LEON USIGBE analyses the threats facing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the recent defections and ongoing internal crisis in its southwest zone chapter.
The 2019 general election was a silver lining in the cloud for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It did not win the big one- the presidency, but its performance in the poll overall was a marked improvement on its devastating fall from grace in 2015 exercise. The party increased its gubernatorial fortunes from 11 to 16. The main opposition party even believes that if the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had allowed the will of the people to prevail in that election, and the Supreme Court did not manage to do some sort of “abracadabra” on Imo, it would have secured more states including Osun, Kano and Kogi States, under its umbrella. This is in addition to the 17 senators and 34 members of the House of Representatives that joined the party just before that exercise. Besides, four governors also rejoined the party from the APC just before the election namely, Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Sam Ortom of Benue State and Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State. It has recently taken over Edo State.
The PDP got to that position by running a deliberate programme of 3rs – reconciliation, rebuilding, and repositioning while drawing on the experiences of the 2015 failure. Perhaps, it was the changing fortunes of the party that alarmed the APC, which has consequently been fishing for politicians in the opposition to add to its fold.
The ruling party under its present National Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Committee led by Governor Mai Bala Buni of Yobe state seems to be pursuing a policy of pulverising the opposition by enticing the members to the rank of his party. Since he assumed office, he has been able to convince former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi state, former PDP National Chairman, Barnabas Gemade; Senator Isa Hamma Misau, and Senator Elisha Abbo representing Adamawa North among others, to cross over to the APC. Many others have indicated their interest to join the party if what Buni and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State claim is to be believed.
“In fact, I want to assure you all that APC would soon shock Nigeria’s political space with massive and unprecedented defections ever witnessed in the political history of our great country. And by the grace of God, APC will undoubtedly remain Nigeria’s leading political party,” Buni affirmed recently while Bello also placed the PDP on the alert over what he said are impending defections from the party to the APC.
Beyond this, the ruling party is also thought to be actively seeking the hands of former president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan as the 2023 presidential inches closer. This move has been given credence by the active cozy relationship that has formed between the former president and the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, despite being bitter foes around the 2015 elections. This is further reinforced by the visit to the former president by a host of APC chieftains led by Buni, including Kebbi State governor, Atiku Bagudu, Jigawa State governor, Abubakar Badaru, their Ebonyi State counterpart, Umahi as well as former Senate President, Ken Nnamani. The APC argues though that encouraging PDP members to exit the opposition party is not really its priority but that of the fault of the PDP, which, it believes, has failed to live up to its responsibility.
“It is disheartening that the PDP is pushing Nigeria into a largely one-party state. As a party that believes in democracy and progressive politics, the APC does not subscribe to this. We, therefore, challenge other opposition political parties to take the place of the PDP because even as the governing party, we recognise the importance of rigorous and intelligent interrogation of our policies and programmes by the opposition which the PDP has woefully failed to do,” the APC spokesman, Yekini Nabena rationalised. Observers have suggested that APC’s may be influenced to collapse the PDP into its fold by an increasing lack of confidence. Poor economy, worsening poverty rate, unbridled insecurity, and human rights issues as well as the second recession in five years have contrived to eat away at its popularity such that having a very weak opposition to contend with at elections provides an attractive proposition. If this is the case, the PDP has a cause to be worried about.
However, the former ruling party is yet to show signs of this. It has projected a seeming unperturbed posture since the recent defections from its ranks as some of its stakeholders even assure that the exit of a few chieftains does not necessarily translate to electoral losses for the party. Its National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, has certainly taken the Umahi decampment in his strides, only saying that the allegation of injustice against southeast by the party that Ebonyi governor gave as the reason for his action was provocative. “We have refused to join issues with him in any way, but we cannot bow to any blackmail. What I can report to NEC is that the strength of our party in Ebonyi State and South East is intact and the NWC has taken necessary steps to protect and guard it. The real season that informed this decision will soon be exposed,” Secondus told the party’s highest decision-making body in a meeting.
Former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, does not also see the need for the PDP to fret over defections as he believes that apart from the defectors not necessarily moving the people along, the next election is still a long way away to consider any permutations at this time. He told the Sunday Tribune: “Whatever reason Umahi gave, I cannot answer for Umahi. I just want you to know that the party is on course, events, and circumstances that could affect anything, the time is still far. Nobody can be postulating nothing. And don’t forget, it is not even the governors that make the difference, it’s the populace. What is the percentage of the politicians that are lying here and there? It is the people that vote in an election, the common people on the street.” He added: “Time will take care of so many things…What is important is that I am not worried about anything. Number one, nobody in this world can achieve any greatness without God. Time will take care of so many things. The fact that Umahi has gone, does it mean the southeast people will vote APC…That means there are certain things that cannot change the equation, they don’t alter anything. The majority of politicians jump around because of their interests not because of the interest of the people. The majority of the politicians are always telling us they are dying for their people. Which people are they dying for?”
Apart from the perceived machinations of the APC, the PDP has its internal wrangling that spells dangers for its ambitions. Torn between Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and Fayose, the South-West zone of the party is in a crisis that can undo all the gains of the hard work the present national leadership has done to re-engineer and re-invent the opposition. Fayose is insistent that even though Makinde, as the only PDP state governor in the zone is the leader of the party, he has no right to interfere in its affairs in each of the states. The former governor suspects that Makinde is uncomfortable because most of the members of the present leadership of the party in the zone are loyal to him (Fayose). But he is suggesting that if Makinde wants, an election can be called and whoever emerges from the exercise as the leaders of the party in the zone should be accepted by both sides.
Despite the schisms, the former Ekiti governor does not think that there is any need for the PDP to worry about its fortunes in the South-West zone and therefore, in his estimation, there is no problem to resolve. “There is nothing to affect. A zone is meaningless. It is the state that matters not the zones. There is no state called the zone. Ekiti is not the zone, Ogun is not the zone. It is when the state chapters have issues that you can say, let us resolve. There is nothing to resolve in the zone. There is only a 12-man committee in the zone, only one of them is a member of NEC. So, the zone is nothing,” he told Sunday Tribune.
Secondus, on his part, also assures the party faithful that even though it cannot trust the APC-led federal government to conduct transparent elections in 2023, the PDP intends to prod its National Assembly members to press ahead with the amendment to the Electoral Act to guarantee a fraud-free exercise. Where this happens, there will be a level playing ground. “Within our family also, we are putting all on hands-on deck to ensure we enter the next election stronger as one united and harmonious family,” the party boss maintains, adding: “We are continuing in our extensive consultations with critical stakeholders to ensure that no stone is left unturned for our return to Aso Rock.”
Perhaps to stop further movement away from its fold, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party announced the setting up of a National Reconciliation Committee chaired by former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki. The party’s spokesperson, Kola Ologbodiyan, who broke the new on Twitter last week, gave the names of other members of the committee to include a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pium Anyim; former governors of Cross River, Liyel Imoke; Gombe, Ibrahim Dankwabo; Katsina, Ibrahim Shema and the only female member and former House Minority leader, Mulikat Akande-Adeola.
Although the committee is yet to be inaugurated and given specific terms of reference, observers see the need to arrest the gale of defection from the umbrella party as the immediate cause for the setting up of the committee. Will the wise men and woman be able to achieve total healing for the aching joints of the party? That is the question that the members will provide answer to in the fullness of time.
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