Presently, the longest reigning political party in Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is in a state of confusion, lacks direction and faces the threat of implosion.
Happenings in the party since it lost power in 2015 to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have made developments in the PDP not only discernible but expected, not least because in our clime, political parties wax strong to the extent they remain in control of the state’s resources.
Put simply, as the political wind blew another direction, so did the PDP fell, signalling the onset of crisis in arguably the largest party in sub-Saharan Africa.
Though, it can be said that in politics, crises are healthy and bound to occur, the current political imbroglio in the Peoples Democratic Party appears not only to threaten the unity of the PDP, but it also threatens Nigeria’s democracy and opposition politics in particular.
Regrettably, the main source of crisis in the PDP centres on the choice of its national chairman. The party’s current leadership crisis can, in many ways, be said to be the by-product of its failure in the 2015 presidential election, in which former President Goodluck Jonathan lost to Muhammadu Buhari.
Many chieftains of the party felt that the then chairman, Ahmed Adamu Mu’azu, had traded the party’s fortunes at the polls. This accusation was predicated on the fact that Mu’azu, like Buhari, came from the North. Consequently, he was forced out of office.
His ouster brought in his deputy, Uche Secondus, from Rivers State, who served as an acting chairman. The reign of Secondus was marred by crisis as Ahmed Gulak, a former adviser to Goodluck Jonathan, initiated a legal battle to be recognised as an acting PDP national chairman based on the fact that having come from the North-east zone, like Mu’azu, the zone must be allowed to complete its chairmanship tenure.
Secondus’s tenure as acting chairman, similar to those of other national chairmen of the party, was never peaceful and ended in a bad way. Then came Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, from the North-east. Sheriff was appointed to serve for only three months, organise the party’s national convention and handover its affairs to an elected chairman.
But Sheriff still remains there, battling tooth and nail to stay in office and, eventually, as his rival, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, alleges, stand for election as the party’s presidential flag bearer in 2019.
His antics, however, pitched him against governors elected on the platform of the PDP, who, until a recent meeting initiated by Jonathan to find political solution to party’s problems, sided with Makarfi, who was elected as a caretaker committee chairman of the party during the botched May 21, 2016, convention of the party in Port Harcourt.
That convention, though botched, became memorable for its aftermath. Specifically, it marked the beginning of a legendary controversial legal battle between Sheriff and Makarfi with each of them angling themselves to take leadership of the party.
The ensuing legal battle threw the party into a state of confusion. But even more disturbing is the fact the contending factions did not take their cases to separate courts, but also got judgements delivered in their favour courts of competent jurisdiction.
Notably, the Federal High Court, sitting in different states, sacked and or recognised Makarfi and Sheriff at various times. Of course, rancour within the party was not limited to the courtroom as outside of it things and people were equally unstable and noisy. Individuals and groups within the PDP took their turn to voice their support for either Sheriff or Makarfi.
Yet, the shouting match in the party became the main occupation of its members and it appears it would remain so for a while longer, with many believing that the infighting in the party, if not ended, could become party’s greatest undoing before and during the general elections in 2019.
It is in this light that the recent initiative made by Jonathan to engender peace in the party must be appreciated. But the effort must yield quick result for it to be considered meaningful. And, even more important in this regard, Jonathan must get the Makarfi-led faction to withdraw its Supreme Court case challenging the victory of Sheriff at the Court of Appeal.
Unfortunately, even with the victory of Sheriff at the Appeal Court, things still appear not to be calm in the party. In fact, there are no sign that they will soon be, especially considering the gap that was widened by the Court of Appeal ruling.
Yet, even more worrying for the PDP is why its past leaders, at least for now, appear incapable of solving its problems.
Outwardly, as a political commentator said, aspiration for the party’s presidential ticket, contest between reform apologists and conservative elements as well as the fear of open competition constitute the main stumbling blocks to attainment of peace in the party.
Though Sheriff shouts his desire to get the party back to the “ordinary people,” just as the Makarfi-led camp states its willingness to right wrongs in the party, both claims are doubtable.
In fact, argues Leo Sobechi of the Guardian newspaper, since after what took place in Jos during the PDP’s first presidential primary election and subsequent conventions, where the position of national chairman was made subject to the whims and caprices of the powers that be, most party faithful, particularly those aspiring to very visible and responsible positions, developed the phobia for open contests.
Since then, it becomes a matter of anointing candidates in the party, a tradition that ultimately became its greatest undoing. Perhaps, Sheriff, who started by playing along with his godfathers, decided to do what the party punished Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo for daring to attempt-disentangling the PDP from the stranglehold of governors. Of course, Sheriff failed.
“At the root of PDP’s never-ending supremacy battles, therefore, could be said to be the phobia for openness and freedom of choice,” argues Sobechi.
With the benefit of hindsight, it was also the failure of the party to recognise majority opinion or subject its decisions to democratic ratification that predisposed PDP to its first shocking defeat.
Otherwise, in spite of available indices, Jonathan should not have been allowed as the sole candidate after some opposition parties had successfully fused into one mega entity.
Unfortunately, for members of the party, with the politics of favour and influence that defined its operation for 16 years, the PDP governors that saw Sheriff’s acclaimed deep pocket as a panacea for the party’s loss of its main source of funding, forgot that such facility offered the man enormous elbow room for arrogance and independent thinking.
And in their haste to cut his excesses, chieftains of the party committed series of blunders that ended up plunging it into deeper crisis with former Minister of Aviation, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, leading the way in describing the former Borno state governor as a mole positioned by the ruling APC to bury the PDP.
For now, the factional National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Honourable Bernard Mikko, speaking on behalf of the Sheriff, said that “what happened at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt, was the resolution of the legal option.” He said that that legal aspect would, expectedly, not only enhance but complement the political solution being championed by Jonathan to resolve the PDP leadership crisis.
Though Sheriff has offered to relinquish the chairmanship for the sake of PDP and the political future of its members, many in the party, including governors, don’t believe in what he says.
Yet, solutions must be found for the crisis because by the time the Supreme Court hears the appeal brought to it by the Makarfi committee and decides on the matter, the party may no longer have the political stamina, probably it may not even be there, to react to the ruling.
For now PDP is gradually going the way of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which despite its promise of simulating the feat achieved by the Alliance for Democracy (AD), travelled through the courts and after eight years of leadership challenge in unrelenting litigations, could not win a senatorial seat.
Unfortunately, even if Sheriff wins at the court, his faction of the PDP can, at best, be recognised as an official face of the party, but the PDP, as we once knew it, might be forgotten.
However, a vista of hope emerged at the beginning of this month. The PDP’s Standing Committee on Reconciliation headed by Governor Henry Siriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, after its meeting, has recommended political solution as the best option for the protracted crises in the party.
A statement signed by the trio of chairman of the committee, deputy chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Mantu, and the secretary, Senator Joshua Lidani said the meeting also “endorses the resolution of the meeting between the former President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR and PDP State Governors in this regard without prejudice to the ongoing judicial processes.”
The committee further stated: “That as part of this process, it is imperative that an early convention within the second quarter of 2017 should be held in Abuja which therefore should be all inclusive and where new national officials of the party will be freely, fairly and transparently elected.
“In furtherance of this, the reconciliation committee shall embark on extensive consultations with all stakeholders with a view of building confidence and necessary consensus toward the Unity Convention
“The committee appeals to all party leaders, and members of our great party to exercise restraint and focus on the loyalty to and the overall interest of the party.”
There is the likelihood that this may, after all, be fruitful. But as the saying goes, it is not yet over until it is over. However, Nigerians are waiting to see what the PDP would eventually become after exhausting the political solution or after the court processes.