Its recent governorship victory in Edo State appears to have given the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) more than a flicker of hope ahead of 2023.
Beyond the reluctant back-patting they gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for ensuring that the electoral process was free and credible, the response of PDP leaders on the out-come of the election would indicate that such feat can be replicated at the center come 2023.
But can they do achieve it, analysts are wont to ask? What’s more, does the party still enjoy the good-will of Nigerians at the national level?
PDP had hopes of returning to power in 2019. But after the post-election legal drama, lost at the Su-preme Court which declared President Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the All Progressives Con-gress (APC) winner of the election.
But 2019 was not a totally bad outing for the main opposition party as it was able to snatch some states from the APC, including Zamfara and Bauchi States. Although some pundits argue that the PDP won those states largely because of the infighting within APC, others aver that the opposition party was united and formidable going into the state elections.
However, while a verdict of the Supreme Court made PDP lose Imo State which it won at the polls, an-other verdict from the same court helped PDP regain Bayelsa State which it lost at the polls.
Watchers of the opposition party would aver that as much as it has not attained the legacy set by its founding fathers, it’s a dramatic loss in 2015 has perhaps made it sober, somewhat.
For a party that was conceptualised to provide a progressive platform for governance and develop-ment, it was hard, pundits aver, to reconcile the same party with the boastful disposition of some of its leaders, who at the height of their political dominance, declared that PDP would rule for 60 to 100 years.
At this stage, complaints of impunity, the imposition of candidates reigned in the party, chipping away at the party’s electoral goodwill with the people. The state of the party was a far cry from the dreams of it founding fathers and mothers.
This much was reflected in the acceptance speech of the former national chairman of the party, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, who as one of the founding fathers of the party, said “We must bring back inter-nal democracy, trust and confidence in our party, credibility in our electoral process, all-inclusiveness in our membership, entrenchment of democratic ideals in our party politics and, above all, excellence as our hallmark in fulfilling our covenant with our countrymen and women. Loyalty to the party and the ideals enunciated by our founding fathers remain our beacon light.“
He added, “Our party today has been handed over to godfathers at different levels that, with reckless abandon, expose candidates with questionable character and no leadership qualities whatsoever and clear the way for them to run for elections under our party flag. Such people elected under our party banner have consistently brought public odium on our great party to the chagrin of our party members and the nation at large.”
Apparently, Nwodo’s charge to party members was not heeded as convoluted internal crises culmi-nated in the defection of five governors from the party in 2013. They later merged with the APC, be-coming a party almost equal in size as PDP but certainly a potent alternative.
In the lead up to the 2015 general elections, the PDP had become unpopular among voters that it lost the presidential election, opening a new dispensation in Nigeria’s democratic sojourn.
However, settling into its new status as the main opposition party was tough. Hardly had party leaders ended the trading blames among themselves over their electoral loss than an intense leadership tus-sle ensued within the party. The leadership battle which had Senator Ahmed Makarfi leading one camp and Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, leading the other lasted for months, costing the party the Edo and Ondo 2016 governorship elections. The matter was however resolved at the Supreme Court in favour of the Makarfi camp.
Before long, PDP found itself in a fresh upheaval arising from its national convention which produced the current National Working Committee (NWC) led by Prince Uche Secondus. Those who felt ag-grieved after losing the national chairmanship seat to Secondus defected from the party despite ap-peals by the new leadership.
On assumption of office, Secondus was mindful of the enormity of the task to restore the lost glory of the party on the one hand and regaining the goodwill of voters.
Secondus, who blamed APC for the state of the nation, however, acknowledged that PDP must first put its house in order.
According to Secondus: “Our first assignment will be to bring all and sundry together, that is reconcilia-tion. We reassure leaders of our party especially those who contested this election. We have already started work and by the grace of God, it will be productive.
“We promise to rebuild the party to regain the lost grounds. I hereby declared the gate to this party open to all our people irrespective of their religious beliefs, their class. They are free to come into the party especially those who left for one reason or the other. This is the only platform that does not be-long to any group or big man. This is a party that provides for the big, the small, and the less privileged.
“Let me assure the state chapters and our state chairmen that from today, you will have full powers to operate to make sure that our party progresses in the right direction and I will empower you on behalf of the Exco. We will decentralize power from the centre so that we will be less busy here so that we can focus on the same mission to reclaim our lost grounds in 2019.
“We will make sure that there is no more imposition. We will make sure that the era of impunity has come and gone and we want to warn our leaders and ourselves that with this takeover today, let us not misuse the word, impunity. It has come and gone.
“The old order is gone. We will operate in the new order. There will be transparency in primaries,” he said.
While even party watchers admit that the task ahead is still enormous, the reforms of the current leadership seem to have turned things around for the party.
The NWC embarked on reconciliation of its members across the country which culminated in the re-turn of its members, including former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, then former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, governors, and federal and state lawmakers.
While the reform in the conflict mechanism of the party, helped to stem defections from the party,
the policy of members’ equality ensured new members came to the party. The national leadership also decentralised decision making to the state chapters and regional structures which entrenched grassroots engagement.
Pundits aver that some of these policies have been responsible for less acrimonious primaries like was witnessed during the last Presidential election.
However, another critical area is that the party’s leadership has been able to manage the dynamic syn-ergy among PDP Governors, party leaders, various organs of the party, including the Board of Trus-tees, (BoT).
So far, the PDP now controls 16 states after a resounding victory in Edo State while APC controls 19 States. The PDP-controlled states are Edo, Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Cross River, Akwa Ibom state, Enugu, Ebonyi, Benue State, Oyo, Adamawa, Bauchi, Abia, Zamfara, Sokoto, and Taraba State.
While some this is a leap for the party, others aver that the party’s geopolitics isn’t so bad. While the party has one state in North Central, it controls three North East; two states in North West; three states in the southeast; six states in South-South; and one state. South West.
While PDP’s performance in Edo State signals promises ahead of 2023, the ability to retain its unity and goodwill in spite of other political dynamics will be instructive. For instance, how the party manages the anticipated friction on the zones of its presidential ticket will be insightful. In the meantime, how-ever, how it resolves the crises in states arising from its recent congresses will be instructive.
Nevertheless, chairman of PDP’s Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin, believes that his party will reclaim 90 percent of states in Nigeria in 2023 if free, fair, and credible elections hold.
Jibrin while congratulating Governor Godwin Obaseki and PDP over the electoral victory, added that the outcome of the election shows good signs for the main opposition party ahead of 2023.
He was however not oblivious of the need for unity as he charged the party leadership to ensure ro-bust reconciliation in all the states, warning against unnecessary dismissals and respect for the dignity of individuals and appreciation of group dynamism.
He said, “After our victory In Edo State PDP now controls 16 states while APC controls 19. This is, there-fore, a good sign that PDP is on its way to control over 90 percent of the states in Nigeria noting with interest the free, fair, and transparent election conducted by INEC in Edo state.”
He added, “In order to allow us to capture power, PDP is in full reconciliation in all the states to make the party intact with no unnecessary dismissals, we are respecting the dignity of individuals and dyna-mism of a group.
“The door is always open to everyone to join the party and members to continue remaining in the par-ty. The NWC, BoT, Governors forum is determined to continue with their roles to move the party for-ward. All PDP media groups, youth forums, women Associations are being encouraged.
“The BoT as the conscience of the party is determined to continue playing its roles. It’s obvious that there is no party to rule Nigeria again but only PDP. Finally, all Nigerians must follow the path of Edo State and must be fully ready for 2023,” he said.
On his part, a political analyst, Mike Obiekwe, argues that it is still early in the day to say whether or not PDP can rebound in 2023.
“I think it is still early days yet to make such predictions. The factors that will determine that are many. But even when you look at the PDP, we need to really see how strong its conflict resolution mecha-nism is.
“As you know, conflict of interests are normal within parties, but how the party manages it and how timely it does, will be key. We are watching how the party addresses the conflicts arising from its re-cent congresses so far. How the party handles it might give better insight into how prepared they are to go into 2023.”
On his party, a legal practitioner, Lawal Shaibu, said, “I think that the issues that defined the Edo elec-tion might not be the same as what might play out in 2023. The scenarios are not necessarily the same. Yes, this election might have given the PDP some hope but a lot of work still needs to be done by the party.
“They still need to get to that point where Nigerians can say we trust this party. Fortunately or unfor-tunately, Nigerians have now experienced the two major parties at least for an appreciable time. So ultimately beyond putting their houses in order, they will need to really convince the Nigerian people to file out behind them as we saw in Edo State,” he said.
Evidently, PDP would need more than wishful thinking if it intends to reclaim power at the center.