers of the party’s decision processes and began to enthrone members to offices and dismiss same at will,” he noted.

The former president’s untoward grip on the party commenced with what appeared a programmed annihilation of the original members of the party. In the process, such chieftains of the party as Second Republic vice president, Alex Ekwueme; the late Abubakar Rimi, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman, Sunday Awoniyi as well as former Plateau State governor, Solomon Lar – key members of the fabled Group of 18 and later Group of 34 (G-34), which provided the nucleus for the formation of PDP – were systematically elbowed out of contention in the party.

With these key figures virtually schemed out of PDP affairs, Obasanjo practically took charge of the party. In the process, he dispensed with successive national chairmen at will. Barnabas Gemade and Audu Ogbeh were among his victims.

Aside the purely internal politics of the party, the former president made efforts at emasculating the legislature, in the process, playing chess with the leadership of the Senate. Evan Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo and Adolphus Wabara easily came to mind as those Obasanjo orchestrated their fall in the euphemistic banana peel politics.

Jonathan, curiously, manifested the use-and-dump strategy of Obasanjo in the way his foot soldiers dealt with Okwesilieze Nwodo and Vincent Ogbulafor. Many see these instances of arbitrariness as factors that contributed to the decay in the party.

The ugly trend has not departed from the activities of the party. Back in 2012, even as officials of PDP had pranced about in celebration of its 14th anniversary, it was apparent that all was not well with the organisation. Certain developments in the run up to the anniversary and thereafter had led many into concluding that the party had been under immense pressure.

Its mode of celebration, for instance, was seen by critics as a major indication of an organisation passing through troubled times.

PDP remarkably chose a quiet and somber anniversary, explaining the preference on the mood of the nation at the time.

Its National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, had explained that the party could not roll out the drums with the nation at the mercy of Boko Haram insurgency.

His explanations appeared noble on the face value. However, for a party that is hardly associated with moderation in the conduct of its affairs, its choice of a reflective anniversary was instantly interpreted as sign of major cracks in its fold. And it turned out to be, shortly.

Tukur cries out
What many instantly saw as major sign of concern within the party was what amounted to a distress call from the then National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur, that the party was losing its members to opposition political parties.

The chairman, who was visibly concerned with the disturbing trend, attributed the exodus to the crises bedevilling the party across the country.

“Our party is losing membership. When we started in 1998 till date, we have seen many people gone. We can’t allow it to continue like that,” Tukur noted.

He blamed infighting and division among members for the party’s dwindling fortunes.

Even as Tukur cried out on the uncertain future of the party, many blame him for contributing to its woes. It is, for instance, alleged that it was the undemocratic process that led to his emergence and his dictatorial antics in office that saw former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, and seven governors on the party’s platform walk on it at its Abuja mini convention in 2012. Five of the governors – Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto) and Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) – later joined APC. Analysts saw the move by the governors as an indication of huge crack in the party.

It was with this fractured frame that the party carried on and eventually limped into the 2015 polls, hence its disastrous outing. The situation, incidentally, has hardly changed. If anything, rather, critics argue that with the increasing incidences of defection by PDP members, following its relative poor performance at the polls, the party may be heading for extinction. Those who hold this fear argue that officials of the party do not have the culture and temperament to play opposition politics, having been used to feeding from the system.

Way out of the pit
Remaining senior members of the party are however convinced that it is not totally over for PDP. For them, what the party has just witnessed is a momentary setback from which it will emerge stronger in a short while. Senate President, David Mark; his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu; as well as Mu’azu and even President Jonathan have argued in this respect. Commentators sympathetic to the party are equally agreed on this, stressing that what PDP needs now is to go into introspection, put its house in order and hang on to reap from cracks that may soon erupt from the ranks of APC.

John Igidi, analyst, hopes that even as PDP may not provide the needed opposition, God will always bring up people that will do that.

“Remember that the people that played active role in the APC, over 70 per cent were from the PDP. As the game goes on with (president-elect, Muhammadu) Buhari and his government, you will still see one or two or more disenchanted people now moving out again to be on the other side. PDP at the onset may not be able to do it, but as time goes on, they will gather moss and will be able to offer the opposition that we will need.”

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