A tremendous smoke of discord, trepidation billows over what is now left of the Peoples Democratic Party this week as recrimination over who’s responsible for the party’s unprecedented electoral disaster metastasised into an open feud that continues to threaten the party’s national leadership, consequently casting a thrilling doubt over the party’s future prospects, writes WESTERN POST’s Lagos Bureau Chief SAMUEL OGUNDIPE
Members of the People’s Democratic Party, which acclaimed itself the largest in Africa, have been having a crisis of faith since the 2015 elections revealed the steepness of Nigerians’ frustration with their 16-year leadership. Several independent political action committees loyal to the party have also released an array of autopsies, with most often shifting the blames to the party’s top echelons.
The latest infighting pits the National Working Committee, the highest decision-making body of party, against all PDP governors and senior staffers of the President Goodluck E. Jonathan’s campaign organisation, and it is playing out at the time they’re being urged to put the 2015 losses behind them and concentrate on repositioning the party to make it a formidable opposition that many believe is an antiseptic part of an enviable democracy.
The PDP has not been able to rise up in unison to properly dissect the result of an election many fear could lead to domination of political center stage by the APC for several decades to come, a worrisome streak that its supporters partly attribute to the infighting.
The division highlights the persistent battle between the national caucus of PDP and the state governors over political supremacy. While the national leadership argues that key decisions, like earmarking of campaign funds and backing the most potent candidates in primaries, should be deferred to NWC; governors kick that they should call the shots in their respective states as they’re well grounded enough to better accentuate what’s politically expedient for the party.
Empirical facts about this division were rife throughout the party’s primaries across the country last December. Although the PDP has a long-standing policy of not interfering in primaries amongst its ambitious members, there exist exceptional cases in many state-level elections that often pit national leadership against intransigent governors or state chapter leaders.
In Plateau State, which is amongst the few traditionally-PDP states in the country, Governor Jonah Jang is believed to have been responsible for the party’s unbelievable loss in the state’s governorship election after allegedly imposing his candidate of choice who, political analysts said, is widely reviled across the state.
In Ogun-State, the gulf between the NWC and state leadership of the party became a matter of public knowledge after state leaders forged ahead with primary elections without the necessary permission from the national executives. Former House of Representatives’ Speaker, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole, and Mr. Gboyega Isiaka had been locked in an arduous battle for the party’s ticket. The national executives were believed to favour Bankole, perhaps for his name recognition and status, while state leaders queued behind Isiaka, owing largely to the role he played in reconciling the party in the state.
While primaries were underway at the state’s capital, Abeokuta, Mr. Olisa Metuh, national spokesman of the party, issued, from the party’s headquarters, what was essentially a cease and desist order to the state leaders. This was ignored. The state leaders had their way over national executives. The party was unable to put in place a proper reconciliation machination and Mr. Isiaka lost to incumbent Governor Ibikunle Amosun, whom some analysts had predicted was unlikely to return to Oke-Mosan Government House, largely due to his unabated standoff with civil servants in the state.
In Cross Rivers State, Gov. Liyel Imoke’s alleged authoritarian disposition is believed responsible for the failure of Senator Ndoma Egba, one of the most brilliant PDP lawmakers, to return to the Senate. A similar case was witnessed in Ondo, where Mr. Jonathan lost a state that many analysts had predicted wouldn’t even be close in his favour largely as a result of infighting between the old PDP and the new PDP led by Governor Segun Mimiko who was goaded by President Jonathan to defect from his Labour Party to PDP to take the party leadership.
In Oyo, President Jonathan went out of his way to court and fund opposition governorship candidates, thus weakening his party’s governorship candidate and the party’s structure in the state.
‘Governors are out of their depths’
“The governors are simply out of their depths,” said political analyst Victor Okhai. “I believe they played a terrible role in the campaign that ended up being detrimental to the party’s fortunes.”
But the governors retort: “We don’t have political players at the national level, we have cash and carry individuals with very little interest in strategy,” said a very close aide to one of the governors who refused to be identified because the warring parties have been admonished to stop open castigation of themselves. “We knew how they deliberately sabotaged candidates because they were endorsed by state apparatus.”
The source accused national leaders of the party of sitting in Abuja to “shoot up” their bank account balance as “against working for what will give the party long term relevance.”
The source singled out Mr. Metuh who he accused of “coordinating a shakedown of aspirants on the platform of the party.”
Mr. Metuh had, earlier in the week, accused some president’s associates of attempting to dissolve the party’s all-purpose NWC, a development he condemned as “illegal” and “selfish.” He was also reported to have charged the Jonathan administration to publish how it managed the nation’s resources.
Many governors and independent PACs loyal to the PDP fired back by accusing the PDP leaders of not only sabotaging Mr. Jonathan’s re-election but that they also looted the party’s treasury in the wake of the shellack it suffered at the polls.
The NWC denied plundering the party, claiming that it has the record to show that funds that were withdrawn after the March 28 presidential elections went to support state-wide elections that took place two weeks later on April 11.
The National Chairman of the PDP, former Bauchi Governor, Adamu Mu’azu, has maintained his innocence in the raging allegation that he sabotaged his own party in the just-concluded elections, attributing PDP’s defeat to a “perception of President Jonathan and our party” that “was at an all time low in the North because of the lies they were told by politicians.”
He asked, “how can one betray himself?” Adding that he “will support President Jonathan again and again if the opportunity presents itself”.
Presentation of PCC report…
At the presentation of report of the presidential campaign committee to the president during the week, members of the NWC were largely absent, including the national chairman and secretary, fueling speculation that the crisis may have deepened beyond mere rhetorics.
The turbulence has made young PDP supporters more reticent about working to rebuild a more appealing PDP as many now question if the party is even worth salvaging to begin with. Partly as a result of the negative publicity, the young guns are concerned about who gets to benefit from the fallout.
“The warring factions are not disagreeing over issues that will project the party positively inside and outside of the country,” said Mr. Demola Olarewaju, a PDP strategist with focus on youth activities within the party. “The governors are trying to take over the party leadership so they can be able to implement their own selfish agenda.”
He warned further that giving the PDP governors a blank cheque will not only worsen the situation but will fast track the demise of the party, a development he argued would leave a devastating vacuum in the nation’s nascent democracy.
“The governors are not entirely altruistic in their battle to take control of the PDP where key decision making is concerned, I think the party needs to be restructured in such a way that everyone will be carried along. We need to be a relevant opposition lest our democracy becomes a joke.”
He said PDP governors have not been very effective or accurate in choosing candidates that are electable.
“We should learn from what happened in many states like Benue, Plateau, Kogi and others where the PDP presented candidates that didn’t have what it takes to convince voters. Governors should work with national leaders, no other way around this.”
“It’s incumbent on all members of the PDP that they hang together,” he said. “Or we will hang ourselves separately.” Top party leaders who’re believed to be neutral in the open brawl worry that the rancour is a slippery slope to the party’s eventual demise, unless swift actions are taken to address the fallout.
“The PDP is already haemorrhaging, unless we halt the bleeding and finds the necessary therapy, we may be heading for the final burial of the party,” Senate President David Mark warned on Wednesday. “The party is already in a comatose status and we should do all we can to resuscitate the party rather than this unnecessary rancour and bulk passing.”
The party has set up a 16-member panel to look into the rift. The panel, which is headed by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, is expected to holistically look into the matter and fashion out a new direction for the forlorn party. But, in the interim, Jonathan has appealed to all exasperated bigwigs within the party to “sheath their swords.”