BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE
WHEN the Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum (PDPGF) was established on February 24, 2013, it emerged on Nigeria’s political horizon as a child of circumstance facing an uncertain future.
It came at the time that the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) was waxing strong as a united body and keeping the Presidency on its toes on matters affecting the states, the governors themselves and the polity.
Then, the frosty relations between the Chairman of the NGF, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and the Presidency was inching towards the frozen point. Amaechi was then bent on retaining the headship of the NGF as opposed to popular opinion in the Presidency.
Also, the leadership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was then contending with a political tsunami with a section of the party going for the jugular of then National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur.
The PDPGF was born amid this hay sack of challenges, raising apprehensions over whether or not it could help the party surmount the challenges.
One year after, a peep into the activities of the Governor Godswill Akpabio-led PDPGF and happenings in the PDP shows that the forum has reaped mixed fortunes.
With 23 governors at inception, Akpabio, during his inaugural remarks when he visited the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP under Tukur said the PDPGF was not formed to challenge the NGF but to strengthen the forum, make PDP governors speak with one voice and stop the forum from operating as a trade union in constant fisticuffs with the Federal Government.
The first hurdles the PDPGF faced included the NGF crisis and the governors’ opposition to Tukur, which had snowballed into some PDP governors losing control of the state exco of the party in their states.
Apart from picking holes in the manner Tukur was running the party and seeking his removal through complaints to President Goodluck Jonathan, the governors’ opposition to Tukur started before the March 27, 2012 National Convention, where he was elected with Jonathan’s backing.
Some governors had opposed Tukur’s election but the president had his way after much pressure. And therein the seed of discord was sown between the PDP chairman and some governors.
The discord played out in Tukur’s home state of Adamawa where the state executive loyal to Governor Murtala Nyako was dissolved in 2012.
Nyako had the support of some of his brother governors and before long the gulf widened with some aggrieved PDP governors playing the role of the opposition against their party. In fact, one of them vowed to remain in PDP and help bury the party
The crises played out in the NGF leading to factionalisation of the forum with Amaechi leading a faction and Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State leading the other.
Apart from Amaechi and Nyako, the other aggrieved PDP governors were those of Kano, Sokoto, Niger, Jigawa and Kwara. They later emerged as G7 governors. Initially, their battles were being prosecuted through the NGF, chaired by Amaechi.
Thus, after its formation, the first task before the Akpabio-led forum was to quickly arrest the drift in the party by seeking cohesion among its ranks.
To show its seriousness, the PDPGF prevailed on the NWC to rescind the suspension placed on the Governor of Sokoto State, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, took part in the series of reconciliatory meetings to resolve the steaming crises ravaging the party and helped in working out layers of reconciliation agreements.
However, it could not get a reversal of a similar suspension placed on Amaechi as the matter was already in court.
The deepening crisis reached a climax on August 31, 2013 during the Special National convention in Abuja. The aggrieved members left the convention ground to another venue where they birthed New PDP (nPDP) and dished out a series of conditions for peace to return.
The conditions include: President Jonathan should not re-contest in 2015, Tukur should be removed as PDP chairman, an order from the President stopping the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from investigating them, resolution of the NGF crisis in favour of Amaechi, resolution of the Adamawa and Rivers crises as well as the demand that governors must be made to control party structures in the states.
President Jonathan refused to interfere in the job of the EFCC. He promised to refer some of the requests to the party hierarchy for consideration and told the nPDP that the request to remove Tukur as national chairman could only be carried out by the National Convention.
Following a court ruling voiding the existence of the nPDP as a faction of the party and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) recognition of the Tukur-led PDP, the PDP hierarchy bared its fangs. It viewed the actions of the aggrieved members as anti-party activities and set up a disciplinary committee to look into the issues.
However, 24 hours to the sitting of the PDP national disciplinary committee headed by former Transport Minister, Dr. Umaru Dikko, to examine various petitions and charges levied against the nPDP’s former chairman, Kawu Baraje, former Deputy National Chairman, Dr. Sam Sam Jaja, former Osun State governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, and former Deputy National Chairman (North-West), Ambassador Ibrahim Kazaure, the five former PDP governors announced their defection to APC at the Kano State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja. Governors, who defected to APC were Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara) and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso (Kano).
They were also joined by 37 PDP members of the House of Representatives. And now, 11 PDP senators have also defected to the APC and the matter, which is still in court, is yet to be fully trashed out as Senate President David Mark refused to read their defection letter on the floor of the Senate.
Mixed fortunes: Looking at the activities of the PDPGF so far, it is obvious that it has stopped the PDP governors from being part of the opposition to the PDP-led Federal Government even though it failed to stop five of its seven aggrieved governors from leaving for the APC. In essence, from 23 members it had at inception, there are only 18 PDP governors now.
Having failed to prevent the G5 from leaving, a question on the lips of observers now is can the PDPGF maintain the required unity that informed its formation in 2013? The rash of defections also meant that the PDP no longer has clear majority in the House of Representatives.
However, the PDPGF has ensured the elevation of five governors to the party’s national caucus. Those elevated are Governors Akpabio, Theodore Orji, Gabriel Suswam, Isa Yuguda and Emmanuel Uduaghan. After a long tussle, it also succeeded in getting Tukur out of office leading to the emergence of former Bauchi State Governor, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu as PDP national chairman.
Speaking at PDP NEC where Mu’azu emerged, Akpabio said it was the first time the party was getting a national chairman whose nomination was proposed by his home state governor. He assured Mu’azu of the governor’s support and cooperation because ”we don’t want to lose more governors, instead we want to gain.”
Can the PDPGF foster cooperation and harmony in the PDP, halt the defection of governors, lawmakers and chieftains at all levels, get most of the defectors to return, etc? These are questions that will be answered with time.