By Ochereome Nnanna

WHEN I look at the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, of today, I exclaim to myself: “How are the mighty fallen!” In terms of nobility of origin and nationalistic outlook, there is little to compare between the PDP and what we have today as the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.

After seven years in power, we can see that there is nothing “all” or “progressive” about the APC. It is just an opportunistic platform for the party’s leaders from the North and South-West to share power between themselves. Bola Tinubu helped Muhammadu Buhari to achieve his elusive presidential ambition. Now, it is Tinubu’s turn to rule. That is where Emi l’okan comes from. They used propaganda, lies and “sweet talk” to seduce the gullible, including people who ordinarily should have known better.

The origin of the PDP dates back to the Abacha Constitutional Conference of 1994-1996. While some politicians and activists stayed in the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, to fight for the restoration of Moshood Abiola’s mandate, some went to the Conference to look for a “lasting solution”. Tinubu, the presidential candidate of today’s APC, was among those who stayed with NADECO and later escaped into exile. Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP, belonged to the class that went to the Conference.

The late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, in marshalling the Igbo agenda at the Confab, emerged as the most prominent delegate. He started chairing the All Politicians Summit series after the Conference. It was an open forum for politicians bent on pressing General Sani Abacha to quit power on October 1, 1998 as pledged. Apart from Ekwueme, some of the frontline politicians involved included Bola Ige (NADECO/Afenifere), Abubakar Rimi (North, anti-NADECO), Atiku Abubakar (Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, representing the late General Shehu Yar’ Adua’s group).

Though Abacha had pledged to hand over power in 1998, some hungry political jobbers were hired to “persuade” him to remove his uniform and stand as the sole candidate. Indeed, these busybodies had formed five political parties, each of which made Abacha its sole presidential candidate! This was a core Northern group determined to sustain the region’s grip on power by all means possible. Buhari, though not directly involved in the partisan politicking, was solidly behind Abacha.

Abacha had rehabilitated Buhari from his travails at the hands of General Ibrahim Babangida who toppled his government. Abacha made him the Executive Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, which deployed proceeds of petrol price hikes to intervene in some sectors of the economy. Under Buhari, the PTF was a cesspit of corruption and nepotism. So, what he is doing now is vintage Buhari.

Two mysterious deaths within one month changed the course that Abacha intended to take Nigeria’s history. On June 8, 1998, the Head of State died mysteriously. As if by cue, Abiola also died in detention on July 7, 1998 while the terms of his release were being internationally brokered. It is generally believed that some powerful international forces colluded with the transitional government to remove these warring elements and give Nigeria a new lease of life.

With these “convenient” deaths, the political field was open and ripe for the taking. General Abdulsalami Abubakar was not interested in holding power beyond eleven months, during which he conducted a quick series of elections towards a final handover. Two main groups found themselves at play. On the one hand was the right-of-centre group led by Ekwueme, which had gallantly fought for the military’s exit through the All Politicians Summits. Professor Jerry Gana announced its name as the Peoples Democratic Party at their first national convention in Abuja.

The other side was the ultra-Northern, pro-Abacha groups, representing the extreme or reactionary right, the All Peoples Party, APP. Among them were Umaru Shinkafi and Ali Sheriff. It was this reactionary group that Buhari joined later in 2001, shortly after the full Sharia Law rage in the Muslim North. Buhari capitalised on the Muslim North’s Sharia mobilisation by Governor Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara, to launch his political career and presidential runs. He promised to make sure that Sharia Law would be spread to all parts of Nigeria, a programme he is strongly promoting, which is a major marker for our insecurity. That was how Buhari acquired his famous “12 million” untouchable Northern votes. He played on the masses’ religious sentiments.

Meanwhile, Bola Ige, the leader of the NADECO political wing, pulled out of the PDP because he saw that his own presidential ambition could not sail through there. He led his group to form the Alliance for Democracy, AD, which the military registered despite failing registration metrics. The military deliberately refused to extend the same favour to the South East-based All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, because it was only interested in Yoruba appeasement.

Beyond registering a regional party for the South-West, the military also brought out General Olusegun Obasanjo, whom they had dumped in jail for an alleged coup plot. They pardoned him and virtually sponsored his presidential ambition. While this went on, Bola Ige lost his presidential bid to Olu Falae. Falae, in a bid to present an effective counter to the PDP, went into an alliance with the APP and became its presidential candidate. For the first time, a supposed “progressive” party (AD) went into the same bed with an ultra-reactionary, regional supremacist opponent (APP). Imagine a merger between a party with the background of free education and welfarism sleeping with a party with unabashed, born-to-rule reflexes which led to the annulment of Abiola’s election! When strange bedfellows lie together, the first casualty is ideology. Acquisition of power by all means become the order of the day, which is a recipe for unbridled corruption.

Next week, I will return to the factors that led to the rise and “fall” of PDP.

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