CHIBUZO UKAIBE reflects on major events that played out in the leading opposition party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in 2019.
For the major opposition party, 2019 was strategic for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Having lost power in 2015 after 16 years of being the ruling party, its chance of returning to the coveted position came four years after at the 2019 presidential election.
Like all political parties, PDP, under the leadership of Prince Uche Secondus was optimistic of victory at the general elections, especially the presidential contest. This was so after most of its political heavyweights, including former Vice President Atiku, immediate past Senate President, Bukola Saraki, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, governors and federal and state lawmakers, returned to the fold the previous year.
Also, during the preceding year, PDP held its presidential primary which it touted as one of its best since the party’s formation in 1998. The primary produced Atiku as party’s presidential candidate. The party had also formed an alliance with some unknown opposition parties, in the name of Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) ahead of the polls.
Anticipating a tough contest, the party started its campaigns, touring every state in the country, except Abuja. The much anticipated presidential election held on February 23. Days after sorting out the results, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), winner of the vote with 15,191,847 ballots. Atiku polled second with 11,262,978 votes, according to the electoral umpire.
Expectedly PDP and Atiku rejected the outcome of the polls, with the former Vice President declaring it a sham and travesty. He soon after mounted a legal challenge to wrest the presidency from Buhari. He and the PDP filed petitions at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal.
Among other things Atiku and PDP questioned the result based on its claims of an INEC server, Buhari’s academic eligibility and irregularities during the polls.On September 11, 2019, the Justice Mohammed Garba-led presidential election petitions tribunal affirmed President Buhari’s victory at the polls and ruled that he was “eminently qualified to contest the 2019 election,” just as it dismissed other issues raised by Atiku and PDP.
Undeterred, PDP and Atiku filed 66 grounds of appeal before the Supreme Court as he challenged the judgment of the tribunal. The Supreme Court also threw out their petitions.In a unanimous ruling on October 30, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad said the panel had come to the conclusion that the appeal lacked merit.
“Having gone through the briefs for over two weeks we have come to the conclusion that this appeal lacks merit. This appeal is hereby dismissed. Reason will be given at a date to be communicated to parties,” the CJN declared.
On November 15, the Supreme Court gave its reasons for the judgement. His hopes dashed after the Supreme Court judgment, Atiku blamed what he called an “overreaching and dictatorial cabal” whom he claimed sabotaged the judiciary.
In the statement, he made sweeping indictment of some of the mediating institutions in the country, saying everyone has been compromised. He even said a ‘requiem is at hand’ for the burial of Nigeria’s democratic gains since 2015, when Buhari mounted the saddle.
“In a democracy, you need a strong judiciary, a free press and an impartial electoral umpire. Nigeria has none of those three elements as at today,” he claimed. Then he zeroed in on the judiciary making a claim that sounds more like an incitement of his supporters against the institution, on a day that the Appeal Court in Sokoto took two National Assembly seats from the All Progressives Congress and gave them to Atiku’s PDP. “The Nigerian judiciary, just like every estate of our realm, has been sabotaged and undermined by an overreaching and dictatorial cabal”, Atiku claimed, “who have undone almost all the democratic progress the Peoples Democratic Party and its administrations nurtured for 16 years, up until 2015.”
But it was not all gloom for the party electorally. During the governorship election, the party won some states, no thanks to internal crisis within the APC. The party won Bauchi, Imo, Zamfara, Oyo States. With all 109 seats in the chamber now occupied, APC has won 64 seats while the main opposition PDP won 44 seats. The Young Progressive Party (YPP) is the only other party outside of the two dominant ones inaugurated to the 9th Senate with only one seat.
In the House of Representatives, the APC got 217 while the PDP 115 and other parties got 19 seats combined. While the legal tussle lasted over the outcome of the presidential election, the intrigues within PDP over the how the leadership of the National Assembly will emerge began to dominate the consciousness of the party and its faithful.
Even though contestants are members of the APC, the PDP leadership directed its members to support Senator Ali Ndume and Hon. Umaru Bago for the Senate Presidency and speakership of the House of Representatives respectively. The APC leadership had selected Senator Ahmed Lawan and Hon Femi Gbajabiamila for the positions. On election day, Senator Lawan and Hon Gbajabiamila received overwhelming votes from lawmakers, signifying that PDP members in both chambers flaunted their party’s directive.
Smarting from the outcome of the National Assembly leadership experience, PDP leadership mandated its members to support Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe for Senate minority leadership and Hon Kingsley Chinda as leader of the minority in the House of Representatives. Besides Chinda the PDP had nominated Chukwuka Onyema as Deputy Minority Leader, Yakubu Barde as Minority Whip and Muraina Ajibola as Deputy Minority Whip.
While Abaribe and his team enjoyed smooth sail in the Senate, Chinda and his team suffered a defeat as some PDP lawmakers in cohorts with other opposition lawmakers, revolted against the party’s choice and choose, Hon Ndudi Elumelu as the minority leader. Other members in Elumelu’s team are Wole Oke, Lynda Ikpeazu, Anayo Edwin, Gideon Gwadi, Toby Okechukwu and Adekoya Abdul-Majid.
Chinda enjoys the backing of the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike. It would seem like the party leadership was more worried than embarrassed by the realisation that its lawmakers have on two occasions disobeyed its directives. The Secondus-led PDP wasted in no time in suspending Elumelu and his team after they failed to appear before the party to answer for their act of indiscipline.
The party setup a committee headed by a former senate president, Adolphus Wabara, to investigate how the party members voted during the National Assembly leadership election. The PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) which had waded into the matter, setup its Committee, including, former senate presidents Iyorcha Ayu, Adolphus Wabara, David Mark, and former deputy House speaker, Hon Austin Opara to look into the matter.
The committee led by Senator Ayu got to work. The committee was given one week to file its report but it exceeded it. Weeks after, Hon Opara resigned from the committee, which was followed by an allegation by Wike that the committee is corrupt. From there on, the intrigues over the matter escalated.
While the BoT chairman, Senator Walid Jibrin and Senator Wabara disagreed openly over the submission of the report to the NWC, Wike openly congratulated President Buhari on his electoral victory at the court. Some PDP governors however visited Wike to plead with him not to abandon the party over the matter. While the matter raged, the scheming within the party ahead of the November 16 governorship elections in Kogi, Bayelsa states also continued.
In Kogi State, the tussle was within the political dynasty of former governor, Ibrahim Idris whose son, Abubakar was also contesting. In Bayelsa State however, the issues were more complicated more so because the party was hoping to retain control of the state. The tussle was however between the Governor, Seriake Dickson backed by his restoration team as against former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe, who enjoyed the backing of loyalists of former President Goodluck Jonathan and foundational members of the PDP in the state. The primaries held and the internal crisis began. For Kogi, Musa Wada emerged candidate while Senator Douye Diri was declared PDP flagbearer In Bayelsa. Their emergence were rejected by leading candidates. In Kogi, Abubakar, son of the former governor, threatened legal action against Wada’s choice.
In Bayelsa, Alaibe actual went to court, asking to be declare the party’s candidate. Displeased, former President Goodluck Jonathan distanced himself from events in the party in the state. Days to the party’s mage rally, a delegation of governors visited Jonathan’s Abuja to beg him not to abandon the party as well as seek his support.
The legal action and threat mattered less as the APC won both states. But the impact was felt more in Bayelsa as the party lost an oil-rich state which it had controlled since 1999. Although the party had gone to court to challenge the outcome of both polls, its remains to be seen whether the frictions arising from the primaries have been resolved.
The party however had some dramatic electoral wins and losses in the National Assembly after judgements from the election petition tribunals, prominent among them were the return of Senator Olubunmi Olujimi to the Senate and the sacking of Senator Dino Melaye after a suspense-filled round of elections. In all, PDP had it highs and lows.
But some analysts believe that it was distracted by the quest to upturn the outcome of the election to robustly play its role as the leading opposition party. Others believe that the party needs to step up its capacity beyond sampling the number of states it currently has, if it intends to remain the rallying point of the opposition in the years leading to the next general election.