September 30, 2023

PDP @25: Once upon a ruling party


PDP and its colour flags

In this piece, John Alechenu takes a cursory look at PDP’s rise to power, downfall and current struggle to return to winning ways after losing power in 2015.

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which came into existence as a political entity on August 31st, 1998, celebrated its silver jubilee without fanfare on August 31st, 2023.

Observers are of the opinion that the reason for the party’s refusal to celebrate this significant milestone is not far-fetched. The party which once ruled Nigeria unchallenged for 16 unbroken years is now a shadow of its once vibrant self.

At inception, the party was a product of consultations between and among several groups and political associations including the Group of 18 popularly known as G.8, made up of prominent Nigerians who later grew to G.34.

It enjoyed broad-based support following its pro-business outlook, support for economic deregulation, and promise for greater funding for education and health care delivery.
Excerpts from the PDPs Manifesto then read, “We the Peoples Democratic Party of Nigeria, Conscious of our historic mission to build a modern democratic state founded on Justice, equity and fair play, make Covenant as follows…

“The indivisibility of the Nigerian polity. i. We affirm our belief in the unity of Nigeria under the Federal System of Government, We shall, therefore, continually promote political tolerance, accommodation and compromise, religious harmony, as well as inter/ethnic and intra/ethnic accommodation and cooperation.

“The party shall also promote geopolitical balancing as a fundamental principle of power sharing in the country in line with the principle of Federal Character; the party shall uphold the principle of power rotation in our party at all levels.”

Membership was drawn from all walks of life across Nigeria. Retired military officers, businessmen, academics and activists most of whom found common ground in the fight against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential Election, which was believed to have been won by the late Chief MKO Abiola as well as the brutal military regime of the Late General Sani Abacha.

Abacha’s sudden death in June, 1998 and the hurriedly organized transition programme put in place by General Abdulsalami Abubakar who succeeded him, culminating in the elections which ushered in the fourth republic.

The party proved its mettle with its sweeping victory at the polls in the 1999 general elections. Its Presidential Candidate, the then General Olusegun Obasanjo *(retd, won the election by a landslide. The party produced 21 Governors out of 36, it equally won a comfortable majority of seats in the Senate and House of Representatives.

Sadly, 25 years down the line, the fortunes of the party which once boasted that it would rule for 60 years, have been on a steady decline after a series of internal wranglings led to its first significant defeat in 2015. The Party, which today is arguably Nigeria’s largest opposition political party, has been bedeviled by internal turmoil.

With each election cycle, the battle for tickets to fly the party’s flag at all levels not only widened existing cracks but also opened up and widened fresh ones. With most of its founding fathers either dead or out of its fold, political pundits argue that the party needs to carry out an urgent introspection in order to honestly dissect its problems and work out a solution perhaps, it could warm its way back into the good graces of Nigerians.

A combination of avoidable litigations, unrestrained arrogance and some say greed; among key stakeholders /power blocks within the party, have continued to play a significant role in reducing the party once touted a behemoth described in superlative adjectives such as: the biggest party in black and white Africa to a shadow of its once unassailable height.

A senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, Dr. Joseph Anuga, while commenting on the situation noted that the refusal of party leaders to make sacrifices and take responsibility contributed significantly to its present state.

According to him, if information available in public space is anything to go by, the party dug itself into a hole by allowing former Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, become so powerful to the point of insisting on having his way almost all the time in the choice of who became National Chairman as far back as 2019.

He said, “Like it or not, the party is yet to recover from the effect of the rebellion by Wike and four of his other colleagues namely.. Samuel Ortom (Benue), Seyi Makinde, (Oyo), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, (Enugu) and Okezie Ipeazu of Abia.”

Wike developed his larger than life image after he was alleged to have taken up the responsibility of paying the party’s bills from secretariat staff salaries to funding some of the party’s standard bearers at various levels, a responsibility which ordinarily should be that of the party.

In fact, the Kogi State PDP Governorship candidate for the November 11, 2023 polls, Senator Dino Melaye, recently confirmed Wike’s financial contributions to his governorship campaign in 2019.

Anuga, further noted that this being the case, the party ought not to complain about Wike’s decision to wield influence which he has acquired by filling a void created by party leaders who abandoned ship at a time they were needed to rebuild it.

He stressed that it was embarrassing for the PDP or any other political party in this country for that matter, not to have put in place legitimate and sustainable measures to self fund its activities.

Anuga said, ”You must have heard the saying, He who pays the piper dictates the tune’. If you allow individuals, be they governors, those in authority at whatever level or your entrenched ‘money bags’ to pick the bill on behalf of the party, then you lack the moral ground to complain when they dictate what happens within the party.

”And as it often happens in Nigeria, this may include: their dictating who flies the party flag in every electoral contest. When such is allowed to happen, the party is on its way to the dustbins of history. This is because when such a candidate wins an election, his or her loyalty is to the godfather/godmother who sponsored him/her.

”Sadly, most of our political parties are not self-sustaining; they don’t have independent sources of revenue hence the various interests who have the financial muscle take over its structures and the vicious cycle continues.

“When a party is able to keep a membership register and device means of ensuring members pay their dues accordingly as well as engage in legitimate business to generate revenue, party members will show greater interest by demanding for greater accountability. “

A Chieftain of the party in Edo State, Dr. Don Pedro Obaseki, sees things differently. According to him, it was wrong to assume that the former Rivers State governor single-
handedly paid the party’s bills.

The party he noted is bigger than every individual member adding that party leaders at different levels made sacrifices and that the party has the capacity to be self-sustaining. He further explained that at the time former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and other founding fathers of the party were birthing the party, the likes of Wike were yet to cut their political teeth.

Obaseki expressed reservations over the level of tolerance being displayed by the party’s current leadership with the handling of what he called the Wike affair.

He said, ”If anybody has done anything anti-party it is Nyesom Wike. He has fought every known person within the party. If you remember, Bello Matawalle, former Governor of Zamfara State, cited him as the reason for leaving the party, Dave Umahi cited him as the reason for leaving the party. Prof. Ben Ayade cited him as reason for leaving the party, why is it that the name of Nyesom Wike, has become the proverbial tortoise in every bad story”

A former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party, Barrister Abdullahi Jalo, who is now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Gombe State, on his part noted that the party doesn’t deserve pity for failing to manage its victories in the past.

He said, “The PDP has nobody to blame but itself for the fate that has befallen it over the years. A party which grew so arrogant to the point that it could no longer obey its own Constitution is destined to self-destruct.

”I believe the party began to derail at the point when the battle for party tickets during primaries became fiercer even more than the real election itself.

“Of course, we all know what happened in 2014/2015 when five powerful state governors ditched the party to assist the coalition of opposition parties which transformed into the APC.

“Don’t forget, some of the party’s founding fathers were chased out by those who used the platform to get into political offices.

“It will be difficult if not impossible for Nigerians to trust the party again after tasting and enjoying dividends of democracy and good governance under the APC. ”

A public affairs commentator, Mr. Adakole Moses, however, expressed optimism that the party will overcome whatever challenges it was currently dealing with.

He said, “What ever challenges the PDP is dealing with is not peculiar to it. Name one of our prominent political parties today that is not in one crisis or another. Is it the ruling APC or Kwankwaso’s NNPP, what about Obi’s Labour Party? No matter what people say about the PDP, it made a lot of positive impact on our polity in the years it spent in power.

“It is on record that the security situation was not as bad, our debt profile was better managed, the exchange rate was stable for the most part and the quality of the life of the average citizen was a lot better.”

All eyes will be on the party as soon as the ongoing election petitions against the outcome of the 2023 Presidential Election are dispensed with by the Supreme Court.