PDP and the burden of electoral defeat

Pdp         The leadership of the People’s Democratic Party is still licking the political wounds inflicted on it by the dramatic defeat it suffered in the hands of the All Progressives Congress during the 2015 general elections as it now battles against implosion, writes Olisemeka Obeche

Trouble in Paradise

For the first time since its formation 17 years ago, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the self-acclaimed ‘largest political party in black Africa’ faces real threat of implosion. Since the unexpected defeat by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2015 general elections, things have been falling apart within the PDP and the once powerful centre thread can no longer hold fast on the crumbling umbrella. Apart from losing the plum presidential seat, the PDP lost its control of the National Assembly. Currently, the party controls less than 15 of the 36 states in the country.

The loss of political power to the APC has not only resulted in the mass defection of its members to the new ruling party, but also ignited conflicts within the party’s leadership. The blame-game among the leaders of the party shortly after its shocking defeat by the APC which led to the resignation of its national chairman, Adamu Mu’azu seems to have exacerbated in recent months with members taking sides in the ensuing cold war.

And with the APC government led by President Muhammadu Buhari intensifying its anti-corruption war, former PDP power brokers have found themselves at the end of teeter. The once powerful clique within the PDP not only face the battle to escape corruption conviction but being toppled by subordinate party leaders.

“The major challenges facing most of those leaders that emerged under the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan is that a lot of people see them as excess political baggage that must be shed for the party to move forward, while they too want to remain and lead the party’s resurgence battle,” says Mr. Just Juwe, a political analyst.

Apart from the frustration that had trailed the party’s do-or-die politicking, a good number of PDP members who spoke to TheEconomy acknowledged their anger at the high level of impunity and unfair power play that characterized the party’s approach to previous elections. To most of them, the party’s crash in the last election was a direct consequence of the failure of its leaders to put in place mechanisms for real democratization within the party.

For instance, Mrs. Ireti Baba-Niyi, a PDP stalwart, says the party’s spectacular fall from grace to grass was a consequence of overzealous and high-handedness of its leaders, especially during the Jonathan administration. “PDP’s problem in the last election stems from the overriding ambition of few individuals who wanted to keep Jonathan and those on his line up in power for their selfish interest. In their bid to retain power and wealth at all cost, they drove the party on the edge of precipice, forcing some party members to defect to other parties while the rest of us who did not want to move watched from afar,” she says.

Barrister Joe Nwokedi, a civil rights activist believes that the party leadership’s decision to jettison the principles of internal democracy and its zoning policy contributed to its downfall. According to him, “the PDP was undone by its failure to adhere to its constitution and allowed the president and the state governors to wield excessive influence on the party to the extent that their wishes became command of party chairmen.”

With the exit of party’s founding leaders from commanding heights following the power-play that eventually threw up Jonathan and his power-brokers, the battle for the soul of the PDP was drawn between the old and the new generation leaders.

The storm created by the party’s internal political squabbles has opened a new battle for some PDP deputy national officers. Apart from demanding for the resignation of three key national officers, the grandstanding officers also called for an urgent national executive meeting to undertake a quick rejig of its leadership and carry out necessary surgical operation on the party to enable it survive the raging political turbulence.

The Quit Notice

Sign that the widening cracks in the PDP have become too conspicuous to ignore emerged mid-January when four disenchanted deputy national officers of the party demanded for the resignation of three high-ranking party officers — Acting National Chairman, Uche Secondus, Acting Chairman of Board of Trustees (BoT), Bello Haliru Mohammed and the National Publicity Secretary, Olisah Metuh. While Secondus was asked to quit following legal dispute over his controversial reign as the party’s chairman since the resignation of the erstwhile national chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, the duo of Mohammed and Metuh were issued quit notice based on their ongoing corruption trial.

The statement calling for their resignations was jointly signed by Dennis Alonge-Niyi, deputy national youth leader; Bashir Maidugu, deputy national legal adviser; Okey Nnaedozie, deputy national organizing secretary and Abdullahi Jalo, deputy national publicity secretary on behalf of other deputy national officers and some members of the National Executive Committee of the PDP.

Piqued by the festering impunity and perfidy that characterized the party’s expensive campaign in the 2015 general elections, the quartet insist that any PDP leader caught up in the web of sharing public funds during the elections must face the consequences alone.

The statement reads in part: “They are said to have received funds using accounts of their private companies without the knowledge and instructions of any organ of the party. All those mentioned in the ongoing corruption trial are, therefore, on their own and the party was not involved financially or in any way with the office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) or any organ of the federal government in the last regime. They must bear full responsibility for their actions and must henceforth refrain from dragging the name of the party into the mud.”

The angry PDP deputy officers also called on the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to forestall further reign of impunity by reverting to the Abuja High Court ruling of December 15, last year, which directed the PDP’s acting national chairman, Secondus, to step down and allow either Ahmed Gulak or any other qualified person from the North-east geo-political zone to take over the position vacated by Mu’azu.

“This is a declaratory ruling where no order of stay of execution from any other court has been granted. The NEC must do the needful by selecting a suitable national chairman from the North-east to complete their tenure in accordance with our tradition and the party’s constitution. In pursuance of this, therefore, Prince Uche Secondus should revert back to his constitutional position of Deputy National Chairman of the party as a matter of urgency,” they say.

The national officers also argue that in the light of the court ruling and other matters related to it, the timetable recently released by the National Working Committee, without recourse to the NEC, for the forthcoming national convention of the party in March should be considered null and void.

They argue that aside the offices of the National Chairman, National Secretary, National Financial Secretary and the National Auditor, the national convention that produced the other national officers was held on August 30, 2013. “Based on the four-year tenure envisaged by the constitution of the party, all the remaining officers’ tenure of office would terminate on August 30, 2017,” they add.

They urge the NEC to order a proper audit of the finances of the PDP by certified external auditors. According to them, the audit period should be from March 2012 to date. “All committees set up by the irregularly constituted national working committee should be dissolved and new committees constituted by NEC in good faith and the general interest of the party. Finally, we urge the National Caucus and the Board of Trustees as a matter of urgency to convene a meeting of NEC to address all these burning issues. Any further delay will exacerbate the situation,” they say.

Battle for PDP’s Soul

Perhaps, what emerged as a foretaste of the battle that lies ahead among the competing political forces was a brief drama that played out in early May, last year. It started when Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose issued a bizarre media statement in which he accused the then PDP national chairman, Mu’azu of orchestrating the defeat of the party in the general election and demanded for his resignation. “I have cogent evidences of his unholy alliance with the opposition before the election and if they go any further, I will expose all his underhand deals,” Fayose says in a statement signed by his media aide, Lere Olayinka on May 5, 2015.

Two days later, Mu’azu fired back a mock tweet, challenging Fayose to produce evidence to prove that he sold the party out to the opposition during the elections. “Fayose: I have evidence that Muazu worked for APC. We hope it’s not the kind of evidence he once said he had that Buhari was dying?,” Mu’azu tweeted in reply on Thursday, May 7.

Mu’azu dismissed Fayose’s allegation and insisted that he was “too principled to betray my party.” Rather, he blamed Fayose and his group for masterminding the party’s defeat through their hate campaigns. “Those who blame us for not delivering maximum votes to the president in the north seem to have forgotten that it is the people who vote. The perception of President Jonathan and our party in the north was at an all-time low because of the lies they were told by politicians,” he says.

Mu’azu adds: “Some who are singing ‘change the entire NWC were the same ones who brought us to this level with their insincerity and praise singing. For those who are wishing that I will either decamp or resign; I advise you to kindly stop wishful thinking. We have a party to lead.”

But the maverick Ekiti governor would not back down from a fight. He insists that Mu’azu must quit as national chairman for leading the party to defeat. As pressure mounted on him, Mu’azu was forced to resign, claiming that his decision was based on ill-health and his deputy, Prince Uche Secondus stepped into his shoes. The expectation that Mu’azu’s exit would pave the way for restoration of normalcy within the party has remained a mirage. Instead of the much expected moves to rally members back, PDP has been caught up in the whirlwind of internal squabbles.

This poses a great threat to the political future of the party whose leaders once boasted would rule Nigeria for 50 years. A combination of unresolved pre-electoral disputes and fall outs of the 2015 general elections have created cracks within the party.

Political observers have identified at least four different camps or factions, now battling for the soul of PDP. One notable faction, already scheming to remain at the helm of the party’s affairs comprises loyalists and benefactors of former President Jonathan. “This camp believes that the party’s best chance of resurgence remains in building the party around the international goodwill of the former president”, says Mr. Cliff Ike Nneli, a political analyst.

Another camp features frontline players in the current National Working Committee (NWC) of the party who felt that the onus of rebuilding the party falls squarely on their shoulders. However, another camp headed by some of the serving state governors such as Fayose, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa, Nyesom Wike of Rivers and Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo as well as former Akwa Ibom State governor and Senate Minority Leader Godswill Akpabio believe they are the new power brokers. The fourth faction which recently emerged through the ranks of deputy national officers of the party also thinks it is its turn to ascend the ladder of authority.

PDP Deputy National Legal Adviser, Barrister Bashir Maidugu, admitt that there are various camps within the party due to political differences but denies existence of factions. “Yes, there are camps in the PDP because of some issues but not factions. When you say factions, it means each group is seeking for recognition, or wants to form a different party and this is not the problem,” Maidugu says.

He explained that efforts are being made to restore sanity, rule of law and transparency in the party, and “once these things are addressed, all these camps will automatically collapse into one camp.”

Rebuilding the PDP

Reports of behind-the-scene meetings by various PDP stakeholders have given a new hope that efforts are in top gear to tackle the simmering political crisis and start the rebuilding process. With the party’s emergency National Convention slated for March, party leaders are making efforts to restore the party’s lost glory. But these efforts have yielded minimal success so far.

For instance, the now dovish PDP Board of Trustees (BOT) in late January summoned an emergency meeting to discuss the way out of the party’s quagmire. This was later postponed for lack of consensus. Since then, events threatening the peace of the party have continued to cascade in such an alarming progression that the party elders are now in a dilemma as to the alternative way out of the crisis.

Similarly, another meeting of top PDP players reportedly held in Lagos with a grand agenda of finding a new national party leader and executive committee that would spearhead the task of repositioning the party, wining back the confidence and sympathy of Nigerians, nearly ended in chaos. Tempers reportedly flared at the meeting due to disagreement over the geo-political zone that should be ceded the rights to produce the next national chairman of the party.

While Governor Fayose reportedly insists on South-west getting the slot, some leaders prefer the North-west producing the new chairman because the PDP has suffered more membership depletion in the North than any other zone. Fayose created a scene at the session by being vehement on the South-west getting the PDP chairmanship slot. According to him, in the history of the PDP, the zone has not led the party.

While other zones and caucuses in the party are already strategizing on how to get juicy posts in the next executive body, the North-east caucus led by a former political adviser to ex-President Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, wants the chairmanship position in the zone to complete the tenure of the ousted chairman, Mu’azu, who resigned in controversial circumstance after the defeat of the party in the last general elections. Although, Gulak secured a judgment from an Abuja High Court last December mandating Secondus to vacate the national chairmanship position and revert back to his position as deputy national president, the party lodged an appeal against the decision as well as an application for injunction pending appeal and stay of execution. That legal tussle remains a stumbling block towards mending fences within the party hierarchy.

 

New twist in the crisis

The crisis rocking the PDP took a new twist on January 27 when   the former Political Adviser to former President Jonathan and chieftain of the party, AlhajiGulak, stormed the secretariat in Abuja with his supporters and declared himself the national chairman of the party.

Addressing journalists, Gulak noted that a high court had thrown out an application by the PDP and the acting national chairman of the party, Prince Secondus, which sought to stop a previous ruling demanding that Secondus vacates office within 14 days. He also said there would be a change to the proposed date of the national convention which was slated for March this year by the Secondus-led National Working Committee, NWC, against the backdrop that the NWC ought to have first tabled the matter before the National Executive Committee, NEC, before announcing it. The former Presidential aide was accompanied by Dr DoyinOkupe, Mr ShehuBirma, Ayakeme Whiskey and ChumaNnaji, among others.

But in a swift reaction, the PDP NWC described the action as shocking, a taboo that was unacceptable and described Gulak as a fifth columnist working for the All Progressives Congress, APC, to cause confusion in the party. The PDP National Legal Adviser, Mr Victor Kwon, wondered why Gulak would want to become the national chairman through the back door, asking him to go to his zone, consult, lobby for his name to be submitted from the North East zone.

In another development, the PDP NWC has shunned a directive by the party’s governors asking Secondus to hand over his position as acting national chairman to the National Secretary, Professor Wale Oladipo. The governors in a communiqué after their meeting on January 27, directed Secondus to handover to Oladipo pending the emergence of a substantive chairman from the North-east. The governors, in a communiqué read by Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State frowned at the refusal of Secondus to respect the judgement of an Abuja High Court ordering him to vacate the office. However, in reaction to the directive by the governors, the party’s National Legal Adviser, Mr Kwon insisted that Secondus remains the party’s acting national chairman.

As at the time of going to press, the scramble for the party’s chairmanship position was yet to be resolved as three personalities were laying claim to it.

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