LEON USIGBE looks at the ongoing inquiry of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) into how it lost the 2019 election and the effort to fortify it in time for the 2023 general election.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) knows all about rising from the ashes. After its spectacular fall from power in 2015, it has gradually picked up the pieces and now believes that it is on its way to full recovery.
The defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan in that election had left the party in a bad shape, virtual disarray and its teeming supporters downcast. But the onus fell on the present national leadership of the party led by Prince Uche Secondus to steady the badly rocked ship. After the initial leadership crisis that ensued from the electoral defeat, which saw both former national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and former National Caretaker Committee chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, at each other’s jugular in their fight for the soul of the main opposition party.
Secondus, who emerged later as the substantive party national chairman in 2017, set about seeking answers to the many questions arising from the defeat and reconciling disgruntled members and former members of the party. He followed up on the peace foundation that had been laid by the short-lived Makarfi administration by instituting structures to appease the aggrieved members and encouraged their stay in the party. The effort was not without hiccups.
Exit of founding members
Before the 2019 general election, the PDP, which had thought it was making steady progress in its reconciliation moves, was hit by the exit of some of its founding fathers, including former ministers Professors Jerry Gana, Tunde Adeniran and Godsday Orubebe, who teamed up with the Social Democratic Party (SDP). It was not just the three of them. Prominent politicians who joined them in exiting the PDP are a former military administrator of Katsina State, Sen. Joseph Akaagerger; a former Chief of Staff to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Mike Oghiadhome, ex-Governor Saminu Turaki of Jigawa State, among others.
The PDP, again, lost that election and some of the reasons adduced for that loss include the main opposition party’s inability to put its house in order and glossing over obvious impunity.
However, its 2019 performance saw the former governing party move from the 10 states it won in 2015 to 15 by 2020, gnawing away at the dominance of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), which had captured 21 states in the 2015 general election. Out of the 29 states where governorship elections held in 2019, the APC won 15 and the main opposition party improved its standing to 14 governorship seats as it snatched Zamfara, Adamawa, Bauchi, Oyo and Imo states from the APC. The PDP, in that election, lost Kwara and Gombe states to the APC over whom it still managed to retain a net edge of two states. The party later lost Imo state through the Supreme Court with the nullification of the election of Emeka Ihedioha as the elected governor of the state and his unexpected replacement with Hope Uzodinma of the APC who had come a distant fourth at the election.
Since then, the party has regained one more state with the defection of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State from the APC to the PDP. Obaseki was in the PDP for a short period before the September 19. 2020 gubernatorial poll, but he was able to defeat his APC rival, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu. The PDP credits the recent improvements in the electoral fortunes to the meticulous reconciliation and rebuilding efforts under the present national leadership, which introduced an enhanced conflict-resolution mechanism, based on a decentralized process of decision making.
This quickens the pace of conflict resolution and has, to a substantial extent, curtailed the incessant decamping of members while at the same time encouraging those who had earlier left the party to return. The PDP anchors this reconciliation effort on the principle of equality of members, meaning that no matter how late someone may have joined or rejoined the party, the individuals are accorded equal opportunities with its longstanding members. The party’s national leadership, beyond pursuing this policy to create a level playing ground, is also intent on discouraging imposition of candidates at any level as well as the manipulation of party primaries, which has been the major source of acrimony among members.
Despite the improved performance, the PDP thought it could have done better. It is now searching for the specific reasons why it did not do better than it did. Is it the party structure, its style of administration, internal wrangling, poor funding or deliberate suppression of the opposition? The party is hoping to find out soon.
Flowing from the 2019 election defeat, the National Executive Committee (NEC) in its 88th session earlier this year, resolved to constitute a committee for the review of 2019 elections and what transpired, as it said, to be able to help in the agitation for electoral reforms. But behind the move is the desire for self-preservation. The party said the review is imperative not just for its own survival as a political party in opposition, but the survival of democracy under a ruling party that it considers totalitarian.
The PDP is concerned that the APC has begun the agenda to turn the country into a one-party state. It believes the both the Legislative and Judiciary arms have been neutralised and can now hardly live up to their prescribed constitutional functions. “Our party believes that there are signs of dictatorship in our nation today and as such, our members in the national assembly were further charged to ensure that they use on their legislative instrument to ensure that our country is not reduced to a dictatorship,” Secondus observed while instituting the election review committee.
He added: “The landmines laid by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), against democracy in our beloved country are exploding and the consequences are confronting us. When President Muhammadu Buhari and his party began the process of muzzling the other arms of government, our party cried out and alerted the nation and indeed the international community of the brewing dictatorship. Here we are watching helplessly as the legislature and the Judiciary are put right in the pocket of the executive. An anomaly in a democracy that makes nonsense of the separation of power that is beautifully enshrined in the rule book to check the excesses of each arm of the government.”
Inquisition into electoral defeat
To prepare the PDP to weather any storm, Secondus set up the Governor Mohammed Bala-led 2019 Election Review Committee to do an inquisition into the 2019 general election. The committee recently resumed work, which it had suspended due to the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic. It has just written to remind stakeholders that its call for memoranda is still active. Among those it is hoping to hear from concerning the 2019 poll are former President Jonathan, former and Vice-President Namadi Sambo, former Vice-President and its 2019 presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar; all former presidential aspirants in the 2019 elections, the PDP Governors Forum, present and former governors, deputies and all former gubernatorial aspirants under the party, former Senate presidents and deputies, former Speakers of House of Representatives and deputies under the party, members of its Board of Trustees (BoT), former Ministers, PDP National Assembly Caucuses; present and former National Assembly members, Party leaders/stakeholders at the state and zonal levels, and other special interest groups who may not necessarily be members of the party.
The focus of the committee is campaign/party structures in election management, anti-party activities of members, the role of election management institutions, INEC, security agencies, the Press (both print, electronic and online media), general election funding and any other matters that may be considered important and in the overall interest of the party. They were expected to have submitted their memoranda by 30th September 2020.
Also, with future elections in mind, the PDP has recently re-engineered the way it responds to issues affecting its members in the National Assembly. The national leadership says it now accords priority to matters that concern its legislative caucuses in a bid to retain their close-knit relationship among the members themselves and with the party.
It is also hoping that it can maintain the new synergy among its state governors on the one hand and the synergy between the governors and the party leaders on the other, which has accounted for the recent run of successes. It is the party’s belief that this synergy played a substantial role in the Edo state election, which saw virtually all the state governors physically mobilizing support for Governor Obaseki’s re-election. Whereas there were signs of some APC governors’ opposition to the party’s candidate in the election, the reversed seemed to have been the case in the PDP.
Role of PDP Governors Forum
The PDP Governors Forum has also been playing a prominent role in the inquisition and reconciliation process in the party particularly since Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto state assumed the chairmanship of the forum. From the moment he was unanimously chosen to succeed former Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, the Sokoto governor indicated that his intention was to reconcile the state chief executives who had been begrudging themselves over different issues as well as other major stakeholder who had one grievance or another. “There are issues here and there but they are not beyond us and we shall reconcile those who are having some issues with one another and also ensure that our party is firmly positioned for the challenges ahead,” he had assured.
Tambuwal expressed his commitment to use the PDPGF to foster unity and reposition the main opposition party. “And of course, in foisting of peace among governors and indeed the entire party, I assure you that we are going to use this platform to bring everybody onboard.” He promised to bring back major stakeholders of the party who might have been shying away from its activities. Therefore, all former members of the party have become the target of the PDP reconciliation effort in the bid to return to power at the centre in 2023.
“We will bring former governors, former ministers that served in the party. They are very resourceful; they are our leader and they have a lot to contribute for the development of the party and our country. So, we shall relate more closely with them towards rebuilding the party and of course, deepening our democracy in Nigeria,” Tambuwal declared.
Towards the reconciliation effort, the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the main opposition party rose from its meeting recently and set in motion the measures to encourage former prominent members to return to the party. The BoT deliberated on the progress of the 2019 election review and the reconciliation effort following briefing it received from the National Chairman, Secondus and, consequently, advised the NWC to escalate its findings to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for further deliberation and authorization of necessary actions.
Steadying the ship
PDP National Publicity Secretary affirmed that the party is indeed fortifying itself for all coming elections including by-elections into the national and state assemblies, gubernatorial elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun state and indeed, the 2023 general elections.
“One thing you must know is that what we are doing at the National Working Committee (NWC) now is to strengthen the party and make it an attraction to Nigerians. Do not forget that we also have elections. We have by-elections into the National Assembly. We also have (gubernatorial) elections in Anambra, Ekiti, Osun before we talk about presidential election in 2023. So, our concern now is to steady the party, work in concert with the state executives in the respective areas where we have elections and see how we can win those elections. We are working to strengthen our party and to steady it ahead of all elections. But of particular interest now is the by-elections for the national and state assemblies’ seats, the election into Anambra (2021), into Ekiti (2022) and Osun is 2022 before 2023. We are fortifying.”
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