BY CHIBUZO UKAIBE,
As the All Progressives Congress (APC) marks its second year in office, CHIBUZO UKAIBE, reflects on the spate of crises that has crippled the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from functioning as the ace opposition party in the country
hen the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), unprecedentedly lost the presidential election and handed over control of the federal government to the All Progressives Congress (APC) on May 29, 2015, the former ruling party naturally became main opposition party.
The PDP has since gone almost limp, managing to only whimper against the policies or programmes of the governing APC.
There were early attempts to reposition the party as seen in the setting up of the Sen Ike Ekweremadu post-election review committee and the convening of a national confab by the party in 2015 where recommendations on how to move the party forward were made.
Despite the lofty recommendations from the post-election committee, chief of which was the zoning of the presidency to the North, heralding the return of the rotational presidency which caused the party the seat of power in the first place, the center could still not hold.
For most parts, the former ruling party saw its members prosecuted for alleged abuse of public funds arising from the 2015 general elections, a scenario which put the party on the defensive. Much worse, is the self-inflicted leadership crisis which now threatens the continued existence of the party. By and large, it would seem that the party is still trapped in the maze of transitioning from a ruling party to an opposition.
No sooner had the party lost power at the center, than its internal crisis started. Series of simmered disagreements within party, burst to the national limelight. While the National Working Committee (NWC) under former national chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu had its internal wranglings, aides to the former President Goodluck Jonathan, traded blames with party executives over the reasons why they lost.
Before long, centrifugal forces got engrossed in the battle for the soul of the party, tugging at its heart in different directions. Amidst calls for the resignation of the leadership of the party, Mu’azu and former chairman of the board of trustees (BoT) Chief Tony Anenih resigned. Still no respite.
Mu’azu’s deputy, Prince Uche Secondus, assumed leadership of the party, however, amidst concerns over the finances of the party, the clamour for Secondus to vacate office for a member of the party from the North-east to continue Mu’azu’s tenure mounted.
As party leaders, especially the party’s governors continued to foot drag over the finding a replacement for Mu’azu, former political adviser to President Jonathan went to court and eventually secured a verdict asking Secondus to vacate office and for someone from the North-east zone to emerge chairman of the party.
This opened a new dimension to the party’s crisis. With the governor’s set at reaffirming their control of the party, and led by Ayo Fayose (Ekiti) and Nyesom Wike (Rivers), they master-minded the emergence of Sen Ali Modu Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State, who had barely spent three years as member of the party. He had fallen out with the APC leadership upon its formation and was embraced with open arms when he defected to the PDP.
Sheriff’s emergence was fiercely rejected by various groups in the party, with Jonathan’s ex-ministers’ forum, reputed to be the most vocal. Similarly, other groups led by former minister of information, Prof Jerry Gana and former deputy Senate president, Sen Ibrahim Mantu, resisted the foisting of Sheriff on the party.
After much tug of war, a temporary agreement was reached. It entailed that Sheriff would serve for a period of three months and vacate office, a situation which set in motion plans for a national convention scheduled for Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
But the truce was breached before it started. It appeared the governors were set on their ways to ensure Sheriff continues in office much longer. The convention’s zoning committee led by the Akwa Ibom State governor, Emmanuel Odom, zoned the position of national chairman to the North-east against the clamour for the position to be zoned to the South, since the 2019 presidential election has been zoned to the North. Besides appearing to be setting the stage for Sheriff to continue in office, the zoning pattern countered attempts by the party to return its practice of zoning and rotational presidency.
Expectedly, the warring camps returned to the trenches, while plans for the convention continued as scheduled. The Prof Gana group, working with the ex-ministers forum, continued the resistance against the governors and Sheriff. They insisted on holding their own convention in Abuja.
Nevertheless, a crisis of confidence was to ensue between Sheriff and the governors when barely days to the Port Harcourt convention, series of court orders emerged asking for elections not to be held into some offices. Sheriff was discovered to be party to the suit.
While the governors and some NWC members insisted on having the convention, Sheriff maintained that it should be put off. As such the governors rejected Sheriff. Members of the NWC including Secondus resigned their positions and the National Caretaker Committee-led by Sen Ahmed Makarfi, a former governor of Kaduna State was appointed the chairman of a national caretaker committee to oversee the affairs of the party ahead of a fresh national convention.
But the matter was far more complicated as the reason why the governors removed Sheriff was connected to the 2019 presidential election. It was alleged that Sheriff promised a number of governors the party’s vice presidential slots in exchange for their support to allow him continue as chairman of the party till 2018 upon which he would emerge the presidential candidate of the party.
While Fayose had at a later interaction with newsmen admitted this incident, Sheriff has however denied promising anybody the vice presidency ticket of the party.
While the Abuja convention crumbled, the Abuja convention jubilated. Their member, Sen Makarfi has emerged the new helmsman of the party. But Sheriff insisted that he remains chairman, noting that he had called off the convention citing the court orders. He said the NWC was still in charge of the affairs of the party, adding that deputies of those who resigned should take over the affairs of the party.
Days after the convention, a showdown ensued at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja between supporters of Sheriff and Makarfi, leading to the shutdown of the premises.
While both camps operated from separate national head offices, a plethora of high court judgements were delivered, favoring both sides. But a federal high court in Port Harcourt validated the convention that led to the emergence of Makarfi. This prompted an appeal from Sheriff at a higher court which he won. Although Sheriff enjoyed legal authority, all the organs of the party, publicly aligned with Makarfi.
Still, in the midst of the legal tussles, the Makarfi camp attempted to hold another national convention which almost plunged the party into a new round of crisis. With a fresh convention committee which saw to a re-zoning of the chairmanship position to the South, the governors were yet again accused of trying to impose candidates on the party. Although the Makarfi camp blamed security operatives for obstructing the convention, for PDP watchers, that faction of the party narrowly escaped implosion, whose ripple effect would have been fatal for the whole party.
Meanwhile, series of reconciliation attempts, involving prominent leaders in the country were unsuccessful. From the BoT to the former National Security Adviser (NSA) Gen Aliyu Gusau, amongst others. However an attempt by former President Goodluck Jonathan, to intervene has also not yielded much as a recent political solution sought by the former president appears to have fallen through.
So far, both camps, apparently engrossed in the politics of 2019, have repeatedly accused each other of doing the biddings of the APC, paying little attention to the need for introspective opposition to the governing APC.
Remarkable is that the Makarfi camp has taken a break from the internal crisis in the party, to criticize some policies of the APC.
On the other hand, Sheriff’s camp appears more interested in muscling down the other faction and as such appears to have done little or no criticism of the APC’s policies.
What’s more, the goodwill PDP enjoys appears to be waning, what with the perception that its achievements in the past 17 years it held sway does not correspond with the huge resources that accrued to the country. For many, although the party midwifed the emergence of number of institutions, the massive funds allocated to the power sector, questionable privatization of some government owned establishments and the major infrastructural deceit remain major dents for the party.
Still, the saving grace for the PDP, it would seem, is that no other opposition party, as yet, has dared to fill the void.