Amidst the turbulence the party found itself ahead of the 2019 polls, the Peoples Democratic Party is believed to have made some inroad during the polls. ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU and BODE OLAGOKE look at the gains and losses recorded by the party, and ask whether it could match the ruling All Progressives Congress in the 2023 polls.
Before 2015 electoral loss
Ahead of the 2015 general elections, the Peoples Democratic Party came under intense heat from the opposition(as it was then ) All Progressives Congress. Every action of the administration under the watch of Goodluck Jonathan never found favour with most Nigerians. Things got to a head when some governors on the party’s platform, moved to the newly formed APC; the new kid on the block with a sharp mantra of CHANGE.
Smarting from 2015 defeat
And in a desperate attempt to reposition the one-time ruling party into a formidable opposition, some notable PDP governors, especially Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state and his Rivers counterpart, Nyesom Wike, tactically brought former governor of Borno state, Senator Ali Modu Sherrif in as the acting national chairman of the party.
The party’s national caucus mandated Sheriff, who was elected by its National Executive Committee at its last meeting, to organise congresses and national convention to elect new party leaders at all levels in three months. Surprisingly, the zoning committee inaugurated by Sheriff, in its wisdom zoned the chairmanship slot to North-east. With this, many believed it was a game plan designed by Sheriff to succeed himself.
However, few days before the North-east zonal congress where Sheriff was endorsed as the sole candidate for the chairmanship, a former minister of information, Prof. Jerry Gana, led a group of founding fathers, stakeholders and leaders of the PDP from all the six geopolitical zones to announce the takeover of the party from the ex-Borno chief executive. Consequently, this led to the conduct of two separate conventions on May 21, 2016.
The NEC-approved national convention took place in Port-Harcourt, Rivers state capital, while the Gana-led group had theirs (a non-elective convention) in Abuja where Ibrahim Mantu, former deputy president of the Senate, and Prof. Tunde Adeniran emerged as the interim national chairman and vice national chairman of the party respectively.
And following a court order, the Port-Harcourt convention got stuck and the party settled for a national caretaker committee to run its affairs and spearhead the conduct of another convention at a later date where elections into all the offices would be done.
At the May 21, 2016 Port-Harcourt convention, Senator Ahmed Makarfi emerged chairman of the committee was mandated to conduct another convention in 90 days. This later resulted in serious legal tussle between the Sheriff and Makarfi factions, from the Court of Appeal to Supreme Court.
Supreme Court to the rescue
Interestingly, the crisis lingered for about two years and many had predicted doom for the PDP. However, respite came the way of the party when the highest court in the land, sometimes in July 2017, declared the Makarfi-led caretaker committee the authentic leadership of the PDP, thus putting an end to the crisis rocking the main opposition party.
Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour who read the judgment on behalf of the five-man panel set aside the ruling of the appellate court in Port Harcourt, that affirmed Sheriff as the party’s national chairman.
The apex court held that the National Convention of the party(being the highest decision-making organ of the party) held May 21, 2016 in Port Harcourt was right to have removed Sheriff as the chairman.
Political pundits described this as not just a success for the party, but for lovers of democracy. They argued that for the PDP to have survived the major fall out of the 2015 defeat, survived the legal tussle, it shows it will put the ruling APC on its toes for meaningful governance.
Like an army with many wars ahead, the Makarfi-led caretaker committee was saddled with the responsibility of conducting a make or mar elective convention in December 2017 to elect a new set of National Working Committee (NWC) members. The elective convention was one of the most competitive conventions in the history of the party, as the party leadership failed to micro zone the chairmanship position to the South West. It therefore became a contest between the South-south and South-west aspirants.
Among those who aspired for the position were former national deputy chairman of the party, Chief Olabode George, former governor of Oyo state, Rashidi Ladoja, former governor of Ogun state, Gbenga Daniel, former acting chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, former minister of education, Professor Adeniran, media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi and Professor Toaheed Adedoja.
In a contest that almost disintegrated the party, especially with what many described as reckless statement from the governor of Rivers state, the party’s cohesion came under serious threat.
Wike was reported to have said, “National chairmanship in the South-west will not change the fortunes of the PDP. Even when the president hailed from the South-west, the fortunes of the party did not improve in terms of votes in that zone.
“The zone is prone to incessant crises as can be seen. Any candidate who emerges from the South-west will lead to further crisis from other factions from that zone. Anybody who believes in PDP will work for the party after the national convention, whether or not you emerge. You will do otherwise when you are controlled by external forces. No right thinking party member will resort to issuance of threats.”
This blunt talk from Wike led to the withdrawal of George who felt insulted. However, the party went into the elective convention with Secondus, Adeniran, Adedoja and Dokpesi, at the end of which Secondus emerged top.
Obviously, this threatened the party’s unity as many, especially from the South- west became aggrieved with what played out at the convention. While some chieftains like Adeniran, Gana and a host of others left the party, a few stayed back but chose to remain passive. Again, many thought this was the end of the party.
Dickson’s peace committee
Surprisingly, the party bounced back after the truce by the peace and reconciliation committee, led by governor of Bayelsa state, Seriake Dickson. The committee recommended that, “The National Working Committee of our great party should constitute all statutory committees urgently and in the composition, women, youths and leaders should be involved in the committees. The South-west is too strategic not to play a strategic role in the PDP. We recommend closer interaction with leaders of the South-West to build confidence in the geopolitical zone.”
Analysts are of the view that for PDP to have successfully managed what it described as the most competitive elective convention of the party since its creation in 1998, it’s evidently clear the party has strategically positioned itself for 2019 and beyond.
Saraki, Atiku’s return
Another factor that seems to have strengthened the PDP for future challenges is the return of some of its influential members, who, prior to the 2015 elections, defected to the APC. In this class are former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Speaker House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, former governor of Kano state, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, governor of Sokoto state and former speaker of the lower house, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom among many others.
Analysts believe this has further strengthened the party and prepared it for the 2023 general elections. This, according to them, is because some of these returnees are grassroots politicians with huge number of followers in their states and even across the country.
Success of its presidential primary election
Also, the successes recorded at the party’s presidential convention at Port Harcourt where 12 influential politicians aspired for the party’s ticket for the just concluded presidential elections is one other factor putting the party in good stead for the task ahead.
Like its December 2017 elective convention, this was also considered a make or mar contest as the party recorded the highest number of aspirants for its presidential ticket since formation.
Those who contested the party’s presidential ticket are: Senator Kwankwaso, former governor of Jigawa state, Alhaji Sule Lamido, former governor of Plateau state, Senator Jona Jang, former governor of Sokoto state, Attahiru Bafarawa, Senator Makarfi, former minister of special duties, Kabir Tanimu Turaki SAN, Governor Tambuwal, former Senate president, Dr. David Bonaventure Mark, Senate President Saraki, former vice president, Alhaji Abubakar and Dr Datti Baba Ahmed.
Like it was in the past, many predicted the party would come out a divided house at the end of the contest. This is against the backdrop of the fact that most of these political bigwigs have history of dumping a party when certain political decisions do not favour them. Surprisingly, they all went into the contest and came out more united. Abubakar won the party’s ticket with a wide margin. While some party chieftains were believed to have shown some indifference during the presidential campaign, it still remains a statement of fact that the result posted by the PDP candidate really surprised many people.
Although the party lost its bid to return to the seat of power in Abuja, it nevertheless made some inroad into some states controlled by the ruling APC. In a democracy like Nigeria, the number of states a party controls largely determines its performance in any given election. This is because the state governors are usually very influential and provide logistics for the party during elections. The case is not different with the PDP.
Prior to the 23rd February 2019 presidential elections, the party had just 12 states under its umbrella. They include: Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, Cross Rivers, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Abia, Sokoto, Benue, Kwara, and Gombe states. And like a political party prepared to democratically take over power, bounced back with some upsets. It won in Adamawa, Bauchi, Oyo and Imo states, even though it lost Kwara and Gombe to the ruling APC. Cumulatively, the PDP now has 14 states, this is more than what they had before the 2019 elections.
Political observers are of the view that with the number of states under the PDP control, the party’s chances in 2023 appears brighter. It is further contended that winning strategic states like Oyo, Sokoto, Adamawa and Bauchi remains an added advantage for the party.
Words of caution
However, a political analyst and public affairs commentator, Jide Ojo cautions that the governors are unpredictable as they can change party at any point in time.
“Yes, the PDP won more states to its side, the number of state controlled is a factor in our elections. But these governors that are members of the PDP can easily change their party for protection, interest and other reasons, especially when PDP is not the ruling party.”
Support of past presidents
Also, likely going to work in the interest of the party in 2023 elections are two former presidents produced by the PDP–Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Like they did in the 2019 general elections, these two are likely going to subtly work in favour of their party.
Notwithstanding his public declaration that he was quitting active politics, when the chips are down, the former president
The Obasanjo said he has retired from party politics, but when it come to APC and PDP, he is likely going to support candidate of its former party. Evidently clear was in his recent comment when he urged the PDP to purge itself of “bad eggs and hypocrites” who “lack the commitment” to return the opposition party to its lost glory I’m 2023.
Obasanjo said: ”I knew PDP would lose election in 2015 because it was clear. And I knew PDP will need to be rebuilt after losing the election. You need what I call critical mass of committed people and come rain, come shine, they are committed. With that, you can make Nigeria better.
“You see peoples’ faces beautiful but you don’t know what each person harbours inside of him. If you discover a bad egg, remove such a person. And if such person has learnt his or her lessons, there can still be room to accommodate the person, he added.
Political observers believe that contrary to people’s position that the two former leaders can’t win their polling units or state, they remain most influential past presidents with network of influential and loyal politicians within and outside Nigeria. Therefore, if the PDP can sustain this relationship between Obasanjo and Jonathan, certainly the party will go along way in 2023 elections.
No cause for alarm -APC
But for the APC, there is no cause for alarm. Spokesman of the party said the picture painted of PDP ahead 2013 contest is far from being correct.
“Not at all. Again, the picture you painted not exactly correct. Sokoto, we lost by less than 500 votes. Kano, we won by thousands of votes. Which one is narrow? Sokoto that PDP won was with three hundred and something votes but Kano that we won by over 20,000 votes, so it is not narrow. And that’s my word.
“And I ask myself, being a journalist myself, and I have asked myself, what has happened to us in the media on our roles to interpret events? Because if we interpret these events very well, you have a ruling party that is supposed to mobilise every resource of coercion, all instrument of coercion to get what you want.
“I have said now that we lost some states, major states, I will tell you in hundred percent that happened because this party has provided platform for people to go and face the electorate and for the electorate to pass judgement that ‘vote for us without anybody doing anything.’
“We have just talked about Rivers state. Whatever was going on in Rivers state, as far as this party is concerned, belongs to people of Rivers state. Otherwise, we will say okay ‘move in and do that.’ We have witnessed it in this country under PDP, that the whole state would be locked down. Their own method is win by all means, let others go to tribunal. We didn’t apply that.
“You have seen major politicians, big politicians losing election in this country even in our own party. You saw a serving governor in Oyo state who couldn’t win one-third of the state. A governor who is governing the entire state couldn’t win one-third of the entire state to get to the Senate, the party’s spokesman said.”
“You saw a struggle that is still going on in Akwa-Ibom state. Somebody of the calibre of Godswill Akpabio even though we know there are issues to that and it would be corrected, but at the same time, we should have deployed in such a way that we will want to arm-twist anybody or the system or manipulate the system. That question did not even arise at all and I think media should step back so they don’t get carried away with what kind of ‘flow’ politicians are going with. So, they can see the issue clearly and say what is responsible for this.
“You can see that we lost Oyo in presidential election. We have a sitting governor, we lost Ondo, we have a sitting governor. But because we didn’t want to condone impunity, we did all we did in Imo in order not to undermine ourselves and the choice we had was to accept what would have amounted to impunity, so that we could win Imo. But we said No!
On his party’s chances ahead 2023, Issa Onilu said : “The chances are brighter, Nigerians have shown that they have also come of age that no matter who you are.”
Citing the Kwara example where Senate President Bukola Saraki was beaten hands down, the party’s image maker said the votes garnered by “the opponent nearly doubled his own and not a single person was slapped.
“He couldn’t even got to tribunal to protest. The only way this could happen was because voters have come of age, and they now look at performance unlike sentiments that they’ve been following.”
Odds against PDP
A political analyst, Aminu Muhammad, also agrees that the PDP is positioning itself for 2023 general elections, stressing however that the party’s chances are dependent on the performance of APC in the next four years.
He said, “ Considering how the party was able to manage all its crises, also with its performance in the 2019 elections, the number of states won and influential politicians who returned back to the party, there is no doubt that all things been equal, the party is one of the contenders of any elective position in 2023.
“ However, the chances of PDP in 2023 also depend on the performance of the APC in the next four years. If President Muhammadu Buhari and his party; the APC perform well, win the love or support of the people with meaningful development and manage its internal crisis well, then the PDP may find it difficult to unseat the ruling party, he added.