BY NASAMU JACOBSON
WHEN Chinua Achebe wrote his epic novel, THINGS FALL APART, in 1958 he probably only had at the back of his mind the general situation of the Ibo communities of his time. “Things” were not what he thought they should be. No, he did not consider the cultures of other communities in Nigeria.
Today, the work that Chinua Achebe did several years ago now has universal application both to native communities and political institutions in Nigeria. The Peoples Democratic Party in Edo State is one such political institution which in the last seven years has suffered a self-induced dwindling of fortunes both in terms of depleting membership and electoral defeats.
It would be helpful for a fuller and better understanding of how and why the party in Edo State came to this sorry state. After the unfortunate and ill-advised annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late M.K.O. Abiola of the Social Democratic Party, an Interim National Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan was put in place by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in August 1993. The Interim Government had lasted barely three months when it was overthrown in November of the same year by Gen. Sani Abacha who was then the Chief of Defence Staff.
Gen. Abacha promptly dissolved all political structures in the country, including the two political parties (SDP and NRC), the National Assembly, state assemblies and governments. His attempt at giving the nation a democratic government led to the formation of political parties that later became known as the “five leprous fingers”.
The idea to transform self from military head of state to a democratically elected president reared its head at this time. The subsequent death in 1998 of Gen. Abacha and the ascendancy to leadership by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar thereafter paved the way for the resumption of full political activities with the announcement of a transition time table programmed to end with a presidential election in 1999.
It was, therefore, in 1998 that several political players dubbed old and new breed politicians held meetings that culminated in the formation and registration of several political parties prominent amongst which are PDP, ANPP, AD, ACN, APGA and LP.
In Edo State, prominent political figures teamed up in Edo Solidarity Movement, ESM, to “scout” for a national party which, they believed, could win election and form the government both at the state and national levels. These figures include Chief Tony Anenih, Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, Chief Tom Ikimi , Chief J.B. Momoh and a host of others.
One of such consultative meetings was held at the Saidi Centre in Benin City in August 1998. It was attended by notable political figures from outside the state, including Dr. Joseph Wayas, former President of the Senate.
The alliances formed before and after this consultative meeting led to the three major political gladiators in the state, Chief Anenih, Dr. Ogbemudia and Chief Igbinedion, teaming up in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. This simple fact of these leaders who had previously held sway in other parties joining forces in the same party gave the PDP an edge over other parties in the state.
In the 1999 elections the PDP performed so well that it appeared it was the only party that contested elections in the state. It would be safe to say that the PDP stranglehold on the political landscape in Edo State ended with its victory at the 2003 governorship election.
In 2004, in the heat of the diabolical plan of President Olusegun Obasanjo to secure an illegal third tenure, the leadership of the party with active support of then chairman of the Board of Trustees, BOT, Chief Anenih, hatched a membership re-registration scheme designed to deregister all those who were perceived not to support the self- perpetuation plan of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
More than half of the members of the party were thus shut out, resulting in the depleted membership strength with which the party went into the 2007 gubernatorial poll in Edo State.
That election, in the main, was not only a battle between PDP and other parties but a battle between the PDP of Chief Obasanjo/Anenih and the PDP Grace Group comprising all those (Tony Omoaghe, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu & co.) who were deregistered in the 2004 re-registration exercise. The latter group even though had joined forces with the few Action Congress of Democrats, ACD and later ACN members in the state, saw their exclusion from the PDP as a punishable act for which electoral defeat was appropriate and fitting remedy.
Thus, the parting of ways between the three top leaders of Chief Anenih, Dr. Ogbemudia and Chief Igbinedion had effectively begun. And even though Dr. Ogbemudia is still in the PDP the centre has not been able to hold for him and Chief Anenih. The rest of the story which we can simply dub “the beginning of the end” of PDP in Edo State is well-known in Nigeria.
One other factor which has torn things apart for the PDP in Edo State is the fortuitous emergence of Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole as governor of the state, having won the gubernatorial election of April 2007 on the platform of ACN, which mandate was hijacked by the PDP but eventually reclaimed in November 2008.
The woes of the PDP have since then multiplied beyond manageable proportions with the Oshiomhole administration’s transparently committed and systematic application of state resources to better the lives of the people of the state.
Mr. Jacobson, a political analyst, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.